Hollywoodland Mar 23 2014
DANCING ON AIR
Rita Hayworth and Fred Astaire prove levitation is possible.

We love Rita Hayworth as a femme fatale and in our opinion her turn in Gilda, playing a decadent casino owner’s jaded arm candy in Argentina, is by far her signature role. But we should never fail to remember that she was an ace dancer. And of course Fred Astaire was a magician. Here they both are in a series of promo shots made while they were filming the 1942 musical You Were Never Lovelier. Some sites say these are actual film frames, but they aren’t—this was a rehearsal rather than a number from the actual film. Curiously, like Gilda the movie is set in Argentina and features similar lead roles—i.e., a bored, perhaps unreachable woman and a scoundrel with a gambling problem. Since both flicks were produced by Columbia Pictures it’s possible the studio simply recycled a successful theme. Maybe we’ll do some research on that. Meantime, check out the images below.

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Hollywoodland | Sex Files Feb 26 2014
SLINGS AND ARROWS
Liberace is finally forced to take up arms against the tabloids.


A long while ago we shared the cover of a 1956 Whisper featuring George Sanders. The same issue had an article on Liberace, and we’re returning to that today as part of our look at mid-century tabloid attitudes toward gay culture. In general of course, the tabloids were brutally insulting, using overt as well as coded language to get intimations of homosexuality across. Theoretically, when dealing with public figures they had to be somewhat cautious, but both Rave and Inside had in 1954 written stories insinuating that Liberace was gay, and in 1955 Suppressed and Private Lives did the same. In Whisper, a journalist writing under the name Sylvia Tremaine refers to Liberace as a “creature,” labels his speech as “simpering,” and describes his move to television this way: “From there it was just a brief flutter to a local TV program.”

You’ll notice there’s deniability in all those words—Whisper could claim there was nothing defamatory in the language. Ridiculous, of course. Clearly the magazine was calling Liberace gay, and only a fool would claim otherwise, but defamation had not occurred to an extent that would stand up in court. Thus we see the joy of coded language. The same occurs in the U.S. today in certain media outlets with language directed at African Americans. The disparagement is clear, but deniable. Or for a cinematic example of coding, consider the Maltese Falcon and how the character of Joel Cairo is announced by flute trills on the soundtrack. Clear, and yet deniable. But in its Liberace article Whisper then throws deniability out the window with this: “Hollywood snickerers are wondering, in fact, if all the male hormones earmarked for the Liberace boys weren’t hogged by George, leaving Lee with only his nimble fingers.” That goes a bit beyond code, wouldn’t you say?

Liberace did not sue, and the tabloids simply built momentum. Later in 1956 Britain’s Daily Mirror called him a “deadly, winking, sniggering, snuggling, chromium-plated, scent-impregnated, luminous, quivering, giggling, fruit-flavoured, mincing, ice-covered heap of mother love.” Robert Harrison’s Confidential piled on in 1957. It published a three-part tale of Liberace attacking a hapless press agent. A sample from that hit piece: “Fatso plumped onto the couch alongside his young guest, and before you could say Gorgeous George, the pair were [wrestling]. In a matter of moments, it turned into a boxing bout, too, with the press agent throwing desperate lefts and rights at Liberace. The latter, his determination stiffening, merely clung tighter. The floor show reached its climax when Dimples, by sheer weight, pinned his victim’s shoulders to the mat and mewed into his face: 'Gee, you’re cute when you’re mad!'”
 
Liberace’s lawyer John Jacobs filed lawsuits against both Daily Mirror and Confidential, demanding a whopping twenty million dollars from the latter. Adjusted for inflation, that's about $174 million in today's terms. You can almost imagine Robert Harrison spitting up his coffee when he heard the settlement demand. Equally you can imagine Liberace’s reluctance to dignify the article, but Confidential at the time had readership in the millions. Something had to be done. It had become open season on his private life. Even the press photo below toyed with him. Thedescriptive text, written for newspaper staff, is meant to simply get across the basic facts of the photos and is typically pretty dry stuff. But this describes Liberace as "the curly-haired pianist"  and says his walk is "jaunty." Clear, but deniable.

In the end, Liberace received $40,000 from Confidential and $53,000 from the Daily Mirror, substantial sums for the time. In addition to his legal victories, the constraints against tabloid journalism were becoming more defined. Of course, Liberace had won the cases by perjuring himself in court about being gay. In 1987 when he died of complications related to AIDS, Daily Mirror refused to show an iota of deference or respect and published a piece referring to the 1950s settlement. It was headlined: Any Chance of a Refund?

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Hollywoodland Feb 22 2014
ATOMIC PERIL
Can a wedding cake predict the future of a marriage?

Burlesque dancer Lili St. Cyr cuts a wedding cake with new husband Ted Jordan after marrying him at the El Rancho Vegas hotel in Las Vegas. Jordan was an actor who worked steadily during a long career, appearing regularly on Gunsmoke and other series. He later claimed that his wife once had sex with Marilyn Monroe. Actually, Jordan is the source of many stories about Monroe, having dated her briefly. Most of those stories are described as “dismissed by Monroe’s biographers,” but they’re very interesting and you just never know. We spent some years in Hollywood working in publishing, television and movies, and you’d be surprised how many stories that are “dismissed” are actually true. Anyway, enough about Marilyn—this is Lili’s day. You may notice her wedding cake is a bit unusual. That’s because it’s supposed to be a mushroom cloud in homage to her nickname The Anatomic Bomb. The choice was apt—within two years the marriage was blowing up. A divorce filing took a bit longer, coming in November 1958. But St. Cyr certainly looked radiantly happy at the wedding. That was today in 1955. 
 
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Hollywoodland Feb 4 2014
TOTAL ECLIPSE OF THE ART
When Monroe was around everyone else just faded into the background.

This unusual photo shows a glowing Marilyn Monroe with her third husband, the playwright Arthur Miller. It would be tempting to say the shot symbolizes the couple’s relationship with fame or with each other, but that would be too easy—Miller was not shy, and he wasn’t overshadowed by Monroe. In fact, within the relationship it was the opposite—Monroe strived constantly to not disappoint Miller, one of the leading American intellectuals. When she finally learned he was occasionally embarrassed by her, it marked the beginning of the end for their marriage. But this photo was made during the summer of 1957, a period during which, according to most observers, Miller and Monroe were happiest.

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Hollywoodland Jan 15 2014
POLAR VORTEX
There’s no business like snow business.

Today in 1932 Los Angeles suffered what was called the first real snowstorm in its history when two inches of accumulation settled downtown and the Hollywood Hills became a winter wonderland. It had snowed at least once before in 1882, but the 1932 storm remains even today the heaviest snow ever recorded in Southern California. Did scientists suggest the polar vortex had something to do with it? Possibly, since they had known about it for decades, but in the absence of politics you can bet the general public didn’t care at all. The above member of the general public is named Judith Wood, an actress who appeared in The Vice Squad, Road to Reno and other films. She regards the scene with amusement and/or amazement from her hilltop home. 

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Hollywoodland Dec 18 2013
FONTAINE OF YOUTH

When Joan Fontaine decided to try her luck in Hollywood her mother reportedly refused to let her use the family’s name—de Havilland, which was being used by her actress sister Olivia—so she chose Fontaine as her last name. After a slow start earning good roles she scored the coveted part of Mrs. De Winter in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1940 Daphne du Maurier adaptation Rebecca and was nominated for an Academy Award. She didn’t win that one, but the next year took home the statuette for her role in Suspicion, becoming the only performer to win an Oscar for acting in a Hitchcock film. From there her career took off, and she worked steadily through the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. Ironically, when her mother—a former actress—decided to rekindle her own career she did so under the stage name Lillian Fontaine. Of her famous sister, Joan Fontaine once said, “I married first, won the Oscar before Olivia did, and if I die first, she’ll undoubtedly be livid because I beat her to it.” The third part of that quip came true when Fontaine—née Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland—died of natural causes Sunday in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California.

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Hollywoodland Sep 25 2013
ERR RAID
Who’s that knocking at my door?


This issue of Confidential from this month in 1955 was one of the magazine’s high points (or low points, depending on your perspective). In this issue the world learned about the infamous Wrong Door Raid in which a group of men that included Joe DiMaggio and Frank Sinatra broke down an apartment door in West Hollywood in an attempt to catch DiMaggio’s ex-wife Marilyn Monroe in bed with another man. We’ll let Confidential describe the delicious scene:
 
The human battering ram backed up and struck again—four or five times in all—before the hinges gave, the door toppled with a terrible crash, and his momentum carried him sailing inside. The rest of the amateur raiders tumbled right after him. A faint light coming from the window told the private eye they were in a bedroom. Any further confirmation he needed was coming from the bed in the form of shrill screams. The investigator had a camera slung around his neck and—without waiting for the lights to be turned on—he blasted away with his flash bulbs.
 
At some point, DiMaggio and Co. realized that it wasn’t Monroe in the bed and that they had invaded the wrong apartment. Cue panicked retreat, overturned furniture, broken glass, the works. The story is well known today and you can read full accounts on various websites, butwe thought we’d share this cover anyway because we love the photo Confidential chose for Monroe, and the entire episode is a reminder of how bland modern day celebrity scandals really are.

Confidential basked in the glow of its exposé, but events turned sour rather quickly. Even though DiMaggio, Sinatra and the rest were the ones who had broken the law (or several laws), and Confidential had merely reported the truth, Hollywood was fed up. The stars and studios mounted a concerted push in the state legislature, which resulted in indictments against the magazine. With the constant threat of lawsuits hanging over Confidential like a cloud, publisher Robert Harrison made a deal to refrain from writing about stars’ private lives. One of his biggest scoops had helped lead to his magazine’s de-fanging.

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Hollywoodland Aug 30 2013
McDONALD DUCKS
Marie McDonald gives her minders the slip in Australia.


Today we’re getting back to what we do well with some scans and tawdry tales from a mid-century tabloid—this time it’s Uncensored, published this month in 1965. There’s quite a bonanza inside. You get stories on Ray Charles’ ongoing narcotics problems, Jack Paar’s runaway ego, the health fad of Finnish saunas, and the astounding “fourth sex” (castratos, in case you’re curious). There’s also interesting coverage of American socialite Hope Cooke’s marriage to Crown Prince Palden Thondup Namgyal of a place called Sikkim, a Himalayan monarchy that is now a part of India. When Cooke married the prince in 1963 she became the second most famous American to marry into royalty (after Grace Kelly). The marriage made her a Maharajkumari, which has a nice ring to it, but the union was not successful. An amusing subhead on Uncensored scribe Aldo Ceruzzi’s article encapsulates the problem: Sophisticated though she is, it’ll take lots of doing to overlook those concubines! 

But the story we’re most interested in here is the one on American actress/singer Marie McDonald. We wrote about her before, her infamous nocturnal disappearance from her house, her discovery in the desert, and her weaving a story of abuse and abduction and placing the blameon two “swarthy” assailants. The cops dismissed her story out of hand, but Uncensored gives us a bit of new information on the debacle: But Marie was able to save the $8,000, six-carat diamond ring she was wearing at the time of the alleged snatch. Her unusual safe deposit box was discovered when a doctor examined her for evidence of [rape]. Probing south of the border, he found there were diamonds in them thar hills!
 
Well, wow. Just wow. And you notice how Uncensored slipped the words “snatch” and “box” into the account? Again, wow. Was that an accident? Noooo. No possible way. Most of the McDonald story, though, is actually about an incident that occurred several months before this issue of Uncensored was published in which she escaped from an Australian mental clinic (or “booby barn,” in Uncensored parlance). The scandalous aspect is not her escape, but the fact that she spent the next forty hours at the home of a “handsome admirer” she had met days earlier. What happened there? The imagination runs wild—with a little help from Uncensored. McDonald’s ongoing personal difficulties hadyears ago overshadowed her career, so readers were probably not surprised to come across yet another strange story about the sex symbol nicknamed "The Body." Seven marriages will have a tendency to turn one into the butt of jokes. But though Uncensored makes light of McDonald in that cutting way tabloids do, her life was truly no laughing matter—she committed suicide just two years after this issue appeared, in 1965. We will have more from Uncensored soon.

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Hollywoodland Jul 16 2013
HARRY'S SPOTTER
The outsider’s guide to Hollywood.

For almost as long as Hollywood has been a hub of international cinema there have been self-appointed guides helping tourists find the homes of film stars. Above you see an employee of Harry’s Personal Guides keeping an eye out for potential customers during a rainy afternoon on Sunset Boulevard. Harry’s guides rode as passengers in tourists’ cars, directing them to the homes of stars, and the company also had drivers and cars available for hire. The year on the automobile advertisement in the background touts upcoming new models for 1938 and gives away the year on the photo—1937.

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Hollywoodland Jul 15 2013
MEXICO GETS JINXED
Tourist board taps gringa to lure gringos across the border.

The above photos of American actress Jinx Falkenberg show her posing in costume for her film Tahiti Nights, and she’s holding a Mexican tourist poster for which she had modeled around the same time. This isn’t as a much of a mismatch as you might think. Falkenberg was actually born Eugenia Lincoln Falkenberg in Barcelona, Spain. Being Spanish-born (her parents were American) is of course not remotely the same as being Mexican, but it’s worth mentioning. The truth is she was probably chosen for the poster simply because she was the most famous young Hollywood star associated with Mexico in the consciousness of the American public. She spoke Spanish, of course, and had gotten her start in Spanish films like El carnaval del Diablo, but we doubt average Americans had a clue about that at the time. But once she reached Hollywood she continued to act in films with ethnic themes. For instance, in 1943 she starred in Two Señoritas from Chicago, in 1944 she played an islander in the aforementioned Tahiti Nights, and the next year she played a Mexican girl in The Gay Señorita. So when you add together her birthplace, language skills, and movie roles, she isn’t just some random gabacha the tourist board dug up. While it’s possible it might have been more authentic to use Delores del Rio or Lupe Velez, both of them were much older than Falkenberg, and in any case, maybe they were asked and said no. Below you’ll notice that we managed to find that travel poster, and whatever the reasoning behind its creation, it sure came out looking good. The photos date from 1944, and the poster was used for the years 1944 and 1945.  


 
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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
April 25
1939—Batman Debuts
In Detective Comics #27, DC Comics publishes its second major superhero, Batman, who becomes one of the most popular comic book characters of all time, and then a popular camp television series starring Adam West, and lastly a multi-million dollar movie franchise starring Michael Keaton, then George Clooney, and finally Christian Bale.
1953—Crick and Watson Publish DNA Results
British scientists James D Watson and Francis Crick publish an article detailing their discovery of the existence and structure of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA, in Nature magazine. Their findings answer one of the oldest and most fundamental questions of biology, that of how living things reproduce themselves.
April 24
1967—First Space Program Casualty Occurs
Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov dies in Soyuz 1 when, during re-entry into Earth's atmosphere after more than ten successful orbits, the capsule's main parachute fails to deploy properly, and the backup chute becomes entangled in the first. The capsule's descent is slowed, but it still hits the ground at about 90 mph, at which point it bursts into flames. Komarov is the first human to die during a space mission.
April 23
1986—Otto Preminger Dies
Austro–Hungarian film director Otto Preminger, who directed such eternal classics as Laura, Anatomy of a Murder, Carmen Jones, The Man with the Golden Arm, and Stalag 17, and for his efforts earned a star on Hollywood's Walk of Fame, dies in New York City, aged 80, from cancer and Alzheimer's disease.
1998—James Earl Ray Dies
The convicted assassin of American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., petty criminal James Earl Ray, dies in prison of hepatitis aged 70, protesting his innocence as he had for decades. Members of the King family who supported Ray's fight to clear his name believed the U.S. Government had been involved in Dr. King's killing, but with Ray's death such questions became moot.

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