Politics, show business, and sports collide in one of the U.S.'s oldest magazines.
We've shared lots of issues of The National Police Gazette, but this September 1959 cover, more than others, neatly emphasizes the magazine's three focus areas—politics, celebrity, and sports. Dishing on political figures and celebs was typical for mid-century tabloids, but Gazette's devotion to sports made it unique. And its favorite sport was boxing. Every issue we've seen has reserved a chunk of pages for the sweet science.
In this case the scientist is Sugar Ray Robinson, and the story about him discusses the rivalry he had with Carmen Basilio. The two fought twice when Robinson was in decline at the tail end of his career. Sugar Ray lost the first bout—considered by boxing historians to be one of the greatest fights ever—and a year later won the second. Every boxer declines, but Robinson's career record stands tall—he fought two hundred times and tallied 173 wins, 108 of them by knockout. But for all that hard work he ended up—as boxers often do—flat broke.
Police Gazette was launched in 1845, as incredible as that seems, and was still going strong more than a century later when this issue appeared. We have about twenty-five scans below and seventy-five more entries on Gazette in the website comprising many hundreds of pages. The easiest way to access those, as well as numerous other mid-century tabloids, is via our tabloid index located here.
Sophia Loren applies personal experience to her ideas about marriage.
Above is a cover of Midnight with a nice photo of Italian superstar Sophia Loren, and a header suggesting trial marriages for couples over twenty-one. Did she say it? Quite possibly. Her marriage to film producer Carlo Ponti was an international scandal thanks to popes and others sticking their noses into her private business. But back then they thought it was their right—actually, their holy duty—because divorce wasn't legal in Italy and Ponti was still married. He and his wife had split and had nothing to do with each other, but the Catholic church assured Loren she'd go to hell if she married Ponti. Well, she did it anyway by proxy in 1957 and officially in 1966. So in August 1970, when this issue of Midnight appeared, we think it quite likely that she had some well formed ideas about marriage. In any case, nice cover.
The tabloid media was like a pack of animals and Mansfield was the meal.
We never realized this before, but the editors of Whisper really had it in for Jayne Mansfield. We mean more than usual for a vicious tabloid. Most of the issues we have contain highly negative stories about her, such as this one published in 1962 that calls her and husband Mickey Hargitay “the biggest pair of boobs in the business.” Geez, what did she do to them? Piss in their grits? Dropkick their Corgis? Obviously, the biggest boobs thing is a play on words referencing Mansfield's bust, but they're referencing her personality when they talk about her “false façade” and “up-front ways.” Regardless of whether Whisper approved of Mansfield, it couldn't stop featuring her—a fact the magazine acknowledged. We'll see her in these pages again.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Whisper, the amazing Señor Fidel Castro makes one of his regular appearances. Like Mansfield, the magazine couldn't stop writing about him. According to the editors, the Beard had launched a plot to addict American youth to drugs. We call Castro amazing because according to various mid-century tabloids he was simultaneously training Viet Cong soldiers in Cuba, funneling arms to U.S. inner cities, assassinating JFK, planning to overthrow the Catholic Church, raping teenaged girls, and helping East Germany revive the Third Reich. Talk about great time management skills. If only we were half as organized.
Did drugs flow from Cuba to the U.S.? It's an accusation that has come up numerous times over the years. Considering that since at least 1950 drugs were flowing into the U.S. from Colombia, Mexico, Peru, Brazil, Afghanistan, Thailand, et al—it would be astonishing if drugs didn't also originate from or transit through Cuba. With what degree of official approval we'll probably never know. Heads of state are notoriously insulated. In fact, the only one we can think of offhand who was definitively tied to drug dealing was Panama's former strongman Manuel Noriega, who was doing it with the help of the CIA,, but we can probably safely assume he wasn't the first national leader to peddle drugs.
Whisper isn't aiming for investigative journalism in its Castro piece. That would require actual work. Its story is 90% lollipop, 10% stick. But the ratio of fiction to fact is meaningless as long as the writing fits the brief: focus obsessively on the sensational, the frightening, and the infuriating. That's why we call mid-century tabloids the cable news channels of yesteryear. Though people were doubtless highly agitated about what they read in these quasi-journalistic outlets, the passage of decades makes them harmless fun for us to explore. Maybe one day a future website—or whatever passes for one ages from now—will be able to make jokes about the things agitating us. Let's hope so. We have a bunch of scans below, and more tabloids than we can count inside the website. Look here.
It's all skin no wit as tabloid stumbles along on its last legs.
It's July 14, 1974 and it's getting late in the game for National Informer. This issue shows that the magazine is exhausted of ideas and inspiration, and is bereft of all but the crassest humor. We suspect staff reductions. As magazines decline in circulation they lose pages and bleed staff. This issue is a full eight pages shorter than two years earlier. We aren't sure how much longer Informer lasted, but by this point the writing seems to be on the wall.
One mainstay, though, is resident seer Mark Travis, who offers his thoughts about the far future, predicting that Greenland will become the next frontier by 2050 due to underground volcanoes turning it into a tropical paradise, and Brazil will become a world power by 2075, ranking only after the U.S., China, and the U.S.S.R., thanks to cheap labor and the vast resources of the Amazon.
This guess is not far wide of the mark. The current president of Brazil is selling off the Amazon. But Travis's prediction is undermined by the fact that the U.S.S.R. no longer exists. Future visions tend to be notoriously select, but a non-U.S.S.R. future should be glaringly readable even within swirling clairvoyant mists. Well, no seer is perfect. Maybe Travis will do better in the next issue. You'll find out, because we have more to come.
There's nothing quite as stimulating as a vintage sleazy tabloid.
When the phonograph was invented, one of the things its advocates suggested was that it might be used for education, for example to listen to correspondence courses at home. Instead, in time it became a medium for selling music. When radio was invented it too was called a possible method for distance learning, and television was likewise touted as an educational device. And most of you will remember the high-minded rhetoric of what the internet would be used for. But today it's mainly a cesspool of crass salesmanship, lowbrow entertainment, mass manipulation, and intellectual self harm. So we thought we'd add to the morass today by sharing the infinitely sleazy National Informer Reader.
This issue in all its baby blue glory appeared today in 1975 with an unidentified cover model. The magazine, you may remember from previous times we've featured it, was an offshoot of National Informer, and a pared down version of National Informer Weekly Reader. The “reader” aspect is close to euphemistic, as there is no actual reportage at all, and the few stories provided are just short form sleaze fiction. We've talked about all this before. Today, for a change, we thought it might be fun to focus on the want ads. Or maybe hope ads is a more accurate description. The term “dick pic” is a recent invention, we think, but it probably should have arisen a long time ago. Check below:
He probably should have cropped the photo down to only his left-hanging dick (his left, not yours) to have a better shot at a response. In any case, the flourishing of the mid-century tabloid industry will remind you that mass communication has always bred lowbrow gratification. Some say the internet supercharged our darkest desires, and that's true, but we never actually needed digital technology to let our ids run free. Even pulp literature, with its murder, infidelities, and testosterone driven fantasies, is an example of the marginal blossoming into the mainstream. Well, there are few publications as marginal as National Informer Reader, as you'll see in twenty scans below with numerous explicit personal ads. Check our tabloid index for more examples of Reader.
Everybody who was anybody was fair game in Harrison's Hollywood.
In independent journalism there's a battle raging at all times, as those with power attempt to intimidate the press, make its work difficult, control its narrative, restrict its access, redefine what constitutes journalism, or even cast individual members of the press as public enemies. It's a battle that never ends. Confidential magazine was an important soldier on the journalistic battlefield. For ages anything that appeared in Hollywood gossip magazines was carefully crafted and groomed by the studios, which maintained power by denying access to all but officially accredited press outlets.
Maverick publisher Robert Harrison was a visionary who realized the public would open their wallets and pay for the lurid truth—even if the rush to get startling scoops meant the truth was sometimes only half-correct. Confidential appeared in 1952, and had the studios quivering in their boots by 1954. The issue you see here came later, this month in 1963, in what is acknowledged as the magazine's later, tamer period, a defanging that came about thanks to numerous lawsuits launched by Hollywood stars, backed by powerful California politicians.
Confidential still managed to entertain, even if its stories were of a less invasive nature than before. But notwithstanding the new rules of engagement, some targets received particularly scathing treatment. Liz Taylor and Richard Burton were among them. The magazine says their legendary affair on the set of Cleopatra began as a studio publicity stunt, which backfired when Taylor actually fell for Burton—and into his bed. That may be true, but failure can be relative. On one hand Taylor's squeaky clean image was ruined forever, but on the other the story of her affair generated immense amounts of free press for Cleopatra.
Other celebs who get cooked on the rotisserie include Joan Collins, Anthony Newley, Rex Harrison, Vince Edwards, and pioneering trans entertainer Christine Jorgensen. The magazine also tackled the issue of street prostitution in New York City and an epidemic of glue sniffing among American teens. We have a set of scans below and—stop us if you've heard this before—an entire tabloid index with thirty more posts about Confidential, to be found here.
He wasn't the first and he turned out not to be the last.
This issue of The National Police Gazette was published this month in 1954, with a cover asking whether Senator Joseph McCarthy was right or wrong. About what exactly? About whether the U.S. Army was infiltrated by communists. This Gazette appeared during the Army–McCarthy hearings, which were held from April to June of ’54, looking into accusations of corruption made against a McCarthy loyalist by high ranking members of the U.S. Army, and McCarthy's commie counter-accusations, as well as assertions by him that the Army's claims against his associate were politically motivated. You could mistreat and insult lots of groups in the United States back then and most people didn't greatly care, but as a politician you couldn't—and still can't—do it to the armed forces. McCarthy was a classic demagogue who trafficked in blame and demonization of entire groups of people, but he overstepped his bounds when he took on the Army. He came out of the hearings looking terrible, and his downfall was assured.
Police Gazette is solidly on McCarthy's side, though, which is no surprise if you know anything about the magazine. The basis of its support is that McCarthy was right that there were influential communists in America. At the time, only a brave few people seemed capable of asking why that was an issue at all.
Numerous western countries had fully functioning communist parties then, and for the most part they still do. Yet given a place in the arena of ideas, communists haven't gained much traction with the public. Possessing the right to elect communist politicians, the vast majority of people haven't voted for them, and in the case of the U.S. it's reasonable to assume they never will.
Yet McCarthy believed U.S. voters should not even be allowed to hear communist ideas. It may be stating the obvious in this day and age, but if traditional political offerings—from whatever end of the spectrum—can't win the debate against those of an upstart's, then it's because politics as usual are adjudged by the populace to be a failure. The obvious solution for mainstream parties is to have better policies, but often vested interests make that a practical impossibility.
McCarthy and the Gazette believed suppressing communist political thought was a sign of strength, but in reality it was a sign of weakness symptomatic of an irrational fear that their policies, if measured against those of communists, would fail to win the hearts of American voters. And this is perhaps why, while American demagogues such as him sometimes have their moment of support, history never judges their lack of faith kindly. The McCarthys of political life always pretend to be divinely guided, or driven by a greater purpose, or bestowed with an unshakeable public mandate—sometimes all three—but once the cruelty at the heart of their demagoguery becomes clear, their supporters quietly scurry for the exits.
In the end, demagogues go into the history books as, at best, national embarrassments, or at worst, scourges and human monsters. Americans don't much like presumptions to be made for or about them. Really nobody does, even presumptions for the supposed greater good. McCarthy's name has become an adjective signifying a type of opportunistic treachery, the place of honor in the American political pantheon he thought he was building for himself never came to be, and he died knowing people were glad he was going away. He won't be the last American demagogue this happens to. We have numerous scans below, and many more Gazettes in the website.
Enquiring minds are pretty twisted.
National Enquirer conjures up another sensational celebrity quote on the cover of this issue published today in 1960 featuring Tunisian born Italian actress Sandra Milo. Enquirer's modus operandi for years was to publish statements of this sort. Did Milo really say men—and by extension her paramour Roberto Rossellini—should belt women? We seriously doubt it, but you know what's still frightening? The quote probably represents Enquirer editors playing to a customer base we can picture nodding their heads and saying, “Fuckin'-a right.” The real value in these items, and the reason we share them, is because of the rare photos, which generally have never been seen online. This is another example. And you can see many more at our tabloid index here.
An errant pass leads to an infamous court case.
The National Insider takes on a controversial subject with this issue that hit newsstands today in 1963. The gist of the story is that forty-something George Brinham invited sixteen-year-old Laurence Somers to his London flat, made a pass by saying, “Give us a kiss,” and got clocked on the head by a shocked Somers with a wine decanter. Brinham died, and Somers went on trial for murder. As the details came out, the British public learned that Somers didn't merely hit Brinham once, but three or four times. He then dragged Brinham's body into the bedroom, hit him once more for good measure, and tried to stage the apartment to look as if a burglar had been the assailant. But haste makes waste—he left his coat and a pair of gloves in Brinham's flat. Police caught up with him shortly thereafter and he was arrested and charged with murder.
The case was fascinating. The judge immediately reduced the charges from murder to manslaughter. Defense attorneys portrayed Brinham, a former Labor Party official, as predatory and decadent. A pathologist testified that his body showed “physiological indications of the practice of homosexuality,” and added that his skull was “half the normal thickness.” Meanwhile, Somers' virility and youth was played up, how he once swung a sledgehammer in an abattoir and became unusually strong. At the end of the trial the judge flatly directed the jury to find Somers not guilty, stating: “[Brinham] attempted to make homosexual advances. I think that is about as clear a case of provocation as it is possible to have.” In the end the jury indeed set Somers free.
In general, bludgeoning someone to death for making a non-violent pass, further damaging the body, tampering with the scene, attempting a cover-up, and failing to report a death should result in some charge or other sticking. But not this time. Insider's take on the event pretends journalistic impartiality, but in reality weights the scales. Somers gets the final word: he discusses his incredulity at “setting out for an innocent Saturday night and finishing up a killer.” He'd heard about homosexuals, he says, but never met one. The same could be said of the British public. But after George Brinham was outed, it thought it had. The case confirmed mainstream Britain's toxic prejudices against gay men. But Somers was never forgotten by friends and advocates—his murder became a spark for the gay rights movement of the 1970s.
And now an important message from the underbelly of American publishing.
And the message is: sex sells. It's been several years since we delved into an issue of National Bulletin. It was the brainchild of New Rochelle, New York based Beta Publications, which was also behind Spotlite Extra and Close-Up Extra. All Beta's tabloids were about nudity, and this issue, published today in 1973, continues the trend. Bulletin editors used handout photos to build the issue. Handouts were, we've mentioned before, photos sent around to magazines for purposes ranging from promoting movies to generating exposure for unknown models. Of course, the process works properly only if the photos are credited, and few in this Bulletin are, not even the cover model. One face is recognizable to us, though—actress and sex symbol Nadia Cassini, whose image is used to illustrate a feature called "You Name It...We've Done It," about two women experimenting with some juicy nouvelle cuisine.
Handout photos were never meant to be used without credit, but back then it wasn't possible for publicists to know what happened to all the shots they sent out. Generally they asked magazines to send clippings back to the agency, and those mailings were then compiled into folders that publicists shared with clients to prove the efficacy of their work. But if a tabloid like Bulletin simply never mailed any clippings, publicists never knew their clients' photos had been used. A good thing, because we have a feeling Cassini wouldn't have wanted to be described as “inching her tongue between the lips of [a woman's] vee.” Although, personally, we can't think of a better usage of spare time. In any case, a lot of women were borrowed to create this nudity packed issue of National Bulletin, and we doubt any of them were properly credited. Twenty-plus scans below.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
Pierre Laval, who was the premier of Vichy, France, which had collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, is shot by a firing squad for treason. In subsequent years it emerges that Laval may have considered himself a patriot whose goal was to publicly submit to the Germans while doing everything possible behind the scenes to thwart them. In at least one respect he may have succeeded: fifty percent of French Jews survived the war, whereas in other territories about ninety percent perished.
1966—Black Panthers Form
In the U.S., in Oakland, California, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale form the Black Panther political party. The Panthers are active in American politics throughout the 1960s and 1970s, but eventually legal troubles combined with a schism over the direction of the party lead to its dissolution.
1962—Cuban Missile Crisis Begins
A U-2 spy plane flight over the island of Cuba produces photographs of Soviet nuclear missiles being installed. Though American missiles have been installed near Russia, the U.S. decides that no such weapons will be tolerated in Cuba. The resultant standoff brings the U.S. and the Soviet Union to the brink of war. The crisis finally ends with a secret deal in which the U.S. removes its missiles from Turkey in exchange for the Soviets removing the Cuban weapons.
1970—Angela Davis Arrested
After two months of evading police and federal authorities, Angela Davis is arrested in New York City by the FBI. She had been sought in connection with a kidnapping and murder because one of the guns used in the crime had been bought under her name. But after a trial a jury agreed that owning the weapon did not automatically make her complicit in the crimes.
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