We get to the beach so rarely, shame to waste the trip. Who's up for a swim before we haul this stiff to the morgue?
Today in 1954 a man named Nathaniel Smith who was walking on Venice Beach in Los Angeles spotted something floating in the surf behind the breakwater of the old Venice Pier. He waded into the ocean and discovered the something was a person. Smith pulled him to shore, but the man was already dead, a victim not of drowning but of a gunshot wound to the head. Was he a murder victim or a suicide? There's no info available on that, nor on his identity. Whoever he was, we bet he never could have imagined thousands of people would be looking at photos of him nearly a lifetime later. We're doing that thanks to the University of Southern California, which holds these and tens of thousands of other images in its archive of Los Angeles Examiner press photos. You can see many more shots from the collection by clicking its keywords below.
The walls close in on a cop and his witness in a trainbound crime thriller.
Another b-movie makes good, as inexpensive little film noir The Narrow Margin turns out to be an excellent expenditure of time. It's built around a great premise—tough cop Charles McGraw is tasked with escorting the widow of a gang lord from Chicago to Los Angeles to testify in a graft probe. A shadowy cabal of crooks plans to stop this at all costs, so the question is whether McGraw can get his witness to L.A. alive.
The widow/femme fatale is played by Marie Windsor of the cool Kubrick noir The Killing and the not-cool prison break thriller Swamp Women, and here she has a role perfectly suited for her as a jaded and selfish mobster's moll. She oozes cynicism as McGraw tries to reconcile his hatred for her with his duty as a public servant, but there's more to her than he knows, and Jacqueline White as another passenger is full of surprises too.
With much of the film taking place in the various cars and compartments of a train, the visuals and title mirror each other, and the same is true thematically, as the killers slowly close in, creating increasingly constrained circumstances for McGraw. With clever noir stylings, a plot that draws you in from the first minutes, and a surprising switcheroo, The Narrow Margin is a winner. It was remade in 1990 with Gene Hackman and Anne Archer, but the first and better version premiered in the U.S. today in 1952.
Let's see, I'll need one bullet for my blackmailer... one for my betrayer... a couple for his henchmen...
Above is a rare promo poster for the film noir Cry Danger, starring the ever reliable Dick Powell, face of such classic winners as Pitfall and Cornered. In this one he plays a criminal tossed into prison for a robbery and murder he didn't commit, but who's released when someone provides the courts with an alibi. To Powell's surprise, this rescuer isn't someone he knows, but rather an opportunist who figures to benefit when Powell goes after the hidden holdup loot. Powell, though, really didn't commit the crime. He was framed, so he goes about trying to clear his name. Since that necessarily means locating the cash, he finds himself an unwilling and unlikely asset of the police, who are following him night and day. That's a good set-up for a movie, and with competent acting assured thanks to Powell's participation, along with that of Rhonda Fleming and William Conrad, you end up with a solid film noir that generates all the anticipated darkness and personal disaster. The movie looks good too, thanks to first time director Robert Parrish and cinematographer Joseph F. Biroc. Much of it is set in a Bunker Hill trailer park with a nice view over Los Angeles, including Chinatown. Two thumbs up on this. IMDB and AFI disagree on the premiere date, but we'll go with IMDB because it specifically mentions the premieres took place in New York City and Birmingham, Alabama. That was today in 1951
There's not much you can do when the river runs dry.
Above is a vintage photo taken in the concrete basin of the Los Angeles River showing police detectives standing near an unidentified corpse. Some websites call this a suicide, but if you look closely you can see that the body is pretty far from the bridge. If this person committed suicide, it wasn't by jumping. The photo first became publicly known thanks to a photographic 2019 exhibition by the Lucie Foundation, which shared 79 other shots of a similar type. They all came from a collection of about 2,000 photos taken by LAPD personnel between 1925 and the mid-1970s. This is a lonely end for a man, which the handwritten date tells us was today in 1955.
Which is louder—his shotgun or his wardrobe?
Above you see two posters for the blaxploitation flick Hit Man, which premiered in the U.S. today in 1972 and stars NFL player-turned-actor Bernie Casey as a man from Oakland who blows into L.A. to investigate his brother's murder. His brother ran a used car lot, but had gotten on the bad side of some local criminals. How he did that, who these bad people are, and what they're up to are the questions at the crux of the narrative, and when Casey finally learns the truth he's horrified and infuriated in equal measure, which turns him into a leisure-suited revenant with murder in his eyes and a gun in his hands.
What is neither horrifying nor infuriating is that Pam Grier is in this, which makes it a must watch in our book, and she holds nothing back, sporting a quantum leap forward in afro science, and proving once again that she was a fearless performer. Nevertheless, she and Casey can't make Hit Man good despite their best efforts. But on the other hand, it isn't awful either, and in the middle isn't a bad place to be in b-cinema, considering how deeply terrible the films can get.
Hit Man has a couple of miscellaneous notes of interest. A bit of filming takes place at Watts Towers, Simon Rodia's italo folk art monument that was designated a historic site in 1990. We've seen the place in person and we loved it because its mosaics reminded us of the type you see on modernist architecture in Barcelona. The production photo of Grier in a long black dress, below, was shot at the site. It's one of the most famous images of her, and one of the most badass too.
Hit Man also makes use of a location called Africa America, an open air animal preserve of the type made famous by Tiger King. We can't find any trace online that it ever existed, so there's no way to know for sure whether it was a real zoo, an MGM set, or something in between, such as a private ranch dressed up for filming. But it plays an important role in the plot, as do its hungry lions. If they'd eaten a few of the worst script pages, and a couple of bad supporting actors, and maybe Casey's purple leisure suit, Hit Man might be better than just okay. But lions are finicky like all cats, and most amateur film critics.
Unknown person takes an unplanned trip to nowhere.
A lot of places in the U.S. probably aren't having an official Halloween this year, but there's no reason we can't get a bit morbid on Pulp Intl. as the 31st approaches. The photo above shows a body wedged into a trunk, in a state of partial decomposition, found in Commerce, in Los Angeles County today in 1951. The town is usually referred to as the City of Commerce, and it falls into the jurisdiction not only of the local police, but also the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. It was the latter that dealt with the body, carting it off the LASD Crime Laboratory.
Decomposition made identification a challenge. Medical examiners cut off its fingers and preserved them in alcohol to try and get prints. The body also had a dental bridge, which police hoped would lead to a breakthrough. But when all was said and done, it was a tip from the public that actually broke the case. The victim was Margaret Kelley. Her killer, who you see in photos under arrest and in court below, was John M. Kelley.
We don't have more info on the crime, the cause of death, or the outcome of the court proceedings. We suspect, due to the names involved, that this was a case of domestic murder, but we can't find confirmation in newspapers of the period—at least not ones that are accessible to us. Despite the dearth of facts, we thought the photos were unusual, and perhaps even appropriate for Halloween 2020, one of the least pleasant years on record. So there you go—trick or treat!
Hello? Is this the Screen Writers Guild? We need a script doctor, and fast.
Calling Homicide, which premiered today in 1956, is a little known procedural crime drama about two cops who try to solve a Tinseltown murder and stumble upon other heinous crimes. It starred Bill Elliot, and was one of four movies in which he played the same character—Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department homicide detective Andy Doyle. In true b-movie fashion, these four films hit cinemas in a rush—between December 1955 and April 1957—and as you might guess, when you churn flicks out that quickly things like deep characterization and plot complexity take a back seat. But Calling Homicide isn't bad. It just lacks distinction.
The truth is, we watched this solely because of Kathleen Case, who we think is real purty. But her role, while pivotal, is also minimal, despite her second billing. For an actress with numerous credits there isn't a ton about her online. She's probably best known for an automobile accident. On February 5, 1967, six years after her most recent acting job, she crashed her car into actor Dirk Rambo's, and he burned up in the fire that resulted. She was charged with felony drunk driving and manslaughter, but at trial she was found not at fault. She wasn't at fault in Calling Homicide either. Like her co-stars, she did her best. But you can only overcome so much.
Man tries to catch train, train catches him instead.
These photos show an unfortunate man named John Heldt, Jr. trapped under a Pacific Electric freight car in Gardena, California. Getty Images has this listed as happening August 7, 1951, but the USC digital film archive where the image is stored has the date as today. We trust USC over Getty, but whenever it happened, it was a bad day for Heldt, maybe not the worst of his life, but certainly in the top five, we can be sure. His rescuers had to bring in special equipment to lift the train off him, so he was probably pinned for hours, his indignity compounded by the fact that a Los Angeles Examiner photographer made these snaps of him. “Can you hold that pose? Heh heh, that's a joke, see, because you can't move at all, you poor, stupid sap!” There's no info on whether Heldt recovered, nor whether he lost any body parts. Still, as bad as this looks, it's better than flying Ryanair.
She barely stomached Hollywood.
Adele Jergens, who appeared in I Love Trouble, The Corpse Came C.O.D., The Dark Path, and numerous other films, got her start in show business, like so many actresses of her era, when she won the a beauty contest—Miss World's Fairest, at the 1939 New York World's Fair. Later, as one of the famed Rockettes dancing troupe, she was named the number one showgirl in New York City. This led to her serving as understudy to burlesque dancer Gypsy Rose Lee in the Broadway production Star and Garter, and from there Jergens never looked back. That's probably why she forgot half of her sweater. This fun image of her with bare midriff was made in Los Angeles in 1946, by the pool at the famed Town House Hotel, a locale we've talked about more than once. Find out why by clicking its keywords below and scrolling through those posts, and you can do the same with Jergens if you want to see what else we've posted about her.
Up and coming actress gets weeded out of Hollywood.
It was during wee hours, today in 1948, that fledgeling actress Lila Leeds was arrested, along with Robert Mitchum and two others, for possession of marijuana. The photo above was shot at her Hollywood bungalow a few days later to accompany a Los Angeles Times article about the arrest. Leeds was out on bail, and was given the opportunity to explain the circumstances around that fateful night. Her home had been portrayed in newspaper accounts as a party spot for drug users, a characterization she denied. She explained to Times readers that she'd rentedthe place because it was feminine, and because it had space for her two dogs. She also admitted that she used marijuana, which considering she hadn't gone to trial yet maybe wasn't a great idea. When Leeds had her day in court she was convicted of “conspiring to violate state health laws,” and sentenced to sixty days in jail. Robert Mitchum went to jail too, and fretted that his career had been ruined, but it was Leeds who never got another shot in Hollywood, apart from a role in the 1949 drug scare movie Wild Weed, aka The Devil's Weed, aka She Shoulda Said No. And indeed, she probably shoulda said no, because in 1948 a woman who got out of her lane was always severely punished if caught. But even if the drug conviction cost Leeds her career, she remains part of Hollywood lore, and though that's small consolation, it's still more than most can claim. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1926—Aimee Semple McPherson Disappears
In the U.S., Canadian born evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson disappears from Venice Beach, California in the middle of the afternoon. She is initially thought to have drowned, but on June 23, McPherson stumbles out of the desert in Agua Prieta, a Mexican town across the border from Douglas, Arizona, claiming to have been kidnapped, drugged, tortured and held for ransom in a shack by two people named Steve and Mexicali Rose. However, it soon becomes clear that McPherson's tale is fabricated, though to this day the reasons behind it remain unknown.
1964—Mods and Rockers Jailed After Riots
In Britain, scores of youths are jailed following a weekend of violent clashes between gangs of Mods and Rockers in Brighton and other south coast resorts. Mods listened to ska music and The Who, wore suits and rode Italian scooters, while Rockers listened to Elvis and Gene Vincent, and rode motorcycles. These differences triggered the violence.
1974—Police Raid SLA Headquarters
In the U.S., Los Angeles police raid the headquarters of the revolutionary group the Symbionese Liberation Army, resulting in the deaths of six members. The SLA had gained international notoriety by kidnapping nineteen-year old media heiress Patty Hearst
from her Berkeley, California apartment, an act which precipitated her participation in an armed bank robbery.
1978—Charlie Chaplin's Missing Body Is Found
Eleven weeks after it was disinterred and stolen from a grave in Corsier near Lausanne, Switzerland, Charlie Chaplin's corpse is found by police. Two men—Roman Wardas, a 24-year-old Pole, and Gantscho Ganev, a 38-year-old Bulgarian—are convicted in December of stealing the coffin and trying to extort £400,000 from the Chaplin family.
1918—U.S. Congress Passes the Sedition Act
In the U.S., Congress passes a set of amendments to the Espionage Act called the Sedition Act, which makes "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the United States government, its flag, or its armed forces, as well as language that causes foreigners to view the American government or its institutions with contempt, an imprisonable offense. The Act specifically applies only during times of war, but later is pushed by politicians as a possible peacetime law, specifically to prevent political uprisings in African-American communities. But the Act is never extended and is repealed entirely in 1920.
It's easy. We have an uploader that makes it a snap. Use it to submit your art, text, header, and subhead. Your post can be funny, serious, or anything in between, as long as it's vintage pulp. You'll get a byline and experience the fleeting pride of free authorship. We'll edit your post for typos, but the rest is up to you. Click here
to give us your best shot.