She wanted fame and found it in the worst way.
Above is a photograph of actress Jean Spangler superimposed over an image of Fern Dell, which is a wooded area of Griffith Park in Los Angeles. Generally, this is labeled a vintage photo, but to our eyes it looks like the Fern Dell section is a contemporary shot, possibly even a digital one. Well, even if a blogger made this composite it's one of the most interesting Spangler images to be found. Today in 1949 the aspiring actress left her home to go to work on a movie set, stopped in a grocery store, and disappeared, never to be seen again. Her purse was later found in Fern Dell with a note inside: “Kirk: Can't wait any longer. Going to see Dr. Scott. It will work best this way while mother is away."
Spangler had just finished working on the film Young Man with a Horn with Kirk Douglas, so the note led to speculation about her relationship to the actor. Douglas was in Palm Springs at the time of the disappearance, and he was never a suspect, but Hollywood gossip centered around Spangler possibly having had an affair with him, getting pregnant, seeking an abortion, and dying during the procedure. Since none of the film studios had any record of Spangler being scheduled to work the night of her disappearance, it was clear she was going someplace in secret. In this telling the abortionists disposed of her body, though why they'd leave her purse in Griffith Park is a mystery.
Another theory had her running away with the gangster Davy Ogul. She had met him while working as a dancer at Florentine Gardens and had been seen in his company away from the club. He was under indictment and possibly facing prison time, so when he disappeared two days after Spangler, theorists put them together fleeing to Mexico or beyond. The problem with this idea is that Spangler had family and a five-year-old daughter in Los Angeles, which makes her simply running away forever, with no attempts to make contact, unlikely. It also fails to explain the purse and note.
The case stayed hot for a while, but after reward offers, thousands of police hours expended, speculative tabloid articles, and claimed sightings in California, Arizona, and Mexico City, authorities were baffled. In Texas a hotel clerk who claimed he'd seen Ogul with a mystery woman identified Spangler from a photo, but her photo had been in every paper in the U.S. by then. There were no firm answers anywhere. In the end Spangler's disappearance was never solved, leaving her another atmospheric Hollywood tale, and another cold case in the files of the LAPD.
Who'd like to help me perform a little experiment?
We've been seeing a lot of Sylva Koscina lately, haven't we? Well here's one of the biggest sex symbols of the 1960s again, this time on the front of an issue of National Enquirer that hit newsstands today in 1959. She says American men are boobs as lovers. Since she studied physics at university, we can only assume she used the scientific method to come to this conclusion—observation, measurement, experimentation, and repetition. We're sure there was no shortage of volunteers, and she was willing to revisit her conclusions, apparently, since after this cover appeared she hooked up Paul Newman, Kirk Douglas, and—it's rumored—Robert Kennedy. Who says science is boring?
Work hard, play hard, die young, live forever.
Dorothy Baker's hit 1938 novel Young Man with a Horn tells a story inspired by jazz cornetist Bix Beiderbecke, who, along with Louis Armstrong, was one of the most important early jazz soloists, but who drank himself to death in 1931, when he was only twenty-eight. Baker's protagonist is Rick Martin, who gets to live a couple of years longer than Beiderbecke before she knocks him off. Hope that didn't give too much away. The book was optioned by Hollywood and became a 1950 movie starring Kirk Douglas, which we talked about last year. The great cover, our primary interest today, was painted by British artist Josh Kirby, a legendary illustrator who during his long career did fronts for westerns, crime thrillers, James Bond novels, and non-fiction books, as well as creating many fronts and interior illustrations for sci-fi magazines. As you can see, he had a bold vision and a very confident hand. We'll keep an eye out for more of his work. This one is from 1962, for Corgi Books.
Run silent, run deep.
This Japanese poster for 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is damaged but still amazing. It was made for the 1954 movie's premiere in Japan today in 1955. Jules Verne's classic novel about Captain Nemo and his futuristic submarine has been mined often. There have been other films, a mini-series for television, a cartoon, and we understand a new cinematic version is in the works for 2017. We have low expectations for that. In today's Hollywood environment, with its thirst for bland global blockbusters, its aversion to storytelling depth, and its addiction to mindless and often pointless computer graphics, Verne's great story could finally be ruined. But we shall see. We're pretty sure the promo poster won't be as good either.
Kirk Douglas passes the century mark.
Kirk Douglas turned 100 years old today. To put it in perspective, that makes him ten years older than Marilyn Monroe would be today, and one year older than John F. Kennedy would be. Douglas's Hollywood career is virtually unmatched. He appeared in more than ninety roles, along the way playing boxers, jazz musicians, gladiators, aerialists, Vincent Van Gogh, and just about everything in between. We don't have a date on the above shot of him juggling film reels as easily as he juggled film roles, but let's just say when you're 100, you probably look back on it as a very good year.
Like Shakespeare wrote, what's past is prologue.
This unusual poster was made to promote the Spanish run of Retorno al pasado, a movie better known as Out of the Past. The title says it all. A man who thinks he's left his sordid past behind sees it rear its ugly head and threaten to ruin the good future he's planned for himself. Starring Robert Mitchum, Jane Greer, and Kirk Douglas, this is one of the top noir thrillers, in our opinion. Certainly it's one of the most beautifully shot, thanks to director Jacques Tourneur and cinematographer Nicholas Mesuraca. Like the poster art by Macario Gomez, the film is richly textured and lushly black, which makes for a nice sense of gathering danger, especially in the pivotal fight sequence about forty minutes in. Plus it has the always compelling Mexico connection used by many excellent noirs, as well as nice location shooting around Lake Tahoe and Reno. Highly recommended, this one. After opening in the U.S. in November 1947 it had its Spanish premiere in Madrid today in 1948.
If only their taste in mates matched their taste in music.
The Noir City Film Festival continues its challenging 2016 slate when it screens another pair of classics tonight—Love Me or Leave Me and Young Man with a Horn. Both are musical dramas, and though neither is a noir, both take viewers to dark places. In the 1920s period piece Love Me or Leave Me velvety-voiced Doris Day stars as a struggling chanteuse given a break by gangster James Cagney. He quickly becomes her manager and uses force to launch a national career, blind to the fact that she has real talent and can succeed with no strongarm man to back her. But Cagney doesn't see her talent—show business is gangsterism for him, and bullying is how he operates. When he finally bullies his way into marriage with Day his constant rage transforms her into an indifferent and isolated woman.
This is one of those movies that will, especially in a full house in San Francisco, trigger groans of distaste as Cagney ticks all the worst boxes of reprehensible human beings—treating women like meat, slapping them around, trying to obtain sex by force, dispensing emotional abuse, and using violence as a tool in every situation, against both women and men. But the audience may be just as hard on Day by the final reel forpossessing a level of forgiveness that is alien to people circa 2016. Love Me or Leave Me is an excellent movie—cringe inducing in parts, but deeply involving, and perhaps destined to be the most discussed film of the festival.
Day stars in Young Man with a Horn as well, singing again, this time with Kirk Douglas, who plays a gifted child musician who grows up to be an ace trumpet player thanks to the tutelage of an elder jazzman. Unfortunately he has a congenital inability to conform, particularly when it means playing dance band music over improvisational jazz. The arrival of a femme fatale—in the person of the awesome Lauren Bacall—brings a whole new set of troubles. The gender roles are reversed from Love Me or Leave Me, but the films each explore how a bad relationship saps the joy from the soul of an artist, and Day is winningly sweet in both.
Perhaps by now you’ve noticed the theme that has emerged with this year’s Noir City offerings—they are all about artists or their artistic output. In Rear Window and The Public Eye it’s photographers, in The Two Mrs. Carrolls it’s a painter, In a Lonely Place and The Bitter Stems deal with a screenwriter and journalist, Deception and Humroresque look at classical musicians, and The Dark Corner and Crack Up deal with art ascommerce and contraband respectively. The theme is nice, but once again two films will be screening tonight that present yet another challenge to noir purists attending this year’s fest. Both films are great, but we’ll be surprised if organizers stray this far from the form next year.
He who goes up must one day come down.
This beautiful poster for Vicente Minelli’s 1952 drama The Bad and the Beautiful was made for the film’s French release as Les ensorceles. A behind-the-scenes look at the rise of a legendary Hollywood producer, the story is told in triptych, with each section focused on someone the producer betrayed during his rise to the top. The three sections are wrapped in a framing device wherein the betrayed have been called together to hear the producer’s pitch for working together again. Of course, all of them are too angry to consider such a collaboration—at least at first.
The real attraction here is seeing 1950s Hollywood turn its camera inward for a look at the machinations behind the magic of movies. The cast—Kirk Douglas, Dick Powell, Lana Turner, Walter Pidgeon, and Gloria Grahame—range from excellent to adequate, and the story of ruthlessness being rewarded in Tinseltown has a contemporary feel. The saying goes that it’s best to be nice to everyone you meet on the way up because you run into the same people on the way down. Doubtless that’s true, but even better advice would be to never come down at all.
Turning our attention to the poster, you may notice that the design was inspired by the promo shot just below. Except—hold on a sec. Is that Douglas and Turner? No, it isn’t. It’s Gilbert Roland and super hottie Elaine Stewart. The producers must have liked their dance bit so much they decided to use it as inspiration for the promo art, basically putting Douglas's and Turner's heads atop Roland’s and Stewart’s bodies. That’s like being left on the cutting room floor, but somehow even worse. In Stewart’s case at least, we will be sure to get back to both her head and body. Les ensorceles premiered in France today in 1953.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1933—Capone Sentenced to Prison
Chicago organized crime boss Al Capone is convicted of income tax evasion after all other attempts to tie him to an assortment of crimes, from the mass murder of the St. Valentine's Day Massacre to widespread violations of the Volstead Act, fail. He is sentenced to eleven years in federal prison and, cut off from the outside world while on Alcatraz Island, his power is finally broken.
1964—China Detonates Nuke
At the Lop Nur test site located between the Taklamakan and Kuruktag deserts, the People's Republic of China detonates its first nuclear weapon, codenamed 596 after the month of June 1959, which is when the program was initiated.
1996—Handgun Ban in the UK
In response to a mass shooting in Dunblane, Scotland that kills 16 children, the British Conservative government announces a law to ban all handguns, with the exception .22 caliber target pistols. When Labor takes power several months later, they extend the ban to all handguns.
Pierre Laval, who was the premier of Vichy, France, which had collaborated with the Nazis during World War II, is shot by a firing squad for treason. In subsequent years it emerges that Laval may have considered himself a patriot whose goal was to publicly submit to the Germans while doing everything possible behind the scenes to thwart them. In at least one respect he may have succeeded: fifty percent of French Jews survived the war, whereas in other territories about ninety percent perished.
1966—Black Panthers Form
In the U.S., in Oakland, California, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale form the Black Panther political party. The Panthers are active in American politics throughout the 1960s and 1970s, but eventually legal troubles combined with a schism over the direction of the party lead to its dissolution.
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