Being diplomatic is one way to get what you want. And then there's Bardot's way.
This is one of the most classic of Brigitte Bardot's movie posters, with the smiling superstar holding an Eiffel Tower in her hands, implying that all France is her plaything. That much is undeniable. It was originally titled Une parisenne, but for its English language release it was given the slightly different title La Parisienne, and in it Bardot does what Bardot always does—stops traffic, generates previously undiscovered quantum states of chaos, and flips reality upside down. This time around she plays Brigitte Laurier, the prime minister's stubborn daughter, in love her father's assistant, who tries as hard as he can not to get involved with her. Why would he resist Bardot? Because she's too young, and he already has a (married) girlfriend. He finally marries Bardot through a set of crazy circumstances, but refuses to give up his mistress, which of course leads to a jealous Brigitte taking matters into her own hands. This is a classic French style sex comedy, with confusion, mistaken assumptions, and people sneaking into each other's beds, all in service of teaching the lesson that what's good for the goose is good for the gander.
Focusing on the poster for a moment, you can see it's a high quality piece of art, but it's attributed to nobody. We checked around and came up with zip. You'll notice it says La Parisienne was Bardot's first big picture. We doubt that—it was her eighteenth movie. We can find no evidence anywhere that this one was different budgetwise than her other headlining efforts. Possibly, “big” is a reference to the plot's focus on international politics and diplomacy. The film does seem to have a larger scope, and take place against a larger backdrop than usual. So maybe that's it. Or maybe the American distributors meant that it was the first of Bardot's films to receive a big promotional push in the U.S. We just don't know. But here's what we're sure about: after a successful run in Europe beginning in late 1957, La Parisienne premiered in New York City today in 1958.
Harlan Ellison takes readers inside the bloody gang culture of the 1950s.
We're back with more Harlan Ellison today, this time his 1958 inner city drama The Deadly Streets. He died last month—when we were reading this, in fact—and the literary world has lost a unique stylist, and a unique character. We've written about him often, such as here, here, and here. He'll continue to be one of our favorite subjects. The Digit Books edition of The Deadly Streets you see here has top notch cover art by Kirk Wilson, and inside you get a collection of short stories based upon Ellison's experiences hanging around the NYC street gang the Barons when he was researching material for his debut novel Web of the City, aka Rumble. Violence, revenge, and corruption are the dominant motifs. You get a cop who's a hit man, an avenging father/serial killer, a homicidal female gang leader, and more. As an early effort The Deadly Streets is imperfectly executed, but at its best it's like James Ellroy before Ellroy, a gritty, literary splatter painting. You really get the sense of a writer stretching his creative muscles, exploring a style that would help him go on to conceive some of the most groundbreaking fiction of his era. Fun stuff—if you can call harrowing glimpses of New York's gangland hell fun. Ellison will be greatly missed.
It's not perfect, but it's pretty close.
The colorful magazine Mr. was published out of New York City by the imaginatively named Mr. Magazine, Inc., and was in the mold of male oriented publications such as Man's Life or Adventure for Men. This issue is from May 1953 and we grabbed it from the now idle Darwin's Scans website. Queen Cristina of Sweden pops up inside, which surprised us, considering we just learned about her for the first time in our lives less than a month ago and here she is again. You also get contemporary figures such as Billy Graham (the boxer), Kid Gavilan, and Hubert F. Julian, aka the Black Eagle of Harlem.
But the magazine focuses mainly on fiction and true adventure. We like the story about Berlin as a center for vice, with “horrible sex cults flourishing” in the post-war rubble. Ludwig Dietzler writes, “I am one of the few non-Berliners who have witnessed the orgies [snip] which thrive in basements, cellars, and other suitable hiding places.” Hmm... it doesn't sound all that bad to us. Elsewhere in Mr. you get beauty queens Carlyn Carlew and Trula Birchfield, as well as Apache dancer Yvonne Doughty. What's an Apache dancer? You'll just have to look. Scans of that and everything else appear below.
Actually, that's more than enough money, lover. You're under arrest.
The thing about GGA covers is they often mislead in terms of written content. The dove in The Frightened Dove is not the femme fatale on the cover but rather a Mussolini underling named Colombo—Italian for dove—who's hunted by the hero Ricci Bartoli, a retired anti-fascist fighter dragged out of his peaceful life as a tailor in New York City. Colombo is after a trove of gold, and Bartoli is out to stop him, with the crucial action taking place in Montreal. You can always tell there's something French about a book when the cover femme is wearing a beret. And her name is Marie, which seems to be the go-to for French women in genre fiction. The story here fits squarely into the post-war political adventure niche—i.e. cleaning up the loose ends of World War II. And on the subject of pseudonyms, Hardin was actually a Hungarian author named Louis Vaczek. The Frightened Dove was originally published in hardback in 1951, with the above Bantam paperback arriving in 1952 with uncredited cover art.
Hedy Lamarr finds the fashion industry intolerably cruel.
We can't think of Hedy Lamarr as any movie character except the native girl Tondeleyo from the cheeseball jungle classic White Cargo, but here she is in 1947's Dishonored Lady, which came five years after her famed tropical potboiler and presents a more mature Lamarr playing Madeleine Damien, take-no-shit Manhattan fashion editor by day, popular party girl by night. The movie presents a far less benign fashion industry than yesterday's Fashioned for Murder, as job pressures, difficult romances, and evil male colleagues drive Lamarr nearly out of her mind. She's finally pushed out of her job and leaves Manhattan to build a new life. Only her psychiatrist knows where she went. He tells a persistent interlocutor:
“Miss Damien is living under a different name in a different world. She told me to tell you, if you inquired, that she was busy growing a new soul. Now would you please keep off the grass?”
Lamarr is off in the country painting, relaxing, and finding true love. The past isn't that easy to avoid, though, and it finally catches up with her in the form of her awful ex-boyfriend, who ends up dead, leading to Lamarr being arrested for murder. Did she do it? Of course not. But she's too depressed to care what happens, so prison or worse looms. Madeleine Damien is no Tondeleyo, but Lamarr is good in the role. It's interesting how often we run across these meaty dramatic parts for women in mid-century cinema. Were high profile roles for serious actresses more common back then? Probably not, but sometimes it sure seems like it. Dishonored Lady premiered in the U.S. today in 1947.
Crime magazine gives readers the gifts of death and mayhem.
Produced by the J.B Publishing Corp. of New York City, Reward was a true crime magazine, another imprint designed to slake the American public's thirst for death and mayhem. Inside this May 1954 issue the editors offer up mafia hits, Hollywood suicides, domestic murder, plus some cheesecake to soothe readers' frazzled nerves, and more. The cover features a posed photo of actress Lili Dawn, who was starring at the time in a film noir called Violated. It turned out to be her only film. In fact, it turned out to be the only film ever acted in by top billed co-star William Holland, as well as supporting cast members Vicki Carlson, Fred Lambert, William Mishkin, and Jason Niles. It must have been some kind of spectacularly bad movie to cut short all those careers, but we haven't watched it. It's available for the moment on YouTube, though, and we may just take a gander later. Because Reward is a pocket sized magazine the page scans are easily readable, so rather than comment further we'll let you have a look yourself.
This is really fun! After this I'll shave your legs and pluck your eyebrows.
Above, a cover for Shame Star, copyright 1964, written by Evan Hunter using the pseudonym Dean Hudson for Idle Hours Books. Yep, we read it. It's about a free spirit named Francie Jordan who gets low on money, gets into nude modeling, and ends up involved in the NYC skin flick racket. The cover doesn't depict her, though. For some reason it shows a secondary character enjoying an assisted cleanse in a Japanese bathhouse in Harlem. Maybe someone could ask the artist why he chose that scene, but the cover is uncredited. Overall this is standard sleaze, maybe a hair better written than usual, but nothing we'd recommend.
Beautiful jinx finally jinxes herself.
Confidential Detective Cases, for which see an April 1960 cover above, was published bi-monthly from 1942 to 1978 by New York City based Detective House, Inc. The magazine has an appropriately garish crime rag look and many stories of interest, breathlessly reported. The headers are entertaining: “She Stabbed Him—Rather Than Share Him!” “Parade of the Grave-Bound Redheads.” “The Dames All Die for Me.” All these tales are of interest, but today we're focused on one story—the piece about the unlucky death of Janice Drake. It's titled “Big-Time Mob Leader and the Blonde Murder Jinx.” A jinx is of course someone who brings bad luck to others, but what do you call someone who brings bad luck on herself?
Drake was a former Miss New Jersey who had competed in the Miss America pageant, was a semi-famous G.I. pin-up, a professional dancer, and the wife of comedian Allan Drake. She and her husband were known to have an open marriage, and among Janice's male friends were several New York City mobsters. One of these was Anthony Carfano, aka Little Augie Pisano, an associate of crime boss Frank Costello, who was pitted against mob rival Vito Genovese in a power play for control of the New York City rackets. Carfano had thrown his support behind Costello, causing Genovese to develop a homicidal grudge.
This was not a guy to go to dinner with, but on the night of September 29, 1959, Drake accompanied Carfano to a restaurant called Marino's, where they dined with a mob caporegime named Tony Strollo. Strollo was Genovese's right hand man, but Carfano had no idea Genovese was bent on revenge, nor that Strollo had been assigned the job. When Carfano and Drake left Marino's, they were planning to drive to La Guardia Airport to board a night flight to Miami. But two gunmen were stationed in the rear of Carfano's Cadillac and they forced him to drive to a secluded area near the airport, where they shot both him and Janice Drake twice in the head and once in the back of the neck.
Bad luck for Drake, but don't feel overwhelmingly sympathetic. She may not have been married to the mob, as the saying goes, but she was definitely playing footsie with it. Twice she had been present at a mobster's last supper. She went to dinner with Garment District kingpin Nathan Nelson the night he was murdered, and dined with Gambino crime family boss Albert Anastasia the night before he was whacked in a barbershop. Talk about a jinx. She was called to testify in court concerning both slayings, yet for some reason never seemed to comprehend the risks of running with a dangerous—and highly endangered—crowd.
More than a few police figures believed Drake was a mob courier, a high level go-between, a role in which she may learned the identities of Nelson's and Anastasia's killers. She may not have been a target the night she had her last supper and met a messy end, but it could be that since she knew too much, her loss as collateral damage was deemed an acceptable outcome. Others think she was just mob arm candy and finally ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time; anyone in the car with Carfano would have bought it the same brutal way. Whatever the specifics, Drake's early death—she was thirty-two when it happened—was probably inevitable.
She was one Man's ray of light.
This is a fantastic shot. One reason it caught our eye is that we've seen other photos with lacy shadows substituting for lingerie, but this one from 1930 may be the originator of the illusion. The person you see is Lee Miller. She was born in 1907 and became a fashion model in New York City during the late 1920s, before traveling to Paris with the intent of meeting the legendary photographer Man Ray. She succeeded and became his muse, lover, and frequent subject, as evidenced by this photo, which is his work.
Miller was widely acknowledged as one of the great beauties of her era, but modeling was not her career goal. Her plan had always been to become a photographer. Thus in addition to the other facets of her relationship with Ray, she also apprenticed for him. After absorbing what he had to share she eventually went on to shoot acclaimed World War II photos, some of them during perilous live combat, and documented the liberation of the Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps, helping expose Nazi atrocities to the world.
In mid-1945 she was in Munich shooting images of the immediate aftermath of the war and posed for a nude shot in Adolf Hitler's bathtub. Yeah—Hitler. Her son, Antony Penrose, later said of the shot, “I think she was sticking two fingers up at Hitler. On the floor are her boots, covered with the filth of Dachau, which she has trodden all over Hitler’s bathroom floor. She is saying she is the victor.”
The photo was of course controversial, but Miller was a pure artist, always willing to make observers see the world in a new way—through her trained eye. So while the shot at top could be seen as reductive of a complex and accomplished personality, it actually reveals an important aspect of who she was—a daring, multi-faceted woman to whom convention was merely a challenge. And it's an overwhelmingly beautiful shot besides.
The only friend I need is Jack and he comes in a bottle. Um—I mean he comes from a bottle.
Mary McCarthy's The Company She Keeps was reviewed positively in The Guardian—in 2011. No small feat for a book dating from 1942. It's a semi-autobiographical novel dealing with love, sex, New York City society, and the search for happiness. It's divided into six episodes starring the same woman, and each section features a different central male figure, usually a love interest, but other times a person who stands in contrast to a love interest, such as the therapist to whom the protagonist vents about her marriage. Needless to say, the book fails the Bechdel test at every turn. It made a controversial splash in the ’40s because of its frank style, and is seen today as a minor classic, the first effort from an author who would go on to greater recognition. The edition you see here appeared in 1955 and the cover art of a woman and her little friend in a bottle—perhaps not Jack Daniel's but something sure to hit the spot anyway—is by Robert McGuire.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1942—Blimp Crew Disappears without a Trace
The two-person crew of the U.S. naval blimp L-8 disappears on a routine patrol over the Pacific Ocean. The blimp drifts without her crew and crashes in Daly City, California. The mystery of the crew's disappearance is never solved.
1977—Elvis Presley Dies
Music icon Elvis Presley is found unresponsive by his fiancée on the floor of his Graceland bedroom suite. Attempts to revive him fail and he's pronounced dead soon afterward. The cause of death is often cited as drug overdose, but toxicology tests have never found evidence this was the case. More likely, years of drug abuse contributed to generally frail health and an overtaxed heart that suddenly failed.
1969—Woodstock Festival Begins
The Woodstock Music & Art Fair, which was billed as an Aquarian Exposition, takes place on a 600 acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York. It would run for three sometimes rainy days and feature thirty-two acts performing at all hours of the day and night. Today the festival is regarded as one of the greatest events in popular music history.
1977—Radio Signal Arrives from Deep Space
An unidentified radio signal, nicknamed the WOW Signal for the notation a scientist made on a computer readout, is briefly detected by the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project's Big Ear radio telescope. Despite a month of searching the same section of space, the signal is never found again.
1912—U.S. Invades Nicaragua
United States Marines invade Nicaragua to support the U.S.-backed government installed there after José Santos Zelaya had resigned three years earlier. American troops remain for eleven years.
1936—Last Public Execution in U.S.
Rainey Bethea, who had been convicted of rape and murder, is hanged in Owensboro, Kentucky in what is the last public execution performed in the United States.
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