Some people wait for success to come. Some people go out and grab it.
Lou Marchetti painted this cover for Chance Elson by W.T. Ballard, and as always does a good job. This came in 1958, and by then Ballard, who had been publishing since the days of Black Mask magazine, was an extremely experienced author. All that practice shows as he weaves the Depression-era tale of a Cleveland nightclub owner who's driven out of business and town by the mafia and crooked cops, fetches up way out west in a wasteland city called Las Vegas, and tries to build a hotel/casino empire. His rival in this endeavor turns out to be the same mafia thug who precipitated his departure from Cleveland.
There's an interesting subplot here involving Elson taking in an orphaned girl of fourteen named Judy, who grows into a beautiful woman and the main love interest. Because she had escaped from a reform school, he at first passes her off as his younger sister, but as she nears adulthood it's pretty clear to most that Woody and Soon-Yi—oops, we mean Chance and Judy—have something more than guardian/ward feelings for each other. As you might suspect, in the deadly game of dueling casinos that develops between Elson and the mafia, she becomes the pawn.
Chance Elson has a timeline that runs for over a decade, so the book moves beyond the boundaries of most crime thrillers into life story territory, and a major theme concerns whether Elson, who's trying to keep a growing Las Vegas from being overrun by organized crime, can win that battle without becoming as bad as those he seeks to thwart. Or more to the point, his business dealings hinge upon ruthlessness, but his personal dealings and opportunity for true love hinge upon becoming a better human being. Are there flaws in the book? Well, we weren't happy with certain aspects of the woman-in-danger subplot. But like we said, Ballard was experienced. His fictional retelling of the rise of Sin City is expert work.
Whole lotta Lola going on.
This photo shows U.S. actress, dancer, and singer Lola Falana ready for a dip in unidentified waters, doing a nice turn to give the photographer an over-the-shoulder look. We figure the distinctive building in the background reveals where this was made, but we can't identify the structure. We can, however, tell you when the photo was shot. It's from 1967, early in Falana's career, when she was working in Italy in such films as Lola Colt. She would later become one of the biggest stars in Las Vegas, eventually pulling in $100,000 a week for a residency at the Aladdin. Yeah. She was rolling in it. Below, in a photo from the same session, she pre-jumps for joy over her impending earnings.
Climate change dredges up grim evidence of crimes thought long forgotten.
Earlier this week in Nevada, someone ambling along the shoreline of Lake Mead found a corroded oil drum that had a nasty surprise inside. Police determined that the contents were human remains, and that the poor individual died of a gunshot wound sometime in the mid-1970s to early 1980s. Whoever killed the person dumped the body deep into the lake—actually a huge reservoir formed by Hoover Dam—but because of an ongoing drought in the western states, the water has in recent years dropped more than a hundred feet below its maximum, revealing tracts of previously submerged land. Authorities believe that as the water level continues dropping they'll find more bodies. And why is that? Well, Las Vegas is nearby.
In a related story, somewhere in Sin City an elderly mobster awoke from an afternoon nap in a sweaty panic, put his hands to his painfully throbbing head, and said: “I felt a great disturbance in the Force. It's as if a voice I thought was silenced decades ago suddenly cried out in terror.” Silence doesn't always last. For sure that'll be the interesting part of this—seeing if modern forensics can identify the body, a good possibility considering the advances of recent decades. And of course identification might lead to suspicions about who dumped it.
The elderly mobster later phoned a slightly less elderly hitman and ranted, “You told me it'd never be found!” To which the hitman said, “Who am I? Nostra-fuckin'-damus? I'm supposed to know the goddamned lake's gonna dry up? You still getting chauffeured around in that old Cadillac? I got a hybrid, so don't blame me!” To the list of problemscaused by global warming, add grisly corpses reappearing, and former hitmen virtue signaling about their carbon footprints. Which the mobster was too old to understand anyway. “Hybrid? You know I never worked with them! I never liked them, and I never trusted them!”
Plenty of mob-connected people have disappeared from Las Vegas over the decades. As pulp aficionados we have to hope they're all in the lake. Seriously, wouldn't it be fantastic if like seventy bodies turned up? Meanwhile, we bet there's an uptick in local bottled water sales. While it's true the reservoir's output is purified before it gushes through city faucets, and the nuclear testing grounds and chemical plants scattered around Vegas have probably left worse than corpse pathogens in the lake, images of human remains tend to give people a special kind of willies. You can purify the water, but you can't purify people's natural fear of death and decay. Since nothing serious is actually being done about global warming, we at least recommend a more sustainable form of victim disposal. When trouble looms, hide the evidence better. It's time to innovate, Gen Z—older generations have failed.
Who can take a casino, walk in sight unseen, eliminate resistance, and collect up all the green? The candyleg. Oh, the candyleg can.
We just finished our second Ovid Demaris novel. The man could write, and his plot set-ups are compelling too. His 1961 mafia thriller Candyleg, also published as Machine Gun McCain, tells the story of McCain, an Alcatraz lifer, who's unexpectedly paroled and told it's so he can mastermind a Las Vegas casino robbery. Jack Falcon, the young and ambitious boss of the western states, wants the casino robbed because it's run by someone he dislikes. McCain is willing, plus he owes a debt for his release, but he soon learns that there are tricky crosscurrents.
Falcon has no doubt McCain can and will rob the casino, but knowing McCain is too independent to share information, Falcon commands his girlfriend Irene to keep McCain close—as in between the sheets—and report back everything going on. McCain, by the way, is Falcon's father. Why do they have different last names? Daddy issues. In any case, he's sending his girlfriend to lay his dad in order to pry info loose about the heist to relay back. It's precarious, family-wise, but high stakes require extraordinary efforts. Falcon needs the best for the heist, and his dad is the best.
Unfortunately, the controlling interests in the casino, who are all headquartered back east, catch vague wind of something related to their valuable and 100% legal investment, and one of their top bosses comes to town to impress upon Falcon that there can be no turbulence of any sort in Vegas—on pain of death. Absolutely, says Falcon, even as he's sweating the fact that McCain, who wants one big score followed by retirement in South America, has gone off-grid and is unreachable. Falcon is counting on Irene to keep in contact, but will she? She doesn't like her boyfriend nearly as much as she likes his dad.
We recommend this thriller. It has interesting characters, a lean but involving plot, good action, good movement, and a lot of moral ambiguity. In the crime fiction genre, Demaris is top notch. At least so far. We'll see if he can keep his streak going. Oh, and what's a candyleg, by the way? It doesn't have anything to do with Irene, though you'd think so reading the front cover blurb. It means a soft touch, and Irene uses it to describe McCain at one point. It's an interesting term, but she's wrong. McCain isn't soft. He's as tough as they come, and so is Demaris's fiction.
For there were no more worlds to conquer.
Above: a crowd of spectators standing under the entrance sign of the Last Frontier Village on the Las Vegas strip watch the flash from a nuclear blast emanating from the Nevada desert. In the immediate background are Old West-style buildings that housed shops, restaurants, and the Golden Slipper Casino. The sign is a nice juxtaposition by lensman Volkmar Wentzel, placing his shot at the nexus of visual metaphor and social commentary.
The bomb, named Annie, was detonated at Yucca Flat at the Nevada Test Site as part of the test series Operation Upshot-Knothole. It was one of the most photographed of nuclear tests, which is why we've already touched on it here and here, and in fact, because the event was even documented on kinescope, it's one of the few recordings ever made of the sound of a nuclear explosion. Below you see what Annie looked like for people closer to ground zero. It happened early this morning in 1953.
Heavy is the head that wears the oversized platinum blowout.
This photo shows Hollywood bombshell Jayne Mansfield sporting an astonishing candyfloss coiffure backstage at the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas in 1964. The hair—let's just say it—is fucking strange and must have taken at least an hour to sculpt, but also befits her larger-than-life stature. When you're as big a celebrity as she was you have to set tongues wagging every time you appear in public, because once they stop it's all over. The game remains unchanged today, but few have played it as well as Jayne.
Just a little something to help pass the time.
Above is the cover of an issue of National Informer Reader published today in 1974. Some people will tell you that the trans community is a new thing, but it isn't, and we know because vintage tabloids have been obsessed with the subject for more than sixty years. If you don't believe us check here, here, here, here, and here. Reader visits the topic with a story on trans entertainer Jennifer Fox. In cheap tabloids the stories were often made up, but Fox existed. She underwent gender reassignment in 1968 and became a burlesque dancer in Las Vegas. In other stories she's noted that once knowledge of her change became widely known, interest in her exploded and she became a star attraction. The only thing is, we don't think the photo Reader printed is Fox. Her face looks wrong, Fox was usually blonde, and not many burlesque dancers posed frontally nude after becoming famous—it would have devalued the moneymaker. Probably Reader never actually spoke to Fox. The editors simply knew a useful story when they saw it, and used a handout photo that looked good. When it comes to tabloids in this tier almost nothing is 100% accurate. Scans below.
The temperature goes up but everything else goes down hard in low budget action flick.
We're drawn by cool promo posters, but even though there's nothing special about the cheap-ass art for the 1976 blaxploitation flick Black Heat, we had to watch it anyway because we love low budget vintage cinema. It's like panning for gold. Usually you end up disappointed, but occasionally you find something shiny and nice. Black Heat stars Timothy Brown, who we last saw in an epic disaster called The Dynamite Brothers, aka Stud Brown, that probably should have ended his cinematic career. But here he is two years later still riding the blaxploitation wave. He plays Kicks Carter, an L.A. cop trying to get to the bottom of illegal activities at a fancy hotel, keep his partner's born loser girlfriend out of gambling trouble, and make time for romance on the side. Considering the bad luck Brown had with The Dynamite Brothers we'd love to tell you Black Heat is a major step up in his career. It isn't. It's terrible. The only spark is provided by co-star Tanya Boyd, who you may remember from her eye popping turn in Black Shampoo. Anything she's in, we'll gladly watch, because as far as heat is concerned her dial goes to eleven. But she about covers the positives here. Well, her and the fact that the movie features one of our favorite sights from ’70s cinema—the car that goes over a cliff with a dummy in the driver seat. It's a good metaphor for the film—basically driverless, destined to crash and burn. Black Heat premiered today in 1976.
This is what happens when you send a dancer to do a killer's job.
This is just ridiculous from Cyd Charisse. She has nowhere near proper shooting stance. Her base is totally off. She doesn't have her firearm properly braced. Where do you even start with this? She isn't going to hit anything. Luckily, she didn't have to rely on marksmanship to make a living. Instead, she danced and acted in numerous hit movies, including Singin' in the Rain, Brigadoon, and The Silencers. This image was made as a promo for her 1956 musical Meet Me in Las Vegas, which was a who's-who of musical talent, including Lena Horne, Liliane Montevecchi, Frankie Laine, the Four Aces, Sammy Davis, Jr., and others. Interestingly, it was also known as Viva Las Vegas, a decade before the Elvis movie. We can already picture Elvis fans raising an interjecting finger, but it's absolutely true. We explained it way back in 2011, and if you check out that write-up you'll also see Charisse in a slightly better shooting stance. She still won't hit anything. But at least she's on two feet.
It's not an arms race until there are fireworks.
Proving once again that people will buy anything, especially if it's cheap, above you see a postcard depicting the nuclear test Fox, which was conducted as part of Operation Ranger today in 1951. The operation comprised five tests, all in aerial bomb form, dropped and detonated over Frenchman Flat test site in Nevada. The postcard was manufactured by the Desert Supply Co. of Las Vegas, which makes sense because this is exactly what happens to your wallet if you go to Vegas.
Since the postcard image a a bit faded, below we have an actual shot of the test in all its insane crimson splendor. Only these devices have the ability to send civilization back to the stone age. Global warming, a pandemic, anything else you care to name, falls well short. And the nuclear arms race is ongoing, as several atomic powers are recklessly upgrading and expanding their arsenals. Want to see another interesting image of this event? Look here. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
NBC radio broadcasts the cop drama Dragnet for the first time. It was created by, produced by, and starred Jack Webb as Joe Friday. The show would later go on to become a successful television program, also starring Webb.
1973—Lake Dies Destitute
Veronica Lake, beautiful blonde icon of 1940s Hollywood and one of film noir's most beloved fatales
, dies in Burlington, Vermont of hepatitis and renal failure due to long term alcoholism. After Hollywood, she had drifted between cheap hotels in Brooklyn and New York City and was arrested several times for public drunkenness and disorderly conduct. A New York Post
article briefly revived interest in her, but at the time of her death she was broke and forgotten.
1962—William Faulkner Dies
American author William Faulkner, who wrote acclaimed novels such as Intruder in the Dust and The Sound and the Fury, dies of a heart attack in Wright's Sanitorium in Byhalia, Mississippi.
1942—Spy Novelist Graduates from Spy School
Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond novels, graduates from Camp X, a training school for spies located in Canada. The character of Bond has been said to have been based upon Camp X's Sir William Stephenson and what Fleming learned from him, though there are several other men who are also said
to be the basis for Bond.
1989—Oliver North Avoids Prison
Colonel Oliver North, an aide to U.S. president Ronald Reagan, avoids jail during the sentencing phase of the Iran-Contra trials. North had been found guilty of falsifying and destroying documents, and obstructing Congress during their investigation of the massive drugs/arms/cash racket orchestrated by high-ranking members of the Reagan government.
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