Hollywoodland | Vintage Pulp Dec 13 2010
YACHT IN THE ACT
You better be ready when your ship comes in.

This December 1955 cover of Inside asks why Hollywood fears Louella Parsons. And the answer is because Parsons was at the time arguably the most important tastemaker in the world. Louella Parsons, née Luella Rose Oettinger, was the first person to write a true gossip column, beginning in 1914 when she worked for the Chicago Record Herald. Later, publisher William Randolph Hearst gave her a column in the Los Angeles Examiner that was eventually syndicated to 600 papers worldwide, which amounted to a readership of about twenty million people. She considered herself Hollywood’s moral watchdog and didn’t think twice about damaging the careers of celebrities she believed had behaved badly. She was also the gatekeeper of success for aspiring starlets—a few negative words in her column and a lifetime’s dream was shattered. The irony of all this self-righteousness is that she may have earned her column as a reward for helping cover up a killing.

The story goes that powerful publisher William Randolph Hearst either accidentally or intentionally shot producer Thomas Ince in the head while cruising with Ince, Hopper, and other guests on his 200-foot yacht the Oneida. While it’s impossible to say if this is true, it’s interesting that the guests on Hearst’s boat all had wildly different stories about what happened. Several, including Charlie Chaplin, denied ever being on the cruise, a claim that was contradicted by other guests. Hearst’s papers went the opposite route, reporting in unison that it was Ince who had never been on the boat. Instead, they claimed he died of a heart attack on Hearst’s ranch in San Simeon. Later the story was revised—he had been on the boat, but had taken ill, left for Los Angeles by train, and died en route. By legal standards, it would be impossible to prove a cover-up took place. But by the lesser standards of plain logic, there’s no doubt that when a guy gets sick and has to leave a boat, people don’t fall over themselves making up conflicting stories about what happened.

The aftermath of the incident was just as curious. Ince’s widow refused to allow an autopsy and had her husband immediately cremated. Hearst then set her up with a trust fund and she left for Europe, never to return. It was also around then that Hearst gave Parsons was a contract to be a columnist for his influential Examiner newspaper. All these gifts were, at the very least, cases of extremely suspicious timing, but Ince’s death was never seriously investigated. A token police inquiry predictably turned up nothing, and all the lies were papered over. Louella Parsons didn’t squander her Devil’s bargain—if indeed that’s what it was. From her post at the Examiner she ruled Hollywood for thirty years, a moral arbiter who in all likelihood had a secret in her past that dwarfed any of those she revealed in her column. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
October 17
1933—Capone Sentenced to Prison
Chicago organized crime boss Al Capone is convicted of income tax evasion after all other attempts to tie him to an assortment of crimes, from the mass murder of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre to widespread violations of the Volstead Act, fail. He is sentenced to eleven years in federal prison and, cut off from the outside world while on Alcatraz Island, his power is finally broken.
October 16
1964—China Detonates Nuke
At the Lop Nur test site located between the Taklamakan and Kuruktag deserts, the People's Republic of China detonates its first nuclear weapon, codenamed 596 after the month of June 1959, which is when the program was initiated.
1996—Handgun Ban in the UK
In response to a mass shooting in Dunblane, Scotland that kills 16 children, the British Conservative government announces a law to ban all handguns, with the exception .22 caliber target pistols. When Labor takes power several months later, they extend the ban to all handguns.
October 15
1945—Laval Executed
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.
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