When there's a blonde on the premises anything can happen.
Any movie called Dangerous Blondes is a mandatory watch, if only because it might give us insight into the mind of PI-1, the most dangerous blonde we know. We learned nothing useful on that front, but the movie was entertaining. It stars Allyn Joslyn as a famous mystery author who sometimes helps the cops but mostly gets on their nerves. Does that sound familiar? 1937's Super-Sleuth, which we watched earlier this year, also features a celebrity crimesolver who sometimes helps but mostly gets on the nerves of the cops. And of course there's that Thin Man celebrity sleuth guy. Hollywood, it seems, has always beaten dead horses.
As it happens, though, the filmmakers beat life right back into this particular carcass. Dangerous Blondes is a cut above because of Evelyn Keyes, who'd be interesting to watch even clipping coupons or digging holes in the garden for her spring magnolias—let alone in a meaty role co-headlining a high budget mystery. She plays Joslyn's better half as the two try to solve the murder of a society lady laid low in a photography studio. Simply put, she's tops in screen magnetism and elevates everything she's in.
Nothing else about the movie is exemplary, but all of it is pleasant and competent. You get a locked room mystery, an amusing lead male, a bumbling inspector, a bit of slapstick from the fringe castmembers, and a resolution complete with the classic line, “If it hadn't been for your meddling I'd have gotten away with this.” They don't make 'em like this anymore. Actually, no—strike that. The two Knives Out movies play in these waters, and the Hulu series Only Murders in the Building is exactly what Dangerous Blondes is, but updated for modern tastes. You should probably watch all of the aforementioned. The latter premiered in the U.S. today in 1943.
Even in the height of summer New York City can be a cold, cold place.
In this photo made today in 1930, a policeman stands over the body of Louis Riggiona, who had been shot twice in the heart by two gunmen as he and his brother Joe exited a restaurant in New York City's Bowery district. Joe fled and avoided injury, while the gunmen dropped their weapons (one pistol is visible in the foreground) and escaped. Louis Riggiona had become the latest casualty in what was known as the Castellammarese War, a Mafia power struggle whose opposing figureheads were Salvatore Maranzano and Joe Masseria. Maranzano was from Castellammare del Golfo, Sicily, thus the name of the conflict. He won the war, but got to be capo di tutti i capi for only five months before he too was murdered.
If you think these are big you should see the sack I carry them in.
This photo features pre-Code actress Doris Hill in a shot made by photographer Eugene Robert Richee. She looks about to bowl, but we think she's holding balloons, not balls. Anything else would be too heavy. Usually when we say someone is pre-Code we mean they got famous before the Hays Code took effect and continued acting afterward, but in Hill's case everything she did was pre-Code, with her entire career spanning 1926 to 1934. Among her films: Thief in the Dark, The Studio Murder Mystery, and Darkened Rooms. We thought because of the unusual background on this photo that we'd be able to pinpoint what film it was made for, but we had no luck. But we can tell you the date. Most sources say it's from 1929.
Gangster life has great benefits but the retirement plan leaves a lot to be desired.
It seems like the same lesson is imparted by nearly every vintage Mafia photo we run across—ambition is a double-edged sword. Dominick Didato, aka Terry Burns, who you see above in a photo made by Arthur Fellig, aka Weegee, lies dead on a New York City street where he was gunned down today in 1936. He was killed for interfering with rackets run by Lucky Luciano. It was a low percentage play. Luciano was literally the most powerful mobster in the U.S. at the time, and as the saying goes, you come at the king, you best not miss.
He was an innocent bystander. The stander part doesn't apply anymore.
The only information accompanying the above image, which is from the Los Angeles Police Department photo archive, is that an unidentified bystander was shot to death during a botched jewelry store robbery. That was today in 1932. The photo came to public notice when it was exhibited back in 2019 by L.A.'s Lucie Foundation, along with more than 80 other images.
Automobile fatalities in L.A. increase by one.
This macabre image, which showed up online a while back thanks to an exhibit of one hundred years of Los Angeles Police Department photos, shows an LAPD detective regarding a muder victim whose throat was cut while he was in his automobile. There's no information about who the victim was or why it happened, but it's an arresting image of a grisly end. The shot was made by Leon Driver, who when he arrived in L.A. from Texas in the early twenties was arrested for vagarancy, but by 1925 was one of the earliest official photographers employed the LAPD. He made this photo today in 1929.
The shots heard round America.
We suspect most Americans know of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre, which occurred today in 1929, but somewhat fewer have seen its actual result. If you're one of them—Happy Valentine's Day!—you can now cross that off your list, as above are pictured six unfortunates who learned that the gangster life often ends bloody. Albert Kachellek, Adam Heyer, Albert Weinshank, Reinhardt Schwimmer, John May, and Frank and Peter Gusenberg were in the SMC Cartage Company warehouse on Chicago's north side when they were corralled by four rival gangsters, two of whom were wearing police uniforms and sporting fake badges, and blasted into oblivion with Thompson submachine guns and shotguns. May, who was probably there only because he was repairing a truck, lost the left side of his skull to a round of buckshot.
The murders stemmed from a turf war between the North Siders, who were headed by Bugs Moran, and the Chicago Outfit, led by Al Capone. It's Moran's men who got ventilated. Capone, in true gangster style, was away in Florida at the time. The photos show only six victims because Frank Gusenberg miraculously survived the shooting and was rushed to a hospital, where a few hours later he died of his fourteen bullet wounds while refusing to identify his killers. Even to this day their identities are not conclusively known, though ballistics evidence later suggested one was veteran hood Fred Burke. The massacre may not have resulted in murder convictions, but it drew the attention of Washington, D.C. authorities, led to broad new efforts to tackle organized crime, and eventually led to Capone's imprisonment for federal tax evasion in 1931. Please enjoy this romantic day.
Learn how to be a killer in one easy novel.
Above is a colorful cover for Peter Rabe's Le tueur, a book better known as Anatomy of a Killer. It was published as the latter in 1960, with this French translation from Éditions de la Trevisse appearing the next year. Obviously, there was a better known novel—actually a novela—by John. D. Voelker, aka Robert Traver, called Anatomy of a Murder that was published in 1958 and became an acclaimed Jimmy Stewart movie in 1959. Why did Rabe choose such a similar title? No idea. But the title tells the story: detailed examination of a professional hitman, as the narrative follows him from killing to killing. The art on this is by Jacques Blondeau, who painted numerous book covers during the 1960s. Based on this nice effort we'll stay alert for more of his work.
It was the Whisper heard from coast to coast.
Above is a cover of the tabloid Whisper from January 1965, with actress Carroll Baker, convicted murderer Winston Moseley, and New York judge J. Irwin Shapiro starring on the front. But before we get into the magazine, we want to share the good news that our longtime scanning problems are fixed. We didn't get a new scanner, though. We got a new computer—a Mac Studio with plenty under the hood. It's quicker than the old Mac, but it also changed the functionality of the scanning interface. The whole process runs differently, and is about three times faster now. So you'll be seeing more magazines in the future.
Turning back to Whisper, Winston Moseley—who editors call William for some reason—was America's villain of the moment for the murder of Catherine Genovese, who he stalked, stabbed with a hunting knife, then found again where she had taken refuge in a building, and finished her off. Additionally, Moseley was a necrophiliac. He raped his victims—of which there were three total—post-mortem. Of the trio of victims Genovese is the one that's remembered today because her murder sparked a national reckoning about the relationship between citizens and the police, as well as life in big cities, because the press reported that thirty-eight people had seen the crime happening but had done nothing.
As it turned out, that number was wildly inaccurate, but never let the truth get in the way of perfectly cooked, juicy tabloid outrage. A quote appeared in nearly every story about the murder: “I didn't want to get involved.” New York City—where the crime occurred—and other metropolitan centers were criticized as uncaring places. Author Harlan Ellison, who at that time was writing urban crime fiction, weighed in, saying, “not one of [the witnesses] made the slightest effort to save her, to scream at the killer, or even to call the police.” Peak outrage was achieved by New York State Supreme Court Justice J. Irwin Shapiro when he expressed a desire to execute Moseley himself. In the end, Moseley wasn't executed at all. He died in prison in 2016 at age eighty-one.
Elsewhere in Whisper, you'll notice that the magazine is—unsurprisingly, given the time period and nature of the publication—antagonistic toward gay men, as demonstrated by the panel with the blaring text: “Who's Queer Asked the Peer?” But what is a surprise is that later in the issue the editors run a detailed piece on transvestites and transsexuals, and the approach is very different than the contempt shown toward homosexuality. As we've pointed out many times before, mid-century tabloids had a deep interest in trans issues. The story is titled, “A Doctor Answers What Everyone Wants To Know About Sex Change Operations.” The tone is as follows:
The condition he referred to was the common plight of all male transsexuals. Physically he was a man, but emotionally and personality-wise he was a woman, a condition that made it difficult to find successful employment, and to live at all happily. Fortunately, in his case, he had a lawyer and a wise judge who were able to help him in his wish to go to Europe for a sex change operation so that his body could be brought into greater harmony with his mind, and enable him to work and live with a degree of happiness he had never known before.
That's respectful—if not even compassionate—for a 1965 publication considered lowbrow by sophisticated readers. Is it a paradox that the magazine could be so evil toward gay men, yet so civil toward transsexuals? We think so, and we'd love to know the thought process behind it. While we're puzzling that out, you may want to move on to Whisper's slate of celebrity news. Everyone from Romy Schneider to Ernest Borgnine get their due exposure. We've uploaded the magazine's “Behind the Whispers” feature, so you can get the dish on a few Hollywood stars. Please enjoy. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1964—Mass Student Arrests in U.S.
In California, Police arrest over 800 students at the University of California, Berkeley, following their takeover and sit-in at the administration building in protest at the UC Regents' decision to forbid protests on university property.
1968—U.S. Unemployment Hits Low
Unemployment figures are released revealing that the U.S. unemployment rate has fallen to 3.3 percent, the lowest rate for almost fifteen years. Going forward all the way to the current day, the figure never reaches this low level again.
1954—Joseph McCarthy Disciplined by Senate
In the United States, after standing idly by during years of communist witch hunts in Hollywood and beyond, the U.S. Senate votes 65 to 22 to condemn Joseph McCarthy for conduct bringing the Senate into dishonor and disrepute. The vote ruined McCarthy's career.
1955—Rosa Parks Sparks Bus Boycott
In the U.S., in Montgomery, Alabama, seamstress Rosa Parks refuses to give her bus seat to a white man and is arrested for violating the city's racial segregation laws, an incident which leads to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The boycott resulted in a crippling financial deficit for the Montgomery public transit system, because the city's African-American population were the bulk of the system's ridership.
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