But you can't refuse, or I'll release your shameful sex tape and you'll be ruined. How does becoming a reality star change that? And what the hell is it anyway?
We became interested in the thriller Blackmailer because it was by George Axelrod, who would later go on to become one of Hollywood's most respected screenwriters, scripting such films as Bus Stop, Breakfast at Tiffany's, The Manchurian Candidate, and How To Murder Your Wife. Some reviewers really like this novel, but we thought it was middle-of-the-pack. The bones of the story are good. It's about a publishing executive offered one of the world's most famous author's final, posthumous manuscript—which we quickly learn may not be genuine. The reasons the ultimate villain wants it published are unexpected, but we think Axelrod should have ended up with a better final result. Even so, he supplies the usual thriller ingredients—some twists, a couple of beautiful women, a few beatdowns, and a lot of drinking—which means Blackmailer is worth a read. This edition came in 1952 from Fawcett Publications and Gold Medal Books, and the cover art of a woman lounging with the world's largest pillow is uncredited.
Mafia bigmouth's associates poke a few holes in his treasoning.
The peculiarly deflated figure you see above is George Rudnick, nicknamed Whitey, and with a handle like that you don't even have to see him dead to know he was a crime figure. He was also a stool pigeon, so one night his colleagues brought him along on a car theft caper, and after they boosted the wheels, they attacked him, choking him while stabbing him fifty or more times with an icepick. Some accounts say he was brutally hacked with a meat cleaver. We're inclined to think it was an icepick for the obvious reason that all his body parts seem intact, but in either case, you'd be deflated too after something like that. It happened today in 1937.
It took a few years, but two mafia footsoliders, Harry “Happy” Maione and Frank “The Dasher” Abbandando, both members of the infamous Murder, Inc., were arrested, indicted, and convicted for the killing. They appealed and were granted a new trial, but another guilty verdict sent the pair to a date with old sparky in Sing Sing Prison on February 19, 1942. If there's a lesson here, aside from don't hang with guys nicknamed Happy and Dasher unless they happen to work at the North Pole, it's probably to keep in mind how very, very picky the mafia is about employee loyalty.
Something old, something new.
This is something a bit unusual. It's a life-sized promotional cardboard cut-out for 1982's film noir-sourced comedy Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid, which starred Steve Martin and Rachel Ward. We thought of this film recently due to Martin's new Agatha Christie-influenced television mystery series Only Murders in the Building, which we watched and enjoyed. We first saw Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid years ago, long before Pulp Intl. and all the knowledge we've gained about film noir. We liked it much better during our recent viewing.
If you haven't seen it, Martin uses scores of film noir clips to weave a mystery in which he stars as private detective Rigby Reardon. Aside from Ward, and director Rob Reiner, his co-stars are Ava Gardner, Humphrey Bogart, Burt Lancaster, Barbara Stanwyck, Ingrid Bergman, Lana Turner, Cary Grant, and many others, all arranged into a narrative that turns out to be about cheese, a Peruvian island, and a plot to bomb the United States.
The film's flow only barely holds together, which you'd have to expect when relying upon clips from nineteen old noirs to cobble together a plot, but as a noir tribute—as well as a satirical swipe at a couple of sexist cinematic tropes from the mid-century period—it's a masterpiece. If you love film noir, you pretty much have to watch it. Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid had its premiere at the USA Film Festival in early May, but was released nationally today in 1982.
So just out of curiosity, why aren't you paddling an Uber? Seems like everyone else is.
This spectacular cover for Thomas Sterling's Murder in Venice was painted by James Hill, an artist of obvious skill but one we rarely encounter. The book was originally published in 1955 as The Evil of the Day, with this beautiful Dell edition coming in 1959. Sterling tells the tale of a man named Cecil Fox who invites three guests from abroad to his Venetian mansion in order to pretend he's near death and tease them with the promise of inheriting his wealth. These three guests are people he's not had much contact with in recent years, which makes the game even more delicious for him, the way the trio feel plucked from their lives of obscurity to possibly be gifted wealth and status. Factions form and subterfuges abound, but everything is thrown into disarray when one of the guests is murdered. Was it to eliminate a possible inheritor? To add intrigue to the game? Or for other, unguessable reasons?
Go with option three. The whole point of murder mysteries is to be unguessable. Murder in Venice is a pretty good puzzler, with a small set of curious characters and a few forays into the Venetian night. Sterling gets inside the head of his protagonist Celia Johns quite effectively. She's the personal assistant to one of the invitees, and thus has no skin in the game. She just wants a fair wage for a fair day's work. At least that what she says. Her host Mr. Fox, on the other hand, seems to think everyone is corruptible, and everyone is money hungry—it's just a matter of baiting the hook in the right way. He thinks he knows most people better than they know themselves, and he doesn't see Celia as any sort of exception.
While Murder in Venice is a mystery, it's also a minor sociological examination of what it means to some people to be rich but face losing their money, and what it means to others to not value money at all. Sterling scored a success, but interestingly, he borrowed the idea from Ben Johnson's play Volpone, which premiered way back in 1606. Sterling was up front about his inspiration, and within his novel the play even makes an appearance on a drawing room shelf. Frederick Knott, who wrote the famed plays Wait Until Dark and Dial M for Murder, later adapted Sterling's novel into a 1959 play called Mr. Fox of Venice. The next year the book was published in France as Le Tricheur de Venise and won Sterling the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière for foreign authors. And finally, Joseph Mankiewicz combined the original play, Sterling's novel, and Knott's play into a 1967 movie called The Honey Pot.
When material gets recycled to that extent, it's usually good, and Sterling does his part. He was a diplomat before becoming an author and lived in Italy for years, so we would have liked more color from someone who obviously knew Venice well, but he's an interesting writer even without the aid of scenery, as in this moment of musing from Celia: She said, “my sleep,” as though it were, “my dress,” or, “my ring.” It belonged to her. Every night had a certain amount, and if she lost it she was frantic. She had forgotten that sleep was not a thing, it was a country. You couldn't get it, you had to go there. And it was never lost. Sometimes you missed a train, but there was always another coming after. In the meantime, neither the green hills nor the nightmare forests ever changed. They stayed where they were and you went to them. And sooner or later you would go and not come back.
Climate change dredges up grim evidence of crimes thought long forgotten.
Earlier this week in Nevada, someone ambling along the shoreline of Lake Mead found a corroded oil drum that had a nasty surprise inside. Police determined that the contents were human remains, and that the poor individual died of a gunshot wound sometime in the mid-1970s to early 1980s. Whoever killed the person dumped the body deep into the lake—actually a huge reservoir formed by Hoover Dam—but because of an ongoing drought in the western states, the water has in recent years dropped more than a hundred feet below its maximum, revealing tracts of previously submerged land. Authorities believe that as the water level continues dropping they'll find more bodies. And why is that? Well, Las Vegas is nearby.
In a related story, somewhere in Sin City an elderly mobster awoke from an afternoon nap in a sweaty panic, put his hands to his painfully throbbing head, and said: “I felt a great disturbance in the Force. It's as if a voice I thought was silenced decades ago suddenly cried out in terror.” Silence doesn't always last. For sure that'll be the interesting part of this—seeing if modern forensics can identify the body, a good possibility considering the advances of recent decades. And of course identification might lead to suspicions about who dumped it.
The elderly mobster later phoned a slightly less elderly hitman and ranted, “You told me it'd never be found!” To which the hitman said, “Who am I? Nostra-fuckin'-damus? I'm supposed to know the goddamned lake's gonna dry up? You still getting chauffeured around in that old Cadillac? I got a hybrid, so don't blame me!” To the list of problemscaused by global warming, add grisly corpses reappearing, and former hitmen virtue signaling about their carbon footprints. Which the mobster was too old to understand anyway. “Hybrid? You know I never worked with them! I never liked them, and I never trusted them!”
Plenty of mob-connected people have disappeared from Las Vegas over the decades. As pulp aficionados we have to hope they're all in the lake. Seriously, wouldn't it be fantastic if like seventy bodies turned up? Meanwhile, we bet there's an uptick in local bottled water sales. While it's true the reservoir's output is purified before it gushes through city faucets, and the nuclear testing grounds and chemical plants scattered around Vegas have probably left worse than corpse pathogens in the lake, images of human remains tend to give people a special kind of willies. You can purify the water, but you can't purify people's natural fear of death and decay. Since nothing serious is actually being done about global warming, we at least recommend a more sustainable form of victim disposal. When trouble looms, hide the evidence better. It's time to innovate, Gen Z—older generations have failed.
Mafia gunmen make a mess of Masseria.
As artistic crime photos go, this shot of Giuseppe Masseria's corpse on the floor of Villa Tammaro, a seafood restaurant in Coney Island run by mobster Gerardo Scarpato, ranks highly. During the 1920s Masseria was the head of what later became known as the Genovese crime family. He was involved in a power struggle with another crime group run by Salvatore Maranzano, but at the same time there were tensions within Masseria's group because he was an old world, old school mobster who refused to work with non-Italians, and thus was leaving millions of dollars in criminal profits unclaimed. One of the young mafiosi in his clan who thought Masseria was an old-fashioned fool was Charles Luciano, aka Lucky Luciano. Tensions between Masseria and Luciano eventually devolved into open hostilities.
Masseria was a careful guy. He traveled in an armored sedan. But it's hard to take care of business from behind plate steel and bulletproof glass, so when Luciano invited him to a meeting at Villa Tammaro that promised to tamp down intra-clan tensions and refocus everyone on Salvatore Maranzano, the real enemy, he took the chance. He went to the restaurant, and the confab must have gone cordially up to a point, because Masseria, Luciano, and a couple of other men began playing cards. But at some point Luciano excused himself from the table and Masseria was gunned down by a fearsome foursome of Albert Anastasia, Vito Genovese, Joe Adonis, and Bugsy Siegel.
There were a few other skirmishes for control, but essentially, taking Masseria off the board was the beginning of the end of hostilities. One more old school kingpin had to go—Maranzano, who had been communicating secretly with Luciano and had offered a deal of peace in exchange for Masseria's death. Months later Luciano took care of him too. With Masseria and Maranzano gone, the new mafia was restructured, modernized, and began working with non-Italians. Many accounts of Masseria's killing say he died at dinner, and while that's technically true, the autopsy showed that he had eaten nothing. Maybe he was afraid of being poisoned. Though cards had been scattered around the room in the chaos, the ace of spades was probably placed in his hand by a photographer. That was today in 1931.
Swiss bank receives long deserved exposure thanks to data leak.
We're occasionally asked why we don't do modern true crime write-ups as often as we once did. There are a couple of reasons. We actually have jobs, and the research on crime stories is time consuming. But secondly, modern day swindles, scams, and corruption are out of control to the extent that writing about them seems redundant. But we're making an exception today because one of our previous subjects, who we wrote about way back in 2009, has popped up in the news again. That would be Hisham Talaat Moustafa, who was sentenced to death for hiring out the murder of his ex-girlfriend, Lebanese pop star Suzanne Tamim. His was one of thousands of names just revealed in a massive financial data leak from Credit Suisse, one of the most prestigious banks in Switzerland, which hides money for the richest people in the world. We think everyone knows Swiss banks are corrupt, right? Their first secrecy laws were adopted in 1713. It's safe to say they've been corrupt for almost that long. Over the years Credit Suisse's clients have included Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, who stole $10 billion from the Philippine treasury, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, Panamanian drug lord and CIA informant Manuel Noriega, thousands of Nazis who were hiding their expropriations, and countless shady shell companies. One can insert the usual objections about taxes here, but the point is that regularpeople must pay them, yet the rich and powerful somehow always manage to avoid their fair share, even when they've generated their loot through illegal or even genocidal means. As with many morally rudderless institutions and people, what Swiss banks do is perfectly legal, but “perfectly legal” is the phrase uttered by people who know they're willfully engaged in behavior that obviously should be illegal—and in fact is illegal for everyone but the rich and connected.
Credit Suisse is trying to pretend that the leak reveals old accounts from before the bank cleaned up its practices (which it never substantially did), but the spin won't be effective because the data reveals that the bank is currently holding money for human traffickers, drug lords, oligarchs, stock cheats, treasury looters, mafia kingpins and—in the case of Hisham Moustafa—murderers. Correction—pardoned murderers, since he was released thanks to presidential decree in 2017. The information on all this corruption was originally passed to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung via an anonymous whistleblower, and the odds are good that in a matter of weeks or months that currently unknown person will be outed and have to make a full time job of trying to avoid the total destruction of his or her life and a prison sentence—no pardon pending.
Tax and corruption problems have exploded globally as elite greed has grown, the profits from criminality have soared, digital technology has created previously-unheard-of fortunes, offshoring of profits has become standard practice, deregulation and the de-facto dissolving of anti-trust laws have allowed corporations to grow more powerful than countries, and austerity has shrunk or eliminated the enforcement mechanisms of public institutions. In fact, in addition to funneling money from regular people to corporations and the rich, the other point of austerity is to shrink government to prevent it prying into the affairs of corporations and the rich. Libertarians rejoice. Insider trading, commodities fraud, and money laundering are all now rampant, and there's nothing people can do about it because the government institutions meant to be centers of oversight were taken over by the rich decades ago.
Moustafa paid to have his girlfriend knifed to death. Unlike murderers able to hide behind the fig leaf of non-conviction, his guilt was established as a fact during a criminal court proceeding. He was sentenced to hanging but was retried and had his punishment reduced to a mere fifteen years. He spent, in total before his pardon, nine years in a country club prison, and all the while managed his wealth, built up his billions, andcame out of jail not disgraced and shunned, but welcomed, feted, and once again demanding and receiving VIP treatment, the best tables in the best restaurants, and the ear of the global elite. He threw a few coins to charity along the way to spit-shine his reputation, had his thriving conglomerate Talaat Moustafa Group donate some COVID vaccines, but still he's a murderer who wriggled loose from the hangman's noose, and today enjoys every privilege he ever enjoyed—while his victim is dead forever.
This is the place in which we find ourselves. We all understand, if we actually absorb factual information rather than apologist propaganda or fanciful myth, that the rich have fucked up this world, and the rest of us, as well as future generations, are going to pay to clean up the mess. If it can even be cleaned up, which is doubtful. And that's why we stopped writing about modern crime and corruption. It's pointless. It's banal. Writing about old crimes is an escape, a window into history and the mad hearts of men and women who are long, long gone. Writing about current crimes is self-flagellation. We'll still do it on occasion when the urge strikes, like today, but we're well aware that people tend to complain more as time goes by and we don't want to fall into that trap. We want Pulp Intl. to be a place of entertainment and wonder—by which we mean amazing art, exciting fiction, bizarre historical and Hollywood facts, and beautiful women.
X-mas marks the spot where one Angeleno met his end.
Above are two photos we've uploaded not for any morbid reasons, but more as a reminder that every day should be lived well, because alas, this comes to pass for us all one way or another. Wait—that was morbid, wasn't it? Well, whaddaya gonna do? Anyway, you see Yellow Cab hack Conrad John Favreau laying dead in a Los Angeles street after being shot in the back of the head by an unknown assailant. There's blood on the rear fender of the cab, showing approximately where he was standing. But with no witnesses, it's impossible to know why it happened. Was it resistance to robbery? A fare dispute? An argument over saying happy holidays instead of merry Christmas? As far as we know, the crime went unsolved, though Santa Claus was not able to account for his whereabouts, which is quite suspicious, in our book. That was today in 1954, Christmas yes, but just another day in the naked city.
You're the new secretary? Take a memo. Recommendation: bonuses for everyone in the HR department.
We've been making our way through the old television show Bewitched, which has been entertaining and surprisingly funny. As always, such series had numerous guest stars, some of whom would later become famous themselves. Beverly Adams, who you see above, guest starred on the show in 1965, episode 30, as a character named Danger O'Riley, and rarely has an actress made such a splash. It wasn't her first Hollywood credit, but it was one of her most memorable. See what we mean here. Adams went on to appear in such films as The Silencers, Murderer's Row, and The Ambushers, as well as television shows like Police Story and Quincy M.E. She was never a big star, but she was certainly a rare beauty. This photo dates from 1967.
How do you spell murder in Italian? H-i-t-c-h-c-o-c-k.
Above is a beautiful Italian poster for Delitto perfetto, better known as Alfred Hitchcock's Dial M for Murder, a movie we watch every five or seven years and always greatly enjoy. This semi-abstract effort isn't the only Italian poster for the film, but it's the best, in our view. We weren't able to find out who painted it, and considering it sold on a swanky auction site without that info, it seems as if nobody knows. Such good work uncredited, it's a shame. However, at this link you see another poster for the film, and that one is signed by Angelo Cesselon. Since both have a Hitchcock profile, and there's a stylistic similarity in other areas too, especially if you focus on the women's faces and the males' trench coats, we think it's possible Cesselon painted both pieces. The evidence wouldn't hold up in court, but it's good enough for us. Nice work, Angelo. Delitto perfetto premiered in Italy today in 1954. |
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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