Ice is nice, but harder than water.
Originally posted August 27, 2016
British skater and actress Belita, who was born Maria Belita Jepson-Turner, frolics in the pool at the Town House Hotel in Los Angeles for a cover of Life that hit newsstands today in 1945. We've shown you this pool before. A window from a swanky hotel bar known as the Zebra Room provided a view through one wall, which meant patrons could watch swimmers while enjoying cocktails. The hotel put together a group of women called Aqua Maidens who performed swim shows, but Belita was not a Maiden. She was already famous for skating in the 1936 Olympics (though she had finished only sixteenth), and had established a Hollywood career with 1943's Silver Skates and 1944's Lady, Let's Dance. She would also make 1946's Suspense, which was unique for combining skating with film noir.
In addition to being an ace skater Belita was an accomplished dancer, and the Life photos show her demonstrating her underwater ballet skills. She even wears a tutu in a couple of shots. Interestingly, Picture Post, a British Life-like magazine that was considered imitative, had already featured Belita on its cover, also at the Town House, two months earlier on June 16, 1945. Doubtless both sets of photos were from them same session. So in this case Life was the imitator.
Belita wasn't the most famous ice skater in Hollywood during the 1940s—Sonja Henie was a huge star, and Vera Ralston was probably better known as well. That may be one reason why Belita managed only eight or nine films before moving on to other pursuits. She eventually retired to the village of Montpeyroux, France, where she died in 2005 at age eighty-two. But the photos below are eternal.
Prison guard gets Cocky, ends up behind bars.
Sexual relations between prison guards and prison inmates aren't that unusual. Stories appear at regular intervals. It takes a good hook to make the story go viral. In the recent tale of the sexual relationship between prison guard Stephanie Smithwhite and inmate Curtis Warren, the hook is a hole—Smithwhite cut a hole in her uniform pants so she and Warren could get down to business without having to strip. These assignations occurred over a period of months at Frankland Prison in Durham, England, where Smithwhite and Warren trysted in his cell, the prison kitchen, and the laundry facility. Smithwhite also reportedly sent Warren a photograph of herself wearing a catsuit, got tattooed with his name, and exchanged more than 200 calls with him thanks to an illegal phone he possessed.
Warren had the nickname “Cocky,” and no wonder. Turning a tough-as-nails prison guard into a slinky catgirl takes skills of all sorts, both above the neck and below the waist. It also takes the right environment. Other stories haven't noted it, but by environment we mean—and this isn't to sell Smithwhite's burning need for Cocky short—there's no possibility she would have felt she could take the risks she did unless there was a generally corrupt atmosphere at the prison. In other words, we bet other guards were breaking rules too. Not necessarily to the extent of cutting a glory hole in their pants to get freaky with prisoners, but when cellphones start making it into cellblocks, you tend to suspect it's because incoming contraband is not a rarity.
Smithwhite's colleagues finally became suspicious and began surveilling her, and they were probably plenty mad too. After all, she had chosen a drug felon named Cocky over all of them. Which, if one were inclined, might cause a neutral observer to draw conclusions about the sexiness quotient of the average prison guard. They finally caught Smithwhite committing the most innocuous of offenses—passing a note. Confronted in his cell, Warren tried but failed to eat the evidence, which we imagine said something like, “I heart drug felons. Do you heart the carceral state? If so check this box. Meooow. Purrrr.”
All these tawdry details came out during court proceedings that concluded this week. Smithwhite denied that the hole in her pants was to there to facilitate access for Cocky, but the sentencing judge said it was hard to imagine why else she'd have a hole there. Smithwhite was then hit with a two-year jail sentence for misconduct in a public office.
Since Smithwhite isn't in the same prison as Warren, the two will need something less like a hole and more like a long tunnel to maintain their affair, but if they split it won't be due to lack of commitment on Smithwhite's part. She's said she hopes the relationship will continue. Warren, meanwhile, was unavailable for comment due to being in the prison laundry room for an unusually long period of time, which will be investigated as soon as Frankland guards locate one of their missing colleagues.
There are no small parts. Only small casting agents.
Above is a lovely shot of British actress Zoe Hendry, who we last saw in 1975's erotic epic Butterfly, and whose other credits read like a cautionary tale of cinematic ambition smashed on the rocks of rent paying reality. She's played, in no particular order, “naked college girl,” in 1974's Confessions of a Window Cleaner, “native dancer,” in 1976's Queen Kong, “topless patient,” in 1978's What's Up Nurse!, and, “other girl,” in 1974's The Man Who Couldn't Get Enough. And who can forget 1976's infamous Nastassja Kinski vehicle To the Devil a Daughter, in which Hendry played “first girl”?
Yes, it's quite a résumé Hendry accumulated, but since she originally got her break on The Benny Hill Show—which made an industry of scantily clad women—her stalwart appearances in sexploitation films are no surprise. But she eventually outflanked one-track-minded movie casting agents by shifting back to television during the 1980s, where she got a chance to act more seriously. Probably got paid better too. Still, we're irresistibly drawn to titles like Queen Kong. Maybe we have one-track minds too, but we have to watch that, right? Right. We'll do the heavy lifting so you don't have to, then report back.
Anytime is the right time for great cover art.
Above, a cover for K. Beerman's Baarnse Moord (Murder in Baarn), painted by Dutch artist Martin Oortwijn. We said we'd get back to Oortwijn and here we are, three years later. He remains, in our eyes at least, a unique talent. We were reminded of him because he illustrated the cover of a Christine Keeler biography, and Keeler is back in the spotlight thanks to the new BBC series The Trial of Christine Keeler, which we've been watching. So far so good on that, and we'll try to dig up more from Oortwijn.
Lee provides the style, Laffin provides the substance.
We're back to Horwitz Publications and its appropriation of Hollywood stars for its covers. If you haven't seen those they're all worth a look because of their usage of rare images. On the above cover from 1957's Hired To Kill, the face belongs to Belinda Lee, and as always the taste of Horwitz editors is impeccable. But Lee wasn't long for this world. She was just establishing herself as one of Britain's best exports when she became a road casualty during an ill-fated 1961 drive from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.
Moving on to John Laffin, he was one of those authors whose brand was being a real-life adventurer. He was supposedly an ex-commando who was an expert with rifles, martial arts, and throwing knives, and who also spoke five languages. He'd visited thirty-two countries at the time of publication of this novel and was busy adding to the number, according to the rear cover text. And apparently he had been published in fourteen countries and five languages, which makes it a bit embarrassing we'd never heard of him.
We checked out his bibliography and sure enough, the guy wrote a pile of books. Many of them were war biographies and political analyses. He mainly focused on the British experience in World War I, but wrote everything from adventure fiction to an “expert”—i.e white guy's—analysis of the Arab mind. He sounds like an interesting fella, so we may look what's out there that we can acquire for a reasonable price and see what his fiction is like. If we do we'll report back.
Being a badass is tiring. I've earned this little break.
Canadian actress Linda Thorson had a career almost exclusively dedicated to television. Of her scores of tube roles she's probably most beloved for her first—as the hard punching, high kicking secret agent Tara King on the British action serial The Avengers. She debuted on the show in March 1968, taking the place of the iconic Diana Rigg, and appeared in thirty-three episodes. The above photo of her relaxing in a rocking chair is from 1969.
Joan Collins finds herself shipwrecked on Temptation Island.
Our Girl Friday is not by any stretch of the imagination anything close to pulp style, but we stumbled across the film and figured we'd briefly expand our scope. This one premiered in Great Britain today in 1953, and played in the U.S. in 1954 retitled The Adventures of Sadie. In this day and age it's considered uncouth to perv over an actress but we don't care, so here goes: the only reason to watch this is for the all-too-brief moments of Joan Collins in a bikini. She's an absolute goddess, spun from seafoam, illuminated by moonlight, and delivered to Earth by cherubs and songbirds. Otherwise the movie is a waste of time.
Basically, it's about four people who get stranded on a deserted island. You have Joan and three guys of widely varying type—nervous geek/uneducated cad/debonair yuppie—who all want to sample her tropical fruit. There's a moment when it seems she won't choose any of these chumps, and that would have been a nice lesson to impart about never settling for less, but this is the 1950s, which means somebody is going to get her. Who she chooses and why doesn't matter and you won't care. The truth is no mortal human could deserve her anyway.
Joan Collins was defined for us when we were kids by her late-career television roles. Back then we never even had a notion of her as a young woman. Thanks to maintaining Pulp Intl. we've been able to correct that omission, because, while she was pretty hot as a fifty-year-old troublemaker on Dynasty, she's really something as an ingénue. The other thing about this film that's worthwhile is its British promo poster, above, rendered largely in lovely sky blue. The depiction of Collins is nice, as well. We don't know who painted it, but they did a bang-up job.
Murder is in the eye of the beholder.
Above are three beautiful posters for L'occhio che uccide, or “the eye that kills,” which premiered in Italy today in 1961. The movie was originally called Peeping Tom when released in Britain in 1960. The second and third posters are signed by Renato Casaro, while the top one is unsigned. But it resembles his work, so what the heck—let's say he painted all three until someone corrects us. This movie was a career killer, a bizarre and confounding thriller that irreparably damaged the ambitions of director Michael Powell, but which today has ardent advocates. In the mood for a voyeur mass murderer who tries to turn his killings into art? See our write-up here, and check out a Japanese poster for the flick here.
I can see forever from up here. Man, the smog over London is really bad.
Raquel Welch stands tall in this pin-up poster made for her prehistoric adventure One Million Years B.C. This was sold in West Germany, where the movie premiered today in 1966. In fact, it was the film's world premiere. It was made by Associated British-Pathé and Hammer Studios, and partly shot on British sound stages (as well as in the Canary Islands), but for some reason the filmmakers chose West Germany for a testing ground. They needn't have been so cautious—thanks to Welch an otherwise ridiculous b-flick became a worldwide smash.
It's always darkest just before the dawn.
Celia Fremlin's 1958 novel The Hours Before Dawn was lauded by the Mystery Writers of America. You can see that for yourself by looking at the cover of its 1961 Dell paperback edition. You would assume, then, that the book is a murder mystery or thriller. Yes and no—it's really more of a domestic drama about a British woman named Louise who's overwhelmed by her three kids and husband. She's tired, stressed, unhappy, unlaid, and unlikely to find space for a breather or a recharge. Into this mix comes a woman who rents the family's vacant upstairs room and adds to Louise's problems by proving to be one weird bird. Who is this woman, where did she come from, and why does it seem as though her presence is not a random event? Yes, there's a mystery, but the vast bulk of the narrative is about Louise's daily life, her struggles with child rearing, her nosy and obtuse neighbors, and the problems caused by her accumulating lack of sleep.
Even without the mysterious renter angle this would be a good book. We thought we understood, basically, what it meant to be a mid-century housewife, but we were wrong. Fremlin brings Louise to life by dissecting her challenging existence, baring every bit of it for the reader's increasingly sympathetic inspection. Love is not the issue. Nor is desire. The issue is simply time. And rest. And peace. No wonder then that her boarder is able to embark upon an insidious plot without very much worry of close observation, and of course when Louise begins to understand something is truly amiss—and is not just the imaginings of her weary brain—she finds it devilishly difficult to find an ally, within her household or without. A mystery novel? Well, yes, but not of the type that can be puzzled out by readers. A highly effective depiction of all the ways in which a woman can work so hard and so thanklessly? One of the better ones you'll read.
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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