The more things change the more they stay the same.
Above is a cover of the U.S. tabloid Inside Story published this month in 1955. There's a lot in this magazine, but since we keep our write-ups short we can't cover it all. One story of note concerns Betty Furness, an actress and pitchwoman whose squeaky clean image Inside Story claims is false. This is a typical angle by mid-century tabloids, the idea that a cinema or television sweetheart was really a hussy, lush, ballbreaker, or cold fish. Furness receives slander number four, with editors claiming she has “ice bound emotions,” “a cold, cold heart,” and is, “tough and tightfisted.” It's interesting that sixty years later resistance to a woman being anything other than a nurturer really hasn't diminished all that much, as many women with high public profiles would confirm.
Another story concerns the death of actress Virginia Rappe and the subsequent arrest of Fatty Arbuckle. In short, Rappe died after attending a party thrown by Arbuckle, with the cause of death attributed to either alcohol induced illness or rape and sodomy with a Coke bottle. Arbuckle went to trial three times before winning a final acquittal, though certain details of the death remained murky. The case was muddied by the influence of sensationalistic journalism, as publishing mogul William Randolph Hearst's nationwide chain of newspapers deemed sales more important than truth. The Coke bottle, for example, was entirely fabricated, but Hearst was unrepentant. He'd fit into the modern media landscape perfectly today, because for him money and influence justified everything.
And speaking of money, a final story that caught our eye was the exposé on the record business, namely the practice of buying spins on radio. The term for this—“payola”—was coined in 1916 but not widely known until the ’50s. Inside Story helps spread the terminology with a piece about pay-for-play on national radio stations. Like the previous two stories, this one feels familiar, particularly the idea that the best music rarely makes it onto the airwaves. Those who engaged in payola understood that people generally consumed whatever was put in front of them, therefore what was the point of worrying about quality or innovation? This remains a complaint about entertainment media today, but repetition still rules. To paraphrase the famed colloquialism: If you ain't going broke, don't fix it. We have thirty-plus scans below.
Vickers tells Midnight readers what's what.
This cover of Midnight dated today in 1965 features Laura Vickers, who is touted as an actress, but who had no credited film roles. In fact, for a while we thought she was a made up person, but that wasn't Midnight's style. The magazine had enough cred to get legit celebrities for its covers. So we kept checking and it turns out Vickers was an obscure glamour model who appeared in super low rent magazines like Flirt 'n Skirt and Black Nylons. Midnight was probably the closest she ever came to mainstream recognition—which is to say, not very close. So what's the score? As usual with this tabloid it's about sex. A man who knows the score knows what women want. But we don't need Midnight to know what that is. The Pulp Intl. girlfriends keep us well informed what women want: it all.
Can there ever be too much of a good thing?
We're still cleaning out that pulp closet, so above you see some random scans from another National Police Gazette. We have an excess of this magazine, and since these late stage editions aren't as interesting as the ones from the ’50s and ’60s, they have to go. And speaking of overabundance, our favorite story in this issue is, “The 3 Ways Wives Murder Their Husbands.” What are they? Apparently, food, aggravation, and sexual excess. We're guessing very few husbands receive number three on that list. But the good news is now you can tell your significant other that one of the world's oldest tabloids, a magazine established in 1845 and full of wisdom, says you should be killed with sex. Good luck with that.
Elsewhere in the issue you get Jacqueline Bisset, Gene Tunney, Jean Harlow, and the strange death of Paul Bern. The Bern incident is part of Hollywood lore. He was married to Jean Harlow for four months when he committed suicide by shooting himself. He left a note behind that apologized for a “frightful wrong" he had done Harlow, and referred to the previous night as “only a comedy.” It led observers to believe Bern had a sexual problem that he tried to solve by artificial means, only to fail. A strap-on, was the inference made by tabloids. But the truth never emerged, certainly not from Harlow herself. There's more to the story, and maybe we'll get into it later. Scans below, and more issues of Gazette here.
National Informer gets inside its readers heads.
We mentioned a while back that we bought some waterlogged tabloids. Above is the latest example from that pile—National Informer, published today in 1971, dipped like a teabag in liquid sometime after that. Inside you get the usual wild sex stories, cartoon humor, and phony outrage. But the winner in this issue is the article, “The Sexual Implications of Your Dreams.” We're going to quote it at length, because it's pretty funny:
When a man dreams of seeing a woman's sexual organs exposed, it means that a woman will soon offer herself to him. If the genitals are covered with sores, this is a bad omen, and indicates a long, serious illness which will require long treatment or surgery.
Dreams of oral intercourse with a woman indicate that success and wealth will be obtained, but that it will be quickly spent. Dreams in which a man engages in anal intercourse with a woman indicate that he will be highly successful financially, and will amass a considerable fortune.
That's priceless, and the last prediction makes perfect sense, since so many rich men have obtained their fortunes by fucking people in the ass. But Informer is not to be trusted with something as important as predicting the future. If you're looking for real dream interpretation, buy a dream book. We recommend Madame Zodia. She's legit.
Elsewhere in the issue is a handout photo of fishnet stockinged Swedish actress Janet Agren. Informer uses her to illustrate a story called “How Girls Make It Hard on Guys When It Comes to Sexual Satisfaction.” It's basically a primer on how to get women in bed, with one clever horndog taking the opportunity of a cross falling off a wall to tell a woman God wants her to have sex. That's low. And ingenious. Sixteen scans below and more Informer here.
America's oldest tabloid continues its appointed rounds.
Today we have the cover and some interior scans from an October 1971 issue of the National Police Gazette, which dutifully explores its usual realms of sports, crime, and Hollywood. The magazine was founded in 1845, which is always astounding to consider. We bought a pile of these ages ago. In fact, they were the first bulk purchase of tabloids we ever made for the website. These ’70s issues of Gazette tend to be very cheap, but, as late stage editions, don't hold much intrigue, which is why we hadn't scanned one since 2014.
But we have to clear some space in our Pulp cave, so we scanned this one and immediately sailed it into the recycling bin. On the cover you have Samantha Marsh, and inside you get Joe Louis and Max Schmeling, Australian model Deanne Soutar, speculations on how old men can be and still have sex, hashish smugglers from India, and a story on the mysterious death of actress Thelma Todd. More from Police Gazette coming soon.
National Spotlite gives readers a Halloween fright.
Another colorful National Spotlite cover, another set of wild stories to go along with it. In this one, published today in 1971, a couple of alleged New York models named Joan Goddard and Ursula Daniels expound upon the joys of same-sex love. These stories get explicit. How explicit? See if this doesn't make you sit up and take notice: “Her tongue quivered inside my sheath, licking its moistness and crawling up to flick and toy with my love-button. Then she sucked in the lips of my sex, taking my entire vagina in her warm mouth, scratching the delicate folds of flesh with her teeth and licking it all with her marvelous tongue.”
Written by a guy, don't you think? We can't confirm that. We can't—shall we say—put a finger on it, but it's a strong suspicion. Know why? Because generally these magazines were put together by balding forty-somethings in smoky offices as they burned through caffeine by the cup and anti-hemorrhoid cream by the tube. In any case, you see once again that these ’70s tabs were just sleaze literature in disguise, and in this case the goal was to titillate male readers, but also leave them disconcerted about being left out of potential woman sandwiches. If women were no longer sexually interested in men, surely the world was going to hell in a handbasket.
Lesbian models are fine as far getting male readers hot and bothered, but the story that's really meant to blow minds is “Sexual Witch Cults, U.S.A.” Again, more sleaze in disguise: “In the name of Beelzebub our Lord and Master, I consecrate thee. In this act we join with His Satanic Majesty in recognizing his power over our bodies and minds.” And the fucking begins. A naked man, his penis jutting solid from his thighs (!), strides up to the slim, dark girl on the altar and slides his full length into her waiting triangle.
The idea here is sexual devil cults—filled with men whose penises jut directly from their thighs—are spreading across the U.S. like hellfire. After two full pages of sexual detail that would make even a confessional priest blush, expert mystic Paul Rashau is wheeled out to admonish readers that, despite all the multiple orgasms and red hot sexual ecstasy, the cultists are “monkeying with forces they don't understand, and will surely destroy themselves.” Hmm... Scary, but even so, we might take the multiple orgasms now and worry about burning in hell later. But that's just us. See extensive scans from Spotlite here, here, here, and here.
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.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1915—Claude Patents Neon Tube
French inventor Georges Claude patents the neon discharge tube, in which an inert gas is made to glow various colors through the introduction of an electrical current. His invention is immediately seized upon as a way to create eye catching advertising, and the neon sign
comes into existence to forever change the visual landscape of cities.
1937—Hughes Sets Air Record
Millionaire industrialist, film producer and aviator Howard Hughes sets a new air record by flying from Los Angeles, California to New York City in 7 hours, 28 minutes, 25 seconds. During his life he set multiple world air-speed records, for which he won many awards, including America's Congressional Gold Medal.
1967—Boston Strangler Convicted
Albert DeSalvo, the serial killer who became known as the Boston Strangler, is convicted of murder and other crimes and sentenced to life in prison. He serves initially in Bridgewater State Hospital, but he escapes and is recaptured. Afterward he is transferred to federal prison where six years later he is killed by an inmate or inmates unknown.
1950—The Great Brinks Robbery Occurs
In the U.S., eleven thieves steal more than $2 million from an armored car company's offices in Boston, Massachusetts. The skillful execution of the crime, with only a bare minimum of clues left at the scene, results in the robbery being billed as "the crime of the century." Despite this, all the members of the gang are later arrested.
1977—Gary Gilmore Is Executed
Convicted murderer Gary Gilmore is executed by a firing squad in Utah, ending a ten-year moratorium on Capital punishment in the United States. Gilmore's story is later turned into a 1979 novel entitled The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer, and the book wins the Pulitzer Prize for literature.
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