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.
When Mansfield makes a promise she keeps it—and then some.
Check out the poster at top for the infamous Jayne Mansfield movie Promises! Promises! It's so garish it almost hurts the eyes, but we think it's top notch, a framable classic made for an important cinematic landmark. Around the time this film was produced, Hollywood, for both financial and artistic reasons, was pushing the boundaries of censorship. There had been nude scenes prior to the advent of the creativity-strangling Hays Code, but from the mid-30s to 1960s there were no naughty bits onscreen. Europe was well ahead in that regard, with late 1950s films such as And God Created Woman taking advantage of greater freedoms to include snippets of nudity by major stars. In the U.S., low budget nudie flicks were being made, but no legit star had crossed the line. Marilyn Monroe probably would have been the first, but her flash in 1961's The Misfits was cut, and 1962's Something's Got To Give was never completed.
Cue Mansfield—also so garish she almost hurts the eyes—suffering from a career slump and deciding to seize the nude crown with both hands. Promises! Promises! falls into that classic American category of the schlub sex comedy, which is to say, the lead male is an unremarkable everyman miraculously paired up with a beauty. This formula holds true in American movies and television even today—think Big Bang Theory or Ross from Friends. The plot deals with two childless married couples on a cruise who get pregnant but suspect it happened because the husbands cheated with each other's wives. It sounds like a ripe concept, but unfortunately the filmmakers forgot one of the main ingredients necessary for a sex comedy—laughs. Promises! Promises! is borderline moronic.
But bad movies often make a mint. The producers' bet that audiences wanted to see Mansfield nude was correct. Sophomoric as the resulting film was, it was a big hit, though only non-U.S. filmgoers got to see the uncensored version at first. That's the one we watched, and the promise of a skinful experience was fully delivered—and then some. While Mansfield doesn't show her girlfur, she's naked as a Jaynebird from every angle, and her bare segments are also shown as flashbacks several times to let audiences relive those golden moments. To say she broke the censorship barrier is an understatement. She splintered it and stomped the pieces while screaming at them to stay down. So if you watch this you'll not only be flirting with a boner—you'll be watching a legitimate historical landmark. What more reason do you need? Promises! Promises! premiered in the U.S. today in 1963.
Welcome to the school of hard knocks and sharp knives.
How does an interest in bad cinema start? For us it began with Switchblade Sisters. We'd seen scores of bad movies growing up and through college, but after those years we moved toward mainstream movies and well reviewed indie cinema. Sometime after we started our magazine we received a comp ticket to a late night showing of Switchblade Sisters. It was an old b-movie also known as The Jezebels being re-released by Quentin Tarantino's Rolling Thunder Pictures, and we watched it in a landmark cinema packed with people primed to have a raucous time. It was a hell of a night*, and the afterparty was good too.
Plotwise, what you get with Switchblade Sisters is a juvenile delinquent flick about a high school gang called the Silver Daggers and its women's auxiliary the Dagger Debs. Robbie Lee plays the head Deb, while Joanne Nail plays a new girl brought into the gang. Everything is fun and games until jealousy rears its ugly head due to the fact that Lee thinks her man, who's the leader of the Silver Daggers, wants the new girl. Matters deteriorate when Nail sets off a war between the Silver Daggers and a rival gang. These are seriously murderous clans, fully intent on killing each other. Gunplay abounds, blood flows copiously, and the lesson is— Well, we aren't sure. Say no to gangs, we guess.
Switchblade Sisters is atrociously acted in parts, and mediocrely acted in all the other parts, but Robbie Lee deserves special mention for making a three course meal of her role, delivering every line as if she has a case of lockjaw. Someone must have told her tough people speak through clenched teeth. But so do constipated people. Someone should have told her that too. But some movies are more than the sum of their parts, and Switchblade Sisters falls into that category. It's terrible, but uproarious. Dumb, but immensely entertaining. We can't think of many better films to watch with friends. And that's worth a lot in this crazy world. Switchblade Sisters originally premiered today in 1975.
*The best part of that premiere night was actually showing up for the film. The promotional company had reserved a row of seats for local reviewers. PSGP was our magazine's movie critic. He showed up in this packed cinema and took a reserved seat. Some fratboy-looking chump in the row behind him leaned forward and told him, “These seats are reserved.” It's here we should mention that PSGP doesn't look like what most people would think of as a film critic, so he knew exactly what was happening—this moron, who was not anyone of any importance or authority, and had no connection whatsoever to the premiere except he probably won tickets from a radio giveaway, took a look at PSGP and decided to play citizen enforcer.
Fratboy chump got up and told the people running the premiere that someone had invaded the reserved seats. PSGP saw it happen. Fratboy flagged down someone, had a conversation while pointing directly at PSGP, and probably felt full of power for calling the cinema cops. PSGP savored the next moment, when the guy was told the evil seat inavder was in fact one of the invited critics and was sitting in exactly the right place. Fratboy moron, crestfallen, went back to his seat, and PSGP, without turning around, said, “That didn't work out the way you hoped, huh?” He got good mileage from the story at the afterparty. And the fratboy? He wasn't invited.
Kenneth Anger explores Hollywood's darkest recesses in his landmark tell-all.
Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon is the grandaddy of all Tinseltown exposés. It was published in 1965, banned ten days later, and shelved until 1975. It's exactly as advertised, outing everybody that was anybody for everything. Entire chunks are devoted to Charlie Chaplain, Lana Turner, Errol Flynn, Fatty Arbuckle and other cinematic luminaries. Some of its claims have been proved false—for instance the assertion that Lupe Velez died with her head in a toilet, and that Clara Bow screwed the USC football team (we doubt anyone really believed that one, even back then). But other tales are basically true, including accounts of various legal run-ins and feuds.
Anger's writing is uneven, but at its most effective mirrors the type of pure tabloid style that influenced the likes of James Ellroy and others. Besides the salacious gossip the book has a ton of rare celeb photos, and those are of real worth. We've uploaded a bunch below. They came from a digital edition because our little paperback was too fragile to get on a scanner. By the way, don't feel as if we're working overtime on our website this Christmas morning—we uploaded everything in advance and are actually nowhere near a computer today. We're glad you took a minute to drop by. Copious vintage Hollywood below.
There's no business like Monroe business.
Spanish illustrator Francisco Fernandez Zarza-Pérez painted this beautiful poster for the comedy Luces de candilejas, aka There's No Business Like Show Business, and signed the piece as his alter ego Jano. As you can see by comparing the poster to the set photo below, he covered Monroe's leg, which maybe isn't surprising, since he was working in Franco's fascist Spain. Even so this is by far the best poster we've seen from him. The movie's Spanish title Luces de candilejas translates as “candle lights,” which is appropriate, as Marilyn Monroe gets into the type of moth-to-flame difficulties in which she specialized, with her arrival as a new talent on the Vaudeville scene bringing strife to a show business family. No pulp material here—it's a pure musical, with a lot of performance numbers from Monroe, Mitzi Gaynor, Johnnie Ray, Dan Dailey, and headliners Ethel Merman and Donald O'Connor. The Jano artwork makes the poster a must share, but the film is a pass—not because it's a Vaudeville musical, but because it's bland, due in part to Monroe's minimal screen time. Luces de candilejas premiered in Spain today in 1959, and you can see more Jano here.
Two of pinku's biggest stars headline a special film festival in Tokyo.
If you find yourself in Tokyo today, Cinema Laputa Asagaya is hosting a retrospective of films featuring two of the biggest pinku stars of the 1970s—Reiko Ike and Miki Sugimoto, who are not only big stars but also Pulp Intl. faves who we've discussed many times. A new film will be featured every weekend until April 1, with all the pair's most legendary efforts appearing on the program, including Yasagure anego den: sôkatsu rinchi, aka Female Yakuza Tale (discussed here and here), Zenka onna: koroshi-bushi, aka Criminal Woman: Killing Melody, for which you can see the badass promo poster here, and of course Furyô anego den: Inoshika Ochô, aka Sex & Fury, which we talked about way back in 2009. There will be thirteen films in all, and the festival represents the best chance to see all these movies on a big screen in many years, and in a pretty cool location too. If you're in the vicinity, don't miss it.
It's a marvelous time for a loon dance.
This audacious wraparound cover is from Greenleaf Classics for Ricardo Armory's, aka George Davies' 1968 gay sleaze novel Fruit of the Loon. It's a satire of Richard Amory's hit trilogy Song of the Loon, featuring cowboys at the Circle 69 Ranch, a medicine man named Squirming Ass, and more. What makes the parody all the more interesting is that Song was gay fiction also published by Greenleaf, so they're roasting their own author here, as well as his novel that sold hundreds of thousands of copies, making it by far the biggest hit in gay literature in the 1970s. According to Drewey Wayne Gunn's book Gay American Novels, 1870-1970: A Reader's Guide, “[Fruit of the Loon] is not only hilarious but better written than the original.” The cover is better than the original too. It's doubtless Robert Bonfils or Darrel Millsap—probably Bonfils because thickly black-rimmed eyes appeared often in his Greenleaf work—but absent confirmation we'll go with unknown.
Motel owner Gerald Foos spied on his guests for decades. Now his story is set for publication.
The New Yorker magazine's newest online issue features author Gay Talese's biographical account of a man who may be the most dedicated and successful voyeur who ever lived—Gerald Foos, who bought the Manor House Motel in metropolitan Denver in 1966, installed ceiling vents in more than a dozen rooms, and until 1995 watched his guests most intimate moments from an attic observation space. The vents were louvered and angled in such a way that he was invisible from below, and the attic was modified with carpet and reinforcing wood to make him undetectably silent as he lurked above his guests. In this way he observed thousands of couples, singles, and groups having sex, masturbating, arguing, using drugs, showering, using the toilet, and—on one occasion—committing murder.
Foos considered himself a researcher of sorts, and his decades of watching people's sexual liaisons gave him many insights into personal relationships as well as American society at large. All the while he took detailed notes of his observations and thoughts, which he eventually offered to Talese after contacting the author in 1980. Talese has culled those extensive writings for the publication of an upcoming book. The New Yorker article outlining Talese's meetings with Foos, their long correspondence, and the author's visit to the motel to peer through the illicit vents for himself, is long but we recommend a visit to the website to read it. And in case you're wondering, the Manor House Motel was demolished in 2014, so travelers in the Denver area need not worry about being secretly observed. At least at that motel.
Christina Hart offers a special type of in-flight service.
This Japanese poster for the American film The Stewardesses indicates that the movie played in 3D. That wasn’t the case only in Japan—it played in 3D globally and, because it was produced for about $100,000 and grossed $25 million, became the most profitable 3D film released up to that point. The movie was rated X, but it’s a non-porn film, with no actual sex to be found. Basically, star Christina Hart and her fellow stews party and get laid. That’s it. As a bonus for 60s-philes, there’s a psychedelic approach to the filming and some groovy music, along with Monica Gayle doing nude yoga, Hart making out with a stone bust and displaying one of cinema’s earliest bald groins, and various cast members enjoying lots of softcore nuzzling and wriggling. Does that sound your bag, man? Radical. The Stewardesses premiered today in 1969.
Hah! That was your last bullet! You’re out! You’re utterly screwed! Now what are you gonna—
On this amusing cover from Graphic Books a surprised P.I. narrowly avoids a serious beaning from a woman who definitely doesn’t want to be his valentine. 1953’s Post-Mark Homicide originally appeared as The Widow Gay in 1950 with the same art, painted by unknown on both editions, sadly. The novel is these days published with the author credited as Arthur A. Marcus. So what happens here? A crooked D.A. needs to recover a set of incriminating letters, hires a studly P.I. to do it, who in turn has to deal with a recently widowed—like, earlier that day—but not exactly grieving gangster’s moll. This pistol-slinging move never worked in the movies, and it doesn’t work here either, but we always love to see it.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1958—Workers Assemble First Corvette
Workers at a Chevrolet plant in Flint, Michigan, assemble the first Corvette, a two-seater sports car that would become an American icon. The first completed production car rolls off the assembly line two days later, one of just 300 Corvettes made that year.
1950—U.S. Decides To Fight in Korea
After years of border tensions on the partitioned Korean peninsula, U.S. President Harry Truman orders U.S. air and sea forces to help the South Korean regime repel an invasion by the North. Soon the U.S. is embroiled in a war that lasts until 1953 and results in a million combat dead and at least two million civilian deaths, with no measurable gains for either side.
1936—First Helicopter Flight
In Berlin, Germany, in a sports stadium, Ewald Rohlfs takes the Focke-Wulf Fw 61 on its first flight. It is the first fully-controllable helicopter, featuring two counter rotating rotors mounted on the chassis of a training aircraft. Only two are ever produced, and neither survive today.
1963—John F. Kennedy Visits Berlin
22 months after East Germany erects the Berlin Wall as a barrier to prevent movement between East and West Berlin, John F. Kennedy visits West Berlin and speaks the famous words "Ich bin ein Berliner." Suggestions that Kennedy misspoke and in reality called himself a jelly donut are untrue.
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