Show me what's under yours and I'll show you what's under mine.
This beautiful cover for Neil McNeil's 1960 thriller Hot Dam featuring a redhead topped by a tam and wearing a kilt-like skirt is uncredited, if you can believe that. We checked around the usual spots and nobody has a clue, so into the unknown bin it goes. As for the fiction, Hot Dam is the fourth of seven novels starring McNiel's detectives Tony Costaine and Bert McCall, two toughs who don't hesitate to shoot their way into and out of trouble. This one tells the story of a valley about to be flooded after the construction of a dam, and the townspeople reluctant to move. Based on that description you'd think the good guys are the townspeople, but this is the golden age of consequence-free industry, which means it's the dam builders who are the protagonists. And of course those standing in the way of progress aren't doing it for environmental or sentimental reasons, but rather—as the cover notes—to protect a fortune in bootleg whisky hidden somewhere in the valley. The booze is owned by a clan of kilt clad Scots who have violent tendencies and a connection to old world druidism, but other villains want it too. And when McCall discovers he's related to the crazy Scots things get really interesting. Pretty good book all in all. It delivers action, an interesting setting, and both leads get laid multiple times. What more is there?
It's incredible what the Southern California sun can do to your skin.
Myrna Loy goes for sultry and inscrutable in this promo photo from her pre-Code silent movie Across the Pacific, in which she plays a half-Filipina girl named Roma. Yeah, it's a stretch, but she does look quite sexy with frizzed out hair and dark skin. All prints of Across the Pacific (not to be confused with the later Humphrey Bogart movie) are considered lost, but Loy was at the beginning of a long career that would encompass scores of movies and span a remarkable seven decades, so there's no shortage of opportunities to see her work. This image is from 1926.
John Travolta sets the recording straight.
Above is a Japanese poster for Brian De Palma's 1981 thriller Blow Out, his update of the classic British thriller Blowup. In the latter film a photographer thinks he's accidentally shot a photo of a murder, and in Blow Out a movie sound man thinks he's accidentally recorded one. And indeed he has, a political assassination actually, which brings highly connected villains out of the woodwork to engineer a cover-up. The movie stars John Travolta in his hunk incarnation, pouting his way through the twists and turns of the mystery, along with Nancy Allen as his shakedown artist sidekick. De Palma's movies often underwhelm upon release but usually age well. This is a good example. Audiences were cool toward Blow Out but it's a solid, giallo influenced thriller, wrapped in Kennedyesque conspiracy. It premiered in the U.S. in the summer of 1981 and reached Japan today in 1982 with the title ミッドナイトクロス, or Middonaito kurosu, which means “midnight cross.”
They say even bad publicity is good publicity.
In this March 1957 issue of the tabloid Behind the Scene editors take swipes at assorted Hollywood icons, among them Yul Brenner, John Wayne, and others. Highlights include the allegation that Elvis Presley's career is mob controlled, that camera clubs are just fronts for porn peddlers, that Hedy Lamarr used Linda Lombard as a body double for Samson & Delilah, and that Lucrezia Borgia is the sexiest movie ever made. Also Mamie Van Doren's “secret weapon” is that anywhere she goes she always wears the least clothing of any woman present.
The shocking tales about Brynner have mainly to do with his claims of being a real life man of action, born on the Russian island of Sakhalin to Mongol ancestors. The truth was more mundane, but the lies helped Brynner establish himself as a star. As far as Elvis goes, he was dogged by rumors of Mafia ties later in his career, but this mention of a connection as far back as 1957 was a surprise to us. As always, people on both sides of the issue are willing to shout their version of the facts to the mountaintops, but nobody really knows who’s telling the truth. We’ll check with Elvis himself on this, since he lives just over in the next town since faking his death in 1977.
The interesting story here is the one about Gail Russell and John Wayne. Their acquaintanceship began when they starred in Angel and the Badman together in 1947, and continued when they reunited for Wake of the Red Witch in 1949. Whether they were more than just friends, nobody really knows. At the time Wayne was married to Esperanza Baur Díaz, and the relationship was marred by drinking and fighting, including one incident when Baur shot at Wayne. When the divorce inevitably came, it turned into one of the nastiest splits in years, with Baur accusing Wayne of being a violent drunk who beat her and fucked around with various women, including Russell, and Wayne accusing Baur of hanging around sleazy dive bars in Mexico, hooking up with strange men, and spending his money to entertain them.
The divorce was in 1953, but Behind the Scene, with this cover, is offering its readership dirt from an event that was still fresh in the public’s minds because it had been such a knock-down-drag-out spectacle. Russell had never weathered the limelight well, and she used booze to cope. Her long term drinking problem was exacerbated by the turbulence surrounding the Wayne-Baur split. Two weeks after the divorce she was arrested for drunk driving. It caused Paramount to decline renewing her contract, and she kind of floated around for a few years, trying to hook on with a new studio but drinking steadily all the while. In 1955 she crashed her car and fled the scene, and in early 1957 she drove though the plate glass windows of Jan’s Restaurant in Hollywood.
With hindsight, it’s clear Russell was in a death spiral, but in the Tinseltown of that day the situation was perhaps not so obvious. In August 1957, Russell was found unconscious in her home, passed out after a drinking binge. Even in Hollywood, she had now crossed the line from being merely a party girl to having a problem. She was persuaded to join AA, but couldn't stop drinking, and in August 1961 was found in her L.A. apartment, having died from liver damage, aged 36, another beautiful star that flamed out. All that and more, in thirty-plus scans below.
I know I'm new to lifting, but are you sure a spotter is supposed to just sit there and stare at me?
Unimprovable French actress Mylène Demongeot pounds the iron in this production photo made when she was filming the comedy Doctor in Distress in London in 1963. Mylène in impossibly short shorts was a sort of trademark, seemingly. See another example here.
The best laid plans of singers and musicians often go awry.
This is an unusually nice promo poster we think. It was made for the Susan Hayward vehicle Smash-Up, sometimes referred to as Smash-Up: The Story of a Woman. It premiered this month in 1947 and involves nightclub chanteuse Hayward and her crooner husband, played by Lee Bowman. Hayward has talent but values love over career; her husband has less talent but endless ambition. When their careers go in different directions the strain begins to tear the marriage apart. Whose career goes which direction? We won't tell you that, though the audience learns in the first scene, a framing device featuring the downfallen character bandaged and delirious in a hospital bed. Even though the story's ending is sacrificed for an intro Smash-Up is a pretty good if melodramatic movie, with some strong film noir elements, Hayward in an Oscar nominated performance, and solid support from Eddie Albert as Bowman's composer partner. Worth a look—as long as you can deal with all the crooning.
Monroe goes for a spin in Italy.
Marilyn Monroe fronts this RCA soundtrack album sold in Italy featuring songs from the film Follie dell'anno, which originally appeared in the U.S. as There's No Business Like Show Business. There are four numbers written by Irving Berlin here and Monroe handles the vocals. If you want this platter it'll cost you probably a hundred dollars or more, so good luck with that. We're content to enjoy the sleeve. The shot of Monroe turned backward in her director's chair is one we've never seen before.
There's no city where time runs out faster.
Donald E. Westlake wanted to call his mystery The Smashers by a different title. He preferred the name The Cutie—as in a hustler or crook who thinks he's cute, or clever. That would have suited the novel well, because the term is used probably two dozen times over the course of a story about a New York City mob fixer told by his boss to find the cutie who murdered a well-connected showgirl and made an improbable patsy of a hapless heroin addict.
With very little time and even less sleep the main character deals with cops, hoods, druggies, and politically plugged in one percenters, narrowing down a list of suspects to find the troublesome villain. The book reads a bit like a police procedural, but written from the opposite side of the fence. The killer, when finally revealed, comes as little surprise, but the book's mystery elements are not its most important anyway. What works here is the NYC atmosphere and the sense of sand running through the hourglass.
The cover you see above is from the rarer-than-rare edition put out in 1963 by the British publishers Four Square. If you want one it'll cost you about $100, which we think is overpriced. But we usually think that. Paperbacks to us are utilitarian. They're things you carry in a rear pocket. Also, you should never pay more than ten bucks for anything you're tempted to grab to smash a moth. But fret not—the Hard Case Crime version published in 2009 under Westlake's preferred title The Cutie is cheap, and, to many eyes, is probably the prettiest version.
I call it the Gertruder because its always sticking its nose into my business.
Above is a promo photo of U.S. actress Gertrude Michael made for the 1937 crime drama Sophie Lang Goes West, about a jewel thief trying to retire and the people who won't let her. It's a virtually unknown film, but a pretty good one. We haven't talked about it because we can't find a good poster scan for it, but we'll keep looking.
This is the wickedest sorority prank in the history of— Hey, whoever's finger that is stop it right now!
Greenleaf Classics had the most ridiculous covers of any mid-century publishing company. There's no contest. This one for Clyde Allison's The Sex Spree is both absurd and, thanks to its colors, beautiful. Unfortunately the art is uncredited. The book appeared in 1962 from Greenleaf's imprint Midnight Reader, with author William Knoles the man operating behind the Allison pseudonym. Many Greenleaf pen names were shared, but as far as we can tell Allison belonged to Knoles alone, and he used it to write Greenleaf's spy-themed Agent 0008 entries, which are among the company's most collectible books. We're going to get to those in a bit.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1963—Profumo Denies Affair
In England, the Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, denies any impropriety with showgirl Christine Keeler and threatens to sue anyone repeating the allegations. The accusations involve not just infidelity, but the possibility acquaintances of Keeler might be trying to ply Profumo for nuclear secrets. In June, Profumo finally resigns from the government after confessing his sexual involvement with Keeler
and admitting he lied to parliament.
1978—Karl Wallenda Falls to His Death
World famous German daredevil and high-wire walker Karl Wallenda, founder of the acrobatic troupe The Flying Wallendas, falls to his death attempting to walk on a cable strung between the two towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Wallenda is seventy-three years old at the time, but it is a 30 mph wind, rather than age, that is generally blamed for sending him from the wire.
2006—Swedish Spy Stig Wennerstrom Dies
Swedish air force colonel Stig Wennerström, who had been convicted in the 1970s of passing Swedish, U.S. and NATO secrets to the Soviet Union over the course of fifteen years, dies in an old age home at the age of ninety-nine. The Wennerström affair, as some called it, was at the time one of the biggest scandals
of the Cold War.
The federal penitentiary located on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay closes. The island had been home to a lighthouse, a military fortification, and a military prison over the years. In 1972, it would become a national recreation area open to tourists, and it would receive national landmark designations in 1976 and 1986.
1916—Einstein Publishes General Relativity
German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein publishes his general theory of relativity. Among the effects of the theory are phenomena such as the curvature of space-time, the bending of rays of light in gravitational fields, faster than light universe expansion, and the warping of space time around a rotating body.
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