Pawn to king's palace—pawn takes queen.
They really don't make many like this anymore. We're talking about high budget adventures in an international setting, combined with romance and a few laughs. Hollywood used to specialize in international glamour, but nowadays in big budget movies Americans go abroad mainly to slaughter or be slaughtered. Gambit, which starred Shirley MacLaine and Michael Caine, and opened nationwide in the U.S. today in 1966, falls into the same category as Charade, To Catch a Thief, The Thomas Crown Affair, How To Steal a Million, Bedtime Story, and numerous other immensely pleasing cinematic excursions. Too bad those are far better films.
Michael Caine plays a con man who has found in Shirley MacLaine the physical double of the dead wife of Ahmad Shahbandar, the richest man in the world. Shahbandar's wife was in turn the virtual double of the ancient Burmese queen Li Szu. Shahbandar has an immensely valuable carved bust of this queen, which he bought for its resemblance to his wife. Caine hopes that once Shahbandar gets a look at MacLaine, he'll let his guard down and invite them into his inner circle, setting himself up for a theft of the bust. If this plot premise seems a bit cluttered to you, we thought the same.
But it doesn't matter because it's not really the main gimmick in the flick. That would be Caine's fantasy of his perfect crime, versus its reality. In his imagining, which makes up the first thirty minutes of the film, MacLaine goes through the motions of the heist like a mute automaton. Then the film restarts with the real MacLaine, and this one talks. Worse for Caine, she has questions, doubts, and, most upsetting of all, opinions. If half an hour of Caine imagining the perfect crime—especially when as a viewer you have no idea it's a fantasy—seems overly long, we thought the same. Again. But we mention it specifically to keep you from turning the film off, which is definitely a possibility for any MacLaine fans dismayed that she's trancewalking through her role. Stick with it and you'll get the same lively star from The Apartment, Irma la Douce, and other hits.
Obviously, we wouldn't have placed this movie in the same category as Charade et al unless there's romance, and MacLaine and Caine—whose names, by the way, sound like a country band or a Vegas magic duo—duly fall in love. But you won't buy it. The script says they fall in love, so okay, by the three-quarters mark they adore each other, but the love spark is never there. Luckily there's also a heist, some comedy, and all the other trimmings of the adventure/romance genre, so despite the film's shortcomings you may find it enjoyable. Then after you finish you can watch any of the movies we mentioned at top and note the difference when this formula is well executed.
Hi, I'm not Chinese but I get to pretend I am in this movie. What a coincidence. I get to pretend I'm Arab. Hi, guess what? Ditto!
And me? I basically get to play myself, because, well, I'm Michael frickin' Caine. Plus I can't do accents.
Regarding the above quips about ethnicity, they aren't completely out of the blue. We happen to be doing some work on a television series that's causing consternation online because of its casting of black and latino actors. See, there's a sizable contingent out there that wants an all-white cast in this thing, because the source material (written back when no white authors were putting characters of color in their lightweight adventure novels, because, why hurt your book sales?) is ostensibly all white.
It's a headache, dealing with these folks. Most of the complainers talk about “their” territory being encroached upon, and say idiotic things like, “Why can't blacks and latinos write their own books?” They've invented a term—“blackwashing.” These intellectually deficient people forget—or never bothered to learn—that blacks and others were erased from, let's see, pretty much every Bible movie ever made (since none of the people in the Middle East of that era were white), and pretty much every western ever made (up to 25% of cowboys in the old west were black), and those films alone comprise many thousands of opportunities, both creatively and financially, wiped out by American segregation.
A look around Pulp Intl. will reveal white actors made-up yellow to play Asians and Pacific Islanders, brown to play Native Americans, Indians, Mexicans, Arabs, and so forth. We've written about maybe two dozen such films, but there were literally thousands. Hell, even stage minstrels came about partly because audiences wanted to see comedic black performances but were for the most part not about to watch actual black men do it. So we thought Gambit would be a good moment to point out yet again the century-long erasure of actors of color from lucrative opportunities in cinema, both in front of and behind cameras, and to note that diversity in media is (inadequate) redress of a hundred years of racist exclusion.
Every time someone sees the cast in this tv show we're working on and complains about white culture being encroached upon, if you were to check their music collection you'd probably find such thefts as white guys rapping, white guys playing the blues, white guys playing jazz, and white guys playing rock and roll, from Elvis on down the line. When you include clothing, style, dance, language, and more, pretty much everything people of color have invented in America has been co-opted by white culture and magically transformed into money, while simultaneously all the literature people of color supposedly don't produce was summarily ignored by Hollywood.
Despite all we've written about this today, we're basically pretty dispassionate on the subject. White casts reflected an understanding among filmmakers of the shortest path to making money. Sure, there has long been a tiny percentage of cinema about race that had performers of color, but basically, movies were filled with whites (even if they had to wear shoe polish to play characters of color) because audiences were understood to be white. So why alienate your audience? But the diverse peoples that have always existed in America are today both more numerous and more economically significant—and the younger folks who actually fuel movie industry profits are particularly diverse. Therefore yesteryear's logic still applies for studios: Why alienate your audience?
Hollywood diversity is about making money, just as yesteryear's segregation was. We don't mind that people hate diverse casts. They're racists—duh. No further explanation needed. But what irks us is racists who pretend to be oppressed, conveniently ignoring generations of exclusion perpetrated either directly by them, or on their behalf. Nobody in their family tree was ever denied economic opportunity by nationwide industries because of skin color. People in Hollywood are in essence saying today, "Hmm.. you know, maybe it would be nice for our industry to stop screwing over people of color and actually give them some opportunities here. That's fair, right?" We think it's sad that so many people either don't get that, or pretend not to, but whatever, there's our explanation for why we joked about it above. Because behind every quip there's a story, if not an unsolicited rant.
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.
Tabloid tells curious readers everything they always wanted to know about things that are none of their business.
The last time we checked in on Top Secret was with their October 1962 issue. Today we’re visiting January 1964 and plenty has changed in the intervening months. Foremost—the paper and printing quality have degraded to what surely must have been the lowest standard available at the time, which is why our scans are grainy. But we can still recognize June Wilkinson on the cover, who we’re told is retiring from modeling, and inside readers hear from Ursula Andress, Jack Lemmon, Brigitte Bardot, Shirley MacLaine, Mandy Rice-Davies and more.
Editors also tout “one of the most earth-shaking advances in the exploration of outer space!” Wow. Was it warp drive? A transporter beam? A stargate? No. It was that America’s newest astronaut, Edward Dwight, Jr., was a different skin color than the other astronauts. We might deign to call that an advance in the attitudes of NASA during an age of state apartheid. Space travel, on the other hand, remained space travel, unchanged. Top Secret implies Dwight was the first black American qualified to be an astronaut, and by so doing avoids admitting that the door was simply closed before his arrival. You know this game—all backslapping, zero introspection. But we get it. “Our First Negro Astronaut!” is a bit more celebratory than, “We should have done this from the beginning.”
But we must move on, because the real gem in this issue comes later, in the story you see announced in the cover’s blazing red banner: Hidden Homos—How To Spot Them! Goodness, where to begin with this? First, we’ll say we would dearly love to reproduce this entire article as an artifact of an intellectual dark age, but it’s Saturday, and time is fleeting. Just know that the language is baroque in its viciousness. Thestory begins with the tale of a company president who unknowingly hired a gay man and had no idea until several years later when the hiree—now a manager—got drunk at a company party and began slapping and scratching another man. Soon four employees were involved in this spat. The company president exclaimed: “My God! Those men are all queers!”
Top Secret explains: “Once the camouflaged homosexual has gotten himself a snug berth, he starts easing others of his ilk into the office. Before long, most of the straight male employees are out on their ears and the camouflaged fags have taken over.” Editors then list the eight most common types of gay men against whom normal, red-blooded Americans must be vigilant (by refusing to hire for any sort of job, potentially harassing out of the neighborhood, and possibly reporting to the authorities). Ready? Here we go with a few highlights:
1: The Overly Fastidious Dresser—obsessive interest in clothes is a feminine trait, and in men it may well be a danger signal.
2: The Overly Hygenic Type—their faces are invariably too-closely shaven. They make a fetish of washing their hands.
3: The Uriah Heep Type—he seeks to prove how very humble and insignificant he is by heaping praise upon others.
4: The Maiden Aunt’s Delight—these men associate with older women because such women make no heterosexual erotic demands upon them.
5: The Solitary Drinker—although he is not gregarious or even friendly, his eyes are constantly roving, covertly peering at others in the bar, particularly other men, seeking a sign of recognition from another secret swish. When he sees one he will give a signal in return and soon both fruitcakes will depart to enjoy a “courtesy exchange.”
6: The Octopus—they put their hands on other men’s shoulders, dig them in the ribs, slap their thighs…
7: The Middle-Aged Mama’s Boy—such an obvious Oedipal situation may indicate homosexual tendencies or homosexuality in adult men of any age, married or single.
8: The Youth Lover—he is constantly engaged in youth work, organizing clubs, leading outings, playing the part of the jolly, ebullient uncle.
It would be interesting to do the opposite of everything on this list and see how long it takes our social, family and sex lives to fall apart. Just a thought. Anyway, Top Secret finishes the article with this bomb: “These are by no means the only types of secret swishes but they are the ones the average person is most likely to encounter.” So basically, the list is all well and good, but anyone can be gay. To which your average non-Neanderthal would reply, “Yes, anyone can be gay. And?” Well, and the editors of Top Secret suggest that anyone displaying suspicious behavior should be investigated more closely. Hmm… we wonder what depth and form those investigations should take? More scans below.
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 headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1912—Pravda Is Founded
The newspaper Pravda, or Truth, known as the voice of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, begins publication in Saint Petersburg. It is one of the country's leading newspapers until 1991, when it is closed down by decree of then-President Boris Yeltsin. A number of other Pravdas appear afterward, including an internet site and a tabloid.
1983—Hitler's Diaries Found
The German magazine Der Stern claims that Adolf Hitler's diaries had been found in wreckage in East Germany. The magazine had paid 10 million German marks for the sixty small books, plus a volume about Rudolf Hess's flight to the United Kingdom, covering the period from 1932 to 1945. But the diaries are subsequently revealed to be fakes written by Konrad Kujau, a notorious Stuttgart forger. Both he and Stern journalist Gerd Heidemann go to trial in 1985 and are each sentenced to 42 months in prison.
1918—The Red Baron Is Shot Down
German WWI fighter ace Manfred von Richthofen, better known as The Red Baron, sustains a fatal wound while flying over Vaux sur Somme in France. Von Richthofen, shot through the heart, manages a hasty emergency landing before dying in the cockpit of his plane. His last word, according to one witness, is "Kaputt." The Red Baron was the most successful flying ace during the war, having shot down at least 80 enemy airplanes.
1964—Satellite Spreads Radioactivity
An American-made Transit satellite, which had been designed to track submarines, fails to reach orbit after launch and disperses its highly radioactive two pound plutonium power source over a wide area as it breaks up re-entering the atmosphere.
1939—Holiday Records Strange Fruit
American blues and jazz singer Billie Holiday
records "Strange Fruit", which is considered to be the first civil rights song. It began as a poem written by Abel Meeropol, which he later set to music and performed live with his wife Laura Duncan. The song became a Holiday standard immediately after she recorded it, and it remains one of the most highly regarded pieces of music in American history.
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