Everybody who was anybody was fair game in Harrison's Hollywood.
In independent journalism there's a battle raging at all times, as those with power attempt to intimidate the press, make its work difficult, control its narrative, restrict its access, redefine what constitutes journalism, or even cast individual members of the press as public enemies. It's a battle that never ends. Confidential magazine was an important soldier on the journalistic battlefield. For ages anything that appeared in Hollywood gossip magazines was carefully crafted and groomed by the studios, which maintained power by denying access to all but officially accredited press outlets.
Maverick publisher Robert Harrison was a visionary who realized the public would open their wallets and pay for the lurid truth—even if the rush to get startling scoops meant the truth was sometimes only half-correct. Confidential appeared in 1952, and had the studios quivering in their boots by 1954. The issue you see here came later, this month in 1963, in what is acknowledged as the magazine's later, tamer period, a defanging that came about thanks to numerous lawsuits launched by Hollywood stars, backed by powerful California politicians.
Confidential still managed to entertain, even if its stories were of a less invasive nature than before. But notwithstanding the new rules of engagement, some targets received particularly scathing treatment. Liz Taylor and Richard Burton were among them. The magazine says their legendary affair on the set of Cleopatra began as a studio publicity stunt, which backfired when Taylor actually fell for Burton—and into his bed. That may be true, but failure can be relative. On one hand Taylor's squeaky clean image was ruined forever, but on the other the story of her affair generated immense amounts of free press for Cleopatra.
Other celebs who get cooked on the rotisserie include Joan Collins, Anthony Newley, Rex Harrison, Vince Edwards, and pioneering trans entertainer Christine Jorgensen. The magazine also tackled the issue of street prostitution in New York City and an epidemic of glue sniffing among American teens. We have a set of scans below and—stop us if you've heard this before—an entire tabloid index with thirty more posts about Confidential, to be found here.
One of Rome's foremost celeb photographers gives On the Q.T. the lowdown on his profession.
We managed to buy this issue of On the Q.T. published in July 1963 for seven dollars, which is about the range we prefer for a tabloid that's often overpriced. Inside we found Shirley MacLaine, Melina Mercouri, Elsa Martinelli, Richard Burton and Liz Taylor. As expected the focus is on Hollywood, but in this issue the piece that jumped out at us was an insider's account of the Italian paparazzi lifestyle written by top paparazzo Vito Canessi. He details his techniques for obtaining photos, his legal obligations, and the lengths some paps go to in getting saleable shots.
One of his examples involves taunting a target into a chase: “When French sexpot Brigitte Bardot and her flame of the moment, actor Sammy Frey, were conducting a sizzling romance which ranged across most of Italy, the paparazzi taunted love-hungry but brave Sammy into chasing them. But unknown to Sammy, his furious foot race was being photographed by other paparazzi behind him. It was a hilarious set of pictures of frail Sam, arms swinging and feet churning, zig-zagging through the streets of Rome...”
But sometimes their tactics backfire. Paparazzo Umberto Spragna, a 260-pound giant, tried to shoot photos of the married Burt Lancaster walking in Rome with Italian starlet Beatrice Altariba. “The big photog didn't know it, but Lancaster is quite a man himself. He found himself flying through the air, his camera smashed, and a furious Lancaster punching him liberally. The paparazzo fled the scene. Later he sued the actor for assault. Lancaster simply ignored the action and it was forgotten. That kind of thing gives me cold chills.”
Paparazzi behavior was closely examined—briefly—decades later with the paparazzi-involved death of Princess Diana of Wales. But a look at various celeb videos from recent years reveal the paps to be basically unchanged, as they sometimes taunt celebrities verbally, hoping for photographable retaliation. But one need not feel more than passingly sorry for celebs. Occasional harassment is the price of fame. It may be unpleasant, but it's better than working for a living.
Though paparazzi come under the umbrella of defenders of press rights, with their often malleable ethics they're probably not people you'd have at your dinner table. It often works that way. Rights defenders tend to be either people actually testing the limits of rights, or people negatively affected by forces that would curtail those rights. Either way, they're sometimes outside the social mainstream. But the rights they defend apply to all. Thirty scans below.
Wherever celebrities misbehave National Spotlite is on the scene.
This National Spotlite published today in 1968 features cover star Naemi Priegel, a West German television actress and singer who reached the height of her fame during the 1970s. Inside are many interesting Hollywood tidbits, including former child star Hayley Mills allegedly describing herself as a tigress in bed, Marlon Brando beating up two party crashers, Elvis Presley breaking the arm of someone to whom he was demonstrating a karate hold, Richard Burton being pursued by a chorus girl who claimed he fathered her child, Gene Tierney and her husband Howard Lee getting into a public spat, and John Wayne slugging an autograph seeker who mistook him for Robert Mitchum. Was any of this stuff true? We have no idea, but it sure is interesting reading. You can see more in the same vein at our tabloid index, located at this link.
From the hair salon to the executive suite.
This issue of The National Tattler hit newsstands today in 1974, and as you can see, it lacks a certain something compared to issues of the 1960s. The earlier Tattler featured fantastically exploitative stories conjured from the darkest reaches of the editors' imaginations, while the 1974 version has content that is—amazingly—mostly true. Mostly. We're not sure about Richard Burton turning to a faith healer to help with his drinking problem, and if he did, it didn't work. Alcohol problems plagued him until his death.
The story that really caught our eye is the piece on Barbra Streisand moving in with her hairdresser. That hairdresser was Jon Peters, who, with a major boost from Streisand, became one of the biggest producers in Hollywood. Quite a climb from giving perms. Starting from scratch, knowing literally zero about moviemaking, he soon earned production credits on hits such as Caddyshack, Rainman, Batman, and The Color Purple. But he also made some ludicrous flops—The Bonfire of the Vanities and Who's That Girl come to mind. That's par for the course for producers. Win a few, lose a few.
Along the way Peters became a legendary eccentric, and these days he's almost as well known for being the subject of a Kevin Smith diatribe about everything that is wrong with Hollywood than for his movie work. Smith's take on Peters is one of the funniest Tinseltown insider tales of all time, and we suggest you do yourself a favor and enjoy it in its entirety. Part 1 is here, and Part 2 is here. It may be the best eighteen minutes you've ever spent online, and as bonus it's got spiders in it.
Our favorite terrible tabloid flirts with real journalism, but only for a moment.
This issue of National Informer appeared today in 1970, with an unknown cover model and, unusually for Informer, stories about three actual celebrities—Walter Hickel, Richard Burton, and Jean Seberg. Hickel had been caught using public money to redecorate his congressional office and is deservedly raked over the coals by Informer. Burton endures a mere sideswipe for comments about how heroic he’d be if he found himself on a hijacked plane. Seberg’s affair (or non-affair) with Black Panther Bobby Seale is rehashed over an entire page. If Informer had kept this sort of thing up they’d have begun to resemble a real newspaper, but no worries—didn’t happen. And a good thing, because we love Informer exactly the way it usually is—devoid of truth. Highlight of this issue: The (not so) Great Criswell uses his column of psychic predictions to promote himself, saying, “I predict that Tapesty in Terror, starring Vampira and myself, will soon be seen as an hour TV program in September 1971, so watch for it.” And guess what? The worst prognosticator in history got even that wrong. Tapestry of Terror never made it to television.
The mission statement was simple—take potshots at every star in the firmament.
Top Secret is in fine form in this issue from October 1962 as it goes after all the biggest celebrities in Hollywood and Europe. Treading the line between journalism and slander is no easy feat, but take notice—Top Secret’s editors and hacks manage to pull off a high wire act. And of course this was key to the tabloids' modus operandi—they had to present information in a seemingly fearless or even iconoclastic way, yet never actually cross the line that would land them in court.
For example, there’s this dig at Frank Sinatra: “Mr. Snarl, Mr. Nasty, Mr. Do-You-Want-A-Belt-In-The-Mouth was as gentle as a lamb. Gone was the usual sneer, the wise-guy leer. Was this the same surly singer whose idea of a good morning’s exercise had been to watch his bodyguards work over a photographer?”
Grace Kelly takes a few arrows: “It’s a pretty good bet that the immediate bust-up of the marriage won’t come in the next few months, but it sure as shooting looks like her six-year reign as the glamorous princess of that silly little kingdom on the Mediterranean is going to blow up in her prim face.”
Christina Paolozzi gets roughed up thusly: “If anything, Christina in the buff is proof that clothes are an underdeveloped girl’s best friends. Therethe Countess stands with a pleased expression that seems to say, ‘Aren’t I something, Mister?’ But all it takes is one quick look to see that there isn’t really anything to get excited about—unless [you love] barbecued spareribs.”
Anita Ekberg receives this treatment: “[La Dolce Vita] was something like a peek into the boudoir antics of its star—the gal with the fantastic superstructure that looks like nothing less than two tugboats pulling a luxury liner into port.”
And what tabloid would be complete without Marilyn Monroe? Top Secret says she’s dating writer José Bolaños (who the magazine calls a Mexican jumping bean). Editors opt to unveil the news this way: “It seems that this bold bundle of blonde has suddenly gone on a strange Mexican hayride!!! Si, amigo, MEXICAN!”
And then there’s cover star Elizabeth Taylor: “And she acted wilder than ever, satisfying all her most urgent urges for Dickie in the most wide open ways. [She] had jumped from tragedy right into disgrace by having a wild fling with Eddie Fisher a mere six months after hubby Mike Todd had been planted six feet under. ‘Mike is dead, and I’m alive,’ she said cynically after running off for a riotous romp in the fall of 1958 with the guy who just then happened to be married to Debbie Reynolds. 'I’m not taking anything away from Debbie, because she never really had it,' luscious Liz sneered."
This issue of Top Secret is, succinctly put, a clinic in mid-century tabloid writing—alliterative and spicy, insinuative and sleazy, but never quite legally actionable. How could Ekberg argue that the tugboat similie wasn’t interpretable as a compliment? Could Christina Paolozzi deny that her ribs show? Could Sinatra claim that his bodyguards neverslugged a photographer? The magazine skirts the edge a bit with Taylor—did you catch how the editors paired “urges for Dick(ie)” with “wide open ways”?—but was she misquoted or truly slandered? Highly doubtful. Top Secret is pure, trashy genius. Magazines don’t have such writing anymore, and that’s probably a good thing—but it sure is fun to look back at how things were. More scans below.
Even in decline Confidential had eyes and ears everywhere.
Liz Taylor and her tan star on this cover of Confidential published this month in 1964. The magazine was just a shadow of its former self by this point, but the inside stories still manage to raise eyebrows and give the impression of tabloid spies in every corner of Hollywood. Simon Lee Garth’s exposé accuses Richard Burton of being an abusive drunk, but that was not a scoop—other tabloids had written the same. But elsewhere, investigative journo Beverly Hillis (nice, right?) shares the amusing story of Elvis Presley throwing a party at which only women were invited. Apparently “swivel hips”, as Confidential refers to him, paraded around in a series of bizarre costumes and generally acted the fool, prompting some (but crucially not all) of his guests to leave in a huff. In another story Jack Asher writes about bottomless swimsuits worn by gay men as a response to the topless women’s suits that had appeared on European beaches, and also tells readers the fashion house Lanvin Paris had begun selling a bottomless suit for women. We don’t buy that one for a minute, but there are some interesting photos of women wearing breast-baring dresses. Elsewhere in the issue you get tabloid fave Jayne Mansfield and her husband Mickey Targitay, Peter Sellers sexing himself into a heart attack with Britt Ekland, Barry Goldwater playing dirty politics, and an impressively tasteless graphic of Malcolm X. All below.
Very little of what they wrote was factual, but at least they were bold about it.
Rampage returns to Pulp Intl. after a six month absence with this issue published today in 1973. The cover star and interior models are unknowns, and the stories are mostly fiction (a fiend stomps a girl’s guts out, a ghost rapes a girl in graveyard, a husband shoots out a rival’s eyes, a wife shoots her husband because he wanted a beer) but the editors do expend a bit of column space on two real people. The first is Richard Burton, who they call a hopeless drunk with violent tendencies—not a newsflash, since other tabloids had already covered his drinking issues to death. Of marginally more interest is a story on Peter Duel, a little-known figure today, but one who was a major star during the 1970s, half of the famed duo from the hit television show Alias Smith and Jones. Rampage claims Duel did not commit suicide in December 1971, but rather was murdered. The evidence? The testimony of a medium who communicated with Duel’s spirit and reported that the aggrieved entity said, “They… murdered….me! I… was… murdered..! Oh God..!” And of course, ghosts being famously elliptical, Duel transmitted all this across the ether without uttering the name of a single assailant.
The last item of note in Rampage is the group of predictions by Mark Travis. His predictions are usually so off as to be pure comedy, but eerily, he nails a few this time. For instance, he predicts the development of a cream that can allow a person to be whatever shade they wish. While many current day Americans have perhaps heard of these only in relation to porn stars whitening their anuses, skin whitening creams are in fact a multi-billion dollar industry in places like Japan, India, and China, where paleness is perceived as an indicator of wealth. The fact that people could so blatantly kowtow to racist paradigms is another issue entirely. We’ll get into that another time maybe. Travis also predicts that American highways will all become toll roads, and that’s of course a wet dream of today’s privatization sect, and one that’s coming closer to fruition every day. Okay, Travis missed a few too. Goat’s milk has not become a major part of the American diet yet. And as far as we know, Mexico has not yet offered instant citizenship to Americans who purchase property over the border. But here’s the thing about predictions—there’s no time limit. If they haven’t come true yet… just wait. We predict that we’ll have more issues of Rampage soon. Scans below.
Whisper promises a nude Elizabeth Taylor. Does it deliver?
Elizabeth Taylor nude! Those sneaks at Whisper raised the hopes of millions of readers who bought this March 1965 issue, but inside revealed that the whited-out silhouette on the cover with Richard Burton is in reality a wooden statue of Taylor made to promote her role in The Sandpiper. It was to be unveiled at a party aboard the Queen Mary, but producer Joseph E. Levine connived a way for the sculpture to be stowed below decks so his star Carroll Baker wouldn’t be upstaged. In the end, nobody at the party saw the Taylor statue and Carroll Baker—once again wearing that amazing dress, by the way—ruled the day.
Elsewhere in the issue readers are treated to a story about French gadabout Roger Vadim, who had been involved with Brigitte Bardot, Catherine Deneuve, and various other high profile women, but at the moment was with rising star Jane Fonda. Whisper outs Vadim on pretty much every bad act of his life and issues a dire warning to Fonda that she should get out of the relationship while she can. Fonda must not have listened, though, because she and Vadim were married for eight years and along the way made a classic movie called Barbarella and a daughter named Vanessa.
Whisper also tells the story of a girl cruelly sold into prostitution by her mother, shares the seedy career tribulations of a hard luck New Orleans stripper named Babs Darling, and exposes the vast flesh racket in Seoul, South Korea, where sex slaves from the “reeking slums” of the city were being purchased by American soldiers, some them “Negroes.” Best line: Themselves the descendents of slaves, they now own light-skinned slaves of their own. The next sentence should be, but isn’t—And white soldiers, many the descendents of slave owners, scoff: “Amateurs.” Scandal, irony, outrage, sex, death, crime, and plenty of casual racism—Whisper delivers it all. Nude Liz Taylor? Not so much. Scans below.
Jackie Kennedy decides to get out of the line of fire.
On the cover of this issue of Midnight published today in 1969, editors tell readers that presidential widow Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis hates Americans. The story extensively quotes an acquaintance named Lisa Whalley, who says at one point, “She (Jackie) thinks of Americans as a herd of mindless sheep who follow after famous personalities as though they were gods and goddesses.” It’s an interesting line, but it isn’t really news. Jacqueline Kennedy’s feelings about the U.S. were well known. After her husband was murdered, she and Robert Kennedy stated that they believed JFK had been felled by domestic opponents, the key words in there being “domestic”, i.e. American, and “opponents”, more than one person. And when Robert Kennedy was assassinated in 1968, Jackie came to the conclusion that the entire Kennedy family was a target. According to RFK biographer C. David Heymann, she said, “I hate this country. I despise America and I don’t want my children to live here anymore. If they’re killing Kennedys, my children are number one targets. I want to get out of this country.” Four months later she married Aristotle Onassis and moved to Greece. So the Midnight headline isn’t any great stretch, though to the editors’ credit, they do a pretty good job of framing it as a scoop. Inside the issue you get Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton on the rocks, Italian bombshell Nuccia Cardinali, Chinese beauty Irene Tsu, and a pretty nice shot of Czech-born sex symbol Barbara Bouchet. All of that and more below.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1954—Communist Party Outlawed
In the U.S., during the height of the Red Scare, President Dwight Eisenhower signs the Communist Control Act into law. The new legislation bans the American Communist Party, and prohibits people deemed to be communists from serving as officials in labor organizations.
1968—France Explodes Nuke
a two-stage nuclear weapon, codenamed Canopus, on Fangataufa, French Polynesia.
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.
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.
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