The most inhospitable season just got worse.
Shelley Winters, née Shirley Schrift, was one of the top actresses in Hollywood for five decades. Her notable films are many, and include A Place in the Sun, Night of the Hunter, Lolita, Alfie, The Poseidon Adventure, and even Cleopatra Jones. The above photo sees her in moll mode and was made for her 1948 crime drama Larceny. It's yet another film we haven't seen, but we'll get to it.
I'm supposed to be working plainclothed but what's a queen to do?
The blaxploitation film Cleopatra Jones premiered today in 1973, so we thought it was an appropriate moment to post this sleeve for the soundtrack, a pretty good record, like blaxploitation soundtracks tended to be. It's a re-issue, which is why it looks so pristine. The artists include Joe Simon & The Mainstreeters on the title tune, plus contributions from Millie Jackson, Carl Brandt, and J.J. Johnson. But our interest in this is the image of star Tamara Dobson, who plays the titular badass government agent cum fashion plate. We cropped and de-texted the cover and the result is the poster-like image you see below. Fun movie too.
Don't change a thing for anybody.
You know we're Stella Stevens fans here. Though we prefer the thirty-plus version of her, she first turned heads as a model in her early twenties, posing for a Playboy centerfold published in 1960, sessions from which the above shot originates. Stevens had begun acting before then, appearing in three films released in 1959. The next year she won a Golden Globe for New Star of the Year, and eventually appeared in dozens of films and television shows. She was always a good actress, but never scored prestige roles. She did, however, grace some low budget classics, foremost among them the blaxploitation flicks Slaughter and Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold. Mixed in were cheeseball hits like The Poseidon Adventure and The Silencers, and an occasional good movie, such as The Ballad of Cable Hogue. All in all she's had an amazing career, on pause since 2010. But she'll never be on pause on this website. More Stella here and here. Edit: We recieved an e-mail from Herman, a man who knows a thing or two about mid-century celebs and has helped us with corrections, and he wanted to remind us:
I certainly appreciate that image of Stella. Although I have been a fan of PB since the mid 50s as a boy, I don't believe I have seen this particular photo. Of course, I have to say I believe you left some important points out of your commentary about her. I believe you said once you are not a particular fan of Elvis Presley (that may have been someone else) but without the 1962 Girls, Girls, Girls appearance I don't think she would have caught on so quick. Don't forget that the reason PB recognized her in the first place was because of her appearance in Li'l Abner in 1959. I know you didn't set out to do a biography on her, but these were points I think are important in her chronology.
Agreed, H, Stevens has a long and interesting story. We didn't set out to write a biography, as you said, but we may need to spend a little more time on her to give her proper due. She's not a subject we'll tire of easily.
One Wong makes everything right.
This fun poster was made for the 1978 action flick Cleopatra Wong, aka They Call Her...Cleopatra Wong, and it's signed by someone named Eddie Damer. We can find zero information about Mr. Damer, which we like to think is because he moved into another career after being paid for his artistry in handshakes, backslaps, and a rubber check. Which is to say, Cleopatra Wong is a not a b-movie, but z-movie, a riff on the blaxploitation classic Cleopatra Jones. It was put together by Filipino producer Bobby A. Suarez and made in English with Singaporean actress Marrie Lee in the lead role as an Interpol agent tasked with busting an international counterfeiting ring. These counterfeiters are bad people. They're centered in a Hong Kong nunnery, where they're forcing the nuns to host the operation, and plan to kill them when they've outlived their usefulness. Only Wong and her intrepid team can stop these fiends. There are some positives here, including effective location shooting and Lee's kung fu, but there's also clunky direction, atrocious acting, and a script that must have been written on a typewriter with seven missing keys. The movie sank with barely a ripple upon release, but was revived on the Asian festival circuit in the early 2000s and now is considered a schlock classic. It certainly has all the hallmarks, and overall we think it's worth watching, but you may want to soak your frontal cortex in alcohol beforehand. Cleopatra Wong premiered in Singapore this month in 1978.
Dobson welcomes a guest to her poster but there's still only one queen.
Above are two gorgeous Italian posters for the blaxploitation classics Cleopatra Jones: licenza di uccidere and Operazione casinò d'oro, better known as Cleopatra Jones and Cleopatra Jones and the Casino of Gold. The first poster is obviously a photo-illustration, but the second was painted by Robert Tanenbaum. It's an iteration of his original U.S. poster, which you see here as well, just below.
On the U.S. version star Tamara Dobson stands alone, but for the Italian promo a second figure appears to her right, representing we know not whom. You'll notice the Italy Dobson figure has lighter skin than on the U.S. poster, and lighter skin than her new sidekick. Was this a deliberate switcheroo? Were Italian moviegoers supposed to think the figure on the left, who was Dobson in the U.S., now represented co-star Stella Stevens? They probably did, even though Stella's face is present on both posters at about thigh level to the main figures. But we don't think Tannenbaum had any of that in mind. We think the second figure represents nobody and came out of his fertile imagination.
Something else interesting about these—Tannenbaum had no trouble reproducing Stella's face, but you'll notice none of the figures look like Tamara Dobson. Not unless you squint. Hmm. Well, even if he had trouble with Dobson's likeness, he did an amazing job on these pieces, which is no surprise considering he's a major contributor to cinematic art who painted promos for The Sting, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and other big budget releases. There are no known Italian release dates on these Cleopatra movies, but ballpark, figure summer 1974 and winter 1975. Read about them here and here.
Prepare yourself for a Sykes-a-delic experience.
Above is a rare image of U.S. actress Brenda Sykes, who appeared in cinema and on television during a relatively brief ten year acting career from 1968 to 1978. She's pretty well remembered for someone who had such a short run. Some of this is due to her being one of the era's most beautiful performers, but she was also in cult classics like Cleopatra Jones and Mandingo, as well as on television shows like Police Woman. This shot is from a 1975 issue of Playboy Japan. We've cropped it above, and uploaded the full image below.
It's unorthodox for the beach, but in case you haven't noticed, I can wear anything and look good.
Above is a photo of U.S. model Naomi Sims, a pioneering figure in the world of fashion who achieved global recognition in the 1960s while still a teenager. She was the first black model to front publications as diverse as Life and Ladies' Home Journal. Hollywood of course came calling. She was offered the lead in Cleopatra Jones but turned it down because she saw it as racist. She had a point. Blaxploitation movies are culturally significant and most are fun, but they hinge on crime stereotypes. In a country where so many are willing to see the stereotypes as encompassing of an entire people the argument could be made that the films were harmful. Sims wasn't the first or last to say so. In any case, that was the end of her flirtation with Hollywood, but she went on to author books on health, beauty, and the modeling industry. This photo dates from 1971.
Tamara Dobson is hell on wheels.
Tamara Dobson straddles a dirt bike in this promo photo from her blaxploitation thriller Cleopatra Jones. In the film she commandeers the bike at a race to chase a bad guy, and manages to catch him and whip his lame ass without so much as disturbing her queenly hair wrap. In a genre marked by cheap failures and ambitious disasters Cleopatra Jones stands as one of the most successful entries. It premiered in the U.S. today in 1973.
2nd Amendment, motherfucker. If you say it's your right, then it's my right too.
Bernie Casey exercises his right to bear a chrome plated Colt Super .38 automatic in this cool promo photo made for his 1972 blaxploitation flick Hit Man. We love Casey. He died just last year, and was pretty much unheralded, but he appeared in a lot of fun movies, including Sharky's Machine, The Man Who Fell To Earth, Cleopatra Jones, Boxcar Bertha, and Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure. He also had the good fortune to get naked with both Pam Grier and Claudia Jennings. The Jennings scene is flat amazing, but the Grier scene, which is actually from Hit Man, is hilarious. As Grier climbs atop him and presses her naked body full length onto his the expression on his face reads something like: “Oh. My. Freaking. God.” That's probably the only time in his life he wasn't 100% cool.
Brown is the new blonde.
Above, a promo image of U.S. actress Stella Stevens, who we love for her stalwart presence in numerous lightweight but highly entertaining films such as Slaughter and Cleopatra Jones & The Casino of Gold. We don't have a date on this rare shot showing her with brown hair (blonde has always been her primary color), but 1973 seems a reasonable guess.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1987—Andy Warhol Dies
American pop artist Andy Warhol, whose creations have sold for as much as 100 million dollars, dies of cardiac arrhythmia following gallbladder surgery in New York City. Warhol, who already suffered lingering physical problems from a 1968 shooting, requested in his will for all but a tiny fraction of his considerable estate to go toward the creation of a foundation dedicated to the advancement of the visual arts.
1947—Edwin Land Unveils His New Camera
In New York City, scientist and inventor Edwin Land demonstrates the first instant camera, the Polaroid Land Camera, at a meeting of the Optical Society of America. The camera, which contains a special film that self-develops prints in a minute, goes on sale the next year to the public and is an immediate sensation.
1965—Malcolm X Is Assassinated
American minister and human rights activist Malcolm X is assassinated at the Audubon Ballroom in New York City by members of the Nation of Islam, who shotgun him in the chest and then shoot him sixteen additional times with handguns. Though three men are eventually convicted of the killing, two have always maintained their innocence, and all have since been paroled.
1935—Caroline Mikkelsen Reaches Antarctica
Norwegian explorer Caroline Mikkelsen, accompanying her husband Captain Klarius Mikkelsen on a maritime expedition, makes landfall at Vestfold Hills and becomes the first woman to set foot in Antarctica. Today, a mountain overlooking the southern extremity of Prydz Bay is named for her.
1972—Walter Winchell Dies
American newspaper and radio commentator Walter Winchell, who invented the gossip column while working at the New York Evening Graphic, dies of cancer. In his heyday from 1930 to the 1950s, his newspaper column was syndicated in over 2,000 newspapers worldwide, he was read by 50 million people a day, and his Sunday night radio broadcast was heard by another 20 million people.
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