Intl. Notebook Feb 21 2013
TIP OF THE ICEBERG
Better dance fast—it’s freezing in there.

Remember our two write-ups on early 20th Century programmatic architecture in the Los Angeles area? No? They’re here and here. Check ’em out. Oh, and if you’re really interested, there’s another amazing example here with an entire story behind it. Anyway, here’s a new structure to add to the collection. This is the Mt. Baldy Inn, an iceberg-shaped dance hall built in 1927 that was located in the Pico Rivera area of greater Los Angeles. The inn was popular during the Depression, and was supposedly famous for using freshly squeezed oranges in its signature orange freeze drink. We're guessing the orange freeze was basically a non-corporate Slurpee. This would have been during those sad, alcohol aversive years known as Prohibition, but we bet an extra fiver would've gotten your drink pimped out with a shot of whisky. If the booze didn't get you hopping around, the brain freeze would. This image originally came from the Los Angeles Public Library, but we saw it on the excellent architecture forum skyscraperpage.com, so thanks to those folks for doing the hard work of finding this photo.

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Vintage Pulp Jan 14 2013
JACKSON JIVE
Something about that gal just makes him want to play with his wood.

We had completely forgotten about Fred Ross’s Jackson Mahaffey until we ran across this great cover. We read the book back when we first got into pulp literature. Our version was a Riverside Press hardback, but we wish we’d had this Bantam mass market paperback. Note the stick at crotch level and the masturbatory motion that would be required to whittle it. Also note the unsuspecting lass and the mixing bowl between her legs. As it turns out, though the book is indeed about a man trying to get his stick in a girl’s bowl, it’s also a very funny square peg/round hole story in a broader sense.

Published in 1951, with the paperback appearing a year later, Jackson Mahaffey is set in Prohibition era North Carolina, and is told in first person by the eponymous Jackson, an orphan who has grown up to be a master liar, consummate hustler, and inveterate horndog. When he catches a glimpse of beautiful Molly Burns, he decides he simply must have her, but in order to do so he must appear to be a respectable gentleman. Just a few of the things poor Jackson gives up to woo the girl: cussing, brawling, smoking, cock fighting, and drinking. Pretty tough makeover for a guy who manages the meanest fighting cock on the Rock River and carries brass knuckles and a pistol in his pocket, but he gives Southern gentility a go anyway, even though the subterfuge cannot possibly last.

When he inevitably falls off the wagon, the only way he can think of to get back into Molly’s good graces (and hopefully into her panties) is to run for state senator. It should be an impossible task for a rootless hick like Jackson, but it turns out that everything he’s learned during his years of double dealing and raising hell suddenly work to his advantage. This is politics, after all, and he’s uniquely equipped with malleable morals and lots of friends in low places. Filled with backwoods humor and Jackson’s particular brand of countrified wisdom, this one is well worth a read.

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The Naked City Nov 28 2012
BOSTON INFERNO
How it really started nobody can remember for sure. How it ended nobody can ever forget.


Above is a photo of the aftermath of the Cocoanut Grove fire of 1942. Its appearance belies the scope of the disaster that took place there. The Cocoanut Grove had been founded as an illegal speakeasy and, after the 1933 repeal of Prohibition, became Boston’s trendiest nightspot. It was comprised of several properties that had been consolidated into one, and was a labyrinth of tropical-themed bars, lounges, and dining rooms, complete with a famous “rolling roof” that allowed patrons to dance under the stars during warm summer nights. The club’s cobbled together construction meant there were many exits, but owner Barnet “Barney” Welansky was preoccupied with the possibility of people using these to dash without paying their checks, and had hidden some exits behind curtains, locked others, boarded up a plate glass window, and bricked over an emergency exit.

About 10:15 p.m. one frigid November night a fire started for the most banal of reasons. A soldier in the Melody Lounge, which was in the basement, had either loosened or removed a light bulb in an artificial palm tree to create the privacy he desired in order to make out with his date. A busboy was ordered to replace or tighten it. He climbed onto a chair and lit a match so he could see, very likely using one from a matchbook like the one at right. Moments later the canopy of artificial palm fronds overhead caught fire. Whether it was the match or the light bulb that started the blaze nobody ever figured out for sure, though the busboy unambiguously blamed himself and the match.

But in any case, flames blossomed through the paper and rattan decorations. Waiters tried to douse them but they quickly became what witnesses described as a fireball. This fireball raced up a staircase to the lounges and bars on the ground floor and men and women ran upstairs with their hair ablaze. The flames burst into the main level and triggered a deadly crush at the revolving door entrance, which was immediately rendered useless as patrons tried to escape by pushing in opposite directions. Another crush formed at a set of double doors that opened inward from the street. In the panic, the patrons couldn’t organize themselves enough to step back so the exit could be opened. As people struggled, passed out, and piled up before the doors, the flames consumed everything.
 
Many people escaped. They ran through the kitchen, or squeezed through barred windows. The house band’s bass player, Jack Lesberg, who later went on to perform with Louis Armstrong and Sarah Vaughan, among others, smashed his way out using his stand-up bass. Five survivors barricaded themselves in a walk-in freezer. In all, about half the occupants escaped, but in the end the fire killed 492, which was thirty-two more people than were legally allowed to inhabit the building. Some patrons were so quickly overcome by fumes that they died sitting at their tables. Firemen described charred corpses with glasses in their hands. Barnet Welansky went to jail for multiple counts of manslaughter, but was pardoned after only four years by Massachusetts Governor Maurice J. Tobin, who had been the mayor of Boston at the time of the fire. Helps to know people, and helps even more to drink with them. The Cocoanut Grove fire—or inferno might be a better word—was today in 1942.

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Intl. Notebook May 30 2012
JERSEY SHORE
Meet me tonight in Atlantic City.

A while back we showed you a woodcut print commemorating New York City’s famed Cotton Club. In that same batch was another choice item—a print celebrating New York Airways, Inc., a fledgling airline that operated out of the Big Apple starting in 1927. It was bought by Pan Am in 1928, continued to offer service to Atlantic City, but was finally dissolved in 1931. In case you’re wondering why any airline would run regular service to Atlantic City, we suggest you watch Boardwalk Empire. Basically, what was once a beachside resort town had become a den of vice and gambling, a place where Prohibition was loosely enforced, if at all. Its official nickname was “The World’s Playground.” But as always, the players eventually went elsewhere. Why? The print offers a clue. Atlantic City boomed thanks to rail service, a form of travel that was slow and taxing, prompting many visitors to spend a week or two in town before climbing back aboard another train. With the advent of commercial air travel, visitors could arrive in town in reasonably good shape, stay a night or two, and leave. The loss of revenue triggered a decline—exacerbated by other factors—from which Atlantic City never recovered. But this print is a reminder that, once upon a time, the Jersey Shore was the place to be. 

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Musiquarium Apr 23 2012
HARLEM NOCTURNE
We ain't leaving 'til the sun comes up.

Here's something wonderful we found on our recent U.S. trip. It's a 1929 woodcut print promoting Harlem's famous Cotton Club. You probably know the Cotton Club was one of America's most prominent speakeasies, if that isn't an oxymoron, and that it hosted some of the greatest jazz luminaries of the age, including Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, Cab Calloway, Bessie Smith, George Gershwin, and many others. The place was mob owned, specifically by England-born gangster Owney Madden. If stories about the sheer wildness of the Cotton Club are true, this print certainly captures its spirit. The artist here is E.M. Washington, who was quite well known for his woodcuts, and whose surviving original work goes for a fortune. This particular item is a reprint, which put it well within our price range.

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
October 22
1926—Houdini Fatally Punched in Stomach
After a performance in Montreal, Hungarian-born magician and escape artist Harry Houdini is approached by a university student named J. Gordon Whitehead, who asks if it is true that Houdini can endure any blow to the stomach. Before Houdini is ready Whitehead strikes him several times, causing internal injuries that lead to the magician's death.
October 21
1973—Kidnappers Cut Off Getty's Ear
After holding Jean Paul Getty III for more than three months, kidnappers cut off his ear and mail it to a newspaper in Rome. Because of a postal strike it doesn't arrive until November 8. Along with the ear is a lock of hair and ransom note that says: "This is Paul’s ear. If we don’t get some money within 10 days, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits." Getty's grandfather, billionaire oilman Jean Paul Getty, at first refused to pay the 3.2 million dollar ransom, then negotiated it down to 2.8 million, and finally agreed to pay as long as his grandson repaid the sum at 4% interest.
October 20
1947—HUAC Hearings Begin
The House Un-American Activities Committee begins its investigation into Communist infiltration of Hollywood, resulting in a witch hunt that destroys lives, ruins careers, and makes Senator Joseph McCarthy the most feared politician of the era.
1968—Jackie Kennedy Marries
Former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy marries Greek shipping tycoon Aristotle Onassis. The marriage comes as a total surprise to the American public, and results in a terrible backlash against her and also makes her the number one target of paparazzi for years.

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