Damn it feels good to be a gangsta.
Above you see a U.S. promo poster for the crime drama I, Mobster, starring Steve Cochran in a rags-to-riches, innocence-to-corruption tale of a neighborhood kid who becomes a top man in the mob. The film was based on a 1951 novel of the same name published anonymously, but later identified as coming from the typewriter of Joseph Hilton Smyth, who also wrote Angels in the Gutter. The early plot driver is the mob's attempt to extort cash payments out of a powerful trade union. The plan is to offer services as “outside labor relations experts.” Cochran, as an ambitious footsoldier, expands the mob's vision, its areas of interest, and its profits. Pretty soon he's riding high, high, high. But it can't last. Of course not.
The film has the usual elements from this sub-genre: the round-the-way girl who offers redemption, the wailing mom who implores her son to go straight, the unimpressed father who eventually disowns him, the mob boss who's worried about his brash number two, and the ticking bomb—i.e. the seeds of destruction planted earlier. Here it's a little boy who knows Cochran killed a man. He grows up and becomes enfolded in the mob too, which places him in perfect position to blackmail Cochran. But Cochran is a tough cookie. It may take more than an ambitious twenty-something to bring him down, and it may be that the true seeds of destruction were planted earlier and elsewhere.
While the plot elements may be typical, the cast isn't. Cochran is a good, intense, underrated screen presence. Robert Strauss is perfect as Cochran's right hand man and steadying influence. The radiant Lili St. Cyr spices up the proceedings midway through with a burlesque routine. And the stunning Lita Milan is excellent as the good girl-turned-mob moll. In addition, the film is solidly directed. You often see I, Mobster, described as an early Roger Corman movie. Does a director's twentieth movie count as early? Corman knows what he's doing here. His road forked into the dark woods of schlock, but helming this production, with a low budget, he managed to squeeze out a solid b-mobster flick. There's nothing fresh in it, but with this cast freshness isn't needed. I, Mobster premiered today in 1959.
Don't play coy, baby. Would you rather be with a gangsta like me or some accountant from fuckin' donkeyville?
That's what I thought.
National Informer gives sex advice—and if you take it don't blame anyone but yourself.
We love National Informer. We love it like a relative who makes off-color comments and is wrong about half of what they say, but is also bizarrely funny and indispensable at barbecues. This issue published today in 1972 illustrates the point perfectly. It's filled with nonsense. You get a primer of sexual deviations, an endorsement of incest, and predictions for the future from Mark Travis—including his assertion that cock-fighting will become a major American pasttime. That didn't come true—unless we're confused about the type of cocks, in which case cockfighting has been the primary force in American politics for decades.
The paper also has bits on actress Ira von Furstenberg, burlesque dancer Rebel Carr, treats readers to plenty of sexist cartoons, and touts phony medical breaktrhoughs, but the most interesting feature is probably its forty-five question true-or-false sex quiz. "How sharp is your sexual knowledge?" it asks. Well, sharp enough for our girlfriends, is all we can say. The quiz offers up a few surprise factoids. Our favorite? “Studies show that men with tattoos are actually worried about their varility. T or F?” Studies also show that editors of tabloids should worry more about their spelling.
Informer and its little sister Informer Weekly Reader were among the earliest tabloids to prove that being regularly incoherent is no barrier to generating a mass following in America. In fact, it may even help, if the last half decade is any indication. This is the thirty-eighth issue we've shared, and finally, we're starting to run low. That's bad news, we know, and worse, we probably won't buy more. They're priced a bit high now. Maybe that happens when fifty or so issues are bought by someone in a two-year span. But don't worry—there are many other tabloids out there, and some of them are even crazier, as a traipse through our tabloid index will reveal. Have a look. Meanwhile, Informer scans below.
Bringing joy to the world through burlesque.
In choosing a femme fatale for today we wanted to reinforce an idea we constantly discuss—that pulp fiction and film noir protagonists are often motivated by sex. Due to censorship, writers and directors of the era had to be subtle about the connection, but it's obvious. The lead characters of gritty crime tales were nearly always men of the world, which is to say they'd had sex before. So when a femme fatale drove or enticed them to robbery/murder/extortion/et al, it wasn't because she was beautiful, but special. And she wasn't just someone willing to have sex, but someone who gave even experienced men pleasures they'd never imagined. That's the subtext of numerous pulp novels, as well as scores of mid-century films, and it's something we try to hit upon with our femmes fatales, who sometimes lay that subtext bare by being bare themselves. To exemplify what we mean, we wanted someone very tempting, which is why we chose Misty Ayers, who was one of many burlesque dancers embodying sexual allure during the mid-century era. The art of burlesque features in many of the books we've talked about—in fact a couple of our very favorites—so the link to pulp is perfect. Ayers is seen here keeping fit, and below, preparing to make a meal to keep that body of hers functioning at top efficiency. She was pretty well known in her day. She appeared in the 1953 burlesque documentary A Night in Hollywood, played herself in the 1954 films Tijuana After Midnite and Striptease Goddess, and later scored an acting role in the 1965 film Bad Girls Do Cry, which we'll circle back to later. We don't have a copyright date on these photos, but figure they're from the zenith of her fame—circa 1953.
Bonus material: two of the greatest burlesque dancers you never heard of here and here.
She was one of the most watched people in the world—onscreen and off.
Whisper magazine, in this issue published this month in 1961, offers readers an interesting story about an unnamed millionaire's obsession with Ava Gardner. Apparently the millionaire hired people to follow Gardner around 24/7, all over the world, and report back to him, with this surveillance going on for years. The purpose? If he couldn't have her, he at least wanted to know what she was doing. Whisper focuses on a particular spy named Bill, the fourth of four spies employed by the millionaire, who Gardner came to be friends with and let live on her property, rather than have to sleep in his car night after night. Is this tale true? Maybe. Money buys a lot—including tolerance for bad behavior.
And speaking money, there's also a story on gangster Mickey Cohen, who counted among his consorts Liz Renay and Candy Barr, both of whom we've discussed, Renay here, and Barr here and here. Barr has also shown up in five magazines we've posted. The easiest way to see those is click her keywords and scroll. Cohen proves that no matter what people try to tell you, money is an aphrodisiac, because there's no way trolls like him could score beautiful dancers and models if it weren't for wealth. Take a look at the worst man in the world, and if he has money, he has a wife far more beautiful than makes sense.
Whisper goes on to talk about Burt Lancaster's and Charlie Chaplin's lovers, teen-age drunks, Soviet honeytraps, U.S. prisons, Jane Fonda's professional and family lives, and more. It was a Robert Harrison publication that morphed from a cheesecake magazine with painted pin-up covers into a gossip rag. That happened around 1954, when the original Whisper, launched in 1946, began going broke thanks to an inability to compete with girly magazine numero uno—Playboy. But there was plenty of room in the tabloid market and Harrison made Whisper a staple monthly on par with Confidential, his flagship publication. We'll have more from Whisper later, as always.
It's not how you start. It's how you finish.
We've talked before about the mid-century tabloid interest in transexuals, and how several trans burlesque performers achieved widespread fame. Those old tabloid covers serve to contradict people who claim that trans issues are a product of the new millennium, or that “it didn't happen in their day.” They just didn't notice. As the links in the above post show, transexual entertainers regularly made headlines in tabloids that sold millions of issues per month. To the list you can now add Gayle Sherman, who you see on this cover of The National Insider published today in 1963. This wasn't the height of her fame. A year later Novel Books would publish I Want To Be a Woman!, touted as the autobiography of a female impersonator. And still, she was just getting started.
Sherman started life as Gary Paradis, but became Sherman after a name change at age sixteen. As a transvestite she scored a job dancing for the Jewel Box Revue, which was a comedic drag queen show that criss-crossed the U.S. for more than thirty years. Probably the Jewel Box Revue deserves a write-up of its own, but the shorter version is it was the most popular extravaganza of its kind, and was run by gay management who were marketing to straight audiences.
Sherman moved on from the revue and worked mainly in Chicago, appearing at places such as the Nite Life, where her act sometimes involved dressing as a witch doctor and roasting a fake baby over a fire while singing Yma Sumac songs. Sometime later she underwent gender reassignment surgery, and all the while was passing through a string of pseudonyms, among them Gerri Weise, Brandy Alexander, and Geraldine Parades.
She eventually opted for breast enlargement surgery and at that point became Alexandria the Great 48, a stage name under which she would become a national celebrity. The number of course referenced her bust size. She was sometimes dubbed “Sophia Loren's twin,” but when audiences paid to see her they got something wholly different. She had left burlesque and moved into standard stripping, sometimes appearing at porno cinemas between features. She continued dancing until 1967, when bluenose politicians in Chicago managed to outlaw nude dancing. Sherman became a hairdresser, and was out of the public eye until her death in 2019.
As we mentioned above, vintage tabloids often featured transexuals, and while those stories were always sensationalistic, they were also surprisingly non-cruel. Not always, but often. The editors' accepting stances probably weren't sincere. Because tabloid readership was generally a cross section of middle class, middle American squares, the tone of the articles tended be: “this wild stuff happens in Hollywood and Paris, but who knows, maybe it's more prevalent than you suspect where you live.” As the saying goes, even a stopped clock is right twice a day—the tabs probably nailed it. 1.4 million Americans identify as transexual. There's no total from 1963, but you can bet it would be more than a few. In National Informer, the excellent money quote from the Gayle Sherman article is: “My birth certificate is stamped male, but my body is stamped female.” We have a photo of her below, and she's all woman.
L.A. residents turn out in droves for a flower show.
Above is a photo of legendary burlesque dancer Lili St. Cyr shot at Ciro's in Hollywood today in 1951. St. Cyr was always controversial, but her performances at that particular locale got her into hot water in the form of an obscenity bust, as we noted a while back. Cops thought she had gone fully nude. It remains an open question whether she did. We even left it open in a detailed post we wrote about the arrest. But if pressed, we'd say she did show it all. We think so not because of any contemporary accounts, which are contradictory, but merely because in the old novels we've read young burlesque dancers had little choice when starting out, and established dancers would do it to start rumors, and thus lure more people to their shows. Generally, in these fictional accounts when they dropped their g-strings, they did it an eyeblink before the stage lights went dark. Almost too fast too see. One character who did this in a novel even aspired to be as good and popular as St. Cyr, so we kind of think if all these authors wrote full nudity as plot devices maybe it was because peelers—including Lili—showed their lillies in real life. But since nobody ever caught it on film, we'll never know for sure.
I don't really know anything about tennis. I just know there's love involved.
The beautiful Evelyn West, known as the Hubba Hubba Girl and $50,000 Treasure Chest West, is seen here in a pointy promo image for the 1947 burlesque movie A Night at the Folies. In addition to appearing as herself in that film, she acted in two other productions—1941's Birth of the Blues, and 1940's Rhythm on the River. Both roles were uncredited, but the timing seems to make clear that West attempted to be a mainstream actress before she found burlesque. It was in the latter field that she became one of the most famous dancers of her time, and an enduring legend.
Documentary explores the allure of erotic dance through time.
Here's some random Italian pleasantness today, two posters for the documentary Sexy, which focused on erotic dancers from ancient Egypt through the French Revolution and into the age of modern burlesque. This was soundtracked with music from Ricki (Ricky) Gianco, and some of the dancers include Rita Himalaya, Lin Chen, and the Sexy Twisters, whose act we'd give plenty to see. No such luck, though, because as far as we know the movie isn't available in any format. Too bad. We don't know if it's meant to inform so much as titillate, but we'd love to see what it has about Egypt. Well, we can hope. Obscure movies become accessible all the time. Sexy doesn't have a premiere date, but it came out sometime in 1962.
She was a higher being in the church of burlesque.
Is this Lili St. Cyr's most beautiful photo? Maybe, but why choose? They're all great, such as the ones we showed you here, here, and here. This shot is usually tagged with a date of 1956, but it's actually from no later than 1952. St. Cyr certainly could have worn this eye catching bustier for multiple photo sessions, but if you look at the cover of the true crime magazine Uncensored Detective below, you'll notice that she looks identical all the way down to the cowlick on her forehead and the curls above her ear. Her eye makeup is a little different, but that could have happened mid-shoot. The minutely identical hair leaves no doubt that both images are from the same session. The magazine is from May 1952, so we'll go with 1952 on the shot. But really, she's timeless. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1924—St. Petersburg is renamed Leningrad
St. Peterburg, the Russian city founded by Peter the Great in 1703, and which was capital of the Russian Empire for more than 200 years, is renamed Leningrad three days after the death of Vladimir Lenin. The city had already been renamed Petrograd in 1914. It was finally given back its original name St. Petersburg in 1991.
1966—Beaumont Children Disappear
In Australia, siblings Jane Nartare Beaumont, Arnna Kathleen Beaumont, and Grant Ellis Beaumont, aged 9, 7, and 4, disappear from Glenelg Beach near Adelaide, and are never seen again. Witnesses claim to have spotted them in the company of a tall, blonde man, but over the years, after interviewing many potential suspects, police are unable generate enough solid leads to result in an arrest. The disappearances remain Australia's most infamous cold case.
1949—First Emmy Awards Are Presented
At the Hollywood Athletic Club in Los Angeles, California, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences presents the first Emmy Awards. The name Emmy was chosen as a feminization of "immy", a nickname used for the image orthicon tubes that were common in early television cameras.
1971—Manson Family Found Guilty
Charles Manson and three female members of his "family" are found guilty of the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders, which Manson orchestrated in hopes of bringing about Helter Skelter, an apocalyptic war he believed would arise between blacks and whites.
1961—Plane Carrying Nuclear Bombs Crashes
A B-52 Stratofortress carrying two H-bombs experiences trouble during a refueling operation, and in the midst of an emergency descent breaks up in mid-air over Goldsboro, North Carolina. Five of the six arming devices on one of the bombs somehow activate before it lands via parachute in a wooded region where it is later recovered. The other bomb does not deploy its chute and crashes into muddy ground at 700 mph, disintegrating while driving its radioactive core fifty feet into the earth, where it remains to this day.
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