Well done. You survived another one.
A toast, friends, for though the years keep piling high, you've survived yet another. Hopefully those years are getting better for you all the time. Ours certainly are—knock on wood. The festive photo above was made by U.S. lensman Paul H. Oelman, feautures an unidentified model, and dates from the early or mid-1940s. Oelman was born in 1880 and began his career in Dayton, Ohio, where he met the Wright Brothers and shot photos of their airplane flights. His nude period came later, when he moved his base to Cincinnati, a place which, considering its conservative values, seems a dangerous locale for erotic photography. But he made himself a success there just the same.
Oelman eventually became known throughout the U.S., gave talks to regional camera clubs, and in 1948 founded a national lecture program for the Photographic Society of America. Interesting note about his work method: he preferred to shoot local society girls, and did so with their mothers present as chaperones. We can't even conceive of how that would be viewed today. Would the mothers be called groomers? Anyway, Oelman titled this particular work “Pagan,” and that seems as good a wish as any for the upcoming year. We plan to have a positively pagan year, and we hope you have whatever type of year you seek. 2023! Let's do this!
Louis Brennan's disaster thriller is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma inundated by a flood.
Louis A. Brennan's thriller Death at Flood Tide, first published in 1958 by Dell, has a cover illustration by Bob Abbett, whose work probably needs no introduction. But if he does, look here. This piece is almost on the level of a sketch compared to some of the more realistic scenes he's painted, yet it remains stylistically familiar.
The novel tells the story of Barry Coplyn, who during the flooding of an Ohio town is deputized to help the local police, is tasked to follow up the report of a body, finds a nude woman murdered in a house, and subsequently realizes he's suspected of the murder. If he'd simply been arrested he would have had a right to a lawyer and possibly bail, but as a deputy serving the county he has to obey his new boss or be jailed for dereliction of duty. It's a clever gambit by the sheriff to keep Coplyn close and talking while attempting to gather enough evidence to fry him.
The first murder reopens the file on an identical murder two years earlier, and the sheriff thinks Coplyn committed that one too—which is a realization exactly an eternity too late for the man he railroaded into the electric chair. But he isn't too broken up about finding out he was wrong. Instead, he thinks he can make up for the error by sending Coplyn to die—the other man was poor and black, while Coplyn comes from a wealthy white family. This is supposed to balance the cosmic and sociological scales. All of this occurs against the backdrop of the inundated town, with the flood providing hinderances to police, but opportunity to the murderer.
Another interesting aspect of the narrative concerns slaps of the face. Coplyn slaps his girlfriend Jay Jay twice, then spends the entire book trying to excuse this, with none of his explanations remotely adequate. He even wallows in self pity, claiming the slaps hurt him worse than they hurt her. Jay Jay comes to understand she's being unreasonable and forgives him, which we can't condone, but that's the way it goes in mid-century books. In the end she's key to solving the crimes, not through happenstance or device, but through intelligence and insight, so at least Brennan gave her that.
Brennan remains a solid author in this second outing we've taken with him, after the Ohio frontier adventure The Long Knife—though he seems a bit more sure-footed in the old than modern midwest. The main flaw for us is that we had to work hard to like Coplyn and the sheriff, who both suffer from the affliction of callousness portrayed as manliness. We think compassion and restraint show strength, while cathartic emotions like self-pity and fury show weakness, so we were hoping the sheriff would pay for his frame-up, and Coplyn would fail to get the girl. But neither of those outcomes is a possibility. Even so, Death at Flood Tide is pretty good.
I came up with it all by myself. Totally groovy, right?
These shots show U.S. actress Teresa Graves today in 1970, and despite the fact that her bizarro hairdo makes her look counterculture, she was in Washington, D.C. attending the Honor America Day celebration. If you've never heard of Honor America Day, that's because it was a one-off, hastily cobbled together by then-president Richard Nixon, who was under pressure due to his decision to send U.S. troops into Cambodia during the Vietnam War, a move which precipitated a protest at Kent State University at which Ohio National Guard troops shot and killed students.
Graves was a minor television star at the time, a recurring guest on the show Rowan & Martin's Laugh-In, however she was a natural for the D.C. event because she had built her career partly by touring Southeast Asia as a singer with Bob Hope's USO show. She would eventually become a major star on the police drama Get Christie Love! By then she'd ditched the hairdo that looked like it picked up signals from space for something conventional, as you can see at this link. But whatever shape her hair took, she was quite beautiful.
The Long Knife portrays human nature red in thought and deed.
None of the westerns we've read since we started this website have been bad, but Louis A. Brennan's 1960 adventure The Long Knife almost had us quitting in the first two chapters. The thing that initially threw us is that Brennan narrates in western language filled with hankerings, gay-larkings, damnations, betwixts, narys, and more. The other westerns we've read had specific terminology, naturally, but were narrated more-or-less conventionally, with the linguistic color coming mostly in dialogue. Brennan, conversely, goes all-in with omniscient frontier voicing: Black as the devil come straight out of hell was Lew, without bothering to change to human skin. He never wore a cap and his hair was char and his buckskins were soot and his face was dead wood from the walnut hulls he'd stained it with for his scout. [snip] His shoulders fit in the doorway as snug as ball and patch in a rifle-gun barrel and his arms hung to his knees. You get the picture. But as we've said before, a good author teaches you how to read their fiction. Brennan's approach slowed us at first, but we soon got up to speed.
The main character is not the monster described above, but another frontier denizen, who moves between white and Indian society, living in the Ohio River Valley woods, something of a legend in his sylvan realm, hunting and wandering where he pleases. He's known by the tribes as “Flash in the Sun” because of his golden blonde hair. Whites know him as Cameron Galway. The plot deals with the machinations of westward spreading whites, and the savage ways of tribes. It begins with Galway's framing and wrongful arrest for murder, his burgeoning feelings for a pretty frontier girl named Meg Farney, his subsequent escape, and the unquenchable enmity of a cruel Army lieutenant named Thornwood (Red Locust to the Indians)—also the man behind the frame-up. When Thornwood suspects that Meg, who he plans to marry whether she wants it or not, likes Galway, hate blossoms into full-scale obsession. He plans to sign Galway off if it's the last thing he ever does.
We like our books to have a sense of real menace, and this one has it by wagonloads. It's dispassionate, utterly violent, continually shocking, and hard to read in parts, not because of the bloodletting, but due to Cam Galway's rigid aplomb as he goes through experiences that would emotionally cripple any normal man. Probably readers of a modern mindset will wonder whether Native Americans have a problem with this book. We don't generally presume to speak for others, but sometimes the answer is clear. The answer must be yes. The tribespeople here—mostly Shawnees—have no emotional depths beyond anger and ambition. We suspect that the people of those times were just as emotional as modern people, or at least were as prone to the same range of expression, but this is western literature, and pure grit is what readers want. There's plenty of that. The Long Knife is filled with hard, hard men.
Louis Brennan was a professor of archaeology, and presumably knew his history too. What seems very accurate here is the lack of conscience within military men and high ranking settlers. Thornwood/Red Locust at one point promises a Shawnee chief a barrel of whiskey and a barrel of beef if the tribe refrains from attacking his two-thousand acres of land for one year. The chief loves the deal. Only a single advisor thinks it's a foolish bargain: “You will not get one barrel of whisky nor one beef. Before it is time to pay, this Red Locust will lead his soldiers against our village and there will be none left to drink and eat.” The Shawnees are smart and even devious, yet distressingly naive, as they try to somehow forestall the advance of a culture that values endless accumulation and possesses neither moral scruples nor concerns about taking native lives.
Some of Brennan's scenes leap from the page. At one point Galway agrees to what he thinks is a one-on-one fight to the death with his Shawnee rival Catfishjaw, only to find that he's to face five knife-wielding braves—with no weapon of his own. They surround him and the resulting melee is brutal. This is a tale conceived by someone who was respected in a history-adjacent academic field, wrote noted theoretical papers that touched on American pre-history, and set his novel in the region of Ohio where he'd been born. Brennan puts all those aspects of his background to good use. On the minus side, the long final act, a frontier judicial proceeding that lasts chapters, drains the energy from what we expected to be a crackling climax. Even so, if you're willing to set aside the built-in racial issues of western fiction, The Long Knife is a good example of the genre, an intense portrayal of conflict in a land where the most savage man usually wins.
Some people really don't like being in photos.
Here's a pulp style historical oddity we've seen floating around the web of late. This photo shows a frame from a bank security camera at the moment a bank robber shoots it. It's from United Press International, and first came to public attention thanks to an art exhibition called “Crime Stories: Photography and Foul Play,” which was mounted at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City back in 2016. Based on the fact that the men are wearing fedoras we would have guessed the robbery to have taken place during the ’40s or ’50s, but it actually happened in Cleveland, Ohio, today in 1975.
Interestingly, one of us was actually in an armed robbery. A young PSGP was in a Kroger grocery store when a guy charged in with a gun and yelled at everyone to get on the floor. People were so stunned they just stood there, and the would-be robber turned around and ran. PSGP's dad, decisive as always, said, “Let's get the fuck out of here,” and they took off mere seconds after the robber. Fast forward to later and the local news reported that the store had been robbed. It turns out the thief had come back just a few minutes later. One hates to imagine what would have happened if PSGP and his dad had bumped into the guy. Anyway, does that count as being in an armed robbery? We think so.
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. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1964—Mass Student Arrests in U.S.
In California, Police arrest over 800 students at the University of California, Berkeley, following their takeover and sit-in at the administration building in protest at the UC Regents' decision to forbid protests on university property.
1968—U.S. Unemployment Hits Low
Unemployment figures are released revealing that the U.S. unemployment rate has fallen to 3.3 percent, the lowest rate for almost fifteen years. Going forward all the way to the current day, the figure never reaches this low level again.
1954—Joseph McCarthy Disciplined by Senate
In the United States, after standing idly by during years of communist witch hunts in Hollywood and beyond, the U.S. Senate votes 65 to 22 to condemn Joseph McCarthy for conduct bringing the Senate into dishonor and disrepute. The vote ruined McCarthy's career.
1955—Rosa Parks Sparks Bus Boycott
In the U.S., in Montgomery, Alabama, seamstress Rosa Parks refuses to give her bus seat to a white man and is arrested for violating the city's racial segregation laws, an incident which leads to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The boycott resulted in a crippling financial deficit for the Montgomery public transit system, because the city's African-American population were the bulk of the system's ridership.
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