Fitzgerald and friends enter the no-go zone.
Today in 1955 in Houston, musicians Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Illinois Jacquet, personal assistant Georgiana Henry, and concert promoter Norman Granz were arrested, ostensibly for the crime of illegal gambling. Five undercover cops had barged into the backstage area at the Houston Music Hall during a mid-set break and caught Jacquet and Gillespie playing craps. Fitzgerald was having a snack. Henry was nearby, as assistants tend to be. And Granz was arrested for blocking the cops' access to Fitzgerald's private bathroom because he feared they might plant drugs—a trick he'd seen before. The photo shows Fitzgerald and Henry. The despondent singer told gathered reporters, “I have nothing to say. What is there to say? I was only having a piece of pie and a cup of coffee.”
The gambling charge was, of course, just a pretext. Ella and company were actually arrested for playing to an integrated audience. Segregation had been made illegal the year before, but local authorities weren't budging in their attempts to keep the city divided, and jazz music, because of its popularity and tendency to elevate black culture, was feared by the old guard as the thin edge of the wedge of equal rights. Back then, opponents of equality called non-segregated shows such as Fitzgerald's “forced integration,” because whites had no option to partake without mingling with blacks. The phrase is eerily similar to “forced diversity,” which you hear a lot in 2022, and will continue to hear in upcoming years.
Pretext arrests are really about plausible deniability. Even today on fact-checking websites like Snopes, the arrest is not fully labeled an incident of racist harassment. They were actually gambling, goes the logic. But so were thousands of other Houstonians that night, including, probably, cops at poker sessions in their dens. Everyone breaks the law. Policing is about who is targeted. Five of Houston's finest bursting into a private backstage area when no probable cause existed is itself proof that the arrest was harassment. But it's the cops who write the record, and in covering up their true motivations they also get to skew official history. It's the oldest game in the book.
Fitzgerald and her companions weren't taken to jail until after they completed the few songs left in their show, a concession doubtless bestowed in order to prevent the audience from getting riotous. After being released the musicians made it back to Houston Music Hall and played a second contracted show—again, leniency that was probably a crowd control measure, if not a favor to the concert venue itself. The police had accomplished their objective. They'd sent a message and, because news media were present at the jail, had embarrassed the performers nationally. We suspect that Fitzgerald's heart wasn't really in that second performance. It had to be clear to her that no matter what protections blacks were given with a pen and ink in Washington, D.C., actual power in the south flowed from a corrupt badge and the muzzle of a gun.
If you want to hear Ella at her magical best, have a listen to this
Picture the entertainment business a lifetime ago.
Snap is yet another celeb and film magazine from the mid-century era, the product of the Snap Publishing Company, headquartered not in the usual locale of New York City, but in tiny Mount Morris, Illinois. Back in 1941, when this issue hit newsstands, Mount Morris had a population of only 2,700 people, and even today is home to only 3,000. You're probably thinking it's a really part of Chicago, a suburb within the metropolitan area, but it's actually fifty miles southwest, which was a long way in 1941 over rutted roads in primitive automobiles. Why was Snap based out in Mount Morris? We have no idea. Maybe the owner was inordinately attached to the Illinois Freedom Bell.
Though Snap had offices far afield, its focus was pure Hollywood and NYC., with plenty of celeb action inside each issue. In this one readers got Marion Miller, aka the “Queen of Quiver,” Dale Evans, Lily Damita, Marion Wakefield, Warner Baxter, Rita Hayworth, and many other screen stars and showgirls of the time. Editors also put together a comedic photoplay, notes on recent screen kisses, some kind of cockamamie home health test, and a scare feature on highschoolers going to tourist cabins—i.e. rentals in the woods where they could get laid. We have all that in forty-plus scans below.
A Haven for your deepest desires.
We're always on the lookout for GGA style art even when it doesn't occur on vintage book covers, and above you see an example—a promo poster for Annette Haven's adult flick Black Silk Stockings. We have no idea who painted this piece, but it could easily front a detective thriller or sleaze novel. It's also a very good likeness of Haven. We didn't watch the film but we know it's a vignette style story with all five segments involving black stockings. Of course plot is just a fig leaf. Sex is the point. You know what to expect.
Black Silk Stockings premiered in Chicago, Illinois today in 1978 (yes, in an actual cinema, if you can imagine a time when regular people used to be seen going inside to get boners—and even bonettes). John Holmes, John Leslie, and Linda Wong co-starred, along with Pulp Intl. mega femme fatale Desirée West. What do we mean by mega? Look here. And along those lines we searched for a photo of Annette Haven wearing the titular black silk stockings but had no luck. You'll have to make do with the stockingless shot we found.
Hallucinatory southwestern noir takes readers to a land of saints and sinners.
It's said that a good book teaches you how to read it. The author instructs while building the story. Dorothy B. Hughes' 1946 crime novel Ride the Pink Horse, which was the source material for the 1947 film noir starring Robert Montgomery, falls into that category. In the story a man wanders around the southwestern U.S. town of Santa Fe, New Mexico, searching for someone he calls the Sen, which is short for the Senator. We suspect the shortening of his title is designed to make it a heterograph with “sin,” because this Illinois senator-turned-crime boss rather sinfully hired out the murder of his wife then shorted the murderer part of his fee. That's why the main character, named Sailor, is adrift in this town. He's followed the Sen there from Chicago to get his money. He plans to find him, confront him, collect payment, then scurry away to Mexico.
But this comes out in trickles. Initially Sailor merely criss-crosses the town, unable to find a hotel room because it's fiesta weekend, with crowds everywhere and processions filling the streets. He sleeps under the canopy of a merry-go-round which features a pink horse. As he keeps going in circles around town more characters emerge—the cop who's trying to solve murder of the senator's wife, the carousel owner who appeals to Sailor's sense of honor, the girl who recalls an innocence he can barely remember, and the beautiful Iris Towers, the focus of his wishes for a better life.
Hughes loves symbolic names: there's the Sen, as we already mentioned; there's Iris Towers, dressed in ivory colors and pale of skin; and there's the girl Pila, whose name is the Spanish word for a laundry trough, a place of cleansing. The book is composed of encounters rather than events, hallucinatory meanderings punctuated by tense verbal standoffs. Each tête-à-tête clarifies matters a bit more for the reader. Did Sailor really kill the Sen's wife? Did he ever intend to? Was she ever to be the actual target? Were others involved?
When Sailor goes from seeing the town's Mexican and Native American inhabitants as something other than sub-human, maybe, we think, he isn't irredeemable. But even if he grows in some ways his hatred continues to drive him. He thinks the Sen is vermin. He wonders how such an abomination can even walk upon the Earth. When he follows the Sen into the cathedral this thought passes through his mind: He didn’t know why the dim perfumed cathedral didn’t belch the Sen out of its holy portals.
Hughes is a good writer, a unique stylist, and she gives Ride the Pink Horse the disorienting feeling of taking place in purgatory. It's a fever dream, an acid trip across a constantly shifting landscape, literary rather than pulp in approach, as much Faulkner as it is Chandler, with nothing quite solid or real apart from Sailor's hatred, which is so intense it seems as if it will consume him and leave nothing behind but a cinder. Sailor's racism is appalling, but he's not supposed to be a good man. This town filled with people that frighten and confuse him could be his salvation or his doom. He's the one who has to decide whether to step back from the precipice. Every wise character sees that he's headed for destruction. But the future isn't set. He has a chance for redemption—small, but real. Top marks for this one.
Just the thing for a cross-country trip.
This photo shows the crater made by the Sedan nuclear test, also known as the Storax Sedan test, which happened today in 1962 as part of Operation Storax. The crater is the result of an explosion that displaced twelve million tons of earth, and at 320 feet deep and 1280 feet in diameter is the largest man-made crater in the United States. It's also—bizarrely we think—listed on the National Register of Historic Places, especially weird when you consider that it sent two radioactive plumes wafting northeast from the Nevada explosion site, cross country from state to unsuspecting state, to settle especially heavily upon Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Illinois. Of all the nuclear tests conducted in the United States, Sedan ranked highest in overall activity of radionuclides in fallout, distributing nearly 7% of the total amount of radiation which fell on the U.S. population during all of the nuclear tests at the Nevada Test Site. Historic indeed. You see the explosion that caused all that below.
That centerfielder can really run! Look at her go! It’s almost like she hasn’t noticed the game is over.
Robert Baker and Trudy Jo Baker had just been married, aged twenty-six and seventeen, and were driving across the U.S.'s rolling midwestern states. They were embarked on their honeymoon, but when they saw a soldier named Larry Kirk hitchhiking outside St. Louis, trying to get home for Christmas, they gave him a ride. They later shot him in the back while he was sleeping in the car, robbed him of $12 and his watch, then dumped his body in a weed-choked field near Xenia, Illinois. When the couple was finally caught and tried, Robert Baker was sentenced to 99 years in prison, and Trudy Jo got 30 years at the Illinois Reformatory for Women.
That’s the backstory. This cover of Inside Detective published this month in 1957 uses a model to reenact Trudy Jo’s subsequent escape from prison. As center fielder of the prison softball team, she quickly realized the seven-foot outfield fence would be easy to scale. She soon did exactly that, made her way to Chicago, but realized she had no way to survive except through prostitution. Though new to the practice, she took to it like a duck to water and procured customers, mostly men in town for conventions, via the aid of local cab drivers, as well as what would grow into a collection of seven bellhops at a few of the city’s best hotels.
Living this way, she managed to evade capture for four months, and earned $6,000—more than $50,000 in today's money—all but $60 of which she spent on plush treats like caviar, wine, designer shoes, and a mink stole. She was finally recognized by a beat cop and subsequently captured, and the cabbies and bellhops that helped her were later charged with assorted crimes thanks to Trudy Jo turning state’s evidence against them. Thus the wheels of justice turn.
When asked how her time on the lam went, Trudy Jo, who you see above right during one of her many court appearances, replied, “I like wine and caviar and horses. In fact, I like anything that’s a gamble. I’ve been in all the best hotels and in the finest nightclubs. I've had the time of my life.” Her one regret? The prison permanently revoked her softball privileges.
Joliet police drop bombshell on shocked public regarding brutal January double-murder.
Partying was the lure, but robbery was the motive. In the town of Joilet, Illinois in mid-January four people—Joshua Miner, Alisa Massaro, Bethany McKee, and Adam Landerman, seen from clockwise above, invited two acquaintances into Massaro’s house where they strangled them. When police arrived on the scene they found the bodies of Eric Glover and Terrance Rankins, below, face down inside the house with plastic bags tied around their heads. Local police chief Mike Trafton said at the time, “After the homicides were committed, [the killers] continued the party atmosphere, I guess I would say, without getting into it any further.”
Yesterday the public found out what Trafton was so shy about revealing back in January. At least two of the killers allegedly had sex atop the bodies of the victims. Possibly it was even a two guy/one girl threesome. Apparently they spread a sheet on the freshly dead victims and went at it. Joshua Miner told police after his arrest that Massaro had said “years back that she wanted to have sex with a dead guy” and he wanted to help her fulfill part of her fantasy. Well, Massaro can cross that off her bucket list. Ordinarily we'd say prosecutors will make sure the entire group kicks that same bucket pretty soon, but luckily for them Illinois has no death penalty.
Giving them the lust thing they need.
Today we have another issue of the obscure tabloid Rampage, from Illinois based Informer Publishing. It appeared today in 1969 and it’s filled with bed-hopping honeys, lust crazed nymphos, and, of course, everyone’s favorite—explicit horny pornies. Their term, not ours. The stories are pure ficto-journalism (we just made that term up, but if they can do it we can too, right?) and the best of the lot is, we think, the story headed: “Nympho Balls Football Team,” in which we’re told that the wife of a team owner had sex with forty of the one hundred men who were trying out for the squad. Insert your own wide receiver or tight end joke here. Scans below.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1936—Crystal Palace Gutted by Fire
In London, the landmark structure Crystal Palace, a 900,000 square foot glass and steel exhibition hall erected in 1851, is destroyed by fire. The Palace had been moved once and fallen into disrepair, and at the time of the fire was not in use. Two water towers survived the blaze, but these were later demolished, leaving no remnants of the original structure.
1963—Warren Commission Formed
U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson establishes the Warren Commission to investigate the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. However the long report that is finally issued does little to settle questions
about the assassination, and today surveys show that only a small minority of Americans agree with the Commission's conclusions.
1942—Nightclub Fire Kills Hundreds
In Boston, Massachusetts, a fire
in the fashionable Cocoanut Grove nightclub kills 492 people. Patrons were unable to escape when the fire began because the exits immediately became blocked with panicked people, and other possible exits were welded shut or boarded up. The fire led to a reform of fire codes and safety standards across the country, and the club's owner, Barney Welansky, who had boasted of his ties to the Mafia and to Boston Mayor Maurice J. Tobin, was eventually found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.
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