B-movie actor generates A-list headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Show business careers go off the rails for a wide array of reasons—lack of talent, lack of audience appeal, substance abuse, and a predilection for general mayhem all come to mind. Hollywood actor Tom Neal fits legendarily into the last category. From his debut in 1938 through 1951 he logged more than seventy film appearances. That's incredible output by any measure. Most of his roles were in b-movies, but there were some notable parts mixed in. His career highlights included Another Thin Man, the film noir Detour, and Crime, Inc.
Neal caused minor scandals early in his career, but he graduated to the majors beginning in early 1951, when he met tempestuous actress Barbara Payton and the two began dating. Payton had announced her engagement the previous year to debonair leading man Franchot Tone, but her ideas about commitment weren't of the standard variety. She was still married to an Air Force Captain named John Payton while dating Tone, and had allegedly slept with Gary Cooper and Steve Cochran while working with them on the 1950 western Dallas. When Neal met her, she kicked Tone to the curb and announced she and Neal would be marrying. But Payton was fickle, to say the least, and ended up dropping Neal and getting re-engaged to Tone. All this while still married to her Air Force guy.
One thing Hollywood people can count on is crossing paths with their colleagues at one point or another—especially if they're dating the same woman. When Neal crossed paths with Tone and Payton in September 1951 at her apartment, he intended to punish the man who had won Payton's hand. Everyone in Hollywood knew Neal had been an amateur boxer. Maybe the qualifier “amateur” gave Tone excessive confidence. Maybe he didn't know that Neal, who you see below with barbells overhead and a tube sock in his shorts, had accumulated a 31-3record in the ring. Maybe Tone slipped on a dollop of Beluga caviar. Payton said Tone simply had no choice about fighting because Neal attacked him. Whatever the reason, Neal floored Tone with his first punch, and continued to beat him afterward, delivering cheek and nose fractures. Tone lay in an eighteen hour coma in the hospital. Ironically, that was the day Payton's divorce had come through. 1951 had been a pretty good year for Neal up to that point. But from then onward he was Hollywood persona non grata. He'd had more roles in ’51 than he would the entire rest of his career. We wouldn't go so far as saying that means Tone had the last laugh, since it would have been a extraordinarily painful laugh, considering the injuries and cosmetic surgery that followed. But okay, in that karmic way that's never fully satisfying, Tone at least must have felt a bit of Schadenfreude. Neal was blacklisted, and Payton was his. The good times didn't last. Hesoon discovered that Payton—wait for it—had never stopped seeing Neal, including while Tone was in the hospital with a broken face. So there went that marriage. It seemed as if Neal had unequivocally won Payton's affections after all, and she does look happy in the 1952 photo above, but it's probably no surprise to learn that the two parted ways after a few tumultuous years, some broken windows, and at least one police intervention. Payton went on to have truly epic problems that would put a South American novela to shame. Neal nursed his severely damaged career along, landing only occasional minor parts, and by the time the ’60s rolled around couldn't beg, barter, or buy a role. He had been married for a few years during the late ’50s, and in 1960 he married again, to a receptionist named Gale (sometimes Gail) Bennett, who you see below. In April 1965 police were summoned to Neal's home in Palm Springs where they found Bennett dead. She had been shot through the back of the head with .45 calibre pistol, the slug entering her skull behind her right ear and ending up in a sofa cushion. Neal wasn't on the premises when police arrived, but was soon arrested, and claimed the shooting had been an accident, the result of a struggle over the gun after his wife pulled it on him.
Accounts of the killing vary, as they always do. In some, Neal shot Bennett as she was taking a nap. In others, they argued. We even found one that said Neal claimed the accident occurred while he and Bennett were making love. At trial Neal's defense attorney claimed a mystery man had pulled the trigger. We were struck, however, when we found that Bennett had secretly filed for divorce, and in the filing specifically mentioned Neal threatening her with a .45 automatic. If that detail struck us, it certainly must have made an impact on the jury. In the end, after a sensational trial, the dozen jurors convicted Neal of involuntary manslaughter.
Neal spent only six years behind bars before being paroled. That's a pretty sweet deal for what many suspected was a clearcut case of premeditated murder. Also, note that during the dust-up with Tone, one witness said Neal threw more than thirty punches after Tone was down. That could be construed as attempted murder, were you inclined to put a label on it, and if that was the plan it almost worked. Doctors thought for a while Tone would never awaken. Neal was a rough and tumble fellow, there's little doubt. But looks and a bit of charm will carry you a long way in life. Eventually, though, even those can run dry. Neal died eight months after his release from prison, aged fifty-eight, of heart failure, looking a shell of his former self.
The past comes alive in vintage pop culture mag.
You have to admit—Pulp Intl. is one of the great time burning websites around. We're going to incinerate yet more of it today. Above is a cover from Look magazine, a chief competitor of the iconic Life. At the time this August 1937 issue appeared Look was headquartered far from the publishing hotbeds on the coasts, choosing to set up shop in Des Moines, Iowa. The editors claim 1.25 million in newsstands sales every issue. We don't know if that's true, but it was a high quality magazine, and this is a high quality example.
Inside you get Benito Mussolini, a ranking of Hollywood box office earning power, a special murder mystery for readers to solve, several pages of Gary Cooper, and a small photo feature on a German town that baptized every visitor, which is an interesting historical curiosity considering that in a devoutly religious country Hitler was successfully fanning the flames of hate against Jews. But “others” never seem to be included in any religion's definition of people deserving good treatment.
Elsewhere inside you get Mexican painter Diego Rivera with Frida Kahlo. Kahlo is referred to by Look editors merely as Rivera's third wife, “seeing to it that he is fed every few hours.” That may have been true, but today she's known throughout the world, recognized as an artist in her own right, which is a reminder that re-examining the past with an emphasis on those who were overlooked—a process some call “revisionism”—is a useful tool for getting things right. Numerous scans below.
Confidential climbs the stairs and creeps down the bedroom hall.
This January 1958 issue of Confidential, with Anita Ekberg and Gary Cooper starring on the cover, was released in the magazine’s prime, during the heyday of its special brand of slash and burn journalism. You can really see why Hollywood focused its efforts on neutralizing the publication—celebs and important figures get knocked down like ducks in a shooting gallery. Examples: Tita Purdom is caught cheating by her husband, Kim Novak got into movies with the help of a sugar daddy, Lili St. Cyr tried suicide twice and both times was saved by her husband Paul Valentine, and millionaire Bobby Goelet is dropped from the Social Register for dating a non-white woman. We'd like to get into each of those stories, but while we do have time to read them all, sadly we don't have time to write about them all.
Because we have to pick and choose, we're limiting ourselves today to Confidential's domestic violence stories. This was a regular focus of the magazine, and a very good example of just how untouchablepublisher Robert Harrison thought he was. First up is Rita Hayworth, who allegedly walked out on husband Dick Haymes because he beat her. Here's scribe Alfred Garvey: “Haymes' favorite form of assault was to grab Rita by her world-famed tresses and slam her head against a wall until her sense reeled. And the brutal beatings were part and parcel of their schedule wherever they went.” We should note here that Confidential was in no way a defender of women—the magazine published anything that made a celebrity look bad. It didn't publish this story to expose Haymes, but to expose Hayworth. She's the star—the reader must be left asking what's wrong with her.
For evidence consider the story that appears a bit later in which Confidential accuses actor Jack Palance of beating women. “You can't win all your fights, though, even with dames. One talked, and squawked, after a bruising evening with the ungentlemanly Jack and the result has been a tide of whispers [snip] literally a blow-by-blow report of how he conducted at least one romance.” The text goes on to describe theassault in first-hand detail, but even though the writer seems to know every word spoken in that closed room, he never names the victim. This is not because Confidential cares about protecting her identity—if editors can name Hayworth they certainly can name a random aspiring actress—but because she doesn't matter. Her identity would distract the reader.
The point to absorb is merely that Confidential had no compass, no aim at all except to generate terrible publicity for the famous. Some may have deserved it, but moral justice was never the goal. If the two previous stories weren't enough, Confidential hits the trifecta with yet another domestic violence story about Bob Calhoun and big band singer Ginny Simms. In this one Calhoun gets a co-starring role—he was rich, thus worthy of mention. “Grabbing his shrieking bride by her pretty unmentionables, Calhoun yanked her off their nuptial bed and, in the same swift movement, uncorked a right that spun Ginny across the room like a rag doll.”
As far as we know nobody mentioned in any these stories sued. Confidential was impervious—at least for the moment. Celebrities just hunkered down and hoped the stories would fade. But Confidential'scirculation kept growing. Soon it would be one of the most widely read magazines in America, the indisputable king of tabloids. Hmm… king of tabloids has a nice ring to it. We’re going to use that—Pulp Intl. is the king of tabloid websites. You can work your way through more than three-hundred individual tabloid entries here.
In Cloak and Dagger Gary Cooper plays a physicist who causes a violent chain reaction of a different kind.
These posters promote the Italian run of the American War World II propaganda thriller Cloak and Dagger. The film even admits to being propaganda, with a dedication to the OSS in the ending credits. But since all states produce propaganda, and each generation’s is clumsy and laughable to those who come later, the silly flag waving here isn’t really the problem—rather it’s a tepid central romance, an unlikely plot, and an overcooked musical score that loudly punctuates every mood and movement of the characters. There are other flaws, especially with Gary Cooper’s fighting physicist, who begins the movie as a lab egghead but by the halfway point inexplicably unveils better fighting skills than the seasoned fascist killers on his trail. But whatever—willing suspension and all that. At least these action sequences are well staged—in fact, they’rethe highlight of the movie. And if you don't mind Coop's unsubtle moralizing about courage, country, sacrifice, and love, then Cloak and Dagger may hold some charms for you. For our part, we think seeing a cynic converted to the cause à la Casablanca is infinitely more interesting than a true blue patriot trying to convert others, but that’s the difference between drama and propaganda—in the latter the hero’s doubts are merely cursory if they exist at all. The promo posters above are by Renato Casaro, the one directly below is by Luigi Martinati, who we’ll revisit soon, and the last is illegibly signed, which means it goes into the unknown category. We’ll try to figure out who painted that and get back to you. Cloak and Dagger premiered in the U.S. in 1946 and made it to Italy as Maschere e pugnali today in 1948.
Hanging with Mr. Cooper.
We were just writing about Gary Cooper in our history text and… You do read the history text, right? Please tell us you read that stuff, because we really do work hard on it. Anyway, Cooper died fifty years ago yesterday, so we thought we’d share one of the posters we had sitting around. Above you see the Japanese one sheet for his 1953 western Blowing Wild, with Barbara Stanwyck and Anthony Quinn. We’ll get into Mr. Cooper a bit more down the line. We have to—we can’t possibly ignore a guy who Clara Bow said was “hung like a horse and can go all night.” And we also have to get into the story about how Lupe Velez stabbed him for drawing a face on one of her nipples. When you do something like that to a woman known as the Mexican Spitfire, you have to expect incendiary results, but we'll explore that and other Cooper episodes soon.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1935—Four Gangsters Gunned Down in New Jersey
In Newark, New Jersey, the organized crime figures Dutch Schultz, Abe Landau, Otto Berman, and Bernard "Lulu" Rosencrantz are fatally shot at the Palace Chophouse restaurant. Schultz, who was the target, lingers in the hospital for about a day before dying
. The killings are committed by a group of professional gunmen known as Murder, Inc., and the event becomes known as the Chophouse Massacre.
1950—Al Jolson Dies
Vaudeville and screen performer Al Jolson dies of a heart attack in San Francisco after a trip to Korea to entertain troops causes lung problems. Jolson is best known for his film The Jazz Singer, and for his performances in blackface make-up, which were not considered offensive at the time, but have now come to be seen as a form of racial bigotry.
1926—Houdini Fatally Punched in Stomach
After a performance in Montreal, Hungarian-born magician and escape artist Harry Houdini is approached by a university student named J. Gordon Whitehead, who asks if it is true that Houdini can endure any blow to the stomach. Before Houdini is ready Whitehead strikes him several times, causing internal injuries that lead to the magician's death.
1973—Kidnappers Cut Off Getty's Ear
After holding Jean Paul Getty III for more than three months, kidnappers cut off his ear and mail it to a newspaper in Rome. Because of a postal strike it doesn't arrive until November 8. Along with the ear is a lock of hair and ransom note that says: "This is Paul’s ear. If we don’t get some money within 10 days, then the other ear will arrive. In other words, he will arrive in little bits." Getty's grandfather, billionaire oilman Jean Paul Getty, at first refused to pay the 3.2 million dollar ransom, then negotiated it down to 2.8 million, and finally agreed to pay as long as his grandson repaid the sum at 4% interest.
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