Landis brings her usual touch of glamour to a not-quite film noir.
Above is a poster for the Carole Landis vehicle Behind Green Lights, a mostly forgotten film that she headlined in 1946. When the body of a shady private dick turns up outside police headquarters, the resulting investigation pulls in a prominent politician's daughter (Landis), and gets the city tabloids scenting scandal. As the plot unfolds, it becomes clear that influential people want Landis arrested so her father's re-election campaign will be derailed, which forces Gargan to fight his way upstream to crack the case. Landis may be top billed and better known than Gargan, but she's criminally underused and her role is one-note all the way. It's Gargan who gets most of the screen time and is tasked with bringing a tough edge to the movie. He mostly succeeds, and Landis is fine too, as far as she's allowed to go, but on the whole Behind Green Lights is nothing special. It's categorized on many websites as a film noir but—and you know what we're going to say next, because we say it all the time—it isn't really. Yes, it's on the borderline, but it's basically a procedural police drama with a few flashbacks shot in film noir style. The American Film Institute agrees—it categorizes the film as a police drama. Noir fans should approach this uncomplicated little thriller with tempered expectations. Behind Green Lights premiered in the U.S. today in 1946.
Sorry about that last shot, Rita. I get overaggressive sometimes. Is your face okay?
We'll admit it. When we play table tennis we love it when one of our smashes hits someone in the face. Victory is secondary. In the two photos above we imagine Hollywood legends Carole Landis and Rita Hayworth vying for table tennis supremacy on a warm afternoon. The two were born only a couple of months apart as Frances Ridste and Magarita Cansino, and had similar career arcs in Hollywood, which at one point led to Landis being aced out of the lead in 1941's Blood and Sand by Hayworth. Landis probably wasn't too happy about that, but the two later acted together in 1942's My Gal Sal. If they still had issues after that, at least they finally settled them in our imaginary pairing. Both photos are from around 1943.
Crime magazine gives readers the gifts of death and mayhem.
Produced by the J.B. Publishing Corp. of New York City, Reward was a true crime magazine, another imprint designed to slake the American public's thirst for death and mayhem. Inside this May 1954 issue the editors offer up mafia hits, Hollywood suicides, domestic murder, plus some cheesecake to soothe readers' frazzled nerves, and more. The cover features a posed photo of actress Lili Dawn, who was starring at the time in a film noir called Violated. It turned out to be her only film. In fact, it turned out to be the only film ever acted in by top billed co-star William Holland, as well as supporting cast members Vicki Carlson, Fred Lambert, William Mishkin, and Jason Niles. It must have been some kind of spectacularly bad movie to cut short all those careers, but we haven't watched it. It's available for the moment on YouTube, though, and we may just take a gander later. Because Reward is a pocket sized magazine the page scans are easily readable, so rather than comment further we'll let you have a look yourself.
Her final answer simply raised more questions.
Above you see two photos of actress Carole Landis, dead on the bathroom floor of her Pacific Palisades home, where she was found today in 1948. She had been dumped by her married lover Rex Harrison the night before, and responded by killing herself with an overdose of prescription medication. She had tried suicide before but had been rescued by friends. This time she took forty Seconal tablets, which leaves little doubt as to her firm intent—one fifth the amount would have killed her. She fell into a coma early in the morning with her head resting on a jewelry box, which is the reason for its elevated position. She also left a note on her dresser for her mother:
Dearest Mommie - I'm sorry, really sorry, to put you through this but there is no way to avoid it - I love you darling you have been the most wonderful mom ever and that applies to all our family. I love each and every one of them dearly - Everything goes to you - Look in the files and there is a will which decrees everything - Good bye, my angel - Pray for me - Your baby
Hollywood suicides are part of the town's lore. Landis's is more remembered than most, not for what Landis did, but for what those around her did. Harrison had been calling her throughout the morning but her maid had told him she wasn't awake. She wasn't going to disturb her employer, so Harrison dropped by himself, entered her bedroom and found Landis non-responsive. He felt her wrist and said he felt a faint pulse, but instead of calling an ambulance rifled through her address book, hoping to call her private doctor and thus keep the disaster under wraps. While he did that, Landis died. After failing to find the number he sought, he went home, called studio head Darryl Zanuck, and set about damage control. The maid, left to deal with the situation, asked a neighbor to call police.
It wasn't unusual for press to have access to death scenes, as we've documented frequently in our Naked City posts. Landis's death photo appeared on the fronts of hundreds of newspapers by the next morning. By then questions had begun to arise. Some said Landis had written a second suicide note that Harrison destroyed. When asked at a coroner's inquest whether there was a note, he said no. Her friend Florence Wasson said there was a second note, but it only asked that the cat be taken to the vet because it had a sore paw. The inquest was closed with no new findings, but years later a policeman who had been at Landis's house that day said he had seen a second note addressed to Harrison, and that the cat had seemed in perfect health.
Landis's family claimed Harrison was guilty of murder—and not just for dithering about when he thought he felt a pulse. They claim he killed her outright to keep news of his affair from damaging his career. However, his relationship with Landis was a poorly kept secret, and tabloids were making sly references to it, identifying Harrison and Landis by their initials. Also, Harrison already had a terrible reputation. People behave irrationally in high stress situations, and Harrison made bad moves at every stage, especially when one considers that there was no way he could hope to hide his involvement. But that shows merely cold-hearted concern for himself, and possibly a lack of awareness how near death Landis was. Add it all up and you have one of Hollywood's most storied suicides—one where an act meant to be a final answer left endless questions.
Perfect as far as the eye can see.
Seems only fair, since we just showed you photos of Carole Landis dead, to show photos of her alive too. Her death photo is the lasting impression many have of her, for obvious reasons, but as a performer she was well regarded, racking up more than fifty screen roles. This image of her on a Southern California beach is undated but probably comes from around 1940.
Shine on you crazy diamond.
There’s some confusion online about whether this promo poster for Moon over Miami was painted by Alberto Vargas. Jan-Christopher Horak’s book Saul Bass: Anatomy of Film Design states: “Virtually all movie poster design work remained anonymous, although a few well-known designers received contracts, including Alberto Vargas for Moon over Miami.” On the other hand, several auction sites claim Vargas only worked on the print ads, and that the artist who painted the poster was charged with emulating the Vargas style. So there you go—cleared that right up, no? Well, we tend to believe Vargas would not have received a contract simply for print ads. What would the point of that be? So we think this piece is his.
In any case, we’ve always loved the poster and it prompted us to finally watch the film. Guess what? It’s just what you’d expect from looking at the art—goofy, gooey, and terminally good-natured. None of that is particularly pulp, but hey, crazy as it sounds, some filmmakers actually prefer to downplay death and mayhem. Betty Grable stars here as a woman determined to marry a millionaire. She sets up at a Miami hotel with her sister and aunt, and pretends to be rich herself, with the aim attracting the proper suitors. Confusion ensues, enlivened by musical numbers. Grable proves in this movie why she was a star, as does the object of her destiny Don Ameche, and excellent support comes from Carole Landis and Charlotte Greenwood. We don’t generally go for this sort of film, but we liked this one, as did our girlfriends. Now back to death and mayhem. Moon over Miami premiered in the U.S. today in 1941.
Frank Sinatra and Rex Harrison have a little disagreement.
This July 1957 issue of Lowdown shines light in every corner of show business with stories about singer Billy Daniels, stage star Tina Louise, screen actress Kay Kendall, and call girl Nella Bogart. It also delves into international politics with stories on Hungarian leader János Kádár and King Abdulaziz, aka Ibn Saud, of Saudi Arabia. But you know we love Sinatra stories, and so what interests us most is the piece about Frank Sinatra and British actor Rex Harrison brawling. Turns out it wasn’t a brawl, so much as a scuffle. In brief, Harrison slapped Sinatra twice because he thought Frank was hitting on actress Kay Kendall, who happened to be Rex’s girlfriend. The legend goes that Kendall and Sinatra were on a balcony chatting when Harrison appeared and tried to lead her away. Kendall had been appreciating Sinatra’s shirt, and she mentioned to Harrison how much she liked it. Sinatra deadpanned, “It’s just an old shirt. Off-white. Sort of yellow.” Harrison slapped him, and Sinatra said, “It’s still yellow.” Another slap and Sinatra walked away.
Some tabloids, including Lowdown, suggested that Sinatra’s “yellow” comment was meant as a reference to Harrison’s behavior with Carole Landis back in 1948. What had Harrison done? Well, he was married to Lilli Palmer back then but was having an affair with Landis. One night Landis swallowed forty Seconal pills, and Harrison and Landis’s maid found her non-responsive the next day. Harrison thought he felt a faint pulse, but rather than call paramedics immediately, he futilely searched her phone book for the information of her personal doctor, his aim being to keep the situation private. After failing to find a number he bailed and left the maid to deal with the situation. Yellow indeed. It’s highly doubtful Sinatra had any of that in mind, and in fact, he professed respect for Harrison, both before and after the slapping, so we have to chalk the tabloid rumors up to overactive imaginations.
Still though, one can’t be surprised that Harrison was defensive. He knew he was gossiped about around town, not only because of Landis, but because he routinely ruined other women’s lives as well. He was a serial cheater. In fact, he didn’t really consider it cheating. To him, a man’s right was to have any woman he wished, marriage vows notwithstanding. Not only was he wedded to Lilli Palmer while sleeping with Carole Landis, buthe was still married to her while sleeping with Kay Kendall. We could go on, but that’s all we’ll do on Harrison today. Rest assured, though, that he’ll turn up in future tabloids. With stories emanating from a seemingly endless collection of emotionally battered wives, lovers, friends, co-stars, waiters, chauffeurs, maids, and doormen, his reappearance is inevitable.
If you can’t be factual, at least be popular.
Hush-Hush magazine goes for broke in this issue from August 1963, offering up a slate of tales narrated in their usual breathless style. First, they tell us how Roddy McDowall took nude photographs of Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Cleopatra and tried to sell them, but was thwarted when she “erupted like Mount Vesuvius”. They then demonstrate the limits of their imaginations by telling us that Italian singer Silvana Blasi reacted like “an uncontrollable Mount Vesuvius” when an African-American dancer was hired at the Folies Bergère. Two volcano similes in one issue is bad enough, but the same mountain?
For investigative journalism, Hush-Hush shows us photographs of a dead Carole Landis and an unconscious Susan Hayward, and concludes that sleeping pills are bad. And finally, the magazine stokes the fires of paranoia with two stories: in the first, they explain how Fidel Castro plans to conquer America with heroin, which he’s growing with the help of two-thousand Chinese advisors; in the second, they reveal that the second wife of Dr. Sam Sheppard is a Nazi who plans to revive the Third Reich, and that she’s being helped by—you guessed it—Fidel Castro, who is somehow a communist and a Nazi. Neat trick that.
As we’ve mentioned before, though these stories are laughable, people actually believed them, and believed them by the millions, as evidenced by Hush-Hush’s sales figures. The lesson is clear: the choice between popularity and truth is really no choice at all.
Prehistoric women had surprisingly sophisticated footwear.
Promo shot of American actress Carole Landis as Loana of the prehistoric Shell Tribe, from the film One Million B.C., 1940. Landis’ role is the same one Raquel Welch would make eternally famous by wearing a fur bikini in the remake twenty-seven years later. As a side note, Landis is yet another actress who committed suicide. She was twenty-nine when, despairing over a failed romance with Rex Harrison, she took an overdose of seconal.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1981—Ronnie Biggs Rescued After Kidnapping
Fugitive thief Ronnie Biggs, a British citizen who was a member of the gang that pulled off the Great Train Robbery, is rescued by police in Barbados after being kidnapped. Biggs had been abducted a week earlier from a bar in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by members of a British security firm. Upon release he was returned to Brazil and continued to be a fugitive from British justice.
2011—Elizabeth Taylor Dies
American actress Elizabeth Taylor, whose career began at age 12 when she starred in National Velvet
, and who would eventually be nominated for five Academy Awards as best actress and win for Butterfield 8
and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
of congestive heart failure in Los Angeles. During her life she had been hospitalized more than 70 times.
1963—Profumo Denies Affair
In England, the Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, denies any impropriety with showgirl Christine Keeler and threatens to sue anyone repeating the allegations. The accusations involve not just infidelity, but the possibility acquaintances of Keeler might be trying to ply Profumo for nuclear secrets. In June, Profumo finally resigns from the government after confessing his sexual involvement with Keeler
and admitting he lied to parliament.
1978—Karl Wallenda Falls to His Death
World famous German daredevil and high-wire walker Karl Wallenda, founder of the acrobatic troupe The Flying Wallendas, falls to his death attempting to walk on a cable strung between the two towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Wallenda is seventy-three years old at the time, but it is a 30 mph wind, rather than age, that is generally blamed for sending him from the wire.
2006—Swedish Spy Stig Wennerstrom Dies
Swedish air force colonel Stig Wennerström, who had been convicted in the 1970s of passing Swedish, U.S. and NATO secrets to the Soviet Union over the course of fifteen years, dies in an old age home at the age of ninety-nine. The Wennerström affair, as some called it, was at the time one of the biggest scandals
of the Cold War.
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