A perfect reflection of 1930s Hollywood.
This issue of the American film magazine Movie Mirror was published today in 1935 with Grace Moore on the cover, who was promoting her role in the film Love Me Forever, and later died in a plane crash with Prince Gustaf Adolf of Sweden. You may also notice the unusual sight of editor Ruth Waterbury giving herself standalone credit at upper left. We’ve never seen that before. Waterbury isn’t well remembered today, but she was a player in her time, one of America’s famous journalistic figures, and a staple in tabloids and gossip columns.
Movie Mirror billed itself as “Filmland’s most beautiful magazine,” and indeed its painted covers by the likes of John Ralston Clarke were among the most striking to be found on newsstands. In the late 1930s the magazine began moving away from painted covers to photo-illustrated fronts designed to evoke the same mood. In 1941 it merged with Photoplay and ceased to exist as a distinct publication. Below you see nine more covers, all from the 1930s, with Irene Dunne, Bette Davis, Claudette Colbert, Snow White, and others.
, Movie Mirror
, Love Me Forever
, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves
, Grace Moore
, Carole Lombard
, Greta Garbo
, Marion Davies
, Irene Dunne
, Bette Davis
, Claudette Colbert
, Prince Gustaf Adolf
, John Ralston Clarke
They say money talks. It also writes.
Where would we be without leaked documents in this day and age? There’s an interesting story hitting the wires today about how the Mexican government pressured Sony Pictures and MGM to change the script of the upcoming James Bond film Spectre in exchange for $14 million dollars. The money took the form of tax incentives, but in the real world it’s no different than bagloads of cash. The information comes from hacked e-mails provided by an unknown North Korean person or group. According to the e-mails, the Mexican government wanted an assassin’s identity changed from Mexican to some other nationality, an assassination target likewise changed from Mexican to other, and insisted upon the casting of a Mexican Bond girl. The last demand was met with the hiring of Sonora-born Stephanie Sigman.
All of this is pretty much business as usual in moviemaking—hardly even a story, really. But we always write about Bond here, so this item seemed worth sharing. The last aspect of the e-mails that interested us was a demand that the film include aerial shots of Mexico City’s skyline, with an emphasis on the modern buildings. Tens of millions of travelers from every part of the globe visit Mexico each year because of its native ruins, beautiful Spanish colonial architecture, indigenous food, historically authentic festivals, thousands of miles of beaches, and warmwaters, yet Mexican officials wanted its few glass skyscrapers to appear onscreen to emphasize to shallow businessmen that, yes, we too can offer the type of cookie-cutter modernity you love. It’s fascinating to us. The world won’t know how much of the Mexican government’s wish list was granted until Spectre’s November 2015 release, but if we had to guess we’d say all of it.
Eew, you mean you want me to, like, hug her and stuff?
When we saw this we had to share it. It’s a centerfold from Belgium’s Ciné Télé Revue magazine featuring Claudine Auger and Sean Connery. Made when they were promoting their pairing in the James Bond actioner Thunderball, the dubious expression on Connery’s seemingly lipsticked face is exactly the same as if he’d been forced to hug an octopus, while Auger seems to be having fun, but ended up with a double chin that probably made her shriek in horror when she saw the shot. But even though we suspect both actors probably fired their publicists after this, the result is a rare, candid photo showing that even the prettiest stars are, in the end, imperfect.
The brightest light in Hollywood.
Elke Sommer speeds through Hollywood during the late hours in this promotional photo from a 1963 issue of the French magazine Stop. She was famous at this point, having appeared in films in Europe, but she wasn’t yet the global icon she would become. In less than a year the hit comedy A Shot in the Dark would make her one of Hollywood’s biggest stars.
Some decisions don’t need explaining.
Top Secret packs several top celebs onto the cover of this issue published today in 1958, but gives center position to the relatively unknown Elsa Sorensen, the 1955 Miss Denmark referred to here as “that nude model.” Sorensen was indeed a nude model—she was a 1956 Playboy centerfold under her own name, and afterward continued to model nude as Dane Arden. Top Secret editors claim to know why multi-million-selling pop singer Guy Mitchell married her, but we don’t need their help to figure that out. See below:
The magazine also spins the tale of how the calypso/caribbean themed NYC club the African Room sued Eartha Kitt for more than $200,000. Allegedly, one night while Kitt and some friends were in attendance to see house act Johnny Barracuda, aka the King of Calypso, she flew into a rage, poured Champagne on patrons, shattered glassware, and kneed one of the owners—an ex-homicide dick named Harold Kanter—in the gonads. The lawsuit claimed Kitt shouted, “This is nothing but a clip joint! You are nothing but thieves!” Supposedly, this was all over a $137.00 bar bill. In case you’re wondering, that’s about $1,100 in today’s money.
Kitt’s side of the story was simply that her group ordered three or four splits (mini-bottles) of champagne—though none for her, as she never drank alcohol—and when presented with an exorbitant tab asked for an itemized bill, only to be met with major static. We’re siding with Kitt on this one, since Kanter, who somehow had enough money to leave the police force and buy a share of the African Room three years earlier at age twenty-five, had already been busted for watering down his liquor, then trying to bribe his way out of trouble. Kitt said succinctly of the episode, “To me a $137 bill was preposterous. I asked for the bill so I could have it sent to my office. They would not give it to me. That’s all there is to the whole story.”
And that’s all there is from Top Secret today, except to say that for us the most interesting part of the Kitt saga—aside from the tantalizing allegation by Kanter that she “disported herself onstage in a lewd and suggestive manner”—is the fact that she’s pasted-up on the mag’s cover with Sidney Poitier, when in fact her date at the African Room that night was Canadian actor John Ireland. Poitier was nowhere in sight. We'd love to know why Top Secret tried to drag him in, however obliquely, but we're not counting on ever getting the answer. When you dig through the past, unanswered questions are not the exception, but rather the rule.
New York City
, The African Room
, Top Secret
, Eartha Kitt
, Sidney Poitier
, Elsa Sorensen
, Dane Arden
, Harold Kanter
, John Ireland
, Johnny Barracuda
Mansfield and Mickey Hargitay ride into the gossip columns.
Jayne Mansfield rides off into the night with her new husband, Hungarian bodybuilder and former Mr. Universe Miklós Hargitay, better known as Mickey Hartigay, after their wedding in Portuguese Bend, California, today in 1958. In addition to riding off with Mansfield, Hargitay rode into the pages of the tabloids. As a noted figure in the fitness and bodybuilding world, he had been moderately famous before, but now, as a superstar’s husband, his every excursion, utterance, change in appearance, and career rumor was exhaustively documented and sold to the public. The marriage lasted six years, which is not bad by Hollywood standards, and the pair had three children, one of whom is actress Mariska Hargitay. See more on Mickey here.
You’re nobody ’til somebody loves you.
The above photos show Barbara Burns when she was busted for drugs today in 1958 after LAPD officers found track marks on her arms. Burns was the well-to-do daughter of famed comedian Bob Burns, but her father had died of kidney cancer in 1956. Barbara Burns was sentenced to probation after the arrest, and the story got some play in national newspaper, with several calling her probation sentence a storybook opportunity at a second chance. But she didn’t cooperate in the role. She managed to cobble together some behind-the-cameras television work, but was arrested for heroin possession in 1959. That time she served ninety days in jail and admitted in an interview, “I’m really hooked. I had nothing else to do, and my mother wouldn’t talk to me. I wanted to be a singer but I was too heavy and they told me it would help me lose weight.”
Burns had always called herself an ugly duckling, compared herself unfavorably to her siblings, and felt she could never live up to family expectations. But even though her own words told the world that low self esteem was the root of her problems, a dead father and an estrangement from her mother probably didn't help things. The downward spiral continued. She was arrested for marijuana possession in early 1960 and earned ninety days in Camarillo State Hospital. In November 1960 she was snared in another weed bust, but that time she walked after a jury acquitted her. When she was arrested for heroin possession again in June 1961, she lamented what had probably been true for longer than she admitted—that she had doomed her chance to have a career in show business.
At some point she sought medical treatment for an eye problem and was told by a doctor that she was losing her vision in her right eye. In both August and September of 1961 she attempted suicide, and in January 1962 while awaiting trial on one of her narcotics busts she was found overdosed and unconscious on a Hollywood street, and died a few days later in the hospital. Her suicide note said all she wanted was to be loved but everyone hated her. Many of her obituaries, ironically, described her as “tall and beautiful,” which she certainly would not have believed. They also noted her advantages in life—how she had won the crucial lottery of being born to wealth. But Barbara Burns didn’t see it that way. She once said, “I wish I had been born in some poor, obscure family that nobody knew. Then maybe I would have tried to become somebody.”
Ralph, this wasn’t what I meant when I said I needed a little pick-me up.
Ralph Meeker and Vera Miles joke around on the Hollywood set of the television series Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The episode they starred in was the series debut “Revenge,” and is considered by many to be the pinnacle of the show’s seven-year run. Meeker would appear in three more episodes of the series and many movies, while Miles would co-star memorably in Hitchcock’s Psycho. The photo dates from 1955.
The mission statement was simple—take cheap shots at every star in the firmament.
Top Secret is in fine form in this issue from October 1962 as it goes after all the biggest celebrities in Hollywood and Europe. Treading the line between journalism and slander is no easy feat, but take notice—Top Secret’s editors and hacks manage to pull off a high wire act. And of course this was key to the tabloids' modus operandi—they had to present information in a seemingly fearless or even iconoclastic way, yet never actually cross the line that would land them in court.
For example, there’s this dig at Frank Sinatra: “Mr. Snarl, Mr. Nasty, Mr. Do-You-Want-A-Belt-In-The-Mouth was as gentle as a lamb. Gone was the usual sneer, the wise-guy leer. Was this the same surly singer whose idea of a good morning’s exercise had been to watch his bodyguards work over a photographer?”
Grace Kelly takes a few arrows: “It’s a pretty good bet that the immediate bust-up of the marriage won’t come in the next few months, but it sure as shooting looks like her six-year reign as the glamorous princess of that silly little kingdom on the Mediterranean is going to blow up in her prim face.”
Christina Paolozzi gets roughed up thusly: “If anything, Christina in the buff is proof that clothes are an underdeveloped girl’s best friends. Therethe Countess stands with a pleased expression that seems to say, ‘Aren’t I something, Mister?’ But all it takes is one quick look to see that there isn’t really anything to get excited about—unless [you love] barbecued spareribs.”
Anita Ekberg receives this treatment: “[La Dolce Vita] was something like a peek into the boudoir antics of its star—the gal with the fantastic superstructure that looks like nothing less than two tugboats pulling a luxury liner into port.”
And what tabloid would be complete without Marilyn Monroe? Top Secret says she’s dating writer José Bolaños (who the magazine calls a Mexican jumping bean). Editors opt to unveil the news this way: “It seems that this bold bundle of blonde has suddenly gone on a strange Mexican hayride!!! Si, amigo, MEXICAN!”
And then there’s cover star Elizabeth Taylor: “And she acted wilder than ever, satisfying all her most urgent urges for Dickie in the most wide open ways. [She] had jumped from tragedy right into disgrace by having a wild fling with Eddie Fisher a mere six months after hubby Mike Todd had been planted six feet under. ‘Mike is dead, and I’m alive,’ she said cynically after running off for a riotous romp in the fall of 1958 with the guy who just then happened to be married to Debbie Reynolds. 'I’m not taking anything away from Debbie, because she never really had it,' luscious Liz sneered."
This issue of Top Secret is, succinctly put, a clinic in mid-century tabloid writing—alliterative and spicy, insinuative and sleazy, but never quite legally actionable. How could Ekberg argue that the tugboat similie wasn’t interpretable as a compliment? Could Christina Paolozzi deny that her ribs show? Could Sinatra claim that his bodyguards neverslugged a photographer? The magazine skirts the edge a bit with Taylor—did you catch how the editors paired “urges for Dick(ie)” with “wide open ways”?—but was she misquoted or truly slandered? Highly doubtful. Top Secret is pure, trashy genius. Magazines don’t have such writing anymore, and that’s probably a good thing—but it sure is fun to look back at how things were. More scans below.
, Top Secret
, La Dolce Vita
, José Bolaños
, Frank Sinatra
, Elizabeth Taylor
, Richard Burton
, Marilyn Monroe
, Anita Ekberg
, Christina Paolozzi
, Alfred Hitchcock
, Prince Rainier III
, Mike Todd
, Emilo Fernandez
, Laverne Roach
, Benny Paret
, Emile Griffith
, Franco Silva
, Marlon Brando
In Lincoln Heights Jail, that is.
If you suspect the jailhouse photo above is associated with a good story you’re correct. Hollywood party animal Errol Flynn, pictured here in L.A.’s Lincoln Heights Jail, was arrested for public intoxication along with 21-year-old Irish aspiring actress Maura Fitzgibbons. It was an unexpected end to what was supposed to have been a celebratory night. A couple of hours earlier Flynn and Fitzgibbons had been at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades where the Publicists’ Association was staging an annual costume party called The Ballyhoo Ball. When Flynn and Fitzgibbons made their entrance a man approached for an autograph. Flynn explained, politely according to witnesses, that he would comply but never socialized or signed autographs until he had a drink in his hand. But the man insisted on an immediate autograph—he said the hatcheck girl was his wife and a big Flynn fan.
Flynn reluctantly let himself be led by this insistent man to the hatcheck stand, whereupon he saw that the man’s wife, who appears in the photo at right, was attractive. Since Flynn was a consummate horndog, he suddenly became eager to comply and not only signed an autograph, but even managed to steal a kiss on the cheek. Making polite chit-chat afterward, Flynn asked the man what he did for a living and learned that he was a cop. Or at least said he was. But since the man was in civilian clothes, Flynn said, “If you’re a cop where’s your badge?” Or something to that effect. When the man produced a badge Flynn grabbed it and tossed it to his date Fitzgibbons. This was a costume party, remember, so it’s quite possible Flynn never believed him. And it’s virtually certain the cop never considered that the situation might make any claim to be a cop appear to be a prank. In any case he got upset and arrested Flynn and Fitzgibbons.
Once at the Lincoln Heights Jail the police either decided the arresting officer—whose story was markedly different from Flynn’s, Fitzgibbons’ and several other witnesses—had been overzealous. Or perhaps they simply decided to show a little preferential treatment to a movie star. In any case, they offered to let Flynn go with a warning. But the actor was indignant: “I want to be arrested. I want the whole world to know of the injustice of this deed.” So the cops tossed Flynn in a cell with a group of Mexican drunk and disorderlies who were still singing tequila-fueled ranchero songs. Even as late as 1957 Flynn was one of the most recognizable men in the world, so when the realization struck the detainees that the newly arrived drunk and disorderly was Errol Flynn everyone stared in stunned amazement. Then they began shouting, “Viva El Capitán Blood! Viva El Capitán Blood!” They started up the ranchero songs with renewed vigor, and Flynn sang along in the choruses. As for Fitzgibbons, below, she never earned a single credited role in Hollywood, which makes her Ballyhoo Ball arrest the height of her fame. That all happened in the wee hours today in 1957.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1938—Alicante Is Bombed
During the Spanish Civil War, a squadron of Italian bombers sent by fascist dictator Benito Mussolini to support the insurgent Spanish Nationalists, bombs the town of Alicante, killing more than three-hundred people. Although less remembered internationally than the infamous Nazi bombing of Guernica the previous year, the death toll in Alicante is similar, if not higher.
1977—Star Wars Opens
George Lucas's sci-fi epic Star Wars premiers in the Unites States to rave reviews and packed movie houses. Produced on a budget of $11 million, the film goes on to earn $460 million in the U.S. and $337 million overseas, while spawning a franchise that would eventually earn billions and make Lucas a Hollywood icon.
1930—Amy Johnson Flies from England to Australia
English aviatrix Amy Johnson lands in Darwin, Northern Territory, becoming the first woman to fly from England to Australia. She had departed from Croydon on May 5 and flown 11,000 miles to complete the feat. Her storied career ends in January 1941 when, while flying a secret mission for Britain, she either bails out into the Thames estuary and drowns, or is mistakenly shot down by British fighter planes. The facts of her death remain clouded today.
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