You never forget the first time.
We recently saw the latest reboot of the classic blaxploitation film Shaft with Samuel L. Jackson, Jesse Usher, et al, and while the parties involved in that effort have their unique charms, this photo pretty much covers what made Richard Roundtree the best. He was, and remains, a bad mother— Shut your mouth! He was born today in 1942, and this photo dates from 1971.
If you're impressed by my backhand you should see my wing chun double punch.
We don't know if martial arts icon Jim Kelly played tennis, but we like this poster of the Enter the Dragon star working on his court moves. It was published in the African-American celeb magazine Right On! in 1979. Kelly was not a good actor, but who was in those low budget actioners from the 70s? You can count the true talents on ten fingers. But Kelly was the first black martial arts star, and a serious stud, which means his legacy is assured. He died today seven years ago.
B-movie actor generates A-list headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Show business careers go off the rails for a wide array of reasons—lack of talent, lack of audience appeal, substance abuse, and a predilection for general mayhem all come to mind. Hollywood actor Tom Neal fits legendarily into the last category. From his debut in 1938 through 1951 he logged more than seventy film appearances. That's incredible output by any measure. Most of his roles were in b-movies, but there were some notable parts mixed in. His career highlights included Another Thin Man, the film noir Detour, and Crime, Inc.
Neal caused minor scandals early in his career, but he graduated to the majors beginning in early 1951, when he met tempestuous actress Barbara Payton and the two began dating. Payton had announced her engagement the previous year to debonair leading man Franchot Tone, but her ideas about commitment weren't of the standard variety. She was still married to an Air Force Captain named John Payton while dating Tone, and had allegedly slept with Gary Cooper and Steve Cochran while working with them on the 1950 western Dallas. When Neal met her, she kicked Tone to the curb and announced she and Neal would be marrying. But Payton was fickle, to say the least, and ended up dropping Neal and getting re-engaged to Tone. All this while still married to her Air Force guy.
One thing Hollywood people can count on is crossing paths with their colleagues at one point or another—especially if they're dating the same woman. When Neal crossed paths with Tone and Payton in September 1951 at her apartment, he intended to punish the man who had won Payton's hand. Everyone in Hollywood knew Neal had been an amateur boxer. Maybe the qualifier “amateur” gave Tone excessive confidence. Maybe he didn't know that Neal, who you see below with barbells overhead and a tube sock in his shorts, had accumulated a 31-3record in the ring. Maybe Tone slipped on a dollop of Beluga caviar. Payton said Tone simply had no choice about fighting because Neal attacked him. Whatever the reason, Neal floored Tone with his first punch, and continued to beat him afterward, delivering cheek and nose fractures. Tone lay in an eighteen hour coma in the hospital. Ironically, that was the day Payton's divorce had come through. 1951 had been a pretty good year for Neal up to that point. But from then onward he was Hollywood persona non grata. He'd had more roles in ’51 than he would the entire rest of his career. We wouldn't go so far as saying that means Tone had the last laugh, since it would have been a extraordinarily painful laugh, considering the injuries and cosmetic surgery that followed. But okay, in that karmic way that's never fully satisfying, Tone at least must have felt a bit of Schadenfreude. Neal was blacklisted, and Payton was his. The good times didn't last. Hesoon discovered that Payton—wait for it—had never stopped seeing Neal, including while Tone was in the hospital with a broken face. So there went that marriage. It seemed as if Neal had unequivocally won Payton's affections after all, and she does look happy in the 1952 photo above, but it's probably no surprise to learn that the two parted ways after a few tumultuous years, some broken windows, and at least one police intervention. Payton went on to have truly epic problems that would put a South American novela to shame. Neal nursed his severely damaged career along, landing only occasional minor parts, and by the time the ’60s rolled around couldn't beg, barter, or buy a role. He had been married for a few years during the late ’50s, and in 1960 he married again, to a receptionist named Gale (sometimes Gail) Bennett, who you see below. In April 1965 police were summoned to Neal's home in Palm Springs where they found Bennett dead. She had been shot through the back of the head with .45 calibre pistol, the slug entering her skull behind her right ear and ending up in a sofa cushion. Neal wasn't on the premises when police arrived, but was soon arrested, and claimed the shooting had been an accident, the result of a struggle over the gun after his wife pulled it on him.
Accounts of the killing vary, as they always do. In some, Neal shot Bennett as she was taking a nap. In others, they argued. We even found one that said Neal claimed the accident occurred while he and Bennett were making love. At trial Neal's defense attorney claimed a mystery man had pulled the trigger. We were struck, however, when we found that Bennett had secretly filed for divorce, and in the filing specifically mentioned Neal threatening her with a .45 automatic. If that detail struck us, it certainly must have made an impact on the jury. In the end, after a sensational trial, the dozen jurors convicted Neal of involuntary manslaughter.
Neal spent only six years behind bars before being paroled. That's a pretty sweet deal for what many suspected was a clearcut case of premeditated murder. Also, note that during the dust-up with Tone, one witness said Neal threw more than thirty punches after Tone was down. That could be construed as attempted murder, were you inclined to put a label on it, and if that was the plan it almost worked. Doctors thought for a while Tone would never awaken. Neal was a rough and tumble fellow, there's little doubt. But looks and a bit of charm will carry you a long way in life. Eventually, though, even those can run dry. Neal died eight months after his release from prison, aged fifty-eight, of heart failure, looking a shell of his former self.
Sparks fly when Hollywood bigshots tangle.
The above photo, which was made today in 1952, shows Los Angeles film producer Walter Wanger entering the L.A. Hall of Justice. Wanger was one side of a Hollywood love triangle, and perpetrator of one of Tinseltown's most storied crimes. He had learned that his wife, actress Joan Bennett, was cheating on him with her agent Jennings Lang. Wanger decided to deal with the issue by trying to shoot Lang in his wanger. Stories vary concerning whether he actually managed to Jake Barnes the guy, but most reputable sources say he missed his target and instead hit Lang in the thigh, groin, or both, depending on which account you read. That was in December 1951. Wanger would be arrested for assault with intent to commit murder.
In the photos below, also from today 1952, you see Wanger inside the courthouse preparing to answer for those charges. At his side is Hollywood superlawyer Jerry Giesler. You'd think even a superlawyer would have a difficult task defending a client who tried to to eunuch a guy, but this was Giesler. Beating impossible odds was his calling card. He opted for the temporary insanity defense, and thanks to him, Wanger drew a mere four months at a country club jail called Castaic Honor Farm—fitting for an inmate who claimed to be defending his honor. There Wanger worked in the sun planting cabbages and probably pondered what had gone wrong in his marriage leading up to that fateful 1951 shooting. Some accounts claim Wanger merely suspected Bennett of cheating, but others claim convincingly that Wanger knew it for a fact, because he'd hired a detective who found that the lovebirds had met in New Orleans, the Caribbean, and in a Beverly Hills apartment owned by one of Wanger’s friends, the agent Jay Kanter. Despite his wife's transgressions, Wanger must have found some form of peace out there under the Castaic sun, because he remained married to Bennett for fourteen more years. The wounded Lang recovered fully, and presumably used his wanger on safer partners. A few years after his near miss he married and stayed married until he died. As for Bennett, her career declined sharply, and she believed it was because of the shooting. She felt she had been blacklisted. She once said, “I might as well have pulled the trigger myself.”
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night can stay her from the swift completion of her appointed seduction.
Above is a trolley card for the classic Lana Turner/John Garfield film noir The Postman Always Rings Twice, which according to the text, opened at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles today in 1946. What's a trolley card? Pretty much self-explanatory, that. But you don't see many surviving examples, so this is a real treasure. The opening date represents new info. All the websites we checked said the movie opened in L.A. May 9. Maybe the managers of the Egyptian had connections at MGM. Awesome connections, we guess, to have helped them beat the rest of town by two full days. With that kind of juice, it's safe to assume they only had to ring once at the studio gates. We worked in the L.A. film industry. Relationships are everything. Or maybe the movie actually opened today, and the internet is wrong. Wouldn't be the first time. Not that we're trying to sound superior. We've made errors more than once. Interestingly, we were able to locate a vintage photo of the Egyptian with its marquee advertising Postman. It's a great movie. Nobody needs us to tell them that, but we did anyway, at this link.
Mickey Rooney proves that no hurdle was too high.
This photo of Ava Gardner enjoying a dance with Mickey Rooney was made in 1941 or 1942, and the first thing you notice is their difference in height. Rooney was a big star at the time, while Gardner was a Hollywood neophyte years away from her first lead role. Even so, rumors of her beauty had spread around town, so you can assume she had her pick of men. And her pick was Rooney. Who she could have used to pick her teeth. The marriage didn't last long—a little more than a year. You might assume Gardner saw greener and taller pastures elsewhere, but it was actually Rooney who couldn't keep his private parts from the public. He screwed around like a bonobo monkey, and even romped in his and Gardner's bed while she was in the hospital recovering from an appendectomy. Gardner said about him, “He went through the ladies like a hot knife through fudge.” Indeed, he melted Gardner early along the road to eight marriages and eleven children. Gardner married a mere three times, and was only thirty-five when she divorced her third husband, Frank Sinatra, and never took the plunge again.
Sometimes you simply have to look.
You know you shouldn't look at them. You try to direct your gaze where it belongs—at the band, or at the Champagne pyramid, or maybe at the roasted baby pig platter. You see people staring and know if you do too they'll all catch you. But the effort of not looking becomes a Sisyphean task. Lateral gravity becomes your enemy. Your eyes keep getting puuuuulled in that direction and you keep stopping them, just barely, by firing the reverse thrusters full power. But then, after many slow mintues of this torture, you figure, well screw this, maybe one day the planet will be in lockdown and this opportunity won't even exist. So you decide to take a really good look, just one, to get it out of the way, because if you don't you'll be fighting it all night. Plus she wants them to be looked at. Clearly. So you look—and flash! Someone takes a photo and your glance is immortalized as the evil side-eye of all time.
That moment happened April 12, 1957, as Sophia Loren attended a glittering Paramount Pictures dinner where she was the guest of honor. It was held at Romanoff's in Beverly Hills, a chic and popular restaurant, and Mansfield—being Mansfield—arrived last and sucked up the oxygen in the room like a magnesium fire. Every camera in the joint was following her—and by extension Loren, because the seating chart had placed them adjacent. Loren was a big star, but stars sometimes get trapped in other stars' orbits. Loren and Mansfield got locked into the same space-time continuum, eyes moved to boobs, and the infamous photo was shot. The images of the encounter were all in black and white. What you see above is a colorization, a pretty nice one, except the retoucher didn't do their homework. Mansfield's dress was pink that night. She nearly always wore pink. It was her favorite color. Even her house was pink. The colorization below gets the dress right, and this second angle shows just how much skin Mansfield was revealing, which gives a clearer indication why Loren had to look. Mansfield's nipples were coming out. They had fishhooked Loren's eyes. She couldn't not look. Not not doing something is an ethical conundrum we've discussed before, and it's baffled some of the greatest minds of all time. As you might imagine, Loren hates the shot. Sometimes fans ask her to autograph it and she says she always refuses. The dinner that night was intended to welcome her to Hollywood. Well, she was welcomed in more ways than one. Mansfield showed her a surefire method for playing the celebrity game, by always making a big entrance—even if it meant almost making a big exit from her dress.
They always get the best seat in the house.
Below, a collection of film stars, in Hollywood and other places, looking large and in charge while seated in director's chairs. In panel three the actress in the “Bonanza's guest” chair is Karen Sharpe. We don't expect you'll need help with the others, but if so our keywords list them in order.
Shit. I knew moving up to the behemoth division was a bad idea.
Above is a promo image made of Robert Ryan when he was starring in the gritty boxing noir The Set-Up. There's good news and bad news for Ryan here. The bad news is he's losing. The good news is he'll survive because his opponent only kills to eat. The film premiered today in 1949, and you can read what we wrote about it and see more promo images here. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1995—Mickey Mantle Dies
New York Yankees outfielder Mickey Mantle dies of complications from cancer, after receiving a liver transplant. He was one of the greatest baseball players ever, but he was also an alcoholic and played drunk, hungover, and unprepared. He once said about himself, "Sometimes I think if I had the same body and the same natural ability and someone else's brain, who knows how good a player I might have been."
1943—Philadelphia Experiment Allegedly Takes Place
The U.S. government is believed by some to have attempted to create a cloak of invisibility around the Navy ship USS Eldridge. The top secret event is known as the Philadelphia Experiment and, according to believers, ultimately leads to the accidental teleportation of an entire vessel.
1953—Soviets Detonate Deliverable Nuke
The Soviet Union detonates
a nuclear weapon codenamed Reaktivnyi Dvigatel Stalina, aka Stalin's Jet Engine. In the U.S. the bomb is codenamed Joe 4. It is a small yield fission bomb rather than a multi-stage fusion weapon, but it makes up for its relative weakness by being fully deployable, meaning it can be dropped from a bomber.
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