Ex-footballer Fred Williamson finds hits in cinema a bit more elusive than hits on a gridiron.
Above is a poster for the blaxploitation movie Mr. Mean, which hit cinemas this month in 1977. First, the title. Mr. Mean. We don't like it. It doesn't project the dignity of Mr. Majestyk, the approachable earthiness of Mr. Ed, the dystopian oppressiveness of Mr. Robot, the humor of Mr. Bean, the cultural examination of Mr. Baseball, the weirdness of Mr. Meaty, the paternalism of Mr. Skeffington, the righteousness of They Call Me Mr. Tibbs!, and, most importantly, the melodic promise of the forgotten ’80s pop band Mr. Mister. In short, Mr. Mean just sounds like a movie about a guy nobody wants to know.
It was written, produced, and directed by ex-NFL bonecrusher Fred Williamson, and long story short, directing a film is just a little more complicated than spearing wide receivers as a defensive back. He should have done better, since this was his fifth go-round of nearly twenty in the director's chair. Possibly the studio messed up his final cut. Or, considerably more likely, it was a disaster from the snap. Problem one: there's an unbelievable number of scenes of Williamson going from point A to B, either by car on on foot. If all the transit scenes were cut the movie would be ten minutes shorter. Problem two: every actor in the film is made of wood.
But we made it through this interminable slog across a fireswamp of first year film student errors for two reasons—Williamson himself, who has charisma and actually does mostly okay in the lead role, and his co-star Crippy Yocard. Both are great looking and many viewers will probably dig him, her, or both. Yocard in particular was one of the more free-spirited Italian stars, which she proved by posing for numerous extremely nude photos, including this one. Back yet? Now just imagine what the others are like. Maybe there's even a third point of interest with the movie—it feels a bit arthouse, which makes it a curiosity within the blaxploitation genre.
Notice we haven't discussed the plot? Fred didn't even know what it was, so how can we? Basically, he plays a fixer living in Rome who takes jobs come what may, but is asked to cross the bright white ethical line and kill a guy. He doesn't want to do it, but he needs the money, the target is supposedly a real asshole, and so forth. Despite the hackneyed premise, a decent movie could have resulted, but it feels as if an investor backed out halfway through and Williamson and crew found themselves stuck up the Tiber River with neither paddles nor budget.
So what's the upshot here? Williamson gets to strut and whip ass, Yocard gets naked, and arrogant white villains get obliterated. All good things. An unexpected aspect is that the legendary funk band Ohio Players get the soundtrack duties and close the movie with “Good Luck Charm,” which is a song so good it almost erases the memory of them opening the movie with a laughably bad theme song called—guess?—“Mr. Mean.” What can be said? Even musical geniuses will fumble when pressured. As for Williamson—he just dropped the ball. Which is why he was a defensive back in the first place.
Genetics or athletics? She'll never tell.
Bet you thought all women in the mid-century era were soft and lush. Well, Suzanne Ames, née Suzanne Ainbinder, is tight as a drum and proves it by donning a barely there outfit made of flowers, gossamer, and some overtaxed stitching. She was never more than a bit player in Hollywood, but she had a good career as a dancer in New York City, which is probably where she got the abs. She later founded the Suzanne Ames Landry Performing Arts Studio in Akron, Ohio. First lesson for students—crunches. This photo is undated, but from the early 1950s.
Police have their work cut out for them.
The photo above—which we maybe should have warned you about in advance, but whatever—shows a human heart that was found in Norwalk, Ohio yesterday, leaving police wondering whether it was evidence of a crime. Actually, a crime was clearly committed—littering. But police are wondering if perhaps some major felony might also have occurred—murder, manslaughter, and improper disposal of a body top the list.
The heart was found discarded in a Ziploc bag like so much stew meat—probably could have warned you about that photo too, er, sorry—and while intact, had a pronounced odor of putrefaction. Have a look at that work surface in the top photo, by the way. Try not to think of that next time you go to your supermarket butcher. When our kitchen cutting board gets that scored and stained we generally replace it, but maybe budgets are tight in Norwalk.
Random organ discoveries aren't a new thing in the U.S. Several years back we talked about a heart found in a Michigan car wash, a potential crime that went unsolved, as far as we know. You can see that write-up at this link—warning, photo of random discarded human organ. Norwalk police decided to go public today with their discovery in the hopes of generating leads. Within hours hundreds of area wives had called in to report that their husbands were missing hearts.
Sightings of bizarrely garbed figures have South Carolina residents baffled and worried.
A rash of scary clown sightings have occurred in the U.S. in the last week in the state of South Carolina, mainly in Greenville and Spartanburg counties. The encounters have varied from clowns attempting to lure children into the woods, to a pair of citizens chasing two clowns into a waiting car driven by a third clown. The photo above is an actual shot made by a man in Greenville, which he posted to Twitter with the caption, “Just spotted a major freak behind Fleetwood Apts.” The building happens to be ground zero for some of the clown sightings.
The favored explanation online for all this weirdness is that it's a publicity stunt for the new Rob Zombie horror movie 31. If that's the case, we've done our part for Rob by sharing the promotional poster just below. But assuming these sightings are publicity stunts, doesn't that seem like a very serious risk to take? American cops are trigger happy, and it isn't glitter and confetti that comes out of their guns. Let's say instead of a clown getting ventilated, though, he was arrested. For what, we aren't sure, since it isn't illegal to offer kids candy, which is what reports say one of the clowns did—but whatever, clown gets arrested. All the suspect would have to say is, “I'm a clown, it's true, but not that clown.”
Absent fingerprints (“No prints, sir, he must have worn gloves.”), shoe prints (“The casts are finished, sir—he wore size 37.”) or DNA (best not to think about that), only an admission of guilt could connect the arrested clown to the previous clowns. Or maybe police could stage a line-up. Of clowns. Bring in a tearful witness. “Yes, officer it was the one on the far left. I'm sure of it. I'll never forget *sob* his big red nose.”
Our guess is that these sightings are one of those instances of bizarro cultural programming, like the one that causes UFO or Bigfoot sightings. Rogue clowns have been reported lately not just in South Carolina, but in Ohio, Wisconsin, California, and even jolly old England. For our part, we hope the sightings simply stop. We don't need to get to the bottom of them. If they're real, we don't want to know who (doubtless one or more smug white guys, though) figured it was a perfectly fine idea to dress in a weird costume and terrify bystanders—this in a country where people wearing nothing more than dark skin end up shot for jaywalking. Which raises the question: if a clown were to be shot, would it be tragic, tragicomic, or just plain comical? Guess it depends on how you feel about them.
What's heartless, barely talks, and weighs 250 pounds? Normally, a man, but in this case it's a man-like machine.
Elektro the Moto-Man and Sparko his dog were made by the Westinghouse Electric Corporation and displayed at the New York World's Fair in 1939 and 1940. Seven feet tall and weighing 250 pounds, Elektro could walk, smoke cigarettes, count, and unleash simple quips like, “My brain is bigger than yours.” Sparko, well he just barked, as dogs are wont to do. Probably he smoked too, if his circuits got too hot. Elektro may not seem impressive now, but at the time he amazed millions of visitors to the New York Fair. The hole in his chest was not built there in homage to Frank L. Baum's heartless Tin Man, but so spectators could see there was no operator inside working his levers and gears. Possibly the hole grew larger when World War II's metals shortages prompted Westinghouse to scrap plans to build him a female companion. Today Elektro resides at the Mansfield Memorial Museum in Mansfield, Ohio, where Westinghouse was once based. And little Sparko, well he's gotten lost, as dogs as wont to do. The photo dates from 1939.
Ghost hunter hit by train while searching for creature said to lure victims in front of trains.
A few days ago in Louisville, Kentucky a woman was hit and killed by a train, but this was no ordinary accident. Twenty-six-year-old Roquel Bain and her boyfriend had come to Louisville to take part in a ghost hunting tour of an abandoned sanitarium, but first decided to investigate a local legend—the Pope Lick Goatman. This cryptid is said to use a hypnotic gaze to lure victims onto the Pope Lick Trestle, where they are then hit by a passing train. Bain and her companion walked onto the trestle and shortly thereafter a train came along, as they tend to do about every half hour, according to locals. Bain's boyfriend was able to hang from the edge of the structure as the train passed but Bain was hit and hurled one hundred feet onto the valley floor.
The Goatman legend has the hallmarks of a high school stunt that grew over the course of years. Since locals are aware that trains pass frequently, we suspect the game decades ago was to simply cross the trestle before one came along. A bridge that long, a schedule that tight, it was a reasonable bet everyone would have to run for their lives at some point. Fun and games. But dangerous ones, with occasional deaths. At that point the Goatman story probably came into being to provide motivation to risk the trestle, or maybe someone just dreamed it up to explain why people were always crazy enough to be up there. “There must be some weird lure for these people,” someone comments. “Like what? A siren?” someone replies sarcastically. “Hah hah. Yeah. Well, there's no water up there. Plenty of cows and goats, though. Half man, half goat.” Then in 1988 came director Ron Schildknecht's 16-minute movie The Legend of the Pope Lick Monster, and the story of the Goatman began to spread. Of the people who visit from outside the area, many arrive believing the rickety-looking trestle is abandoned, which Bain may have thought as well. The crossing still would be dangerous without a train, but at least you could do it at a comfortable pace. The story of Bain's death caught our eye for two reasons. First because PSGP was born and raised in southern Ohio and had heard of this bridge. He never braved the crossing—before interlopers from out of state began visiting the site regularly, Louisville locals would have viewed an Ohio kid in their backwoods as a good candidate for an ass-whipping. They probably still do.
The second reason this story struck us is because we just wrote about personal risk-taking a few days ago, and this is obviously the flipside of it—risk is exhilarating but it can get you hurt or killed. Bain and her boyfriend were just trying catch a thrill, which we totally understand. Hell, we don't see it as very different from dirt biking or ocean kayaking, but that's just us. You have to feel bad for everyone involved, though. Wait a sec—did we really just write that? Last time something like this happened we thought it was hilarious. Are we getting soft? Damn. Blame it on the Pulp Intl. girlfriends.
During World War II anyone could put Hitler on the ropes.
We’ve run across some unusual World War II memorabilia over the years, but this might be the quirkiest item we’ve seen. Pretty much self-explanatory, it’s morale boosting anti Hitler propaganda in the form of a die-cut effigy. He could be used as a bookmark, or a lamp pull, or—in the case of the lucky duck who sold this trinket online for a serious windfall—not used at all so that it would be in A1 condition for the auction market decades later. It was produced by a company in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, and came complete with a tiny piece of rope to make hanging it easy for the buyer. Morbid but amazing.
Elke Sommer gave American men a good reason to get High.
High was one of seemingly a thousand men’s magazines that came into being during the 1950s, making the scene in 1958, funded by the Ohio-based publishing company Periodical House. Basically, it's indistinguishable from countless other publications of its ilk, but sometimes these otherwise unremarkable mags contain photos of someone who later became a star. In this November 1959 issue that star-to-be happens to be German bombshell Elke Sommer, referred to as Elke Sommers. Sommer appeared in five European films in 1959, but probably none had been seen in the U.S. when High printed her photos, which we suspect were shot a year previously. That would have made her eighteen when she posed, and she looks exactly that young, a pure ingenue unknowingly on the precipice of lasting international fame. See below.
The Depression-era magazine Hot Dog had two sides—and so did its editor.
Hot Dog was a humor monthly published out of Cleveland, Ohio during the 1920s and 1930s, and distributed throughout the Great Lakes states. It began as little more than a pamphlet, but quickly expanded to the digest you see above. It’s formula for success? Largely, it seemed to be stupid ethnic jokes and bawdy limericks mixed with photos of showgirls and actresses. At least, that’s mostly what we got out of this October 1931 issue.
But thanks to a little research, we discovered Hot Dog also had a serious side, positioning itself as a foe of prohibitionists and moral watchdogs of every stripe. You’ll notice that editor Jack Dinsmore gave himself billing on the cover. Dinsmore was a pseudonym. We learned this from a rather beautiful 1996 New York Times article written by a woman who goes searching for traces of a father that died when she was seven.
Her father was Jack Dinsmore, and the author is shocked to discover he edited Hot Dog, a magazine that, as the Great Depression wore on, became more and more insulting toward Jews even though Dinsmore was Jewish. But we all know nothing makes a man compromise himself more quickly than the threat of joblessness, and in 1930s America that possibility would have been staring an unimportant Midwestern editor—and millions more people barely hanging on—right in the face.
Anyway, the Times piece is long and serious, but recommended. It teaches a lesson: nothing we write is ever truly lost. We’ll keep looking for more Hot Dogs, and if we find any we’ll definitely share them.
1954 murder results in fifty-year legal battle.
In this January 1965 issue of The Lowdown, editors take up the cudgel for convicted murderer Dr. Sam Sheppard, who was serving a life sentence for the bludgeoning murder of his wife, Marilyn. Dr. Sheppard claimed that, during the early morning hours of July 4, 1954, he was in his home sleeping on a downstairs daybed, when he awoke to his wife’s screams. He ran to her aid and was attacked by a “bushy-haired man” and knocked out. When he came to he chased the man outside, fought him again, and was again knocked out. When he awoke once more, the intruder was gone and his wife was dead, having been severely beaten and apparently sexually assaulted. Police searched for the bushy-haired suspect, but eventually decided their perp was the good doctor himself. At a trial later that year a jury agreed, and Sheppard was sent up for life.
By the time Lowdown began advocating for Sheppard, he had already been granted a writ of habeas corpas, and was about to be granted a new trial due to massive publicity surrounding the first that may have tainted the original jury pool. When Sheppard was retried the next year—with none other than a young F. Lee Bailey acting as his defense lawyer—he was acquitted on the basis of reasonable doubt. However, the verdict did not clear Sheppard’s name to the satisfaction of some family members. Efforts to do that continued all the way until 2002, complete with DNA testing on the exhumed corpses of Sheppard, his wife, and her unborn fetus. Results: inconclusive.
So you must be wondering why police focused on Sheppard in the first place. It wasn’t just because he was the husband, and his marriage was unhappy. Police investigators are very much like statisticians. Certain types of cases share certain traits, and the more traits a particular case shares with a certain category of cases, the more probable a certain conclusion begins to seem. An example: a home invader will nearly always immobilize the gravest threat first, meaning the man of the house; but in a staged domestic murder the man nearly always, somehow, is overlooked by the intruder, leading to a heroic rescue attempt that fails and results in injuries that are, somehow, never life-threatening. Another example: in a staged domestic murder the man will often remove clothing from the victim to imply that the motive was sexual assault by an intruder; but the rape is never consummated, for obvious reasons.
The list goes on. Suffice it to say, to the cops Marilyn Sheppard's killing seemed like a textbook staged domestic homicide, and they proceeded based on that assumption. But regardless, the evidence was never there for a conviction. Of that, there’s little dispute. Today, Sheppard’s innocence or guilt remains a hot topic in the Ohio town where he lived. And it probably always will be, if only because people there are reminded of the case every time The Fugitive appears on television. That’s right—if certain details of the story seem familiar, it’s because both the series and movie took inspiration from the Sheppard case. And there was one more important result. It catapulted F. Lee Bailey to national prominence as an attorney, a position he has held ever since in defending everyone from Patty Hearst to O.J. Simpson.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1953—Jomo Kenyatta Convicted
In Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta is sentenced to seven years in prison by the nation's British rulers for being a member of the Mau Mau Society, an anti-colonial movement. Kenyatta would a decade later become independent Kenya's first prime minister, and still later its first president.
1974—Hank Aaron Becomes Home Run King
Major League Baseball player Hank Aaron hits his 715th career home run, surpassing Babe Ruth's 39-year-old record. The record-breaking homer is hit off Al Downing of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and with that swing Aaron puts an exclamation mark on a twenty-four year journey that had begun with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro League, and would end with his selection to Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame.
1922—Teapot Dome Scandal Begins
In the U.S., Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall leases the Teapot Dome petroleum reserves in Wyoming to an oil company. When Fall's standard of living suddenly improves, it becomes clear he has accepted bribes in exchange for the lease. The subsequent investigation leads to his imprisonment, making him the first member of a presidential cabinet to serve jail time.
1930—Gandhi Leads Satyagraha March
In India, Mahatma Gandhi raises a lump of mud and salt and declares, "With this, I am shaking the foundations of the British Empire." His words, which were a protest against the British salt tax, mark the beginning of the Satyagraha March, which in turn triggers the wider Civil Disobedience Movement that ultimately culminates in Indian independence.
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