Being good is okay, but being bad is a whole lot more fun.
We've seen May Britt in exactly one movie but we thought she was quite good in it. That was 1959's The Blue Angel. Above you see the Signet tie-in edition of Heinrich Mann's source novel, which was called Professor Unrat when it was published in Germany in 1905. Britt fronts this paperback looking alluring but a little shabby too, which is of course what her character is all about. You can read a bit about the film here.
May Britt is spotted in Triunfo magazine.
The Spanish magazine Triunfo wasn't the most graphically beautiful of magazines, but it did publish rare celeb photos, such as the colorful cover at top of an amazingly freckled May Britt, and the centerspread of Italian star Anna Karina. Elsewhere in the issue are shots from Marilyn Monroe's funeral, Paola de Bélgica's shopping spree, Ava Gardner's bullfight, and Catherine Deneuve's wedding, plus Betsy Drake, Cary Grant, James Dean, and current fashions. We've shared several of those rare Triunfo centerfolds in the past, and they're all worth a look. You can see them here, here, here, and 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.
On the first day of Christmas the Gazette gave to me—a Hitler.
Just in time to ruin everyone’s Christmas shopping, this National Police Gazette from December 1960 splashed Adolf Hitler’s face on its cover along with an inset of Swedish actress May Britt (who could hardly have appreciated the inclusion). George McGrath’s story minces no words, opening with this: Indisputable evidence that Adolf Hitler is alive and living in the Argentine has has been uncovered by the Police Gazette. Although this new information is in the hands of government intelligence chiefs, the United States and its allies are not lifting a finger to catch the runaway Nazi dictator.
By now you’re familiar with the basics: Hitler sent his possessions ahead to Mar del Plata, Argentina eighteen months before World War II’s end, later escaped Europe by u-boat, and set up shop with some of his top brass to begin plotting a return to the global stage. This particular version of the story managed to cleverly sneak in a shot at the Soviet Union, claiming Nikita Khrushchev didn’t want Hitler found. Considering the many millions of soldiers and civilians the Russians lost defeating the guy, that makes zero sense, but hey, this Gazette was published during the Cold War—Russia had to be blamed for everything.
This makes the twenty-second Hitler Gazette cover we’ve posted of twenty-nine we’ve found so far. Each story adds a little bit more to the labryrinthine tale of his daring dash to South America, but this is the first story we’ve seen claim that his capture would divide the Allied nations. Why? Because some would want him executed (obviously), while others would want him forgotten (not so obviously). The only rationale given for the latter position is that Hitler’s capture would open old war wounds. That’s pretty hard to swallow, but also beside the point. The point was magazine sales and the editors undoubtedly achieved that. We’ll have more from the Gazette later.
You wouldn’t mind terribly if we steal your nickname?
Today we have a January 1961 issue of Confidential for you, with cover stars Sammy Davis, Jr. and May Britt. Since we’ve already discussed Sammy and May of late, and even made her a recent femme fatale, we’ll skip past them and focus on another interesting story—the tale of Diane Harris, who shot to notoriety as a witness in the infamous Minot Jelke pimping trial of 1952. We wrote about it back in 2009—Jelke was an oleomargarine heir who was cut off from his trust fund and decided to turn his girlfriend Patricia Ward into a prostitute in order to make ends meet. Ward became known as the “Golden Girl of Vice” and “The Golden Girl of Café Society,” which is why it’s interesting that Confidential calls Diane Harris “The Golden Prostitute.” Apparently Jelke had the Midas touch.
Confidential wastes no time in its article. It begins: She gave herself a title… Lady Diana Harrington. The New York D.A. gave her another… the Golden Girl of Café Society. Houston police gave her a third, less flamboyant title… prostitute. Uh oh—the New York District Attorney’s nickname for Harris is identical to Patricia Ward’s nickname. After a few more paragraphs of reading, it becomes clear that Confidentialbelieves the Golden Girl is Diane Harris—not Patricia Ward. While it’s true that Harris did use some aliases, including Lady Diana Harrington and Mary Lou Brew, nowhere is the name Ward mentioned as a pseudonym.
After searching high and low for some idea of whether we were dealing with one woman or two, we finally saw in the IMDB page on the 1995 Jelke biopic Café Society that Patricia Ward and Diana Harris were played by separate actresses—Lara Flynn Boyle and Cynthia Watrous. So was there some confusion in 1961 about who exactly the Golden Girl was? Looking back at our original post on the subject, the photo of the Golden Girl on the cover of Hush-Hush shows a blonde. Confidential has numerous photos of their Golden Girl Diane Harris, and a single photo they identify as Pat Ward. Just plain Pat—no Golden, no nickname at all. And she’s a brunette. So not only does Confidential identify the Golden Girl of Café Society as Diane Harris—turns out so did that March 1961 Hush-Hush. We just didn’t realize it at the time.
Our mistake came when we first researched the Jelke trial and found a New York Times movie review that identified Pat Ward as the Golden Girl. From that point we just ran with it and never thought to doublecheck. Until today. Now, based on available evidence, it seems that at some point over the intervening years the historical record got twisted and the label Golden Girl was applied to Patricia Ward, where it stayed even up to thepoint of a Hollywood motion picture misidentifying her. She was indeed Minot Jelke’s girlfriend, whereas Harris was just a fellow high dollar prostie (and corroborating witness), so perhaps some clever scribe, or even the writers of the 1995 movie, decided that such a catchy nickname would be better applied to the girlfriend. At least that’s the way it looks to us.
If we’re right, is any of this important? Does it matter that Harris was fleeced of her nickname, or possibly that a movie took liberties and those liberties were later assumed to be facts? Do we expect an award? No, not really, but it’s interesting. Confidential barely recounts the events of the trial. The story is actually about Diane Harris being found dead in a Houston apartment eight years afterward, in September 1960. She was still a prostitute at the time. Confidential tells us: The blonde’s nude body was in bed, a green sheet and a pink blanket covered her. Pictures of herin more glamorous days were on the walls. An autopsy disclosed a large amount of morphine in her body. Police theorize that a combination of drink and drugs killed her.
Diane Harris had wanted the best life had to offer, and money meant everything. All her friends and acquaintances knew that about her. According to her maid, even at the end she still bragged about once being able to command fifty dollars per date. An obsessive desire for luxury drove her into the arms of rich, uncaring men, and eventually, in order to maintain her high flying lifestyle, into prostitution. The one piece of her that endured long after she died naked and surrounded by bottles and pills was her famous nickname—The Golden Girl of Café Society. But she eventually lost that too.
Since we were just talking about May Britt a few days ago, it seems like a good time to share this photo of her that appeared in the Spanish magazine Triunfo. Her name was spelled “Mai” in the magazine, and apparently it's pronounced “my,” not “may.” This shot dates from 1965.
What was it Shakespeare wrote about rough winds and May?
Above is a publicity photo of American singer/actor/comedian Sammy Davis, Jr. with his Swedish bride, actress May Britt. The shot dates from today in 1960, and as you might guess, that was a very bad time for mixed couples. Sammy had for years been making tabloid headlines for dating white women ranging from Tinseltown icon Kim Novak to Canadian singer Joan Stuart, but when he announced plans to marry Britt, a chunk of the general public lost its collective mind. He faced racist banners and chants in London, received rafts of hate mail, and was confronted in Los Angeles with the bizarre spectacle of three men marching outside the Huntington Hartford Theater in nazi regalia. Even two admirers, John and Robert Kennedy, allegedly asked Frank Sinatra to tell Davis to delay the wedding until after the 1960 presidential election.
Professionally, Britt had to choose between her career and Davis, because it was quite clear that she would never be hired in Hollywood if she married him. Some websites suggest that she lost little because she was a minor talent at best, but she had appeared in over a dozen films and had made the cover of Life magazine twice before even meeting Sammy, so her expectations of a strong run in Hollywood were in no way delusional. Obviously, she chose love over career, and wed Davis at his home in the Hollywood Hills. Some of the guests at the reception included Peter Lawford, Diana Dors, Barbara Rush, Janet Leigh, Leo Durocher, Shirley MacLaine, Milton Berle, and Edward G. Robinson, Jr. The marriage lasted eight years—not long in the real world perhaps, but an eternity by Hollywood standards.
The heart wants what the heart wants, the world tries to stop it.
Above is a colorful cover of the tabloid Top Secret, from this month 1960, with Sammy Davis, Jr. composited next to a woman the magazine says is his future wife, Canadian singer Joan Suart. But things change quickly in Hollywood. Davis had just broken off his engagement with Stuart and was already seeing Swedish actress May Britt, who he would marry in the autumn. In any case, Stuart doesn't look anything like Kim Novak, the world class beauty Davis had briefly been involved with and who he may well have been pining for since their split. We’ve mentioned the story before: when Novak was possibly the most famous woman in cinema, she and the Candyman started sleeping together. Her studio bosses weren’t about to risk the news reaching the public, so they spoke to some Mafia friends and had Sammy kidnapped to throw a scare into him. It worked, and the affair with Novak ended.
It gets worse. The Mafia then pushed Davis into a marriage with a black dancer—just to squelch the Novak rumors that had begun to crop up—and the union lasted less than a year. His marriage to May Britt lasted longer, about eight years, but even though Sammy had found a woman the Mafia didn’t care about, most other Americans were scandalized. It was driven by racism, of course, but it was also driven by that eternal desire to control women’s sexuality. Ask any woman you know, and she'll agree that men are always trying to tell her whom she can sleep with, irrespective of skin color. Davis thought he could handle the public fallout from his interracial marriage, but when John F. Kennedy caved in to political pressure and removed him from the bill of a White House party, it scarred Davis and led to the bizarre sight of him endorsing Richard Nixon and even hugging him on live television.
There’s a second interesting story here, about the child star Evelyn Rudie, left. Rudie was nine years old in November 1959 when, without telling anyone where she was going, she hopped on a plane for Washington, D.C., with the purpose of seeing First Lady Mamie Eisenhower. Rudie supposedly broke open her four piggy banks and collected $160.00 in change, which was just enough for a ticket to D.C. And why did she want to see the First Lady? Here’s what she said at the time: “When I saw Mrs. Eisenhower in Washington last year, she told me that her grandchildren and the President enjoyed my acting so much. So I decided to talk with her and see if she couldn’t get me a part in a film or television series.” That’s called going straight to the top. But Rudie never got to see the First Lady. Mainly, she just made headlines. And that’s the most interesting part about this—the headlines did not concern the fact that she had traveled alone, but that the whole scenario might have been a publicity stunt. How times have changed. Today, her parents might end up in jail for neglect. We’ll have more from Top Secret soon.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
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.
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.
1940—Trotsky Iced in Mexico
In Mexico City exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky is fatally wounded with an ice axe
(not an ice pick) by Soviet agent Ramon Mercader. Trotsky dies the next day.
1968—Prague Spring Ends
200,000 Warsaw Pact troops backed by 5,000 tanks invade Czechoslovakia to end the Prague Spring political liberalization movement.
1986—Sherrill Goes Postal
In Edmond, Oklahoma, United States postal employee Patrick Sherrill shoots and kills fourteen of his co-workers and then commits suicide.
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