|Intl. Notebook||May 7 2013|
Above are a couple of scans from an issue of The National Police Gazette published this month in 1963 with cover star Ava Gardner. Gardner had been living in Spain and hadn’t been in a movie in three years, but was about to appear in the historical war drama 55 Days at Peking with Charlton Heston and David Niven. The Gazette discusses how she’d gotten fed up with the U.S.—particularly the American press. She had been particularly annoyed by the rumor that she was involved with Sammy Davis, Jr., a story that took flight after several magazines published photos of the two holding hands. When asked why she was returning to Hollywood after being out of circulation for so long, Gardner, in typically blunt fashion, replied, “I need the money.”
|Vintage Pulp||Apr 30 2013|
|Vintage Pulp||Feb 26 2013|
Above is a cover of the tabloid Midnight published today in 1968. The idea that someone stole JFK’s corpse was aired pretty much right after the murder, and to this day some people believe he was snatched off Air Force One sometime before the plane landed in Washington D.C. It’s a pretty farfetched theory, one not necessarily interesting on its own merits, but because it’s a good example of one of the most important factors that makes conspiracies work. And that is simply that in the absence of convincing facts people concoct multiple theories and those help obscure actual discrepancies about the event. Once you’ve heard enough crackpot theories you tend to forget the original, crucially pertinent questions. If one were conspiracy-minded one would almost suggest that the perpetrators of conspiracies count on this to happen. But that would be only if one were conspiracy-minded. We are not.
|Hollywoodland||Nov 13 2012|
Above is a publicity photo of American singer/actor/comedian Sammy Davis, Jr. with his Swedish bride, actress May Britt. The shot dates from today in 1960, and as you might guess, that was a very bad time for mixed couples. Sammy had for years been making tabloid headlines for dating white women ranging from Tinseltown icon Kim Novak to Canadian singer Joan Stuart, but when he announced plans to marry Britt, a chunk of the general public lost its collective mind. He faced racist banners and chants in London, received rafts of hate mail, and was confronted in Los Angeles with the bizarre spectacle of three men marching outside the Huntington Hartford Theater in nazi regalia. Even two admirers, John and Robert Kennedy, allegedly asked Frank Sinatra to tell Davis to delay the wedding until after the 1960 presidential election.
|Intl. Notebook | Politique Diabolique||Mar 19 2012|
There’s an interesting story emerging today involving former CIA officer Brian Latell, right, who claims that Fidel Castro ordered subordinates to listen carefully for news from Texas on November 22, 1963. That was, of course, the morning U.S. president John F. Kennedy was assassinated, and Latell, who was the CIA’s national intelligence officer for Latin America, says Castro gave the order to put ears to the ground hours before the shooting. Possible? Well, probably quite a few people had advance knowledge of the assassination, so why not Castro? One wonders, though, why Latell, who’s made a nice living of writing about Fidel, appears with this revelation now. Had it slipped his mind for forty-nine years? Surely these claims have nothing to do with goosing sales of his new book Castro’s Secrets? That would be so very… capitalist of him.
Kidding aside, there’s little logic in Castro trying to kill Kennedy. Latell doesn’t make this claim, exactly, though he comes mighty close: “I don’t say Fidel Castro ordered the assassination. I don’t say Oswald was under his control. He might have been, but I don’t argue that, because I was unable to find any evidence for that.” Hmm. We tend to think a presidential killing conceived and orchestrated in the U.S. could be effectively covered up because some of the participants might be government officials able to classify documents, manage the press, pressure investigators, falsify evidence, and so on. But a Cuba-based conspiracy would have none of those advantages, thus the evidence would be there. Glaringly so, we think. Indeed, we canimagine teams of CIA analysts in the days after the murder searching—if not praying—for even the most tenuous Cuba connection in hopes of uncovering a pretext for dispatching a division of marines to Havana. The fact that those marines never embarked says volumes. So we’re going to vote no on the implication that Castro had Kennedy killed. Advance knowledge? Possible. Did he pull the strings? No way. But like millions of Americans, we’d love to know who did.
|Vintage Pulp||Feb 19 2012|
In January 1967, the German news magazine Stern (Star) wrote that deceased U.S. president John F. Kennedy had suffered from a potentially fatal disease. The above cover of National Enquirer from today in 1967 echoes that famous Stern story. The illness JFK had is known as Addison’s disease, and is a withering of the adrenal glands. Rumors about the sickness sprang up early in Kennedy’s political career, but he denied having any health problems, thinking (correctly, we can assume) that Americans would not elect a sick man to the presidency.
In the end, Kennedy managed the disease by taking cortisone, though one side effect was puffiness in his face. The disease had historical side effects, as well. After JFK’s death, his family requested that the autopsy report be kept secret, and to confuse matters even more, the coroner destroyed the examination notes. This created yet another layer of mystery around Kennedy's death. Both Jackie Kennedy and Robert Kennedy documentably believed JFK had been murdered as the result of a conspiracy, which means that in their desire for privacy they perhaps rashly made a decision that hampered their later search for the truth.
But perhaps not. It's very possible the autopsy notes would not have settled any issues around the assassination. We say this because, though a majority of Americans have always doubted the lone gunman theory (the first survey taken just weeks after the assassination showed that 52% believed there was a conspiracy), the Kennedy narrative has always favored a minority of backers of the official story. That favoritism is not deliberate, in our opinion. It's more a matter of journalistic laziness. We discussed that a while back, so click over that post to see an example of what we mean. We'll have more from National Enquirer and much more on JFK later.
|Vintage Pulp | Politique Diabolique||Feb 4 2012|
Today we have a cover for the 1964 espionage novel Ring Around Rosy, and normally, what would be of the most interest here is yet another perfect piece of art by Robert McGinnis, but in this case we have an author whose life may have been even more rife with danger and intrigue than those of his characters. Many of you probably already know that Gordon Davis was in reality E. Howard Hunt, who was involved in the Watergate Hotel scandal which led directly to the toppling of Richard Nixon’s presidency, a landmark moment in the American psyche because it represented a loss political innocence for millions of citizens. But that all came later, when Hunt was pushed unwillingly into the light after the bungled Watergate operations. What makes him fascinating is everything that came before.
E. Howard Hunt was a dedicated writer in his early years, and after winning a Guggenheim fellowship, went on to publish as the aforementioned Davis, as well as Robert Dietrich, and David St. John. He joined the CIA in 1949, and was stationed in Mexico City along with William F. Buckley. While there, he helped plan the overthrow of Guatemala’s president Jacobo Arbenz, which brought about unrest that funneled into a civil war in which 200,000 people were killed, about 90% of them civilians. A few years later Hunt helped to create a Cuban government-in-exile that would take over that island after Fidel Castro was ousted by U.S.-backed Bay of Pigs insurgents. The invasion didn’t come off as planned, though, and the fallout was damaging enough that Hunt needed to rehabilitate his career.
He took a position as chief of the CIA’s illegal domestic spying branch the Domestic Operations Division shortly after its formation in 1962 by John F. Kennedy. The idea behind the Division was to spy on enemies inside the U.S., which ostensibly meant acting against foreign embassies that might be harboring spies, but in a classic—and inevitable—example of mission creep, pretty soon the Division began illegally spying onAmerican citizens, specifically civil rights activists. After a couple of years Hunt was re-stationed in Mexico City, where sources claim he had dealings with Lee Harvey Oswald in the time leading up to Kennedy’s assassination. Hunt categorically denied ever meeting Oswald, though he later made revelations regarding Kennedy. In any case, being on the government payroll wasn't what he wanted to do anymore—he never got over his anger at Kennedy’s refusal to invade Cuba or overthrow Castro—so he decided to get into the private sector.
This eventually led to him becoming a member of Richard Nixon’s Special Investigations Unit, aka the White House Plumbers, which were both fancy names for the collection of men who were the President’s secret fixers. This was exactly the sort of off-the-books work Hunt had been seeking. It allowed him to remain in the black ops game, but freed him from accountability to layers of career bureaucrats. Under Nixon’s direction and that of White House Special Counsel Charles Colson, Hunt broke into various residences—in violation of both property and spying laws—looking for dirt on people such as reporter Daniel Ellsberg and politician Teddy Kennedy. He was also involved in disinformation campaigns, such as forging fake cables suggesting that John F. Kennedy had ordered the assassination of foreign officials, and trying (but failing) to link a would-be assassin to Democrats by planting George McGovern campaign material in the house of Arthur Bremer, the man who shot conservative politician George Wallace.
We’ve drifted pretty far away from the subject of Ring Around Rosy (which by the way is an adventure concerning Cuba, as were several of Hunt's books), but let’s drift a bit further, and make this point: isn’t it fascinating that in an age in which so many conspiracies have been documented andverified, people are still afraid to believe behind-the-scenes machinations are what really make the planet go ’round? Hunt's dirty tricks are all a matter of record, and had profound effects on international affairs, yet many would like to believe he is a rarity. But whether we're talking about hushed meetings in political backrooms or secret get-togethers between bankers at private clubs, conspiracies are the engine of the world. It isn’t a nice realization, but it’s a logical one.
Hunt wrote novels throughout his black ops years, but as time wore on often used his literary gift to grind axes, modeling characters after men he hated. For example, JFK appeared thinly disguised in the 1972 political potboiler The Coven, in which a youthful, charismatic, Catholic presidential candidate is a secret Devil worshipper. The quality of Hunt’s fiction had declined since his Guggenheim fellowship days, according to many critics, but his name and background guaranteed sales, and still does today (as any Hunt-related internet comment chain, with their pronouncements about his “real deal tough guy” qualities, makes quite clear).
At the end of his life, Hunt dropped a bombshell by confessing to involvement in a conspiracy to kill John F. Kennedy. He described himself as a “benchwarmer” in the plot, i.e., somebody to be brought in if the first team failed, and named everyone involved. The confession was made to his son, which gave rise to questions about both veracity and motive. But if Hunt had confessed on the front page of the Washington Post can wereally doubt that there would still be droves of people unwilling to accept it? It makes sense, though. If Watergate stole the political innocence of millions of Americans, proof of an assassination plot by members of the U.S. government against their own president would be a national cataclysm. So Hunt’s confession is forgotten, while everything else he ever did, survives.
|Vintage Pulp||Dec 6 2011|
This National Enquirer from today in 1964 tells readers the story of Marie Tippit, the widow of J.D. Tippit, the Dallas police officer shot and killed by Lee Harvey Oswald the morning of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. In the year since, Mrs. Tippit had received a lot of money. The cover text might make you think she's referring to life insurance benefits, but actually she’s talking about cash donated to her by sympathetic Americans. The total was $647,579, which would be about $5 million in today’s money. $25,000 of that came from Abraham Zapruder, the man who filmed JFK’s assassination. The amount he gave was almost 15% of what he received for selling the film. If you find it hard to imagine this non-cynical outpouring of generosity today, join the club. But thanks to National Enquirer, we’re reminded of an earlier America, and given an interesting historical footnote to the events of that day in Dallas.
|Vintage Pulp||Nov 28 2011|
Above, a cover of the Turkish lifestyle magazine Hayat with a commemorative photo of John F. Kennedy featuring the slain president striking a beatific pose. It appeared today in 1963, six days after Kennedy’s assassination.
|Vintage Pulp||Nov 24 2011|
On the cover of this issue of Midnight published today in 1969, editors tell readers that presidential widow Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis hates Americans. The story extensively quotes an acquaintance named Lisa Whalley, who says at one point, “She (Jackie) thinks of Americans as a herd of mindless sheep who follow after famous personalities as though they were gods and goddesses.” It’s an interesting line, but it isn’t really news. Jacqueline Kennedy’s feelings about the U.S. were well known. After her husband was murdered, she and Robert Kennedy stated that they believed JFK had been felled by domestic opponents, the key words in there being “domestic”, i.e. American, and “opponents”, more than one person. And when Robert Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, Jackie came to the conclusion that the entire Kennedy family was a target. According to RFK biographer C. David Heymann, she said, “I hate this country. I despise America and I don’t want my children to live here anymore. If they’re killing Kennedys, my children are number one targets. I want to get out of this country.” Four months later she married Aristotle Onassis and moved to Greece. So the Midnight headline isn’t any great stretch, though to the editors’ credit, they do a pretty good job of framing it as a scoop. Inside the issue you get Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton on the rocks, Italian bombshell Nuccia Cardinali, Chinese beauty Irene Tsu, and a pretty nice shot of Czech-born sex symbol Barbara Bouchet. All of that and more below.