Mickey Rooney proves that no hurdle was too high.
This photo of Ava Gardner enjoying a dance with Mickey Rooney was made in 1941 or 1942, and the first thing you notice is their difference in height. Rooney was a big star at the time, while Gardner was a Hollywood neophyte years away from her first lead role. Even so, rumors of her beauty had spread around town, so you can assume she had her pick of men. And her pick was Rooney. Who she could have used to pick her teeth. The marriage didn't last long—a little more than a year. You might assume Gardner saw greener and taller pastures elsewhere, but it was actually Rooney who couldn't keep his private parts from the public. He screwed around like a bonobo monkey, and even romped in his and Gardner's bed while she was in the hospital recovering from an appendectomy. Gardner said about him, “He went through the ladies like a hot knife through fudge.” Indeed, he melted Gardner early along the road to eight marriages and eleven children. Gardner married a mere three times, and was only thirty-five when she divorced her third husband, Frank Sinatra, and never took the plunge again.
They always get the best seat in the house.
Below, a collection of film stars, in Hollywood and other places, looking large and in charge while seated in director's chairs. In panel three the actress in the “Bonanza's guest” chair is Karen Sharpe. We don't expect you'll need help with the others, but if so our keywords list them in order.
Only a mythological creature could look this good.
Above you see Ava Gardner in an MGM promo shot that puts to rest any question of whether she was one of the most beautiful stars of her era. This image should be hung in a museum. We can't pinpoint a date on it, but we can make a reasonable guess. She looks every bit the ingénue, so it's probably pre-superstardom, say from between 1942 and 1946.
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.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1941—DiMaggio Hit Streak Reaches 56
New York Yankees outfielder Joe DiMaggio gets a hit in his fifty-sixth consecutive game. The streak would end the next game, against the Cleveland Indians, but the mark DiMaggio set still stands, and in fact has never been seriously threatened. It is generally thought to be one of the few truly unbreakable baseball records.
1939—Adams Completes Around-the-World Air Journey
American Clara Adams becomes the first woman passenger to complete an around-the-world air journey. Her voyage began and ended in New York City, with stops in Lisbon, Marseilles, Leipzig, Athens, Basra, Jodhpur, Rangoon, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Wake Island, Honolulu, and San Francisco.
1955—Nobel Prize Winners Unite Against Nukes
Eighteen Nobel laureates sign the Mainau Declaration against nuclear weapons, which reads in part: We think it is a delusion if governments believe that they can avoid war for a long time through the fear of [nuclear] weapons. Fear and tension have often engendered wars. Similarly it seems to us a delusion to believe that small conflicts could in the future always be decided by traditional weapons. In extreme danger no nation will deny itself the use of any weapon that scientific technology can produce.
1997—Versace Murdered in Miami
Italian fashion designer Gianni Versace is shot dead on the steps of his Miami mansion as he returns from breakfast at a cafe. His killer is Andrew Cunanan, a man who had already murdered four other people across the country and was the focus of an FBI manhunt. The FBI never caught Cunanan—instead he committed suicide on the houseboat where he was living.
1921—Sacco & Vanzetti Convicted
Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti are convicted in Dedham, Massachusetts of killing their shoe company's paymaster. Even at the time there are serious questions about their guilt, and whether they are being railroaded because of their Italian ethnicity and anarchist political beliefs.
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