Biggers isn't always better but he tried.
What's an agony column? Basically it's a newspaper feature in which readers writes messages to other readers. For example: “Regular at Main Street Cafe who takes her coffee every weekday morning just before 9:00. Would you be amenable to meeting a certain gentleman who has admired you from afar?” You get the idea. The “agony” in the terminology derives from the fact that people who write in generally are suffering from some sort of heartache or other.
The Agony Column is basically an epistolary mystery, in which a man writes letters to the crush he contacted through a London newspaper's agony column, and details his involvement in a puzzling murder case. It's a very esoteric set-up for a novel, and besides mystery there's a dose cute romance. Nearly the entire book takes the form of the main character's letters, though some sections are conventionally written.
The nature of the novel requires more suspension of disbelief than usual, simply because nobody really writes letters with detailed, multi-character dialogue, but once you get over that hurdle it works pretty well. There are other hurdles. About London's Chinatown the main character writes, “Not only the heathen Chinee so peculiar shuffle through its dim-lit alleys, but the scum of the earth of many colors and of many climes. The Arab and the Hindu, the Malayan and the Jap, black men from the Congo and fair men from Scandinavia.”
Ouch. That brought the cuteness to a screeching halt. But readers should note that Biggers evolved, and would later create the Chinese American detective Charlie Chan partly as a counter to racist portrayals of Asians. The books were popular, but as the decades progressed people soured on them because Chan too is a racial stereotype. It's difficult for authors to write characters—especially outside their own ethnic group—that stand up over time as social mores change. But they keep trying, and should, in our opinion. What would fiction be like if they didn't?
The Agony Column has plenty of positives. Being set on the eve of World War I in a London gripped by tension over the looming global hostilities lends it atmosphere, and the mystery itself contains a few surprises we doubt most readers will foresee. It's also a short tale, which keeps the epistolary gimmick from wearing thin. We think it's worth a read. The Agony Column originally appeared in 1916, with this Avon edition, illegibly signed by the cover artist and unattributed inside, coming in 1943.
Confidential sinks its teeth into the juiciest celebrity secrets.
Confidential magazine had two distinct periods in its life—the fanged version and the de-fanged version, with the tooth pulling done courtesy of a series of defamation lawsuits that made publisher Robert Harrison think twice about harassing celebrities. This example published this month in 1955 is all fangs. The magazine was printing five million copies of each issue and Harrison was like a vampire in a blood fever, hurting anyone who came within reach, using an extensive network spies from coast to coast and overseas to out celebs' most intimate secrets.
In this issue editors blatantly call singer Johnnie Ray a gay predator, spinning a tale about him drunkenly pounding on doors in a swanky London hotel looking for a man—any man—to satisfy his needs. The magazine also implies that Mae West hooked up with boxer Chalky White, who was nearly thirty years her junior—and black. It tells readers about Edith Piaf living during her youth in a brothel, a fact which is well known today but which wasn't back then.
The list goes on—who was caught in whose bedroom, who shook down who for money, who ingested what substances, all splashed across Confidential's trademark blue and red pages. Other celebs who appear include Julie London, Jack Webb, Gregg Sherwood, and—of course—Elizabeth Taylor. Had we been around in 1955 we're sure we would have been on the side of privacy rights for these stars, but today we can read all this guilt-free because none of it can harm anyone anymore. Forty panels of images below, and lots more Confidential here.
There's a special beauty in the city when it glows.
This is a brilliant shot of U.S. singer/actress Julie London, an icon during her time who's been just a bit forgotten in this new millennium. She made something like forty movies, a body of work that gives you numerous options to choose from, but for our money we like her brief cameo in the neglected Jayne Mansfield comedy The Girl Can't Help It. You can read a bit about the movie here, and more about London when we hopefully revisit her later.
The dancers of the chorus line request your attention.
This is the fifth issue of Cancans de Paris we've shared. The magazine is fast becoming a favorite. It has that mix we like—celebs, showgirls, and cartoons. It's similar to magazines such as Paris Hollywood and Gondel, but with a simpler layout and all black-and-white photography. This issue is from July 1966 and features Gila Golan on the cover, and inside are Julie London, Mireille Darc, and others from the acting profession. You also get Sally Ann Scoth, Karin Brault, Juanita Sanchez, and other colleagues from the dancer side of show business. The entire issue appears below in thirty panels, and you can see the other issues by clicking the appropriate keywords at bottom.
Sabrina covers her biggest assets.
Every once in a while we run across stories about Hollywood stars insuring their body parts. A couple of examples: Bette Davis was famous for her small waist and insured it against weight gain for the equivalent of $400,000; and 1920s comedian Ben Turpin, who was famously cross-eyed, took out a policy of similar value should his eyes ever straighten. National Enquirer insists on this cover from today in 1960 that British starlet Sabrina, aka Norma Ann Sykes, insured her breasts. The tabloid is in fact correct—she allowed her manager Joe Matthews to insure her endowment with Lloyd's of London for £UK100,000. In today's cash that would be about £2.4 million, or $3.2 million. You may think that's excessive, but when's the last time your boobs caused a riot? Unfortunately the weight she carried on her torso led to chronic back pain and a failed attempt at a surgical fix that left her in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. She died in obscurity last year. It was a sad ending for the former sex symbol. But once upon a time she was a one-name star—just Sabrina—and a global obsession.
That was interesting. Next time can we just do it the normal way?
There's no festish sex or podophilia in With Naked Foot. This is actually a serious novel about whites coming to ruin in Africa, which is a crowded literary niche, but one in which Emily Hahn carved out an important place for herself. In fact, maybe the adjective “Hahnesque” should be used alongside “Hemingwayesque.” This is a person who wrote fifty-four books and more than two hundred articles and short stories, whose works were significant in romanticizing Africa and Asia for western readers, who lived in Florence and London in the mid-1920s, traveled to the Belgian Congo where she worked for the Red Cross, lived with a pygmy tribe for two years, crossed Central Africa alone on foot, and journeyed to Shanghai where she taught English for three years while becoming acquaintances with political powerhouses the Soong Sisters and the Chinese poet Zau Sinmay. With Naked Foot is, therefore, unusually well informed. It revolves around a beautiful Congolese girl named Mawa whose relationships with various lustful white men bring disaster. The reviews were rapturous, though some critics protested that it was too focused on sex. That's never a complaint you'll hear from us, though some of the usual flaws of mid-century racial fiction are evident. The cover art on this Bantam paperback was painted by an unknown, and the copyright is 1951.
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.
Pulp and art deco. Two great tastes that rarely went together.
The pulp era is generally agreed as having commenced the last several years of the 19th century and having ended during the 1950s. Art deco is agreed to have begun around 1900 and ended around the beginning of World War II. Despite co-existing, they occupied the same place surprisingly little. You would see crossover in cinematic adaptations of pulp material such as Flash Gordon, with its deco styled spaceships and costumes. Some pulp magazines had art deco influenced fonts, and some hardbacks had art deco sleeve art, such as those designed by Edna Reindel for W.R. Burnett's novels Iron Man and Saint Johnson. But when popular paperbacks and magazines began to focus on high quality cover art they developed their own visual style which we think of today as good girl art, or GGA.
But even if pulp and art deco didn't mix much back then, they mix here. Today we have an issue of Paris Plaisirs published in 1929 with drawings, paintings, studio photography, French wit and more. The cover photo-illustration was shot by Lucien Waléry, also known as Stanisław Julian Ignacy Ostroróg. Though his name was Polish he was a British citizen, born in London after his father Stanisław Julian Ostroróg—also a famed photographer—emigrated there in 1856 and became a citizen in 1862. The younger Ostroróg took the pseudonym Waléry and thus forever created confusion with earlier photographers who had used the same name. We won't bother unwinding all those Walérys. You can see another of our Waléry's beautiful art deco covers here, and we have other issues of Paris Plaisirs you can see by clicking the keywords at bottom.
Peggy Cummins hit Hollywood with guns blazing.
According to a story yesterday in The Hollywood Reporter, Wales born Irish actress Peggy Cummins died in a London hospital December 29 after suffering a stroke. She was ninety-two years old. Cummins, who was born Augusta Fuller, played the morality challenged Annie Laurie Starr in Gun Crazy, a low budget film noir that rose above its humble station over the decades to eventually be included in the U.S. Library of Congress’s National Film Registry. While the film is often characterized as a breakthrough fro Cummins, it was actually her eleventh screen role, and did not lead to a career of top notch offers. However, she ultimately appeared in more than twenty-five productions, with her last coming in 1965. The above photo was made a promo for Gun Crazy and dates from 1950. You can read more about the film here.
A dozen bloody reasons to love Halloween.
This poster is a special edition promo painted by Nanpei Kaneko for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which was showing at the Tokyo International Film Festival on its fortieth anniversary in 2014. The Japanese title 悪魔のいけにえtranslates to “devil sorrowfully” or “Satan sorrowfully,” and that's a mystery to us, as we're sure there are chainsaws in Japan, as well as the concept of massacres, and some general inkling about Texas, but whatever. Sorrowfully it is—the poster is amazing.
Below, in honor of Halloween, which is becoming more and more of an event here overseas where we live, we have eleven more Japanese posters for 1970s and 1980s U.S.-made horror films. They are, top to bottom, The Prowler (aka Rosemary's Killer), The Fog, Lifeforce, An American Werewolf in London, Bug, Halloween II (aka Boogey Man), Let Sleeping Corpses Lie,Torso, The Evil Dead, Link, and Death Trap.
We've put together horror collections in the past. We have five beautiful Thai posters at this link, fifteen Japanese horror posters we shared on Halloween two years ago here, and we also have a collection of aquatic creature feature posters we shared way back in 2009. And if those don't sate your appetite for the morbid and terrible, just click the keyword “horror” below, and you can see everything we've posted that fits the category. No tricks. Only treats.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1915—Claude Patents Neon Tube
French inventor Georges Claude patents the neon discharge tube, in which an inert gas is made to glow various colors through the introduction of an electrical current. His invention is immediately seized upon as a way to create eye catching advertising, and the neon sign
comes into existence to forever change the visual landscape of cities.
1937—Hughes Sets Air Record
Millionaire industrialist, film producer and aviator Howard Hughes sets a new air record by flying from Los Angeles, California to New York City in 7 hours, 28 minutes, 25 seconds. During his life he set multiple world air-speed records, for which he won many awards, including America's Congressional Gold Medal.
1967—Boston Strangler Convicted
Albert DeSalvo, the serial killer who became known as the Boston Strangler, is convicted of murder and other crimes and sentenced to life in prison. He serves initially in Bridgewater State Hospital, but he escapes and is recaptured. Afterward he is transferred to federal prison where six years later he is killed by an inmate or inmates unknown.
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