Always be careful what you say to a tabloid.
This National Enquirer published today in 1963 features the free-floating head of U.S. actress Shirley Bonne with a quote where she calls herself a “dimwit.” Enquirer often splashed shocking, sexual, or confessional quotes from stars across its covers. We have little doubt Bonne was just joshing around, if she ever said it, which we tend to doubt. She isn't well known today. Though she amassed hundreds of magazine covers, as an actress she had zero credited cinematic roles. All her credits, including movies, were on television, where she appeared on shows such as Bonanza, That Girl, Medical Center, starred in the sitcom My Sister Eileen, and was in the all-time dog of a television horror flick It's Alive. Her zenith, at least in terms being appreciated by a fandom, is having guest starred in one of the best Star Trek episodes ever—1966's “Shore Leave.” That's the one where the Enterprise crew land on a planet that makes anything they think about come true. Kirk thinks about a long lost love and Shirley Bonne appears—head, body, and all. Pretty smart thinking.
Got a problem you need handled? Isaac is your man.
This dramatic photo of ’70s icon Isaac Hayes was made as a promo for his blaxploitation flick Truck Turner. You haven't seen the image in quite this form before. We took the sleeve of the Truck Turner soundtrack, wiped off the text, and this was the end result. Not bad, right? We should do this more. Hayes' contributions to soul music via “The Theme from Shaft,” “Ike's Mood,” and other songs, plus his star turns in low budget cinema, make his legacy indisputable. Plus, we have a soft spot for him because he was a character on South Park, and one of us worked on the movie, but that's another true Hollywood story we may—but probably won't—share some day. Hayes was a little out there at the end, but once upon a time—as you see here—he was fully the man.
In Casablanca no other place compares.
We're back in the house today—Casablanca, that is. Several days ago, on the film's Italian premiere date, we showed you some Italian posters, and today, on its U.S. premiere date, we're taking a close look at possibly the most famous fictional bar in cinema history—Rick's Café Americain. Casablanca is one of the greatest films ever made, and it's fair to say Rick's was a supporting character. Filmgoers of 1942 found themselves steeped in its otherworldly Moroccan atmosphere, as scenes were staged in its courtyard, dining room, gambling room, at its lively bar, and in Rick's roomy upstairs office and personal living quarters. We've never confirmed this, but we suspect one third of the film occurs inside Rick's Café. We have photos of every area we could find of this iconic and exotic “gin joint”—as Bogart cynically describes it—and we even turned up a blueprint. You'd be tempted to think bars like Rick's exist only in film, but you'd be wrong. We've been to places that have exotic architecture, excellent food and drink, lively musical entertainment, well dressed internationalclientele, and the aura of being in the middle of a spy caper. The decadent colonial bar Abaco, located in Palma de Mallorca, comes immediately to mind, as does the supper club Meson Pansa Verde in Antigua, Guatemala, where they have live jazz in a converted wine cellar and a friend of ours once famously pushed his date into the pool. We've been to Rick's-like places in Mexico, the Caribbean, the Greek Islands, and, appropriately, Morocco, in both Fes and Marrakech (we're not fans of the Rick's that currently operates in Casablanca—same name, very diminished feel). But magical places do exist, which means even if Bogart's beloved café was never real, having those types of nights is possible. We recommend making it your mission to seek them out.
I call this one Robbie, the second one Chip, and the third one... well I forget. But they're all great!
Above are three promo photos of U.S. actor Fred MacMurray, two from his film noir Singapore, and one of unknown provenance. While MacMurray made his name in deadly serious films such as Double Indemnity and Pushover, many fans remember him better as the affable father from the television series My Three Sons, on which he starred from 1960 until 1972, as the show chronicled the life of a widower and his three sons Robbie, Chip, and Mike. Why was he a widower? We don't think it's ever revealed, but perhaps a firearms “accident” had something to do with it.
It was the beginning of a beautiful endship.
Above, a crop of a PRC (Producers Releasing Corporation) promo image made for the 1945 film noir Detour. It was directed by Edgar G. Ulmer and starred Tom Neal and Ann Savage as a pair thrown together by circumstance who soon bring each other to grief. Made for just $30,000, it was a bottom tier b-movie that transcended its bounds. It was generally lauded upon release, which is why the fact that it's in the public domain today is amazing. Detour recieved a 2015 restoration, so we recommend giving the movie a look. It shows what can be achieved with very little money but a lot of vision.
Up and coming actress gets weeded out of Hollywood.
It was during wee hours, today in 1948, that fledgeling actress Lila Leeds was arrested, along with Robert Mitchum and two others, for possession of marijuana. The photo above was shot at her Hollywood bungalow a few days later to accompany a Los Angeles Times article about the arrest. Leeds was out on bail, and was given the opportunity to explain the circumstances around that fateful night. Her home had been portrayed in newspaper accounts as a party spot for drug users, a characterization she denied. She explained to Times readers that she'd rentedthe place because it was feminine, and because it had space for her two dogs. She also admitted that she used marijuana, which considering she hadn't gone to trial yet maybe wasn't a great idea. When Leeds had her day in court she was convicted of “conspiring to violate state health laws,” and sentenced to sixty days in jail. Robert Mitchum went to jail too, and fretted that his career had been ruined, but it was Leeds who never got another shot in Hollywood, apart from a role in the 1949 drug scare movie Wild Weed, aka The Devil's Weed, aka She Shoulda Said No. And indeed, she probably shoulda said no, because in 1948 a woman who got out of her lane was always severely punished if caught. But even if the drug conviction cost Leeds her career, she remains part of Hollywood lore, and though that's small consolation, it's still more than most can claim.
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.”
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