Hollywoodland Jul 16 2015
CONFIDENCE GAMES
Liberace experiences tabloid wrath at its most merciless.


It was in this July 1957 issue of Confidential that journalist “Horton Streete’ infamously outed cover star Liberace in the most vicious and dehumanizing way with an article entitled “Why Liberace’s Theme Song Should Be ‘Mad About the Boy’.” We’ve talked about it before. Streete willfully attempted to damage the singer’s career by spinning a shocking tale of how he attacked a young, male press agent. The article refers to Liberace as Fatso, Pudgy, Dimples, and other, less flattering monikers.  

Here’s a rule you can count on—when a journalist or on-air personality constantly refers to someone by other than his or her name or title, it’s a hit piece. Liberace was horrified and sued Confidential. California Attorney General Pat Brown had already managed to win an indictment of the magazine two months earlier. Owner Robert Harrison was about to spend his entire summer in court. He took these legal threats to heart and publicly promised to stop publishing stories about the private lives of Hollywood stars.
 
Up until then Confidential had been as reckless as a magazine could be. This issue accuses Gary Crosby of punching a woman in the face, and Eartha Kitt of trapping her friend’s boyfriend in her penthouse. An extraordinary story about boxer Jake LaMotta suggests the he got a bumrap in his morals trial. LaMotta was serving time for bedding a 14-year-old. Prosecutors had convinced a jury that the incident with LaMotta was a primary cause of the girl later becoming a prostitute. Confidential rides to the rescue, claiming that the girl’s father had already deflowered her, therefore LaMotta could not have had any influence on the girl’s fate. How’s that for a principled stand?

These early issues of Confidential are a cesspool of journalistic ethics, no doubt, but they’re also a visual treat. Using black, red, blue, and yellow, plus the white of the pages themselves, the designers put together a bold and gaudy package that would influence every other tabloid on the market. The layouts on Kitt, Liberace, Alan Dale, and Lex Barker are among the most eye-catching we’ve seen from the period. Elsewhere you get Anthony Quinn, and a host of other stars. We have a bunch of scans below. Remember, you can always see more from Confidential and other tabs by visiting our tabloid index at this link.


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Hollywoodland Jun 30 2015
PAYTON'S PLACE
No matter how far she ran dissatisfaction followed close behind.


This gold colored June 1963 cover for Confidential magazine is entirely given over to actress Barbara Payton, whose self-penned hard-luck story appears inside and details her life troubles. The tale is well known and is one we’ve touched upon before—early marriage and early motherhood, followed by stardom, romances, and riches, followed by booze, drugs, divorces and crime. Confidential being Confidential, the editors neglect to mention that the story here is not an exclusive, but rather is excerpted from I Am Not Ashamed, Payton’s painfully revealing autobiography.

I Am Not Ashamed did not sell especially well, and was pretty much forgotten a few years after its release. But it reappeared by chance two decades later when Jack Nicholson famously lent a rare copy to Jessica Lange to help her prepare for her femme fatale role in The Postman Always Rings Twice. Today the book is widely available. Just a few seconds reading Payton’s words conjures the suspicion she had a ghostwriter, and indeed, it was the king of lowbrow literature Leo Guild who gave shape to the prose, which reads like gutter level sleaze fiction.
 
For example: “He hated what I had been [but] loved me for what I was. He tortured himself. Every part of my body reminded him of another man.” And this bit: “I had a body when I was a young kid that raisedtemperatures wherever I went. Today I have three long knife wounds on my solid frame. One extends from my buttocks down my thigh and needed I don’t remember how many stitches.” Payton’s anecdotes are cringe worthy, but they read like she’d gotten a grip on her life. No such luck. After four more long years of drugs, drink, and disaster she was found dead on her bathroom floor in 1967.
 
Payton post-mortems usually describe her problems as self-induced, but that’s simplistic. In the 1950s famous men did anything they wished, but women had to be careful not to be seen doing the same. Still do today. That’s the part Payton had problems with. Even so, she had several happy periods during her life. One of those was the stretch she spent in Mexico married to a young fisherman. About this time she says, “We fished and I caught big ones, and we loved and for a couple of years it was beautiful. My big problems were what to cook for dinner. But it was inevitable the ants in my pants would start crawling again.”
 
We like that passage, because nearly all the stories about Payton declare, or at least suggest, that everything that happened after Hollywood stardom was part of a terminal plummet. That’s pretty much the default setting in American journalism—anything other than wealth and fame is by definition failure. It’s an idiotic conceit, even a harmful one, and Payton reveals that in Mexico she landed someplace solid and safe, and got along fine without money or recognition. Two years of happiness is nothing to take lightly. But she just couldn’t sit still—not because of where she was, but because of who she was.

And the spiral continued—cheaper and cheaper forms of prostitution, physical confrontations that resulted in her getting some of her teeth knocked out, and more. In all of these tales there’s a recurrent theme of lowly types taking advantage of her, but we can’t help noting that she was paid a mere $1,000 for her autobiography, an absurdly deficient amount for a former top star with a crazy story to tell, which suggests to us that guys in office suites take as much advantage—or more—of a person’s hard luck as guys in alleys. We have some scans below, and Payton will undoubtedly appear here again.


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Hollywoodland Mar 13 2015
FACES IN THE MIRROR
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.


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Hollywoodland Mar 13 2015
SPECTRE OF CASH
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.

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Hollywoodland Mar 5 2015
IMPERFECT PAIR
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.

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Hollywoodland Feb 24 2015
NIGHT CRUISING
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.

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Hollywoodland Feb 1 2015
SMART GUY
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.

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Hollywoodland Jan 13 2015
WINTER WEDDING
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.

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Hollywoodland Jan 8 2015
BURNS IN THE FIRE
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.”
 
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Hollywoodland Nov 15 2014
CATCH A RISING STAR
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.

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The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
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1921—Black Sox Acquitted
After a trial lasting fourteen days, a jury finds eight Chicago White Sox baseball players not guilty of conspiring with a national gambling syndicate to throw the 1920 World Series. Despite the acquittal, newly appointed baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis expels all eight players from major league baseball in an attempt to assure the American public of the purity of the game.
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1964—Riot Stops Stones Concert
The Rolling Stones play in Belfast, Northern Ireland, but the show is stopped after twelve minutes because of violence in the audience. Some fans are carried away in straitjackets.

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