Hollywoodland Jun 20 2014
A GREAT ESCAPE
Steve McQueen enjoys a moment of reflection.

Above, a rare photo of American actor Steve McQueen lounging poolside at his home in Palm Springs, California, 1963. That would have been around the time his movie The Great Escape was released, making him the top box office draw in the world. But in Palm Springs he spent a lot of time escaping Hollywood by riding motorcycles and shooting pistols in the desert, two favorite pursuits. 

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Hollywoodland Jun 18 2014
PLAN OF THE APE
Come on, baby, scientists say we already have a common ancestor, so let’s make a common offspring.

Doris Houck clowns around with an actor in a gorilla suit in this photo shot by Joseph Jasgur during the mid-1940s. Houck was an actress who appeared in about twenty-five films, many of the roles uncredited, but who also starred in several well-remembered Three Stooges shorts. This whole ape thing, though, she probably always tried to forget.

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Hollywoodland Jun 10 2014
CRACK THRILLS
Whether coming or going she was determined to make an impression.

Above is a photo of American actress Vikki Dougan at the 1957 Foreign Press Banquet in Hollywood, California. Dougan is wearing a daring backless dress designed to generate publicity for her film career. Since Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield had a stranglehold on the bosom, Dougan and her studio handlers at Batjac Productions decided she should go the opposite direction and bare her back. To say she garnered press would be an understatement, but despite the reams of slavering coverage her career never quite ignited. She remains, however, well remembered for proving that it’s sometimes good to say yes to crack. 
 
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Hollywoodland May 26 2014
DARK COMPANION
He wasn’t very tall, but he cast a long shadow.

Above, Humphrey Bogart in a promo shot from 1941’s High Sierra, a movie that examines the futility of greed and violence (at least for those with no power or connections). It was more or less the fortieth film Bogart had made, and further cemented his bankability before he truly broke out as a leading man later the same year with The Maltese Falcon. Also, you can once again thank W.R. Burnett—he wrote the novel and collaborated on the screenplay.

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Hollywoodland Apr 30 2014
THE GOOSE AND THE GANDERERS
A unusual Page from Hollywood history


Who is this, you wonder? Her name is Joan Page and she’s posing at Hollywood Park, a thoroughbred race track located in the Inglewood section of Los Angeles. The photo, which was made today in 1954, was intended to publicize the circuit’s new aluminum rails, which had replaced the old wooden rails during the off-season. The photo also announced Page’s candidacy for the title of Goose Girl, the winner of the track’s yearly beauty contest. Why was she called a Goose Girl, rather than a Horse Girl or a Pretty Filly, you’re probably thinking? Because Hollywood Park, which was known as the Track of Lakes and Flowers, enclosed several small lakes populated by geese. In addition to posing for photos and making publicity appearances in a ridiculous outfit, the Goose Girl was required to drift around in a small boat called Miz Clementine, tossing food to the birds as the racegoing crowd cheered. Hollywood Park operated on the theory that race days were events, and successfully staged such spectacles for decades, beginning with its opening in 1938.

But times change. Hollywood Park had long been a playground for celebrities and political figures, but as the decades passed such clientele began to seek thrills elsewhere. During the 1980s some of thepark’s lakes were filled in to build concession stands, and the popular Goose Girl was eliminated, brought back in the 1990s, then eliminated again. Profits sagged, and real estate values went through the roof—always a deadly combination. Hollywood Park’s land became too valuable for racing, and the site’s closure was announced in May 2013. The current plan is to transform the former Track of Lakes and Flowers into luxury housing, which seems to always be the plan, everywhere. And what happened to Joan Page? Hard to say. There are several Joan Pages who appeared in films during the 1940s or 1950s, but we have no way of knowing which—if any—posed on Hollywood Park’s aluminum rail in 1954, or for that matter whether she ever won the title of Goose Girl.


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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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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
August 23
1942—Battle of Stalingrad Begins
The Battle of Stalingrad, perhaps the most pivotal event of World War II, begins. It lasts for more than six months, spread across the brutal Russian winter, and ends with two million casualties. The Russian sacrifice reduces the powerful German army to a shell of its former self, and as a result Nazi defeat in the war becomes a simple matter of time.
1979—Alexander Gudonov Defects
Russian ballet dancer and actor Alexander Borisovich Godunov defects to the U.S. The event causes an international diplomatic crisis, but Gudonov manages to win asylum. He joins the famous American Ballet Theater, where he becomes a colleague of fellow-defector Mikhail Baryshnikov, and later earns roles in such Hollywood films as Witness and Die Hard.
August 22
1950—Althea Gibson Breaks the Color Barrier
Althea Gibson becomes the first African-American woman to compete on the World Tennis Tour, and the first to earn a Grand Slam title when she wins the French Open in 1956. Later she becomes the first African-American woman to compete in the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
1952—Devil's Island Closed
Devil's Island, the penal colony located off the coast of French Guiana, is permanently closed. The prison is later made world famous by Henri Charrière's bestselling novel Papillon, and the subsequent film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.
1962—De Gaulle Survives Assassination Attempt
Jean Bastien-Thiry, a French air weaponry engineer, attempts to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle to prevent Algerian independence. Bastien-Thiry and others attack de Gaulle's armored limousine with machine guns, but after expending hundreds of rounds, they succeed only in puncturing two tires.
August 21
1911—Mona Lisa Disappears
Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, the Mona Lisa, aka La Gioconda, is stolen from the Louvre. After many wild theories and false leads, it turns out the painting was snatched by museum employee Vincenzo Peruggia.

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