Down at the end of lonely street.
This amazing promo image of U.S. actress Shirley MacLaine was made for her iconic 1963 film Irma la Douce, about a prostitute in Paris and the cop who falls in love with her. Millennials and post-millennials often dislike its unserious portrayal of prostitution, and that's understandable, but there's more going on than meets the eye. MacLaine's co-star Jack Lemmon has to come to grips with her sexual history if he's to love her. That idea was an advancement for cinema, even if the trade-off was that the woman was portrayed as promiscuous. MacLaine had already played similar role in 1960's The Apartment, and other films had begun to make explicit the fact that good women were not necessarily virgins. Irma la Douce was a landmark in that sense. It's also a movie that has produced some stunning promo images, such as this one and this one. We may even dig up more later.
She's dangerous when her abacus is against the wall.
Above, a cool shot of one of mid-century cinema's agreed upon top beauties, Italian actress Virna Lisi, here standing against an abacus wall that she needs to keep track of all her admirers. We've never seen a wall like this before. Never seen a woman like this before either. The photo was made for her 1965 romantic comedy How To Murder Your Wife, in which she starred with cinematic treasure Jack Lemmon. Definitely see that film. It's incalculably fun.
It's taken a few weeks, Tony, but I'm really starting to feel like a woman. I have like fifty useless receipts in my purse.
Above, a sound stage photo of Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in costume for their roles in Some Like It Hot, in which they starred with Marilyn Monroe. The movie premiered today in 1959 in Memphis, Tennessee, for some reason, then hit Chicago, Washington, D.C., and New York City later in the month.
Monroe, Curtis, and Lemmon give jazz a swing.
On this promo poster for the Marilyn Monroe comedy Certains l'aiment chaud, aka Some Like It Hot, it looks like Russian illustrator Boris Grinsson went a little strong on Monroe's wink, making her look like she got a splinter of glass in her eye, but Monroe actually looked that way in the promo photo used as the basis of the art, which you can see at right.
You know all about this movie, so we won't bother to go over it. We'll just mention, if you haven't seen it, don't be surprised that it's in black and white. There are so many color production photos from this one—like the several we've shared below—that we even forgot. And we'd seen the movie several times, though not in about ten years. When it opened with documentary style footage of a car chase and shootout followed by a title card reading “Chicago, 1929,” we were thinking, “Ah, this is where it shifts to color.”
But of course it didn't, and we suddenly remembered that this was a later black and white production, made the same year Technicolor films such as Ben Hur and North by Northwest hit cinemas. According to our research, Monroe actually had a stipulation in her contract that all her films had to be in color, but director Billy Wilder wanted black and white because the heavy makeup worn by Curtis and Lemmon—who spend most of the movie disguised as women—looked green in Technicolor. He lobbied Monroe and she finally agreed her co-stars could not be green.
Does Some Like It Hot fit under our self-defined umbrella of pulp? Of course—there are gangsters, the aforementioned shootout, and it's about two jazz musicians on the run. And few Hollywood figures are more pulp in essence than Monroe. The character of nightclub singer Sugar Kane is one of her better creations. Sit back and enjoy. Some Like It Hot premiered in the U.S. in February 1959, and opened in Paris as Certains l'aiment chaud today the same year. Another promotional poster by Grinsson appears below, and you can see the very different West German promo poster here.
Tabloid tells curious readers everything they always wanted to know about things that are none of their business.
The last time we checked in on Top Secret was with their October 1962 issue. Today we’re visiting January 1964 and plenty has changed in the intervening months. Foremost—the paper and printing quality have degraded to what surely must have been the lowest standard available at the time, which is why our scans are grainy. But we can still recognize June Wilkinson on the cover, who we’re told is retiring from modeling, and inside readers hear from Ursula Andress, Jack Lemmon, Brigitte Bardot, Shirley MacLaine, Mandy Rice-Davies and more.
Editors also tout “one of the most earth-shaking advances in the exploration of outer space!” Wow. Was it warp drive? A transporter beam? A stargate? No. It was that America’s newest astronaut, Edward Dwight, Jr., was a different skin color than the other astronauts. We might deign to call that an advance in the attitudes of NASA during an age of state apartheid. Space travel, on the other hand, remained space travel, unchanged. Top Secret implies Dwight was the first black American qualified to be an astronaut, and by so doing avoids admitting that the door was simply closed before his arrival. You know this game—all backslapping, zero introspection. But we get it. “Our First Negro Astronaut!” is a bit more celebratory than, “We should have done this from the beginning.”
But we must move on, because the real gem in this issue comes later, in the story you see announced in the cover’s blazing red banner: Hidden Homos—How To Spot Them! Goodness, where to begin with this? First, we’ll say we would dearly love to reproduce this entire article as an artifact of an intellectual dark age, but it’s Saturday, and time is fleeting. Just know that the language is baroque in its viciousness. Thestory begins with the tale of a company president who unknowingly hired a gay man and had no idea until several years later when the hiree—now a manager—got drunk at a company party and began slapping and scratching another man. Soon four employees were involved in this spat. The company president exclaimed: “My God! Those men are all queers!”
Top Secret explains: “Once the camouflaged homosexual has gotten himself a snug berth, he starts easing others of his ilk into the office. Before long, most of the straight male employees are out on their ears and the camouflaged fags have taken over.” Editors then list the eight most common types of gay men against whom normal, red-blooded Americans must be vigilant (by refusing to hire for any sort of job, potentially harassing out of the neighborhood, and possibly reporting to the authorities). Ready? Here we go with a few highlights:
1: The Overly Fastidious Dresser—obsessive interest in clothes is a feminine trait, and in men it may well be a danger signal.
2: The Overly Hygenic Type—their faces are invariably too-closely shaven. They make a fetish of washing their hands.
3: The Uriah Heep Type—he seeks to prove how very humble and insignificant he is by heaping praise upon others.
4: The Maiden Aunt’s Delight—these men associate with older women because such women make no heterosexual erotic demands upon them.
5: The Solitary Drinker—although he is not gregarious or even friendly, his eyes are constantly roving, covertly peering at others in the bar, particularly other men, seeking a sign of recognition from another secret swish. When he sees one he will give a signal in return and soon both fruitcakes will depart to enjoy a “courtesy exchange.”
6: The Octopus—they put their hands on other men’s shoulders, dig them in the ribs, slap their thighs…
7: The Middle-Aged Mama’s Boy—such an obvious Oedipal situation may indicate homosexual tendencies or homosexuality in adult men of any age, married or single.
8: The Youth Lover—he is constantly engaged in youth work, organizing clubs, leading outings, playing the part of the jolly, ebullient uncle.
It would be interesting to do the opposite of everything on this list and see how long it takes our social, family and sex lives to fall apart. Just a thought. Anyway, Top Secret finishes the article with this bomb: “These are by no means the only types of secret swishes but they are the ones the average person is most likely to encounter.” So basically, the list is all well and good, but anyone can be gay. To which your average non-Neanderthal would reply, “Yes, anyone can be gay. And?” Well, and the editors of Top Secret suggest that anyone displaying suspicious behavior should be investigated more closely. Hmm… we wonder what depth and form those investigations should take? More scans below.
One good Virna deserves another.
We featured Italian actress Virna Lisi as a femme fatale in September, but we’re bringing her back today because this shot really works for us, and she is, after all, Virna Lisi. If you’ve never seen her, we suggest you immediately watch How To Murder Your Wife. It’s about a playboy (Jack Lemmon) who goes on a drunken binge and wakes up married to a stranger (Lisi). He desperately (and inexplicably) wants to be rid of her, and so he concocts a murder plot. He has no intention of actually going through with it, but things get complicated. It’s a comedy, and it stays funny viewing after viewing. Rent it, watch it, love it.
Inquiring minds needed to know: Did she… or did she?
This issue of Top Secret from April 1962 asks the question: Did Kim Novak really perform in the nude during the filming of The Notorious Landlady? In the movie, Jack Lemmon bursts in on Novak while she’s bathing and she delivers her dialogue covering her breasts with her arms. It was racy stuff for back then—in fact, one contemporary review referred to the scene as “degrading”. Columbia Pictures’ publicity department fanned the flames by letting it be known that Novak had no bodysuit or other covering, meaning one of the most desirable women in Hollywood had been seen in the buff by an entire film crew. Hubba hubba. However Top Secret says the story is untrue and Novak was, in fact, covered. Whatever the truth, the timing was perfect, promotionally speaking. The Notorious Landlady hit cinemas that same month with the tagline “Did she… or DID SHE?” The line referred to a murder her character was suspected of committing, but it dovetailed nicely with the nude controversy. So the question remains: Did she… or DID SHE? And the answer is: Judge for yourself below.
Midnight offers yet more fiction in the guise of reportage.
The thing about Midnight is that they didn’t need much to build an issue. A couple of phony, sex-oriented stories, some outraged letters to the editor, their monthly “Hollywood Confidential” column, a bunch of sleazy little ads for the back pages, and they were good to go. In this issue from forty-three years ago today we learn that a UC Berkeley co-ed is earning enough credits to graduate by performing a “first hand” survey of American sex practices. For that, she needs volunteers. Lots of them. Another story, written by Element J. Pussypimple (seriously) discusses a Sheffield, England sex school that teaches teens to get it on without getting pregnant. But the real gem in each issue of Midnight was John Wilson’s column “Hollywood Confidential,” which was as libelous an effort as ever appeared in an American tabloid. In this issue alone, Wilson claims Elvis Presley placed an emergency call to his plastic surgeon because his new nose was sagging, Chris Noel ditched her date Richard Boone at the Whiskey-a-Go-Go and ran out the back door with Tom Tryon, Jack Lemmon hit a man over the head with a brass ashtray, and Barbara Stanwyck resorted to paying tabloids to arrange trysts for her with young men. Wow! Spinning a web of lies that vast is no easy feat, but it's go big or go home at Midnight. Check out more issues by clicking keyword "Midnight" below. See you Monday.
Monroe delivers in a classic comedy.
It had a classic premise: two Jazz Age musicians witness the 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre and have to flee Chicago before the Mafia massacres them too. They disguise themselves as women and hide as members of an all-female musical troupe. One of the men, played by Tony Curtis, falls in love with fellow musician Marilyn Monroe but can’t reveal his gender; the other man, played by Jack Lemmon, is pursued by a rich and persistent suitor who thinks he’s found the woman of his dreams. It was called Some Like It Hot, and it was the type of absurd adventure only a confident veteran like Billy Wilder could have directed. He used all of his experience to coax top-notch acting out of a troubled Marilyn Monroe, who needed twenty to thirty takes to get some of the scenes right. In the end you’d hardly notice—her performance as Sugar Kane Kowalczyk looks effortless, as does those of Curtis and Lemmon as the two bickering buddies running for their lives. The final result was an award-winning comedy that even fifty years later has the power to deliver out-loud laughs. Above you see the film’s German promo art, which in our humble opinion is a masterwork in its own right. Some Like It Hot premiered in West Berlin today in 1959.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1916—Rockwell's First Post Cover Appears
The Saturday Evening Post publishes Norman Rockwell's painting "Boy with Baby Carriage", marking the first time his work appears on the cover of that magazine. Rockwell would go to paint many covers for the Post, becoming indelibly linked with the publication. During his long career Rockwell would eventually paint more than four thousand pieces, the vast majority of which are not on public display due to private ownership and destruction by fire.
1962—Marilyn Monroe Sings to John F. Kennedy
A birthday salute to U.S. President John F. Kennedy takes place at Madison Square Garden, in New York City. The highlight is Marilyn Monroe's breathy rendition of "Happy Birthday," which does more to fuel speculation that the two were sexually involved than any actual evidence.
1926—Aimee Semple McPherson Disappears
In the U.S., Canadian born evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson disappears from Venice Beach, California in the middle of the afternoon. She is initially thought to have drowned, but on June 23, McPherson stumbles out of the desert in Agua Prieta, a Mexican town across the border from Douglas, Arizona, claiming to have been kidnapped, drugged, tortured and held for ransom in a shack by two people named Steve and Mexicali Rose. However, it soon becomes clear that McPherson's tale is fabricated, though to this day the reasons behind it remain unknown.
1964—Mods and Rockers Jailed After Riots
In Britain, scores of youths are jailed following a weekend of violent clashes between gangs of Mods and Rockers in Brighton and other south coast resorts. Mods listened to ska music and The Who, wore suits and rode Italian scooters, while Rockers listened to Elvis and Gene Vincent, and rode motorcycles. These differences triggered the violence.
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