Nope, no change this morning either—I still look freaking amazing.
If ever there was a case of typecasting this was it. This promo photo of Ava Gardner was made when she was starring in the film One Touch of Venus, which is about a statue of Venus that comes to life. Roman mythology never looked so good. This is from 1948.
Pageant winner fulfilled show business and personal ambitions. Then things went wrong.
Beauty pageants are a bit silly, perhaps, but the participants are generally ambitious people who see them as stepping stones to show business or modeling. And in mid-century Los Angeles in particular, even minor pageants occasionally led to stardom. In the above photos high school student Barbara Thomason wins the crown of Miss Muscle Beach 1954. Listed at 5 foot 3 inches and 110 pounds, she was a body-building enthusiast, and in the shot just below she celebrates her hard fought win by pumping a bit of iron while photographers click away and a crowd watches.
Did Thomason's victory lead to bigger things? Maybe not directly, but it probably helped. She was a habitual pageant participant who also won Miss Huntington Beach, Miss Van Ness, Miss Bay Beach, Miss Southwest Los Angeles, Miss Pacific Coast, Queen of Southern California, andten other titles. All that winning finally got her noticed by Hollywood movers and shakers. In 1955, performing under the name Carolyn Mitchell, she made her acting debut on the television show Crossroads, and in 1958 co-starred in two Roger Corman b-movies, The Crybaby Killer and Dragstrip Riot.
But she put her career on hold when she met and married a star—Mickey Rooney, who was nearly seventeen years her senior and nearly two inches her junior. Their union had problems from the beginning. The couple married secretly in Mexico because Rooney was still awaiting a divorce from actress Elaine Mahnken. They would have to wait almost two years before the law allowed them to wed in the U.S. Legalities, though doubtless bothersome, were the least of their problems. During the next six years, during which Thomason bore four children, Rooney indulged in numerous affairs.
It should probably be noted here that Thomason was Rooney's fifth wife. Among the predecessors were goddesses like Ava Gardner and Martha Vickers. We don't know what Thomason's expectations of marriage were, but clearly Rooney didn't know the meaning of the phrase “for better or worse.” The affairs continued, and eventually Thomason did the same with a temperamental Yugoslavian actor named Milos Milosevic, who performed under the name Milos Milos. But what was good for goose was not good for the gander—Rooney found out about these international relations, moved out of the Brentwood house he shared with Thomason, and filed for divorce, charging mental cruelty. The nerve, right?
On the morning of January 31, 1966, while Rooney was in St. John's Hospital recovering from an intestinal infection he'd picked up in the Philippines, Thomason and Milosevic were found together on the bathroom floor of the Brentwood house, dead. Milosevic had shot Thomason under the chin and killed himself with a temple shot using a chrome-plated .38 Rooney had bought in 1964. The consensus is Thomason had decided to dump Milosevic and he flipped out.
The photos below show Thomason on Muscle Beach during her halcyon years there, a mere teenager, frolicking in the sun, filled with youthful hopes for a good life. She won beauty titles, acted in films, married an icon, and had four children. Any of those accomplishments would have been good legacies. Instead her death at twenty-nine overshadowed all the rest, and she's remembered as another celebrity murder victim, Hollywood style, which is always somehow both sensational and banal.
The statue was for the public. The photos were strictly private.
Hungarian artist Sepy Dobronyi puts the finsihing touches on what was for a while possibly the most famous statue in the world—his stylized sculpture of Swedish sex bomb Anita Ekberg. Dobronyi made it by using nude reference photos he'd shot of his subject, and it was those photos, more than the statue, that interested the public. Ekberg was one of the world's biggest stars at the time and the idea that nude shots existed was flogged by the tabloids and helped burnish Dobronyi's reputation as a sort of jetsetting artist. His depiction of her became known as the Ekberg Bronze. He went on to sculpt Brigitte Bardot, Ava Gardner, Beverly Aadland, and Jayne Mansfield, though as far as we know no nude photographs were involved in those efforts.
Dobronyi sold and collected many works and used his fame and fortune to become a traveller and adventurer, visiting nearly ninety countries and climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Actually, he's probably worthy of a book or movie at some point, but then so are dozens of nearly forgotten Hollywood figures. He died in 2010 and as far as we know his Ekberg reference nudes never turned up, though we imagine they'd be worth plenty. But Dobronyi was a gentleman—other Ekberg nudes appeared over the years but he never revealed his and may have destroyed them at some point. We talked a bit about the Ekberg Bronze previously, which means you can learn a few more details of the story by clicking this link.
Bogart traipses down the Gardner path.
This stunning Belgian poster was made to promote La comtesse aux pieds nus, which was the French title of the Ava Gardner/Humphrey Bogart drama The Barefoot Contessa. Along the bottom you see the title in Dutch as well—De barrevoetse gravin. We've seen the film, but we're not to going to discuss it, at least not today. Let's just say Humphrey Bogart's character narrates the life and times of Ava Gardner's memorable and much desired character, and the result was a film panned by several important critics upon release but thought of more fondly as time wore onward, as older movies often are. It premiered in Belgium today in 1955, so we just wanted to share its brilliant promo. As you probably know by now, artists were often asked to produce similar versions of the same poster for different markets. The German promo was painted by Rolf Goetze and it's close to what you see above. The French promo was painted by Henri Cerutti, again with near identical content. Who gets credit for the Belgian poster is unknown to us, but it's an amazing effort.
Don't it make her brown eyes blue (or her blue eyes brown).
Ramsay Ames is not well known today, but she had a nice career, appearing in movies such as The Black Widow, Below the Deadline, and The Mummy's Ghost. She also worked as a model, dancer, pin-up, and television host—the latter in both the U.S. and Spain. During her years in Spain, she became close with Ava Gardner, who was also living there, and we imagine they got up to all sorts of mischief. This is an amazing photo of Ames. The photographer obviously wanted to comment on the luminescence of her eyes by setting them against several pieces of gleaming jewelry. We were curious what color they were. A quick check on the internet—and this is the thing about the internet—turned up definitive assertions that they were brown, but others that they were blue. We'd prefer brown, but maybe they were both, like one of each. In any case, it's a very successful photo. We don't have a date on it, but we can safely assume it's from around 1945.
Hollywood is seen without its face on.
We have something a bit different today, a cover of Pete Martin's tinseltown tell-all Hollywood without Makeup. What you get here are tabloid style bios of various cinematic luminaries, including Greer Garson, Ava Gardner, and Maria Montez. The info on the stars probably makes this one worthwhile by itself, but as a bonus you get tabloid style writing in long form. It's a type of prose that isn't practiced anymore, but it can be quite entertaining to read. Here's an example:
“When first stumbled upon, the conception of the lady sounds as if those who are promoting it are deliberately plying a fire extinguisher to quench the flames of publicity that might singe her career.”
We don't even fully understand what that means, really. Here's a more straightforward passage:
“She operates on the theory that standing up on her two eye-filling legs and yelling for her rights, while at the same time clubbing people over the head with her overpowering personality, will bring home a choice brand of bacon generously streaked with lean. The head screwed on her decorative shoulders is not stuffed with goofer feathers or idle girlish vaporings. The mind behind her velvet-textured Latin facade closes on an opportunity like the jaws of a bear trap.”
Aside from being incredibly condescending, it's an interesting style. You find this type of baroque writing in all the high budget tabloids, such as Confidential, Hush-Hush, and Whisper. It's self-indulgent, but fun to read. Does it sound like your cup of tea? Then go for it. Regarding the cover art, we aren't sure whether we're dealing with a painting or a photo-illustration, but in either case it's uncredited.
New tabloid explodes onto the gossip scene.
When we describe Dynamite as a new tabloid, it's only partly true. It was a new imprint. But its publisher, the Modern Living Council of Connecticut, Inc., was headquartered at the Charlton Building in Derby, Connecticut, which is where Top Secret and Hush-Hush based operations. When you see that Dynamite carried the same cover font as Top Secret and Hush-Hush, and that those two magazines advertised in Dynamite, it seems clear that all three had the same provenance. But unlike Top Secret and Hush-Hush, it doesn't seem as if Dynamite lasted long. The issue above, which appeared this month in 1956, is the second. We are unable to confirm whether there was a third. But if Dynamite was short-lived it wasn't because of any deficiencies in the publication. It's identical in style to other tabloids, and its stories are equally interesting.
One of those deals with Henry von Thyssen, the Dutch born, German descended heir to an industrial fortune, and his wife, Nina Dyer, heiress to a tea plantation in Sri Lanka, back then called Ceylon. The von Thyssen family manufactured steel in Germany, including for Hitler's Third Reich, and came out of World War II unscathed, as big companies that profit from war always do. Dyer was a dilettante famed for making bikinis popular on the French Riveria. According to Dynamite, von Thyssen was so desperate to marry Dyer that he allowed her to keep her boyfriend, the French actor Christian Marquand. Society gossips whispered,but both spouses were fine with the set-up until von Thyssen accidentally ran into Dyer and Marquand in Carrol's nightclub in Paris and was forced to save face by starting a fight. The couple soon divorced, but not because of infidelity, as many accounts claim. What finally broke the couple up was that Dyer dropped Marquand. Dynamite tells readers: “[von Thyssen] has ditched his sloe-eyed Baroness because now she's decided she loves him.”
Interesting, but there are many similar stories about open high society marriages. What interested us, really, was the portrayal of Dyer. Apparently she had at some point been strongly influenced by Asian women. Her husband described her as “soft and feminine and oriental looking.” Dynamite painted this word picture: “She walks as though she has a water pot balanced on her head, her dark, slanting eyes are inscrutable, and her movements are so languorous and cat-like that von Thyssen gave her a baby panther as a companion.” Dyer eventually had two panthers, and was often seen walking them on the Croisette in Cannes. After her marriage to von Thyssen ended she quickly married Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, but that marriage ended in divorce. Over the years she had been given many gifts. Besides the panthers there were cars, jewels, and a Caribbean island. But the one thing money never bought for her was happiness. She committed suicide at age thirty-five.
There's a lot more to learn about Nina Dyer—her modeling career, her adventures in the south of France, her free-spirited ways in the Caribbean, her 1962 E-Type Jaguar Roadster that was found in Jamaica in 2015 and restored for a November 2016 auction, and more. So we'll be getting back to her a little later. We still have about fifty tabloids from the mid-1950s and we're betting she appears in more than a few. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Dynamite is a story tracking Marilyn Monroe's movements around Fire Island during a summer 1955 vacation, a report about Frank Sinatra being barred from the Milroy Club in London, an exposé on prostitution in Rome, a breakdown of the breakdown of Gene Tierney's engagement to Aly Khan (Sadruddin Aga Khan's brother), and a couple of beautiful photos of Diana Dors. We have about thirty scans below for your enjoyment. Odds are we'll never find another issue of Dynamite, but we're happy to own even one. It's great reading.
Facts, speculation, and dubious assumptions.
This Inside Story from November 1963 features cover star Christine Keeler and the people in her life, while the left of the page has insets with Mamie Van Doren and Anthony Quinn. We’ve covered Keeler. Hers was one of the most flogged scandals of the 1960s, and Inside Story editors are well aware of that, which is why they claim to have new information. But it’s nothing new—just rehash on Keeler, a background on Czech call girl Maria Stella Novotny, who was well known by this time as one of Keeler’s colleagues, and standard red scare stuff about motel rooms set up with microphones and two-way mirrors. We will get back to Novotny, however—her tale offers some interesting twists and turns.
Inside Story shares stories about Mamie Van Doren, Jackie Gleason, Peter O’Toole, Ava Gardner and a nervous tailor who measured her for a suit, and how perfume makes men go wild. Editors also decry the injustice of a Harlem restaurant refusing to serve a white woman—this, mind you, during an era when literally hundreds of thousands of U.S. enclaves, from restaurants to schools to country clubs to sectors of the military, were whites-only. False equivalence, thy name is Inside Story. But interestingly, a subsequent piece about the world’s sexiest nightclubs tells readers chic Harlem bars are frequented by white Hollywood stars. And so it goes…
As far as we’re concerned the answer is still no.
We already wrote about 1949’s The Bribe and thought the movie was so-so. What isn’t so-so is the Belgian poster, which features text in both French and Dutch, and was used for the movie’s run as L'ile au complot. It’s so good it almost makes us want to watch the movie again. Almost… See our original write-up and some nice production photos here.
Taylor/Gardner adventure story about contraband airplane engines never quite takes flight.
The film noir adventure The Bribe stars Robert Taylor and Ava Gardner, along with Vincent Price, Charles Laughton, and reliable John Hodiak, in the story of a government agent prowling the fictional Central American island of Carlotta under orders to put the kibosh on a racket in stolen airplane engines. The film has several beloved noir elements—voiceover narration, sexually loaded repartee, exotic nightclub serving as hub for the action, smoky musical number by the female lead—but it’s all a bit stale. There’s no heat between Taylor and Gardner, and no adrenaline in the plot. Frederick Nebel’s short story probably made the airplane engine angle work, but on the big screen it’s hard to care about hunks of machinery we never see. The movie is a cut-rate Casablanca without the invaluable letters of transit, a muted To Have and Have Not without the urgency of French resistance vs. the Nazis. On the plus side, some of the sets are cool, the final shoot-out is visually fascinating, and Gardner is sizzling hot. For her fans she doubtless makes the movie watchable all by herself. The Bribe premiered in the U.S. today in 1949.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1953—Jomo Kenyatta Convicted
In Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta is sentenced to seven years in prison by the nation's British rulers for being a member of the Mau Mau Society, an anti-colonial movement. Kenyatta would a decade later become independent Kenya's first prime minister, and still later its first president.
1974—Hank Aaron Becomes Home Run King
Major League Baseball player Hank Aaron hits his 715th career home run, surpassing Babe Ruth's 39-year-old record. The record-breaking homer is hit off Al Downing of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and with that swing Aaron puts an exclamation mark on a twenty-four year journey that had begun with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro League, and would end with his selection to Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame.
1922—Teapot Dome Scandal Begins
In the U.S., Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall leases the Teapot Dome petroleum reserves in Wyoming to an oil company. When Fall's standard of living suddenly improves, it becomes clear he has accepted bribes in exchange for the lease. The subsequent investigation leads to his imprisonment, making him the first member of a presidential cabinet to serve jail time.
1930—Gandhi Leads Satyagraha March
In India, Mahatma Gandhi raises a lump of mud and salt and declares, "With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire." His words, which were a protest against the British salt tax, mark the beginning of the Satyagraha March, which in turn triggers the wider Civil Disobedience Movement that ultimately culminates in Indian independence.
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