Want to keep a secret? Don't try it in Hollywood.
We wonder if any modern celebrity romances will be talked about half a century from now the way the old romances were. The way the Taylor/Burtons and Monroe/DiMaggios were talked about. We doubt it. Mid-century Hollywood and public romance seemed go hand in hand, and near the top of the legendary romance pyramid perches Sammy Davis, Jr.'s and Kim Novak's doomed love. Why doomed? Not to put too fine a point on it, but a 1958 Gallup poll showed that a mere 4% of Americans approved of interracial marriage. Four percent! There has never been a scientific study that showed anything other than deeply entrenched racial inequality and animosity in the U.S., and that includes today. But four percent? That's the dark ages.
We've marveled over Kim Novak before, but in case you need a visual reminder look here. Yeah. So Sammy was smitten, and so was all of America. And Novak? She saw in Sammy... charisma maybe? It wasn't devastating looks. Even Davis spoke of himself disparagingly in terms of physical appeal. But he had it. Everyone said so. His it and Novak's it were magnetically attracted and led to a relationship they tried and failed to keep relatively quiet. It's here, though, where we must note that the many Hollywood insiders who say Davis and Novak were knocking boots don't include Novak. She claims they were never more than friends. But when two megastars continually show up—however discreetly—in public together, people will talk. More importantly, tabloids will talk. And perhaps most concerning of all, Whisper will talk.
The above issue published this month in 1960 purports to have new info about the maybe-affair that shook Hollywood to its foundations, and also claims to have the scoop on Sammy's post-Kim fling Joan Stuart. We've seen many stories about his Swedish wife Mai Britt—also called a Kim copy by tabloids—but this is the first we've seen about Stuart. She wasn't Davis's first post-Novak partner. He married actress Loray White in 1958, but divorced her in 1960. Rumor is he married her under duress, having been told by certain Mafia figures to marry a black woman or else lose another eye. Whisper says that story isn't true.
Stuart was a Canadian actress, just starting out in show business. Whisper gets quotes from her parents about their daughter's relationship with Davis, and they aren't supportive. Shocking as that may be. The magazine's final take is this: “Boy meets girl. Boy gets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy meets another girl just like the girl he had before. Boy gets girl. And boy seems to be going to keep girl.” Davis did want to keep her, telling friends and reporters he wanted to marry her, but their pairing didn't last. Stuart went on to appear in some television shows and one movie—1978's In Praise of Older Women—but did not have a notable career. Did romance with Sammy Davis, Jr. hurt her? You'd have to think so—with about 96% of the public. We have some scans below, and more from Whisper to come.
Spanish art for Casa número 322 may have traveled far from home.
We already showed you a beautiful yellow French promo poster for 1954's Pushover, starring Fred MacMurray and Kim Novak. Above is a cool blue Spanish language promo. This piece is signed MCP, which is the imprimatur used by the Spanish artists Ramon Marti, Josep Clave, and Hernan Pico. So is this a Spanish poster? Well, most online sites say so. But the distributor for Mexico is listed as Columbia Films S.A., and you can see that graphic right on top of the poster. The S.A., by the way, stands for “sociedad anónima,” and is a corporate designation, kind of like Inc., or LLC. The movie's distribution company for Spain is on record as plain old Columbia Films, with no S.A., so we think this poster was used in Mexico, where the movie played as La casa número 322, “house number 322.” There's no exact Mexican release date known for it, but late 1955 is a safe bet. All that said, there's no way we can claim to be correct with 100% surety that this is a Mexican poster. We're extrapolating.
Columbia had distribution branches in various Latin American countries. Its Mexican hub was the most important because Mexico had the most developed Spanish film market in the world. Yes, more than Spain, which was still recovering from civil war. Though dubbed or subtitled versions of foreign movies were routinely shown in Mexico, locally produced flicks were about 20% more popular at the box office on average, according to a 1947 report circulated by the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey. In fact, Mexican films were the most popular in all Latin America, particularly Cuba. Even in Mexico City, where U.S. and European films were more popular than anywhere else in the country, Mexican films took up more than 40% of exhibition time—again as reported by the U.S. Consulate. Why was the consulate studying this? Just wait.
The Mexican movie market isn't as competitive today. The decline was due to three main factors: political pressure that forced Mexico to submit to so-called free trade in mass media, suspicious difficulties obtaining raw film stock from the U.S. for movie productions, and, of course, dirty business tactics by Stateside studios. So that's where the consulate came in—gathering intelligence for both the U.S. government and U.S. business interests. Armed with alarming data about local preferences for local product, U.S. studios forced Mexican exhibitors into “block booking” agreements, which meant that if cinemas wanted to exhibit the best Hollywood films they were also contractually obligated to take on the worst. This was repeated all over Latin America, and those bad films, which were more numerous than the good ones, ate up exhibition hours and kept Mexican films off screens. Pushover, at least, was one of Hollywood's better films.
Mortal man finds himself at the whims of a goddess in 1954's Pushover.
We love this bold yellow poster for Du plomb pour l'inspecteur, which was originally made in the U.S. and known as Pushover. Most important item to note here is that this is Kim Novak's first credited role, when she was aged twenty-one and looked freshly delivered to Earth on a sunbeam. Fred MacMurray plays a cop assigned to get close to her in order to snare her gangster boyfriend. MacMurray is only mortal, unlike Novak, so he immediately falls in love with her and begins seeing her outside his official duties. Not long after that he's plotting to steal her man's cache of $210,000 in bank loot. That would be about two million dollars in today's money, which is no insignificant amount. Any man would compromise his principles for that, but he'd do so even more readily for a chance to nuzzle Novak. There are a lot of old movies out there that hinge on lust as a motivating factor, but in this one it really makes sense. Performance-wise Novak can't act well yet, but like MacMurray, you'll overlook her flaws. After opening in the U.S. in 1954 Pushover premiered in France today in 1955.
The Lowdown has the scoop on a fantastic plastic.
Today we're back to tabloids with an issue of The Lowdown published this month in 1962. The cover features Bob Hope goofing around, Elizabeth Taylor looking serious, Kim Novak nuzzling, and a random naked party girl randomly partying naked. Inside the issue are stories on Hope getting the hots for trans star Coccinelle in a French nightclub, Novak raking a series of suitors over the coals, and baseball players succumbing to greed. So much material in these tabloids, and so little time to highlight a story or two. But forced to make a choice, we're opting to discuss a piece on something called Scoobeedoo. How can we not? We all remember the cartoon, and now this story seemed guaranteed to tell us where the name of the legendary dog came from. We never knew we wanted to know that. But when we saw the word Scoobeedoo we realized, yes, we want to know.
Lowdown describes Scoobeedoo as a craze and a do-it-yourself gimmick. Apparently, it was popularized when French singer Sacha Distel wrote a 1958 song of the same name. But he didn't invent it—he just sang about it. The actual thing was invented by a French plastics company and called Scoubidou. It was basically a spool of brightly colored plastic cord that could be woven or tied to make—well, whatever you wanted. Youcould make lampshades, baskets, placemats, keychains. A California man famously used it to make bikinis. We imagine it would work for household repairs, light sexual bondage, whatever you needed it for. The stuff was as popular as the hula hoop for a while. Apparently figures in the electrical industry even complained that a shortage of wiring insulation was due to Scoubidou because it used the same type of plastic.
Readers above a certain age will already know about all this, of course, but we had no idea. We weren't around back then. And that, succinctly, is why we maintain this website—because we learn about a past we never experienced. But surprisingly Scoubidou isn't just the past. It apparently still exists. It even has a Wikipedia entry with examples of the many things you can make (but no bikinis). So this was a very informative issue of The Lowdown, all things considered. The only thing we're bummed about is that our Scoubidou research provided no actual confirmation that the cartoon dog Scooby-Doo got his name from the toy. But he had to, right? Maybe a reader has the answer to that. In the meantime we have more than twenty scans below for your enjoyment and other issues of The Lowdown you can access by clicking the magazine's keywords at bottom.
Update: a reader does have the answer. One of you always does. J. Talley wrote this:
The series was originally rejected by CBS executives, who thought the presentation artwork was too frightening for children and that the show must be the same. CBS Executive Fred Silverman was listening to Frank Sinatra's “Strangers In The Night” (with the scatted lyric “dooby-dooby-doo”) on the flight to that ill-fated meeting. After the show was rejected, a number of changes were made: the Hanna-Barbera staff decided that the dog should be the star of the series instead of the four kids, and renamed him Scooby-Doo after that Sinatra lyric. The spooky aspects of the show were toned down slightly, and the comedy aspects tuned up. The show was re-presented, accepted, and premiered as the centerpiece for CBS's 1969-1970 Saturday Morning season.
Thanks, J. That's another hole in our historical knowledge successfully filled in. Is it any surprise Sinatra was involved somehow? That guy really got around.
How can I be making your mouth water? I haven't even put the food in the pot yet.
This shot of superstar Kim Novak was made when she was filming Billy Wilder's 1964 comedy Kiss Me, Stupid. This was one of Novak's most memorable characters—Polly the Pistol, party girl with attitude, waitress at a roadhouse called the Belly Button, and sometime prostitute. The movie is worth it for her alone, but she happens to co-star with Dean Martin and he's always a bonus.
There's nothing harder than facing your worst fear.
The poster for Alfred Hitchcock's 1958 thriller Vertigo, designed by Saul Bass, is one of the most famous and influential promos ever made. Bass actually can't take full credit for it—he oversaw its creation, but the unique spiral pattern was made by John Whitney and the figures were drawn by Art Goodman. Bass and Co. made a couple of similar versions of the poster for the film's U.S. run. We showed you one a while back, and now the above version completes the pair. If you haven't seen Vertigo, we can't tell you much that hasn't already been written. Four years after starring in Rear Window Jimmy Stewart plays another damaged man for Hitchcock, a San Francisco detective who has of fear of heights, the result of a rooftop chase gone wrong. He later gets involved in a mystery that puts his acrophobia to the ultimate test. Many say this is Hitchcock's best movie. We don't think so, but it's definitely a landmark, particularly as it relates to co-star Kim Novak's role, its opening action sequence, and its reliance upon San Francisco locations to help tell its story. In fact, the latter aspect was why the film's world premiere took place in San Francisco today in 1958. Below you see some screen grabs, along with a beautiful promo poster that was made for the movie's run in India. Put Vertigo in your queue.
She had every reason to smile.
This photo shows U.S. star Kim Novak and it appeared in the men's magazine Escapade in April 1957 in a feature titled “Love Goddess: 1957.” The idea was simply that Novak was the biggest new sex symbol of the year, and the spread featured a half dozen shots. The one above is the best of the bunch, in our opinion. Since Novak had become spectacularly famous in 1956, had won a Golden Globe in 1955, and had begun scoring important co-starring roles in 1954, and because we can assume her studio Columbia Pictures wouldn't have wanted her to be associated with a cheesecake magazine, we can safely guess the Escapade photos predate her 1954 Columbia contract. They probably came from some obscure photographer who suddenly realized he had valuable commodities in his archives. Escapade doesn't give a date, but we'd say Novak looks about twenty. In Hollywood, stardom means old photos will always come out unless preemptively purchased by the star themself. The same thing happened to Marilyn Monroe when she got famous, except her photos were early nudes. Novak's were early smiles.
Uncensored turns its unique journalistic eye toward Anita Ekberg.
There's nothing quite like tabloid writing, a fact once again amply demonstrated by Uncensored. This issue is from June 1963, and check out this short paragraph from its feature on Anita Ekberg: “This is the Uncensored story of how Prince Philip bagged a rare and exotic Scandinavian pouter pigeon. Though its native habitat is Sweden, this double-breasted dove prefers the warmer climate of Italy. It also migrates as far from home as London and Hollywood.”
Double-breasted dove? They don't write like that anymore, and a good thing too. It's sexist, of course, but the tabs were generally belittling of both females and males—though in different ways. Women were derided for dating around, such as when Uncensored refers to Ekberg as “Sexberg,” whereas men were usually disparaged for not being manly enough. That typically involved either being rebuffed by women, not scoring with enough women, or sexually preferring men. You see this in the story on Marcello Mastroianni, who's called “lazy” for passing on Brigitte Bardot. And you see it in the story on the United Nations, which is referred to as the “U.N. pansy patch.”
From the perspective of 2017, the heteronormative insecurity is pretty obvious. Men are to be prowling wolves, and any failure to live up to the ideal prompts insults; women are to be readily available for action, but not to other men. The story on Ekberg treads the line of admiring her beauty, but being suspicious about the freeness of her affections. There's a photo of her dancing with a black G.I. in Rome, and while the caption is neutral, in the context of the story the meaning of the shot is clear: “Ekberg will even dance with a black man!”
We love the photo. Ekberg looks a bit baffled, as if the soldier is telling her, “We'd be in mortal danger for doing this in most of the United States, you know,” and Ekberg is saying, “What the hell are you talking about?” The photo also shows how tall Ekberg was, almost 5' 7”, probably 5' 10” in heels, which is towering for an actress who needed to star alongside all those mid-sized leading men. We think this is the first time this image has appeared online.
Other elements worth noting in this issue include French actress and Pulp Intl. femme fatale Dominque Boschero as a mermaid, Marlene Dietrich looking dapper in a tux, Jayne Mansfield and one of her famed toy poodles, and burlesque queen Blaze Starr sudsy in a bathtub. There are plenty of other great shots too, and you can see them all below in nearly forty scans. Uncensored will return.
Tabloid obsesses over Kim Novak on her psychiatrist’s couch.
In a story entitled “What Kim Novak Won’t Tell Her Psychiatrist,” this issue of Uncensored from April 1962 promises “the most intimate, revealing self-portrait of a guilt-tormented soul that you have ever read.” What does the magazine reveal? Apparently Novak’s father was disappointed to have had a daughter instead of a son. Novak’s father is portrayed as domineering and distant, and this relationship is cited as the cause of all her “neuroses,” from her preference for slacks and shirts over dresses and skirts, to her supposed shame over sex. Even her short hair is blamed on her father—she allegedly cut it off as an expression of self-loathing. But here’s the bit we love: “He is a father who raised no objection when nightclub entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr. showed up at Kim’s home in Chicago with a engagement ring one Christmas.” Yes, this father of hers was truly the lowest of the low.
The story goes on to describe all the various hells Novak put her employers and paramours through, reveals a lifetime of analysis beginning in childhood, and outs her for an alleged late 1950s stint in a psychiatric facility, where she received “mechanical tests”—i.e. an EEG. It finally ends on a melodramatic note: “Kim fled the hospital, fled the analyst, fled the dark memories. She went back to making movies, to throwing temper tantrums. And, on occasion, to more solid things. She went back to the loneliness she dreads. To the big house that is haunted by shapes, people, memories she dare not dredge up and face lest the strain be too much, added to other strains.” You’d almost think journalist Marian Simms was writing a Harlequin novel—a bad one.
Uncensored offers readers much more than Kim Novak. Journo Ken Travis takes down King Edward VIII and his wife Wallis Simpson in a story rather amusingly titled “Those Royal Money Grubbing Windsors,” raking them over the coals for being filthy rich but too stingy to even pick up a dinner check. Elsewhere in the issue Hitler’s Heirs author Paul Meskil offers a story claiming with 100% certainty that Nazi criminal Martin Bormann was hiding in Argentina. But embarrassingly, Bormann was nowhere near South America—he died in Berlin at the end of World War II, but his body wasn’t found and identified until 1972. You also get letters from readers, photos of Vikki Dougan doing the twist, trans pioneer Coccinelle showing off her cleavage, a really cool 8mm movie advert that bizarrely misidentifies a California blonde type as Romanian-Tatar dancer Nejla Ates, and more.
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.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1918—The Red Baron Is Shot Down
German WWI fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, sustains a fatal wound while flying over Vaux sur Somme in France. Von Richthofen, shot through the heart, manages a hasty emergency landing before dying in the cockpit of his plane. His last word, according to one witness, is "Kaputt." The Red Baron was the most successful flying ace during the war, having shot down at least 80 enemy airplanes.
1964—Satellite Spreads Radioactivity
An American-made Transit satellite, which had been designed to track submarines, fails to reach orbit after launch and disperses its highly radioactive two pound plutonium power source over a wide area as it breaks up re-entering the atmosphere.
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday
records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
1927—Mae West Sentenced to Jail
American actress and playwright Mae West is sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for the content of her play Sex. The trial occurred even though the play had run for a year and had been seen by 325,000 people. However West's considerable popularity, already based on her risque image, only increased due to the controversy.
1971—Manson Sentenced to Death
In the U.S, cult leader Charles Manson is sentenced to death for inciting the murders of Sharon Tate and several other people. Three accomplices, who had actually done the killing, were also sentenced to death, but the state of California abolished capital punishment in 1972 and neither they nor Manson were ever actually executed.
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