The Naked City Aug 20 2019
NOCTURNAL WILD LIFE
Birdwell get wings clipped, ends up in cage.


It started as a fun evening, but twenty-year-old Joan Birdwell was later booked on charges of felony drunk driving, something that happened in Los Angeles today in 1951. And wouldn't you know it? Just to make matters worse, a photographer from the Los Angeles Examiner was on hand to document Birdwell's humiliation from beginning to end. In addition to her wild night ending with arrest and photographic infamy, she may have actually crashed her car, because a companion photo below shows her passenger Vernon Burgess in a hospital bed, though not seriously hurt.

Birdwell was the daughter of powerful press agent Russell Birdwell. L.A. tabloids obsessively sought good art, and a juicy jail photo of someone connected to a celebrity—however obscure that celebrity might have been—certainly qualified. Celebs, killers, thieves, and regular folk all got this treatment. We can't confirm that Examiner ever actually ran these shots. Either way they're out there now, thanks to the University of Southern California's online Examiner archive. Ah, the internet: where everything you hoped was long forgotten lives in mortifying perpetuity. Joan, if you're out there, sorry.

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Hollywoodland Jun 20 2019
FROM MUSCLE BEACH TO MURDER
Pageant winner fulfilled show business and personal ambitions. Then things went wrong.


Beauty pageants are a bit silly, perhaps, but the participants are generally ambitious people who see them as stepping stones to show business or modeling. And in mid-century Los Angeles in particular, even minor pageants occasionally led to stardom. In the above photos high school student Barbara Thomason wins the crown of Miss Muscle Beach 1954. Listed at 5 foot 3 inches and 110 pounds, she was a body-building enthusiast, and in the shot just below she celebrates her hard fought win by pumping a bit of iron while photographers click away and a crowd watches.

Did Thomason's victory lead to bigger things? Maybe not directly, but it probably helped. She was a habitual pageant participant who also won Miss Huntington Beach, Miss Van Ness, Miss Bay Beach, Miss Southwest Los Angeles, Miss Pacific Coast, Queen of Southern California, andten other titles. All that winning finally got her noticed by Hollywood movers and shakers. In 1955, performing under the name Carolyn Mitchell, she made her acting debut on the television show Crossroads, and in 1958 co-starred in two Roger Corman b-movies, The Crybaby Killer and Dragstrip Riot.

But she put her career on hold when she met and married a star—Mickey Rooney, who was nearly seventeen years her senior and nearly two inches her junior. Their union had problems from the beginning. The couple married secretly in Mexico because Rooney was still awaiting a divorce from actress Elaine Mahnken. They would have to wait almost two years before the law allowed them to wed in the U.S. Legalities, though doubtless bothersome, were the least of their problems. During the next six years, during which Thomason bore four children, Rooney indulged in numerous affairs.

It should probably be noted here that Thomason was Rooney's fifth wife. Among the predecessors were goddesses like Ava Gardner and Martha Vickers. We don't know what Thomason's expectations of marriage were, but clearly Rooney didn't know the meaning of the phrase “for better or worse.” The affairs continued, and eventually Thomason did the same with a temperamental Yugoslavian actor named Milos Milosevic, who performed under the name Milos Milos. But what was good for goose was not good for the gander—Rooney found out about these international relations, moved out of the Brentwood house he shared with Thomason, and filed for divorce, charging mental cruelty. The nerve, right?

On the morning of January 31, 1966, while Rooney was in St. John's Hospital recovering from an intestinal infection he'd picked up in the Philippines, Thomason and Milosevic were found together on the bathroom floor of the Brentwood house, dead. Milosevic had shot Thomason under the chin and killed himself with a temple shot using a chrome-plated .38 Rooney had bought in 1964. The consensus is Thomason had decided to dump Milosevic and he flipped out.

The photos below show Thomason on Muscle Beach during her halcyon years there, a mere teenager, frolicking in the sun, filled with youthful hopes for a good life. She won beauty titles, acted in films, married an icon, and had four children. Any of those accomplishments would have been good legacies. Instead her death at twenty-nine overshadowed all the rest, and she's remembered as another celebrity murder victim, Hollywood style, which is always somehow both sensational and banal.

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Vintage Pulp May 21 2019
NO BANG FOR THEIR BUCK
Brothers can you spare a production budget?


It's fair to suggest that most blaxploitation movies weren't good in the traditional sense. But The Dynamite Brothers, aka Stud Brown, which premiered in the U.S. this month in 1974, is probably close to the worst movie of the genre. It's a low budget The Wild Ones with a chop socky revenge thriller tacked on, and it has “rush job” scribbled all over it. Everything is off, from the direction to the screenplay to the sound effects. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it's films like this that helped kill blaxploitation.
 
Picture the first screening for the studio, Asam Film Company. Director Al Adamson managed to put up a brave front during the shooting schedule, but he's made his final cut and knows the movie is shit. He's cringing. He's slumped so low in his seat he looks like he's lost air pressure. He even considers scuttling for the exit during the second reel. If he stays low, like a crab, he might make it unseen. But he's still there when the lights come up, and various execs and investors are sitting around looking stunned. They're just white guys with money and don't know dick about this blaxploitation thing, so they have no idea what to think.

Finally someone ventures hopefully, “Was that good? Or...”

Someone else: “Al? Al? Where are you?”

Al: *sigh* “I'm down here.”

“What the hell are you doing on the floor?”

“Uh, my back. Laying flat helps with—”

“Were you hiding?

“I was just—”

“Are we fucked?

“Well....”

“Did you FUCK US?

He fucked them. The Dynamite Brothers was an unremitting disaster. It turned out to be the only movie Asam Film Company ever made. Co-star Timothy Brown in particular had to be disappointed with the final product, considering his film debut was the all-time classic M*A*S*H, in which he played Corporal Judson. Top billed Alan Tang also had to be bummed. Back in Hong Kong when he was first approached about the project, someone told him mixing kung-fu into a blaxploitation flick was a no-brainer. Halfway through the screening he began to wonder if he'd misunderstood the meaning of that term.
 
Nevertheless, somehow both he and Brown survived The Dynamite Brothers and went on to have long careers, which is a tribute to their talent and persistence. Al Adamson kept working too, which is possibly a tribute to filmgoers' short memories. But like Bran the Broken in Game of Thrones, allow us to serve as the memory for all humanity here—steer clear of this one like the un-defused bomb it is. Get a tactical robot to delete it from your movie queue. It's baaaad. We don't mean cool-bad or funny-bad. It's just bad-bad.

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Intl. Notebook May 14 2019
NOBODY WALKS IN L.A.
Going for a stroll in the city where feet and pavement rarely meet.


Above, random photos made from the 1930s through the 1960s of women on the streets of Los Angeles. Most of the subjects are regular people, but some are models, and you may recognize a celebrity or three. A couple of these are from a collection of photos documenting the city's killer smog, which is why you see a few people seemingly crying. Want more L.A. walkers? We have a set of Vikki Dougan shocking Angelenos with a dress cut down to her asscrack, and a single image of Ingrid Bergman strolling quietly in Bunker Hill. Check here for the former, and here for the latter.

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Vintage Pulp Apr 11 2019
NO SPEED LIMIT
You'll get nowhere fast with this book.


Popular Library made a habit of retitling novels if they thought the original was too esoteric. Many companies did it, but Popular Library had some notorious instances, including changing Ian Fleming's Casino Royale to You Asked for It. Speed Lamkin's The Easter Egg Hunt appeared in 1954 to reviews that ranged from cool to tepid, which was probably all the excuse Popular Library needed to rebrand and pulpify it for paperback release. Thus a year later Fast and Loose hit bookstores in a blaze of golden color from the exemplary brush of cover artist Rafael DeSoto, who was one of the top paperback illustrators going. This effort is typically flawless, and features the trademark textural background that makes his work so identifiable, such as here and here.

We gave Fast and Loose a read. You notice the cover quotes some reviewer or other saying the book is James M. Cainish. Lamkin is like Cain the way papier mache is like origami. They're both things you do with paper, but that's about it. Lamkin is more from the Capote or Fitzgerald schools of authoring. His book is also very similar to Ramona Stewart's forgotten novel The Surprise Party Complex, though Stewart's book came later. But both deal with the events of a summer in Hollywood. Where Stewart focuses on a trio of aimless teens, Lamkin writes about adults who, though they're producers, actors, and writers, are equally aimless, partying the days and nights away.

The main character Charley Thayer works for Life magazine, though never has work to do. He observes the celestial bodies in the orbit of wealthy Clarence Culvers, who has the best party house in Beverly Hills and is determined to make his young, volatile wife a star. The people in this crowd are shallow, selfish, and bigoted, and since Lamkin spent time in L.A. we can assume he's relating what he observed, or at least thought he observed. Frankly, these folks are all so tedious that when the expected tragedy finally occurs it's a relief to have one less horrible person in the world, even a fictional one. Speed needed a limit—to about two-thirds the number of pages. Then Fast and Loose might have worked.

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The Naked City Apr 3 2019
OUT BY THE IN DOOR
Yep, this guy's dead as hell. Too bad. He could sue the beer company for false advertising.


This photo, which is part of the archive of mid-century Los Angeles Herald press shots maintained by the University of Southern California, shows a suicide at the front entrance of Temple M.E. Church at 14th and Union in Los Angeles. The man was named Robert Palmer, and you can see that the poor guy shot himself in the middle of the forehead. You can also see that he bled profusely, which suggests his heart pumped for a bit before he finally died. L.A.P.D. detective Hugh Palmer (no relation) stands over him. Like many suicides Robert Palmer had a final drink before doing the deed. His choice? As you see in the zoom below, it was Lucky Lager, which conferred no benefits whatsoever. Maybe a rabbit's foot or a horseshoe would have been more effective. Or not. The photo is from today in 1957.

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Intl. Notebook Mar 9 2019
THE LADY IS A COP
Then I put him in a reverse choke until he pissed his pants and passed out. I see what you guys like about this job.


Above, a male and female cop casually talk shop in this photo made in Los Angeles around 1955. Last one to the Krispy Kreme buys.

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Intl. Notebook Jan 20 2019
CINEMA ROLL
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).

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Hollywoodland Jan 16 2019
HER DAY IN COURT
Your Honor, my client requests a continuance until next week. She's still a little hung over.


Sarah Churchill is in much better shape than when we last saw her. Here she appears in a Los Angeles court today in 1958 for a hearing concerning the drunken fiasco of a few nights earlier. Good thing the police station photos weren't entered as evidence. The judge would have been like, “Wow, you were crocked to the hairline, weren't you? Thirty days in jail. Next!”

We're not picking on Churchill. We've shown you many shots of crime scenes and court apearances and have commented about the unrestricted access photographers had back then. What we wanted to show today is what that unrestricted access looked like, and what a circus Los Angeles courts used to be for celebrities. Just look at the scrum below.

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The Naked City Dec 31 2018
THE LAST DAY OF CHRISTMAS
L.A. man ends the holidays with a bang.


We've always been fascinated by splatter shots from the mid-century period. When did someone finally decide people had a right to privacy even in death? We don't know, but we think it was a good idea. Before that change came about press photographers routinely tramped around crime scenes documenting mayhem for profit. These images show the aftermath of a murder-suicide that took place today in 1951. Pictured are L.A. cops Detective Lieutenant George A. Encinas and Detective Lieutenant Bill Cummings, along with the bodies of Charles Sullivan and his wife, identified only as Mrs. Charles Sullivan. Maybe a new year would have brought new hope to this household, but we'll never know, nor will we know exactly why Sullivan shot his wife and himself. The images are part of the always compelling collection of Los Angeles Examiner photos maintained by the University of Southern California.

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Next Page
History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
August 23
1942—Battle of Stalingrad Begins
The Battle of Stalingrad, perhaps the most pivotal event of World War II, begins. It lasts for more than six months, spread across the brutal Russian winter, and ends with two million casualties. The Russian sacrifice reduces the powerful German army to a shell of its former self, and as a result Nazi defeat in the war becomes a simple matter of time.
1979—Alexander Gudonov Defects
Russian ballet dancer and actor Alexander Borisovich Godunov defects to the U.S. The event causes an international diplomatic crisis, but Gudonov manages to win asylum. He joins the famous American Ballet Theater, where he becomes a colleague of fellow-defector Mikhail Baryshnikov, and later earns roles in such Hollywood films as Witness and Die Hard.
August 22
1950—Althea Gibson Breaks the Color Barrier
Althea Gibson becomes the first African-American woman to compete on the World Tennis Tour, and the first to earn a Grand Slam title when she wins the French Open in 1956. Later she becomes the first African-American woman to compete in the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
1952—Devil's Island Closed
Devil's Island, the penal colony located off the coast of French Guiana, is permanently closed. The prison is later made world famous by Henri Charrière's bestselling novel Papillon, and the subsequent film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.
1962—De Gaulle Survives Assassination Attempt
Jean Bastien-Thiry, a French air weaponry engineer, attempts to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle to prevent Algerian independence. Bastien-Thiry and others attack de Gaulle's armored limousine with machine guns, but after expending hundreds of rounds, they succeed only in puncturing two tires.
August 21
1911—Mona Lisa Disappears
Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, the Mona Lisa, aka La Gioconda, is stolen from the Louvre. After many wild theories and false leads, it turns out the painting was snatched by museum employee Vincenzo Peruggia.
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