Kenneth Anger explores Hollywood's darkest recesses in his landmark tell-all.
Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon is the grandaddy of all Tinseltown exposés. It was published in 1965, banned ten days later, and shelved until 1975. It's exactly as advertised, outing everybody that was anybody for everything. Entire chunks are devoted to Charlie Chaplain, Lana Turner, Errol Flynn, Fatty Arbuckle and other cinematic luminaries. Some of its claims have been proved false—for instance the assertion that Lupe Velez died with her head in a toilet, and that Clara Bow screwed the USC football team (we doubt anyone really believed that one, even back then). But other tales are basically true, including accounts of various legal run-ins and feuds.
Anger's writing is uneven, but at its most effective mirrors the type of pure tabloid style that influenced the likes of James Ellroy and others. Besides the salacious gossip the book has a ton of rare celeb photos, and those are of real worth. We've uploaded a bunch below. They came from a digital edition because our little paperback was too fragile to get on a scanner. By the way, don't feel as if we're working overtime on our website this Christmas morning—we uploaded everything in advance and are actually nowhere near a computer today. We're glad you took a minute to drop by. Copious vintage Hollywood below.
The past comes alive in vintage pop culture mag.
You have to admit—Pulp Intl. is one of the great time burning websites around. We're going to incinerate yet more of it today. Above is a cover from Look magazine, a chief competitor of the iconic Life. At the time this August 1937 issue appeared Look was headquartered far from the publishing hotbeds on the coasts, choosing to set up shop in Des Moines, Iowa. The editors claim 1.25 million in newsstands sales every issue. We don't know if that's true, but it was a high quality magazine, and this is a high quality example.
Inside you get Benito Mussolini, a ranking of Hollywood box office earning power, a special murder mystery for readers to solve, several pages of Gary Cooper, and a small photo feature on a German town that baptized every visitor, which is an interesting historical curiosity considering that in a devoutly religious country Hitler was successfully fanning the flames of hate against Jews. But “others” never seem to be included in any religion's definition of people deserving good treatment.
Elsewhere inside you get Mexican painter Diego Rivera with Frida Kahlo. Kahlo is referred to by Look editors merely as Rivera's third wife, “seeing to it that he is fed every few hours.” That may have been true, but today she's known throughout the world, recognized as an artist in her own right, which is a reminder that re-examining the past with an emphasis on those who were overlooked—a process some call “revisionism”—is a useful tool for getting things right. Numerous scans below.
Comic book icon Stan Lee goes Hollywood.
Nostalgia Illustrated was a New York City based magazine published by none other than comic book kingpin Stan Lee. It debuted in November 1974, with the issue you see here coming this month in 1975. It's exactly as its title suggests—a collection of vintage photos of American icons. We imagine Lee wanted to get into the burgeoning tabloid market, but one that didn't go full Hollywood gossip. Instead the stories are more along the lines of respectful bios, which makes it less tabloid than fanboy publication.
Except for the cover, its design is nothing special, but it contains a wealth of old Hollywood photos we haven't seen before, which makes it worth a share. You get John Garfield, Betty Grable, Marilyn Monroe (because what's a nostalgia magazine without her?), a youthful John F. Kennedy, and many other celebs. There's also a story on John Lewis Roventini, the “world's smallest bellhop” at four feet in height, who was famous in New York City for a time. All in thirty scans below.
Uncensored turns its unique journalistic eye toward Anita Ekberg.
There's nothing quite like tabloid writing, a fact once again amply demonstrated by Uncensored. This issue is from June 1963, and check out this short paragraph from its feature on Anita Ekberg: “This is the Uncensored story of how Prince Philip bagged a rare and exotic Scandinavian pouter pigeon. Though its native habitat is Sweden, this double-breasted dove prefers the warmer climate of Italy. It also migrates as far from home as London and Hollywood.”
Double-breasted dove? They don't write like that anymore, and a good thing too. It's sexist, of course, but the tabs were generally belittling of both females and males—though in different ways. Women were derided for dating around, such as when Uncensored refers to Ekberg as “Sexberg,” whereas men were usually disparaged for not being manly enough. That typically involved either being rebuffed by women, not scoring with enough women, or sexually preferring men. You see this in the story on Marcello Mastroianni, who's called “lazy” for passing on Brigitte Bardot. And you see it in the story on the United Nations, which is referred to as the “U.N. pansy patch.”
From the perspective of 2017, the heteronormative insecurity is pretty obvious. Men are to be prowling wolves, and any failure to live up to the ideal prompts insults; women are to be readily available for action, but not to other men. The story on Ekberg treads the line of admiring her beauty, but being suspicious about the freeness of her affections. There's a photo of her dancing with a black G.I. in Rome, and while the caption is neutral, in the context of the story the meaning of the shot is clear: “Ekberg will even dance with a black man!”
We love the photo. Ekberg looks a bit baffled, as if the soldier is telling her, “We'd be in mortal danger for doing this in most of the United States, you know,” and Ekberg is saying, “What the hell are you talking about?” The photo also shows how tall Ekberg was, almost 5' 7”, probably 5' 10” in heels, which is towering for an actress who needed to star alongside all those mid-sized leading men. We think this is the first time this image has appeared online.
Other elements worth noting in this issue include French actress and Pulp Intl. femme fatale Dominque Boschero as a mermaid, Marlene Dietrich looking dapper in a tux, Jayne Mansfield and one of her famed toy poodles, and burlesque queen Blaze Starr sudsy in a bathtub. There are plenty of other great shots too, and you can see them all below in nearly forty scans. Uncensored will return.
One thousand and one nights with Marlene.
Above, a photo of German actress Marlene Dietrich, mystical and regal, playing Lady Jamila in the 1944 Arabian Nights style adventure Kismet, aka Oriental Dream. The film is about a beggar who schemes to marry off his daughter to a member of the Baghdad royal court while himself wooing the Queen of the Grand Vizier's harem. It was one of nearly sixty motion pictures in which Dietrich appeared between 1919 and 1979. If you want to check out the dance number depicted in the photo, look here.
Desire is easy. It's fulfillment that's hard.
This unusual promo pamphlet was made for the Australian release of May Britt's romantic drama The Blue Angel, which opened Down Under today in 1959. 20th Century Fox's publicity department was calling it “one of the great classic films of all times,” though it had only been out a few months. The lesson here is never believe the publicity department. In the film, which is a remake of Marlene Dietrich's 1930 classic of the same name, Swedish bombshell May Britt plays a burlesque performer named Lola-Lola who dances and sings nightly at a smalltown cabaret called the Blue Angel. She draws the romantic attention of a prudish, perhaps even virginal, high school professor, and all kinds of complications follow, ranging from the good (love and romance) to the bad (scorn and unemployment).
It's been said that Britt was chosen over Marilyn Monroe for this role, but if that's true, we're looking at a remarkably different movie than Monroe would have made. For one thing, while financed by 20th Century Fox, the movie is set in Germany and everyone in it hails from somewhere in Europe. We can't imagine that was the plan if Monroe had starred, but as a remake of a German classic, we suppose it's possible. Anotherbig difference is that Britt is not in any way Monroesque. While both are blonde and beautiful, Britt has a knowing, grown-up, real-woman demeanor, her voice a throaty contralto, while Monroe played wiggly-hipped high-pitched kittenish to the hilt. We can only assume the role was intended as a departure for Monroe, and a major departure it would have been.
But this is Britt's film and one thing is sure—she has talent. This isn't a surprise. She had already been in thirteen movies by this point. The Blue Angel came out the year before she met and married Sammy Davis, Jr. She made one more movie then was out of show business until after she and Davis divorced eight years later. These would have been her prime moviemaking years, but she chose to be a wife and mother,and has commented of that period that she chose correctly. Yet The Blue Angel gives a strong indication what sort of star she might have been. 20th Century Fox may have jumped the gun calling the film one of the great classics of all times, but now that it's actually an old film, and it's undoubtedly good thanks to May Britt and the very capable Curd Jürgens, maybe that description isn't so far off after all.
Everybody who was anybody got inside.
Above and below, scans from the French show-biz and showgirl magazine Paris-Hollywood, issue 26, from 1948. The front cover features Marguerite Chapman, the rear Arlene Dahl, and in between you get Cyd Charisse, Patricia Roc, Martha Vickers, Alexis Smith, Anne Jeffreys, Luce Feyrer, Edwige Feuillère, Marlene Dietrich, and other luminaries. That's quite a collection of celebs. In upcoming years the magazine would spend more time on cabaret dancers, but its early issues were all about international stars. We picked up a few of these in Paris a while back and we’ll get to some detailed scans of those soon. In the meantime, you can see more from Paris-Hollywood here, here, and here.
They always say to aim high in life but I’ve found aiming low gets good results too.
Isa Miranda was born in Italy in 1909 as Ines Isabella Sampietro and by 1933 was acting in films. The next year she earned widespread acclaim in Max Ophüls’ La Signora di tutti, a role that paved the way for her to leap to Hollywood where she was billed as an Italian Marlene Dietrich. The above promo shows Miranda in character as Anna from 1939’s Hotel Imperial, a movie in which she shot nobody in the crotch, despite her low aim here.
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