I'll see your ten thousand and raise you my wife. Sorry, babe.
The Big Bet tells the story of a professional gambler and owner of a gaming parlor who faces three obstacles—his health is poor, his son is ashamed of him, and his wife is unhappy. Retirement and a move to Florida seem to be the answer to all three problems. Over the course of one night the protagonist Charley King sees two lucky gamblers whittle away his fortune in a card game, learns that a police raid and jail is imminent, and is served a legal summons. In mounting desperation he must win his fortune back and deal with the other problems—and quickly—if he has any hope of escaping to a better life. If that sounds compelling we can tell you it is. The book, which appeared in 1945 under the title Any Number Can Play, was made into a stage production, and subsequently into a 1949 film starring Clark Gable and Alexis Smith. The cover art on this 1948 Bantam edition was painted by Robert Doares.
How'd ya like to teach an old dog some new tricks?
Clark Gable poses for a candid photo with Mamie Van Doren, his co-star in the 1958 Paramount romantic comedy Teacher's Pet. Van Doren wasn't Gable's love interest in the film—that was Doris Day. And Day wasn't the pet—that was Gable. The story deals with a grizzled veteran reporter ordered by his editor to help a college professor with her journalism class, and how his initial reluctance turns to attraction. Looks like he was plenty attracted to Van Doren too, though, doesn't it? And really, who could blame him? The photo was made just as production on Teacher's Pet began. That was today in 1957.
This particular Gondel is filled with unidentified passengers.
Back in 2010 we showed you some covers of the West German movie magazine Gondel, named of course after Venice’s famed banana-shaped boats. Which is fitting because Gondel later began to dedicate itself to a completely different type of banana shape by turning into a porn magazine. You see, because a banana and an erect penis are both… er… filled with potassium… *someone turns on a blender behind the bar* Anyway, it was in the 1970s when Gondel shifted gears, and theirs wasn’t an uncommon evolution among magazines around that time, as we’ve talked about before regarding the men’s adventure publication Male.
Above you see the front of an issue that hit newsstands this month in 1958, and below are the interiors. The cover model is credited as Marlon Rota, as you can see by looking at masthead page where it says “titelfoto,” but no person so named ever appeared in movies. It’s possible her name is spelled wrong, because others are, but we checked similar names such as Marilyn Rota and Marlene Rota and came up blank. It’s also possible she’s just too obscure to register on the internet. So that’s another of History’s Little Mysteries™.
There are others. Inside the issue you get full-page shots of, top to bottom, Anne Heywood, Merry Anders, Rita Pizzy, Clark Gable with Jean Kay, Maggie McGrath, Elga Andersen, Nuccia Morelli, Yvonne de Carlo with Robert Morgan, unknown, Margarete Neumann, Linda Cristal, Karin Himboldt, Joan Collins, unknown, Pascale Roberts, Belinda Lee with unknown, Annie Gorassini, Anne Heyworth, Mamie Van Doren, unknown, and Arlene Dahl. Got any idea who the mystery passengers are? Let us know, and meanwhile check out the Gondel covers at this link.
Did she or didn’t she?
These two photos showing burlesque dancer Lili St. Cyr were shot today in 1951 for a Los Angeles Examiner story about St. Cyr’s legal difficulties. On 23 February of that year she had begun performing at Ciro’s supper club in Hollywood. It was a different type of club for her—it lacked the intimacy of her normal venues, and would sap some of the heat from her act, but the place was world famous and considered by the smart set to be classy. It had hosted Edith Piaf, Marlene Dietrich, Duke Ellington, and Dinah Washington. Of late it was facing stiff competition from Macambo’s, a Brazilian themed joint across the street, and owner Herman Hover wanted to make a splash with St. Cyr. He spent thousands refurbishing the stage just for her, and she would be the first burlesque dancer to transition from men’s clubs to L.A.’s most famous supper club.
On premiere night celebs such as Ronald Reagan, Nancy Davis, Franchot Tone, Barbara Payton, Lex Barker, Mickey Rooney, and Los Angeles mayor Fletcher Bowron watched her strip down to toned perfection as they ate dinner and sipped drinks. Other celebs that visited that summer included Bette Davis, Humphrey Bogart, and Clark Gable. During St. Cyr’s residency she varied her act, but a standard bit wasentitled "An Interlude Before Evening," and involved being helped from her clothing by her maid Sadie before slipping nude into a bathtub. But the nudity was an illusion, the cleverest part of her act, achieved through a combination of lighting, positioning, flesh-colored underwear, and sheer athleticism as she slipped quickly from behind a towel and into the sudsy tub.
On 18 October a group of Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies, who were trying to enforce a countywide ban against stripping, arrested St. Cyr and Herman Hover. The charges were the usual slate. St. Cyr called upon celebrity lawyer Jerry Giesler—an event the two Examiner photos at top are supposed to be illustrating—and Giesler proceeded to help turn what was already a media boon for St. Cyr into a full bonanza. Giesler was a showman, and he loved cases that had the potential to increase his fame. He made assorted sensational statements to the press, including one in which he promised to have his client perform her bath routine in the courtroom, and another in which he opined that putting together a jury of peers required empaneling a dozen strippers. He described St. Cyr as merely trying to improve her station in life, just an industrious woman trying to carve herself a piece of American pie. The press ate it up.
The trial was scheduled for early December in the Beverly Hills Courthouse. Giesler kept the jury—which wasn’t all strippers, but at least was mostly female—laughing with his continual antics. He introduced St. Cyr’s rhinestone encrusted bra and g-string as people’s exhibits A and B. He drew diagrams on a blackboard illustrating how different observers' vantage points toward the stage were blocked by St. Cyr's maid. He flustered police officials by making them discuss in detail such such terms as “bump,” “grind,” and “half-bump,” and followed that up by putting Herman Hover on the witness stand and having him demonstrate those moves. The sight of the portly Hover attempting burlesque sent ripples of laughter through the courtroom. Years later Giesler wrote: “I can honestly say I succeeded in having her case laughed into a not-guilty verdict.”
That may have been true, but St Cyr’s icy demeanor was also an important factor. The women found her elegant and remote—the opposite of what they had expected. And the cops did their part for St. Cyr's defense by being terrible witnesses. One claimed that she emerged from the tub completely nude (the normal conclusion to her Interlude, and just as illusory). Another said she wore undies but that he couldsee the outline of her “private parts,” which he discerned in enough detail to determine “were shaven.” The inconsistencies were epic. Some said she caressed herself, others weren’t sure. Another described her towel as “about twenty, twenty-four inches.” In reality it was three times that size. It was as if St. Cyr's dance had dumbfounded the cops.
The confusion has extended even to the present day. For a performance that lasted barely fifteen minutes, it has had an amazing amount of conflicting information attached to it. Columnist Army Archerd claimed St. Cyr was indeed nude that night (clearly wrong, according to multiple testimonies); Sheila Weller’s book Dancing at Ciro’s claims an “all-male” jury (it was mostly female) was taken to Ciro’s to see the act (Giesler tried, but the judge said no); some sources claim St. Cyr performed a reverse strip, beginning nude in the tub and emerging to be slowly dressed by her maid (indeed, that was an oft-performed variation, so it is certainly possible it happened that night). Who's right, and who's wrong? Short of using a time machine to return to October 1951 there's no way to tell.
At the end of the six-day trial the jury acquitted St. Cyr following a mere seventy-eight minutes of deliberations. There had been no indecent exposure. At least not that night. All St. Cyr’s biographers agree on this much—she was shy and regal offstage, but her performancesfreed her to inhabit different characters. Despite her assertions that she always wore at least a g-string and bra, she definitely performed topless on occasion, as shown by the above photo taken at Ciro’s during early 1951.
Sheriff’s deputies had gone to the club already intent upon arresting her based on what they had heard about the act, which may have influenced their testimony—i.e., they didn’t see her nude, but knew she had done it before. St. Cyr admitted in court she knew police were in the audience, thus she was especially careful that night. But what of other nights? Maybe Army Archerd did what columnists do—took an event he witnessed on one night and pretended it happened on a more useful one. Maybe St. Cyr, on occasions when she knew the cops were far away, flashed her audience to generate buzz. It’s likely we’ll never know what really happened, but that merely adds to the St. Cyr mystique. Did she or didn’t she? Only her maid knew for sure.
Um, so after we’re done with the session d’ya think I could keep these pants?
Loretta Young, née Gretchen Young, began her career in cinema in 1917 and worked in both film and television until 1953, along the way appearing in such efforts as The Accused, The Bishop’s Wife, and The Farmer’s Daughter. Apart from her work, Young is also remembered for the daughter she bore out of wedlock. In a classic bit of Hollywood subterfuge, six months into the pregnancy she took a vacation to England and returned weeks after the secret birth to start a new movie. Nineteen months later, she adopted a baby daughter. The ruse fooled virtually nobody, but it did preserve her image to the extent that she could go on working without repercussions. The father, by the way, was Clark Gable. This promo of Young in astonishing fur pants was made for the classic film A Night To Remember in 1942.
The Golden Age is any age that seems better than the one you're in.
Yet another piece of the treasure trove we picked up in Denver last year, This Was Hollywood is a compendium of anecdotes and photos from the supposed Golden Age of Hollywood. We say “supposed” because the magazine was printed in 1954, and at that time the 1920s and 1930s were the Golden Age. Today of course, the Golden Age is considered to run from the 1920s all the way to the early 1960s, and we can only assume that eventually the ’70s and ’80s will be considered part of the Golden Age, and we’ll all be sitting around saying how they don’t make movies like C.H.U.D. anymore.
This Was Hollywood was put together by Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky, the guy many say coined the term “Oscar” to refer to the Academy Award statuette. This particular issue of This Was Hollywood has about 80 pages, so moving forward we’ll be posting them a few at a time. Today we have five images—the front and back covers, plus three pages of shots of John Gilbert, Greta Garbo, John Barrymore, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, and Dolores Costello. Much more from this publication later.
The magazine that whispered rape.
Inside Story of August 1957 offers up stories on Elsa Martinelli, Ann Sothern, Clark Gable and others, but the subhead reading “The Night Audrey Hepburn Can’t Forget” is irresistible. So what happened on the night in question? Nothing fun, unfortunately. Fully expecting to read about some wild party or drunken escapade, journo Gwen Ferguson instead tells us that in 1942, when Hepburn was a Dutch teen named Audrey Kathleen Ruston, she was “brutally kidnapped and subjected to terrible indignities” by a Nazi soldier. As is typical for mid-century tabloids, this claim comes not from direct interviews, but rather from a fly-on-the-wall third person account. In this case, the magazine claims she confessed what happened to prospective husband Mel Ferrer, pictured next to her below, because she wanted him to have a chance to rescind his marriage proposal. The implication is clear—“indignities” is a euphemism for rape. Or else why would Ferguson suggest Ferrer might turn tail and run?
In light of all the discussion about rape lately, it’s instructive to go back in time and read such an incendiary insinuation presented so casually in a national magazine, probably by some pseudonymous male editor, if tradition holds true. Looking for corroboration, we found only stories about Hepburn living in constant fear of being kidnapped, but that’s all. In no place we looked did we find any reference to her actually being taken, let alone violated. So we don’t know where Inside Story got its information. That being the case, we have to call bullshit. Inside Story goes on to wrap its dubious claim in the truth by telling readers how Hepburn’s uncle was executed by Nazis—true; how she gave secret ballet performances to generate funds for the Dutch resistance—true; and how she used tulip bulbs to make the flour needed for cakes and biscuits, but went through the war malnourished and underweight—true and true. As for the other claim—if untrue, it’s pretty low, and if true, it’s both low and irresponsible. Even by the standards of mid-century scandal sheets.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1968—Olympic Committee Suspends Carlos and Smith
The U.S. Olympic Committee suspends African-American track & field athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos for saluting the crowd with raised, gloved fists during a medal ceremony at the Mexico City games. The salutes represented the black power and civil rights movements in the United States. Both athletes also received their medals shoeless to represent black poverty.
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.
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.
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