Vintage Pulp Sep 22 2019
VENUS DE MANHATTAN
This one has arms and she knows how to use them.


From meager expectations often great entertainment arises. Such is the case with Ralph Carter's 1945 melodrama Blonde Venus. It's the story of a Kansas farm girl who goes to New York City to become a writer and finds that people are more interested in her body than her brain. We were surprised by this one. It's better than we expected for three reasons.

First, its protagonist Wandalee Fernald is uniquely likeable for a female character playing out a male writer's outdated Madonna/whore dichotomy. Often male writers fumble that theme, but Carter makes his take on it work.

Second, the narrative explores the change in attitudes toward sex that occurred during World War II, a time when the idea of female virginity before marriage was being temporarily tossed out the window due to the realization that life could be cut short.

And third, in a country that was rapidly urbanizing, the story makes good use of the tension between smalltown provincialism and big city cynicism, a struggle Wandalee internalizes as she tries to find out who she is.

Throughout the book we wondered whether she would end up with the backward hayseed hurt by her loss of purity or the jaded urbanite who accepts her as is but can't offer love in the romantic sense. Well, it turns out she chooses neither, and finds real love in New York City after all. That's a spoiler, but are you really going to seek out this flimsy old paperback? We don't think so. But if you happen to run across a copy, it's worth a read.

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Vintage Pulp Dec 9 2018
RAQUEL ON WHEELS
Welch rocks and rolls on the derby circuit.


Above is a Japanese poster for the U.S. drama Kansas City Bomber, which starred Raquel Welch, and featured Cornelia Sharpe and a very young Jodie Foster. We won't mince words—this is a bad movie, inspired by the roller derby craze of the 1970s, which back then was simply cheeseball pro wrestling on wheels. As weak as the film is, this role actually fits Welch. After scoring big early with Fantastic Voyage and One Million B.C. it seems as if she spent the rest of her career looking for the right part. This one works. Like her, the skater character she plays is a mother of two trying to make good in a world determined to see her only as an ornament. Welch plays her as warm hearted, a bit emotionally exhausted, but resilient at the core. Yet in the end Kansas City Bomber is still a movie about roller derby, which was lowbrow fakery put over on a gullible public as real. If the script had admitted the sport was staged there might have been room for a good satire, but that didn't happen, and with a fake sport as its subject, generating genuine emotion is difficult. Hey, but it still has Raquel. After premiering in the U.S. in August 1972 Kansas City Bomber opened in Japan today the same year.

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Modern Pulp Aug 16 2018
KANSAS CITY HEAT
Altman and company get gangsta in the heartland.


Auteur and maverick Robert Altman directed several films centered around crime, but perhaps only his 1930s gangster flick Kansas City truly fits the bill as a pulp style effort. The plot tells the tale of Blondie O'Hara, whose petty crook husband Johnny is captured by gangster Seldom Seen and held at a nightclub, prompting Blondie to kidnap the wife of a local politician in an attempt to blackmail him into using his connections to free Johnny. Sounds straightforward, but Altman's approach to this is leisurely and episodic.

Kansas City is generally considered to be a lesser effort from the legendary director, but even if it's not in the class of Short Cuts or M*A*S*H*, it has some points of interest—a slithery jazz score, lots of smoky nightclub scenery, Steve Buscemi warming up for another gangster role in the brilliant Miller's Crossing, Harry Belafonte playing it cool, and Jennifer Jason Leigh giving her actorly all as the drawling, flapperesque Blondie.

Another plus is this killer promo poster. When we saw it we had to watch the movie. But what's the most important reason to watch it? Altman, of course. It's always fun to see what a director does with the 1930s. What's the main drawback? Aside from its narrative quirkiness, we suspect its racial content may be a bit much for those with millennial sensibilities. But don't fault art for holding a mirror to history. When we can't reflect the past in cinema we'll have fallen pretty far. Kansas City premiered in the U.S. today in 1996.

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Hollywoodland Aug 12 2018
A ROARING SUCCESS
You oughta be in pictures.

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's famed lion mascot, who roared at the beginning of every MGM picture, was known as Leo. But like an actor playing a role, the lions used in those famed openings had real names. The first lion was used by MGM's predecessor Goldwyn Pictures. He was named Slats, and you see him above in this profile shot made at Gay's Lion Farm in El Monte, California. Slats played Leo for Goldwyn and MGM from 1916 to 1928, to be followed by such luminaries as Jackie, Teller, Tanner, George, etc. Slats was the only lion that didn't roar, because he got the gig before sound was introduced into film. While he's immortal as a logo, he died in 1936. For his faithful service he was skinned and his hide was put on display. It's still around, at the moment residing at the McPherson Museum in McPherson, Kansas.

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Vintage Pulp Jun 15 2018
STICK A FORK IN HIM
Don't! That's only for salads or desserts!


This is very nice cover work for Everett and Olga Webber's U.S. Civil War novel Bound Girl. The art is by Sam Cherry, one of the best. After a 1949 hardback debut the book came out as this Popular Library paperback in 1950. The bound girl of the novel is an indentured servant living on the Kansas-Missouri border who experiences both war and various romantic ups and downs. Possibly her love problems stem from bad manners. After all, who'd want to date someone who doesn't even know that a three prong fork isn't for meat courses? 

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The Naked City | Mondo Bizarro Jun 16 2017
DOPPELGANGSTER
A case of double trouble for wrongly convicted Kansas man.

Speaking of doubles, put this one in the amazing coincidences file. A Kansas man who spent seventeen years in prison was released Monday when a judge admitted that an exact double may have committed the crime for which he was jailed. Richard Jones, the man who was released, appears on the right in both mugshots, while an almost identical man appears on the left. This doppelgangbanger is an ex-convict who lived in Kansas City, Kansas in the vicinity of where several people were robbed at gunpoint in 1999, while Jones lived with his wife and kids across the state line in Kansas City, Missouri. Since Jones was convicted only on eyewitness identification by the victims, and there was no physical, DNA, or fingerprint evidence to link him to the crime, a judge ruled that there was sufficient cause to order his release.

Interestingly, after years of failed legal appeals it was Jones himself who broke the case by finally chatting with inmates in prison, who told him that he bore an uncanny resemblance to an ex-con named Ricky. Just over a year ago Jones contacted the Midwest Innocence Project, and they located a photo of this Ricky character, who it turned out had actually been questioned about the original robbery but had denied involvement. Why his interrogators failed to notice the resemblance to the accused is a mystery that is yet to be unravelled. Maybe Ricky had a perm that day. Anyway, photos were presented to one of the victims of the robbery, two eyewitnesses, and the prosecutor of the case, and none could tell the two men apart. Jones, who maintained his innocence all along, said, “When I saw the picture of my double it all made sense to me.”
 
The irony is strong with this case. Consider: it was mere proximity to the thief that got Jones sent upstate, but it also turned out to be proximity that led to convicts in the same prison as Jones knowing of Ricky. If Jones had been sentenced to a different prison he'd still be behind bars, which, while he must be thrilled to be breathing the sweet air of freedom, is a thought we imagine keeps him up nights. But that's not the only irony here. Ricky will not be charged with a crime. How can he be? The victims and eyewitnesses can't be relied upon. Absent physical evidence, DNA, or fingerprints there's no way to be sure he was the perpetrator. It could have been Jones, his double. It wasn't. But technically, it could have been. The lesson here is crystal clear—if you hear of someone that looks like you, take the opportunity to commit a heinous crime and you'll get away scot-free. 

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Vintage Pulp Jan 21 2017
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
The best defense is a good offense.

Four robbers knock off a bank in Kansas City with plans to split the money after the heat has cooled. The mastermind behind the job has arranged it so the crooks don't meet before the job, and wear masks during it, thus can't possibly identify each other. But each man has an ace, torn in half to create a unique mate, to match with the second half and confirm his identity when the time comes. It all sounds clever and foolproof, except the mastermind has framed someone for the robbery to throw police off their trail, and when this man is arrested but turned loose from police custody due to lack of evidence, he decides to track down the men who set him up.

This character, played by John Payne, is our anti-hero and looming wrench in theives' works. He quickly picks up the trail of one of the robbers in Mexico, but the police have too. In trying to discover who framed him, Payne could look to these lurking cops as though he's a member of the gang—if they spot him, that is. When Payne sees an opportunity to adopt one of the robber's identities—no difficult task since they've never seen each other—he leaps at it, but this draws him in even deeper. He's now in danger from the men he's playing imposter to, while to the cops he looks like a participant in the robbery.

There are more twists, including a star-crossed romance with Coleen Gray, but we'll stop there. This is a nice, multi-layered film noir, with good performances all around. Considering the risk Payne has to take we aren't sure we fully buy his motivation, but once he's made the decision there's no easy way out, and it's fun to watch him threaten and beat his way up the chain to the top guy. Coleen Gray always adds a nice element to any movie she's in, and Lee Van Cleef is good in a tough guy role. The only serious blemish here may be the silly final minute, but you shouldn't let it ruin the film for you. We recommend giving this one a whirl.

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The Naked City Nov 30 2016
CAPTIVATING PERSONALITIES
Just because they're kidnappers doesn't mean they're bad people.

This FBI wanted poster was issued for Clarence Vernon Stevens today in 1937, in connection with a kidnapping case dating back to 1933. Clearly, the FBI were having no luck finding their target. In May 1933 Stevens and three accomplices had kidnapped Kansas City rich girl Mary McElroy right out of her bathtub one night and demanded a hefty $60,000 ransom from her father for her safe return. In the end they got $30,000, but they also got caught—all except for Stevens. While his accomplices were tried and sentenced to, respectively death, life, and eight years, police scoured the state for Stevens. Eventually they decided he might have hidden himself somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. The FBI got involved in the search, resulting in the above poster.

Mary McElroy had developed a bond with her kidnappers and lobboed for more lenient sentences for the three that had been caught on the grounds that they had treated her decently. She successfully petitioned Missouri governor Guy Brasfield Park to have the death penalty handed one of her captors commuted to life, explaining in a letter, “Through punishing a guilty man, his victim will be made to suffer equally. [snip] In pleading for Walter McGee's life I am pleading for my own peace of mind.” She was very likely being truthful about her mental state—after the event she suffered from all sorts of mental disorders, problems she attributed to concern for the imprisoned men she now considered friends. We're sure a modern headshrinker would have a more in-depth explanation, something along the lines of PTSD.

Whether McElroy's problems originated from the kidnapping itself or from subsequent anxiety concerning the state punishing them on her behalf, the rest of her life did not go well. She had several nervous breakdowns—as such incidents were called back then—never moved out of her father's house, and became addicted to opium. In January 1949 she committed suicide at age thirty-two by shooting herself in the head with a pistol. She left a note that read, “My four kidnappers are probably the four people on earth who don't consider me an utter fool. You have your death penalty now - so - please - give them a chance. Mary.” But her death brought about no change in her kidnappers' status. One had already been paroled as scheduled, but the other two remained in prison. As for Clarence Vernon Stevens, he was never caught.

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The Naked City Jan 20 2015
BAD GAMBLE
Even if it sounds like a bluff, don't call it unless you’re willing to lose everything.


This photo made today in 1959 shows a woman named Jessie Mae Noah, who Los Angeles police had arrested and were questioning in connection to a crime that had occurred seven weeks earlier. On that December night a Samuel Goldwyn Studios suit named Kenneth Savoy walked into the In Between Café on Melrose Avenue during the time two men—one holding a sawed-off shotgun—were in the process of robbing it. Having collected the money and valuables of eight patrons and the contents of the cash register, they demanded Savoy’s wallet, and perhaps having watched too many of his own movies, he replied that if they wanted it they’d have to shoot him. That hard-boiled response earned him a load of buckshot in the stomach. The robbers scampered to their getaway car—where Jessie Mae Noah was waiting in the rear seat—and fled the scene.

After police published composite sketches of the robbers in the newspapers, Noah contacted police, resulting in the photo op at top. The robbers—George Scott and Curtis Lichtenwalter—were arrested later (for those who wonder whether composite sketches are ever accurate, check the comparison between Scott and his likeness at bottom).

Scott had fled all the way to Texarkana, Arkansas, and gave up only after a shoot-out with police at a motel. Jessie Mae Noah claimed she’d had no idea her two acquaintances were planning a robbery, and that she had simply gone for a ride with them for kicks. She avoided a murder charge, but Scott and Lichenwalter were both found guilty of robbery and first degree homicide. Scott—the triggerman—was gassed to death by the state of California in September 1960. And as for the victim Kenneth Savoy, you have to wonder what he thought in that instant when the shotgun went off. We suspect he thought that maybe calling bluffs was something best left to the stars of action films.


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Femmes Fatales | Musiquarium Sep 27 2014
ROSE FROM OBSCURITY
And now, ladies and gentlemen, my next feat will be to make several career-killing mistakes.

Above is a 1957 promo photo of American dancer/singer Rose Hardaway, who came from nowheresville Arkansas and achieved international stardom that saw her perform on the glittering stages of New York, London, and Paris. Unfortunately, she also spent a lot of time in tabloids, district courts, and eventually federal prison, but perhaps we’ll get to that later. Instead, as a bonus, below is the sleeve of the 1960 album she made with The Sammy Lowe Orchestra It’s Time for Rose Hardaway, which has one of the great covers of the period.

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Next Page
History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
November 17
1973—Nixon Proclaims His Innocence
While in Orlando, Florida, U.S. President Richard Nixon tells four-hundred Associated Press managing editors, "I am not a crook." The false statement comes to symbolize Nixon's presidency when facts are uncovered that prove he is, indeed, a crook.
November 16
1938—Lysergic Acid Diethylamide Created
In Basel, Switzerland, at the Sandoz Laboratories, chemist Albert Hofmann creates the psychedelic compound Lysergic acid diethylamide, aka LSD, from a grain fungus.
1945—German Scientists Secretly Brought to U.S.
In a secret program codenamed Operation Paperclip, the United States Army admits 88 German scientists and engineers into the U.S. to help with the development of rocket technology. President Harry Truman ordered that Paperclip exclude members of the Nazi party, but in practice many Nazis who had been officially classified as dangerous were also brought to the U.S. after their backgrounds were whitewashed by Army officials.
November 15
1920—League of Nations Holds First Session
The first assembly of the League of Nations, the multi-governmental organization formed as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, is held in Geneva, Switzerland. The League begins to fall apart less than fifteen years later when Germany withdraws. By the onset of World War II it is clear that the League has failed completely.
1959—Clutter Murders Take Place
Four members of the Herbert Clutter Family are murdered at their farm outside Holcomb, Kansas by Richard "Dick" Hickock and Perry Smith. The events would be used by author Truman Capote for his 1966 non-fiction novel In Cold Blood, which is considered a pioneering work of true crime writing. The book is later adapted into a film starring Robert Blake.
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