I'm smiling now, but if another man asks where my on button is located he'll regret it.
These photos show Elmina Humphreys bizarrely costumed as the official Radio Queen for the 1939 Radiolympia trade and consumer show, at which she greeted guests as a personification of the spirit of radio. This was held in London, and was the last Radiolympia before World War II forced a long hiatus. It's likely that Humphreys was a show business hopeful, but we found no mention of her anywhere except in reference to her appearance here.
This has been an amazing first date. Should we masturbate each other?
In this curious photo a British couple sports the latest in respiratory safety gear. You'd probably guess this is from World War II when German gas attacks were a worry, but it's actually from 1953 when the scourge of London was air pollution. We post it today for obvious reasons, and because we're wondering something. Crises sometimes change social mores. Could it be that because of this virus, kissing will be elevated to one stop short of sex, while a little manual-genital manipulation will become how you safely say good night? Or even better, good morning? Hey, our brains are always working overtime around here.
It's time for a Man to Man discussion.
Man to Man magazine was launched in December 1949 by New York City based Volitant Publishing, the same company behind Sir, Laff, and True. And indeed, sir, the magazine's a laff, true enough, not in the sense that it's terribly funny, but in the sense that it's wonderfully distracting. The issue you see here was published this month in 1952, with cover model Loris Pederson, and interior photos of other models, showgirls, and beauty pageant contestants, all striving for celebrity status, but all pretty much lost in the mists of time. Not that we're denigrating them in any way. With celebrity status usually comes financial independence, and the possibility of achieving that is reason enough to grasp for the brass ring, even if, like all the women here, you don't make it. Besides, we all grasp for that ring, one way or another. It's just that in show business, you do it in public.
Along with the many figures in Man to Man, there are also facts. At least, things purported to be facts. For instance, you learn that in 1952 London was the “world's largest paradise of prostitutes.” By definition, that sounds more like an opinion, but whatever. It struck us that only in a men's magazine would you come across the words “paradise” and “prostitutes” in the same sentence about civilization's oldest vice. There's also an article about taxi dancers, women who worked at nightclubs and took payment to dance with men. Apparently the going rate was a dime, and the article asks if the practice was immoral, its insinuation being that the practice groomed women for prostitution. We suspect most customers probably just wanted momentary companionship, but it only takes a minority of bad apples to spawn more vice, and those unpleasant men—like death, elections, and the end of baseball season—always seem to come around no matter what you do.
At least women get their revenge in this issue. An article on supernatural strength features art by Mark Schneider depicting an angry woman slinging a seated guy airborne across a room, chair and all. It's possible she had just learned what's in a typical men's magazine. If the photo had a caption it might be, “For the last time my name's not honey, cutie, baby, or sweetie!” We wouldn't even think of defending men's magazines from accusations of sexism—it's their overriding characteristic. But we will say that they're gold mines for Hollywood anecdotes that have been long forgotten and obscure celeb photos previously unseen online. Since many of our visitors are by now under some sort of quarantine or other, we recommend killing time with a digital stroll through our website, where you'll find many other men's magazine. We'll start you off with this one, this one, and this large group, plus, of course, the forty scans below.
Is there anything sweeter than a beautiful movie palace?
You probably recognize Grauman's Chinese Theatre, in Los Angeles. These days it's called TCL Chinese Theatre, because it's owned and operated by TCL Corporation—based in China, ironically. Since we write so often about movies we thought it appropriate to discuss the beautiful buildings in which the films were exhibited. Back in the day these were usually purpose-built structures, though some did split duty for stage productions and concerts. While many of these old palaces survive, nearly all surviving vintage cinemas in the U.S. were under threat at some point. Generally, if they hadn't been given historic protection they wouldn't be upright today.
Other times, if a city was poor, real estate costs didn't rise and old buildings stood unthreatened, usually idle. This happened often in the American midwest, where movie houses were neglected for decades before some were resurrected amid downtown revitalizations. It sometimes happens in Latin America too, although occasionally the formula fails. For example, Cartagena's majestic and oft photographed landmark Teatro Colón, located in the historic section of Colombia's most popular coastal tourist city, was torn down fewer than six months ago to make way for a Four Seasons Hotel.
Some of the cinemas below are well known treasures, while others are more unassuming places. But even those lesser known cinemas show how much thought and work was put into making moviegoing a special experience. The last photo, which shows the Butterfly Theatre in Milwaukee, exemplifies that idea. The façade is distinguished by a terra cotta butterfly sculpture adorned with light bulbs. As you might guess, many of the most beautiful large cinemas were in Los Angeles, which means that city is well represented in the collection. Enjoy.
Paramount Theatre, Oakland (operational).
Cine Maya, Mérida (demolished).
The Albee Cinema, Cincinnati (demolished)
Cooper Theatre, Denver (demolished).
Paras Cinema, Jaipur (operational).
Cathay Cinema, Shanghai (operational).
Academy Theatre, Los Angeles (operational).
Charlottenburg Filmwerbung, Berlin (demolished).
Pacific's Cinerama Theatre, Los Angeles (operational).
York Theatre, Elmhurst (operational).
La Gaumont-Palace, Paris (demolished).
Essoldo Cinema, Newcastle (demolished).
Théâtre Scala, Strasbourg (operational).
Teatro Colón, Cartagena (demolished in 2018).
Teatro Coliseo Argentino, Buenos Aires (demolished).
Pavilion Theater, Adelaide (demolished).
El Molino Teatro, Barcelona (operational).
Fox Carthay Theatre, Los Angeles (demolished).
Kino Rossiya Teatr, Moscow (operational).
Nippon Gekijo, aka Nichigeki, Tokyo (demolished).
Cine Impala, Namibe (operational).
Cine Arenal, Havana (operational).
Teatro Mérida, Mérida (operational, renamed Teatro Armando Manzanero).
Ideal Theater, Manila (demolished).
Odeon Cinema, London (semi-demolished, converted to apartments).
Mayan Theatre, Los Angeles (operational).
Rex Cinema, Port au Prince (being restored).
Urania Kino, Vienna (operational).
Tampa Theatre, Tampa (operational).
The Butterfly Theater, Milwaukee (demolished).
Biggers isn't always better but he tried.
What's an agony column? Basically it's a newspaper feature in which readers writes messages to other readers. For example: “Regular at Main Street Cafe who takes her coffee every weekday morning just before 9:00. Would you be amenable to meeting a certain gentleman who has admired you from afar?” You get the idea. The “agony” in the terminology derives from the fact that people who write in generally are suffering from some sort of heartache or other.
The Agony Column is basically an epistolary mystery, in which a man writes letters to the crush he contacted through a London newspaper's agony column, and details his involvement in a puzzling murder case. It's a very esoteric set-up for a novel, and besides mystery there's a dose of cute romance. Nearly the entire book takes the form of the main character's letters, though some sections are conventionally written.
The nature of the novel requires more suspension of disbelief than usual, simply because nobody really writes letters with detailed, multi-character dialogue, but once you get over that hurdle it works pretty well. There are other hurdles. About London's Chinatown the main character writes, “Not only the heathen Chinee so peculiar shuffle through its dim-lit alleys, but the scum of the earth of many colors and of many climes. The Arab and the Hindu, the Malayan and the Jap, black men from the Congo and fair men from Scandinavia.”
Ouch. That brought the cuteness to a screeching halt. But readers should note that Biggers evolved, and would later create the Chinese American detective Charlie Chan partly as a counter to racist portrayals of Asians. The books were popular, but as the decades progressed people soured on them because Chan too is a racial stereotype. It's difficult for authors to write characters—especially outside their own ethnic group—that stand up over time as social mores change. But they keep trying, and should, in our opinion. What would fiction be like if they didn't?
The Agony Column has plenty of positives. Being set on the eve of World War I in a London gripped by tension over the looming global hostilities lends it atmosphere, and the mystery itself contains a few surprises we doubt most readers will foresee. It's also a short tale, which keeps the epistolary gimmick from wearing thin. We think it's worth a read. The Agony Column originally appeared in 1916, with this Avon edition, illegibly signed by the cover artist and unattributed inside, coming in 1943.
Confidential sinks its teeth into the juiciest celebrity secrets.
Confidential magazine had two distinct periods in its life—the fanged version and the de-fanged version, with the tooth pulling done courtesy of a series of defamation lawsuits that made publisher Robert Harrison think twice about harassing celebrities. This example published this month in 1955 is all fangs. The magazine was printing five million copies of each issue and Harrison was like a vampire in a blood fever, hurting anyone who came within reach, using an extensive network spies from coast to coast and overseas to out celebs' most intimate secrets.
In this issue editors blatantly call singer Johnnie Ray a gay predator, spinning a tale about him drunkenly pounding on doors in a swanky London hotel looking for a man—any man—to satisfy his needs. The magazine also implies that Mae West hooked up with boxer Chalky White, who was nearly thirty years her junior—and black. It tells readers about Edith Piaf living during her youth in a brothel, a fact which is well known today but which wasn't back then.
The list goes on—who was caught in whose bedroom, who shook down who for money, who ingested what substances, all splashed across Confidential's trademark blue and red pages. Other celebs who appear include Julie London, Jack Webb, Gregg Sherwood, and—of course—Elizabeth Taylor. Had we been around in 1955 we're sure we would have been on the side of privacy rights for these stars, but today we can read all this guilt-free because none of it can harm anyone anymore. Forty panels of images below, and lots more Confidential here.
There's a special beauty in the city when it glows.
This is a brilliant shot of U.S. singer/actress Julie London, an icon during her time who's been just a bit forgotten in this new millennium. She made something like forty movies, a body of work that gives you numerous options to choose from, but for our money we like her brief cameo in the neglected Jayne Mansfield comedy The Girl Can't Help It. You can read a bit about the movie here, and more about London when we hopefully revisit her later.
The dancers of the chorus line request your attention.
This is the fifth issue of Cancans de Paris we've shared. The magazine is fast becoming a favorite. It has that mix we like—celebs, showgirls, and cartoons. It's similar to magazines such as Paris Hollywood and Gondel, but with a simpler layout and all black-and-white photography. This issue is from July 1966 and features Gila Golan on the cover, and inside are Julie London, Mireille Darc, and others from the acting profession. You also get Sally Ann Scoth, Karin Brault, Juanita Sanchez, and other colleagues from the dancer side of show business. The entire issue appears below in thirty panels, and you can see the other issues by clicking the appropriate keywords at bottom.
Sabrina covers her biggest assets.
Every once in a while we run across stories about Hollywood stars insuring their body parts. A couple of examples: Bette Davis was famous for her small waist and insured it against weight gain for the equivalent of $400,000; and 1920s comedian Ben Turpin, who was famously cross-eyed, took out a policy of similar value should his eyes ever straighten. National Enquirer insists on this cover from today in 1960 that British star Sabrina, aka Norma Ann Sykes, insured her breasts. The tabloid is in fact correct—she allowed her manager Joe Matthews to insure her endowment with Lloyd's of London for £UK100,000. In today's cash that would be about £2.4 million, or $3.2 million. You may think that's excessive, but when's the last time your boobs caused a riot? Unfortunately the weight she carried on her torso led to chronic back pain and a failed attempt at a surgical fix that left her in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. She died in obscurity last year. It was a sad ending for the former sex symbol. But once upon a time she was a one-name star—just Sabrina—and a global obsession.
That was interesting. Next time can we just do it the normal way?
There's no festish sex or podophilia in With Naked Foot. This is actually a serious novel about whites coming to ruin in Africa, which is a crowded literary niche, but one in which Emily Hahn carved out an important place for herself. In fact, maybe the adjective “Hahnesque” should be used alongside “Hemingwayesque.” This is a person who wrote fifty-four books and more than two hundred articles and short stories, whose works were significant in romanticizing Africa and Asia for western readers, who lived in Florence and London in the mid-1920s, traveled to the Belgian Congo where she worked for the Red Cross, lived with a pygmy tribe for two years, crossed Central Africa alone on foot, and journeyed to Shanghai where she taught English for three years while becoming acquaintances with political powerhouses the Soong Sisters and the Chinese poet Zau Sinmay. With Naked Foot is, therefore, unusually well informed. It revolves around a beautiful Congolese girl named Mawa whose relationships with various lustful white men bring disaster. The reviews were rapturous, though some critics protested that it was too focused on sex. That's never a complaint you'll hear from us, though some of the usual flaws of mid-century racial fiction are evident. The cover art on this Bantam paperback was painted by an unknown, and the copyright is 1951.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1965—UFO Reported by Thousands of Witnesses
A large, brilliant fireball is seen by thousands in at least six U.S. states and Ontario, Canada as it streaks across the sky, reportedly dropping hot metal debris, starting grass fires, and causing sonic booms. It is generally assumed and reported by the press to be a meteor, however some witnesses claim to have approached the fallen object and seen an alien craft.
1980—John Lennon Killed
Ex-Beatle John Lennon is shot four times in the back and killed by Mark David Chapman in front of The Dakota apartment building in New York City. Chapman had been stalking Lennon since October, and earlier that evening Lennon had autographed a copy of his album Double Fantasy for him.
1941—Japanese Attack Pearl Harbor
The Imperial Japanese Navy sends aircraft to attack the U.S. Pacific Fleet and its defending air forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. While the U.S. lost battleships and other vessels, its aircraft carriers were not at Pearl Harbor and survived intact, robbing the Japanese of the total destruction of the Pacific Fleet they had hoped to achieve.
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