It's not how you start. It's how you finish.
We've talked before about the mid-century tabloid interest in transexuals, and how several trans burlesque performers achieved widespread fame. Those old tabloid covers serve to contradict people who claim that trans issues are a product of the new millennium, or that “it didn't happen in their day.” They just didn't notice. As the links in the above post show, transexual entertainers regularly made headlines in tabloids that sold millions of issues per month. To the list you can now add Gayle Sherman, who you see on this cover of The National Insider published today in 1963. This wasn't the height of her fame. A year later Novel Books would publish I Want To Be a Woman!, touted as the autobiography of a female impersonator. And still, she was just getting started.
Sherman started life as Gary Paradis, but became Sherman after a name change at age sixteen. As a transvestite she scored a job dancing for the Jewel Box Revue, which was a comedic drag queen show that criss-crossed the U.S. for more than thirty years. Probably the Jewel Box Revue deserves a write-up of its own, but the shorter version is it was the most popular extravaganza of its kind, and was run by gay management who were marketing to straight audiences.
Sherman moved on from the revue and worked mainly in Chicago, appearing at places such as the Nite Life, where her act sometimes involved dressing as a witch doctor and roasting a fake baby over a fire while singing Yma Sumac songs. Sometime later she underwent gender reassignment surgery, and all the while was passing through a string of pseudonyms, among them Gerri Weise, Brandy Alexander, and Geraldine Parades.
She eventually opted for breast enlargement surgery and at that point became Alexandria the Great 48, a stage name under which she would become a national celebrity. The number of course referenced her bust size. She was sometimes dubbed “Sophia Loren's twin,” but when audiences paid to see her they got something wholly different. She had left burlesque and moved into standard stripping, sometimes appearing at porno cinemas between features. She continued dancing until 1967, when bluenose politicians in Chicago managed to outlaw nude dancing. Sherman became a hairdresser, and was out of the public eye until her death in 2019.
As we mentioned above, vintage tabloids often featured transexuals, and while those stories were always sensationalistic, they were also surprisingly non-cruel. Not always, but often. The editors' accepting stances probably weren't sincere. Because tabloid readership was generally a cross section of middle class, middle American squares, the tone of the articles tended be: “this wild stuff happens in Hollywood and Paris, but who knows, maybe it's more prevalent than you suspect where you live.” As the saying goes, even a stopped clock is right twice a day—the tabs probably nailed it. 1.4 million Americans identify as transexual. There's no total from 1963, but you can bet it would be more than a few. In National Informer, the excellent money quote from the Gayle Sherman article is: “My birth certificate is stamped male, but my body is stamped female.” We have a photo of her below, and she's all woman.
An errant pass leads to an infamous court case.
The National Insider takes on a controversial subject with this issue that hit newsstands today in 1963. The gist of the story is that forty-something George Brinham invited sixteen-year-old Laurence Somers to his London flat, made a pass by saying, “Give us a kiss,” and got clocked on the head by a shocked Somers with a wine decanter. Brinham died, and Somers went on trial for murder. As the details came out, the British public learned that Somers didn't merely hit Brinham once, but three or four times. He then dragged Brinham's body into the bedroom, hit him once more for good measure, and tried to stage the apartment to look as if a burglar had been the assailant. But haste makes waste—he left his coat and a pair of gloves in Brinham's flat. Police caught up with him shortly thereafter and he was arrested and charged with murder.
The case was fascinating. The judge immediately reduced the charges from murder to manslaughter. Defense attorneys portrayed Brinham, a former Labor Party official, as predatory and decadent. A pathologist testified that his body showed “physiological indications of the practice of homosexuality,” and added that his skull was “half the normal thickness.” Meanwhile, Somers' virility and youth was played up, how he once swung a sledgehammer in an abattoir and became unusually strong. At the end of the trial the judge flatly directed the jury to find Somers not guilty, stating: “[Brinham] attempted to make homosexual advances. I think that is about as clear a case of provocation as it is possible to have.” In the end the jury indeed set Somers free.
In general, bludgeoning someone to death for making a non-violent pass, further damaging the body, tampering with the scene, attempting a cover-up, and failing to report the death should result in some charge or other sticking. But not this time. Insider's take on the event pretends journalistic impartiality, but in reality weights the scales. Somers gets the final word: he discusses his incredulity at “setting out for an innocent Saturday night and finishing up a killer.” He'd heard about homosexuals, he says, but never met one. The same could be said of the British public. But after George Brinham was outed, it thought it had. The case confirmed mainstream Britain's toxic prejudices against gay men. But Somers was never forgotten by friends and advocates—his murder became a spark for the gay rights movement of the 1970s.
Deep inside the civil rights movement.
Above we have an issue of The National Insider that hit newsstands today in 1966, and as you can see the cover is given over to Sheriff Jim Clark, who tells the story of how he saw civil rights activists involved in an orgy in Selma, Alabama. Clark actually writes the article himself, and it's mostly a defense against unflattering portrayals of him in the national press. He claims the accounts are part of “one of the most effective propaganda campaigns since Josef Goebbels sold Adolf Hitler to 70 million Germans—and destroyed a nation in the process.” It's always best to drop Hitler into the narrative early, Godwin be damned. Clark goes on: “The civil rights organizations and their hired agitators who descended on Selma knew that the sheriff must enforce the law and maintain order. They knew, and I knew, that I was playing into their hands. I was the heavy. They were the martyrs.”
This is fascinating stuff. Clark thought protestors were in Selma not to seek redress for abuses, but to be deliberately arrested. It's a classic case of constructing an alternate reality to confirm one's own prejudices. Civil rights protestors risk arrest, and are willing to be arrested, but do not prefer it. They prefer notice from the target of their protest, and news coverage of the event in order to spread their point of view. They don't hire agitators. It's an accusation always leveled, and not once proven. By Clark's formulation, public protest of any sort is not about seeking rights, but creating chaos. Conveniently, then, the only way to avoid creating chaos is not to protest at all, and accept one's lot in life. See how that works? Clark says, “I disapproved of civil rights protestors because they put themselves beyond the law.” But of course the law was what denied them equality, therefore no petition for redress could happen anywhere except beyond the law.
But what of the orgies? Here's Clark: “Dozens of Selma and Dallas County people swore to seeing sex acts between whites and Negroes. White teenaged girls making love in public with Negro men. White men dressed as priests making love with Negro girls. Make no mistake about it—sex and civil rights go together.” Of course this is always tactic number two. After refusing to accept the purpose behind civil protest, you then disparage the people. The fact that Clark went in a sexual direction shows what was really on his mind. “Sex and civil rights go together.” Which is to say, if blacks achieve the rights they seek, we can kiss our white girlfriends and daughters goodbye. It's almost comedy material, except it's hard to laugh knowing so many people were swayed by this argument. Sex is no longer overtly used as a propaganda weapon, but the smearing of rights protestors continues.
Taking a step back and looking at it from the reality based world, we cannot think of any instances where civil rights protestors risked their safety and freedom fighting oppression that was a figment of their imaginations. In every case the protestors were correct, from southern Alabama to South Africa. Sometimes it's ethnic majorities that are oppressed, but never the economically dominant. Sometimes the economically oppressed and economically dominant are the same ethnicity, leading to scenes such as those during the Great Depression when white police violently broke up the protests of the white unemployed. But in order to believe that rights protestors would risk their already tenuous status over a non-issue, one already has to have a low opinion of them. The upshot of Clark's article is that the Selma marchers had no true grievances. We know today that's false. Similarly, there are people who would have us believe that today's civil rights protesters have no valid grievances. This again, is demonstrably false. We'll have more from The National Insider later.
Politician on the verge of a nervous breakdown.
This National Insider from today in 1964 claims that American politician Barry Goldwater had “nervous breakdowns” in 1937 and 1939, but in the midst of his run for president denied they happened. Well, who wouldn’t, right? There’s no new reporting here—Insider is merely echoing the claims of publisher Ralph Ginzburg, who had written of the breakdowns in his magazine Fact, and as evidence had referenced an interview Goldwater’s wife had given Good Housekeeping in May 1964. That’s the inspiration for the line: Barry Says “None” …Wife Says "Two.” Ginzburg was garnering attention for Fact by attacking people from all over the political spectrum, including Bobby Kennedy, and he eventually lost a libel suit regarding his Goldwater claims.
The Goldwater breakdowns are a matter of record today. Ginzburg’s libel suit hinged not on the fact of those incidents, but on embellishments such as his convoluted assessment that Goldwater was “...a man who obviously identifies with a masculine mother rather than an effeminate father.” Goldwater made Ginzburg pay for his ill-considered words, but in the end, both of their careers faltered. Goldwater was crushed in the 1964 presidential election by Lyndon Johnson, and Ginzburg went to jail—not for libel, but for obscenity related to his other magazine Eros. It’s all just another interesting story conjured by another random tabloid cover. And there are still more to come—we have about a hundred full tabloids remaining, everything from Police Gazette to Midnight. We’ll never be able to post them all, but you can bet we’ll try our damndest.
They were on a collision course from the moment they met.
This cover of the The National Insider published today in 1963 touts a true story about actual people for a change of pace, in this case Harvey and Christine Holford. Thirty-one-year-old Harvey Holford was a club owner and well-known figure in Brighton, England; eighteen-year-old Christine Hughes was a local party girl. They met, romanced, and married each other, but Christine quickly found Harvey a sexual bore and he soon resented her constant bedding of other men. At one point he shaved her head bald as punishment for her philandering, then later apologized by buying her a sports car. But these stints of tranqulity never lasted long. The last straw came when she allegedly taunted him using their daughter Karen, claiming she wasn’t his, which resulted in him shooting her.
When police came to their flat the couple were sitting up in bed. She had six bullet wounds, one in the face, and was long gone from this world. She was propped against her husband, who was comatose from an overdose of pills. But he recovered and was held in Lewes Prison until he could stand trial for murder. The day before the proceedings were to begin he tossed himself from a window and fractured his skull. He recovered again, and eventually went to trial before a sympathetic judge who, referring to Christine’s taunt about the paternity of the couple’s daughter, at one point told those assembled in the court, “Can you imagine any words more calculated not only to sear and cut deeply into the soul of any man but to rub salt into the wound at the same time?”
Harvey Holford was later acquitted of murder to vigorous applause from the public gallery, and convicted instead of manslaughter, serving three years before being paroled in 1964. Of course, the key to acquitting a man of murdering his adulterous wife is to consider her a piece of property rather than a human being, and there’s little doubt that’s what happened in the Holford case, for as hurtful as infidelity may be, male pride eventually heals whereas dead wives never do.
Harvey claimed to have acted in a fit of passion—the very quality Christine always claimed he lacked in their marriage—but we tend to think divorce is the more sensible remedy for unfaithfulness. Or sometimes even—call us crazy—reconciliation. To this day, though, many still doubtless think Harvey Holford was blameless. Luckily for him, the presiding judge was one of them.
Playing Christine Keeler probably seemed like a good career move at the time, but it didn’t work out that way.
This issue of The National Insider appeared today in 1965 and features cover star Yvonne Buckingham. The headline refers to her, and the reason men thinks she’s sex mad is because she starred in 1963’s The Christine Keeler Story as the titular Keeler, whose affair with Britain’s Secretary of State for War John Profumo caused a scandal. We find it fascinating that the film appeared in November 1963, mere months after the revelations became public. That’s quick action.
Buckingham had already begun building an acting career, having appeared in at least twenty movies beginning in 1957, but for some reason, after all this steady work, she managed just one more role during the 1960s, and only two more in total. We have no info on whether starring as Keeler negatively affected her career, but certain roles have a way of doing that. Certainly Buckingham thought so, if National Insider can be believed. For example, the blurb beneath her cover photo reads: They ask what I think of Negroes as lovers, says Yvonne Buckingham. This refers to the scandalous revelation that Christine Keeler had a black lover who was peripherally entangled in the Profumo scandal.
In essence, the British press seems to have thought it would be good fun to portray Buckingham as a version of Keeler. The tactic probably helped sell papers and probably even expanded Buckingham’s public profile, but building a very specific association with a persona non grata such as Keeler in the minds of movie producers also very likely diminished Buckingham's chances to land a wide variety of movie roles (you can get a sense of how toxic even the most tenuous connection to Keeler was by reading what she had to say about it here). Buckingham eventually solved her career problems—in the early 1970s she gave up on the British film industry and moved to Brazil.
Did she turn into a freak or was she always that way?
The National Insider was a second tier tabloid, but even it sometimes got the facts correct. The headline on this cover is true—Diana Dors did have a two-way mirror in the bedroom ceiling of her house in Maidenhead, just outside London. Insider didn’t break the story. Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World had done that six years earlier and had shared all the tawdry details with British readers in a heavy breathing 12-week serial. But a good sex story can always be reprised, so Insider decided to dredge the details up again for American readers today in 1964.
At age nineteen Diana Dors had married a man named Dennis Hamilton, who turned out to be a paranoid, violent, and domineering louse who smacked her around and took over the management of her career. Professionally, he steered her away from serious drama into fluff cinema, while privately he initiated her into a life of sex parties and voyeurism. In addition to the two-way mirror in the bedroom ceiling, there were also assorted 8mm motion picture cameras scattered around the house so they could film their bacchanals and later review the action in their leisure time.
While all this partying was going on, a young American actress named Marilyn Monroe was becoming a star. Largely because of Hamilton’s career strategy, Dors would forever be considered Monroe lite, or, as she was often called, "The British Marilyn Monroe." This despite starting in movies a year earlier than Monroe.
Things weren’t going well in the marriage either. Hamilton’s violent and drunken tendencies were more and more often on public display. Make-up artists gossiped about the bruises they had to mask before Dors could shoot a scene. Hamilton punched out a photographer. And in one ugly incident, he brought two reporters home at midnight, dragged a sleepy Dors out of bed, and when she protested, smacked her so hard she tumbled down the stairs. She landed at the reporters’ feet, naked save for a dressing gown that had come open during the fall. Hamilton shouted to the reporters: “Now fucking interview her!”
Hamilton, who you see with Dors at bottom on their wedding day, died in 1959. An autopsy revealed that he had been suffering from tertiary syphilis. This terrrible affliction may have contributed to his erratic behavior, but it’s equally possible that his type of bad simply came straight from the core, and his need to hurt and control was a character trait, not a symptom. In any case, The National Insider replayed all the tawdry details of the marriage, and the issue must have simply flown off the newsstands, because the paper ran with the story again the very next week, at right. The interest is understandable. Dors was glamorous and very beautiful, and tabloid readers love nothing more than seeing a goddess in the muck.
What is most interesting about all this, to us at least, is that Dors did not curtail her raunchy activities after Hamilton exited the scene. Even two husbands later she was up to the same tricks. Her son Jason described life with Dors and her third husband Alan Lake this way: “There were no taboos in our house. I was only seven but I was free to wander in and out of my mum’s parties, no matter how hot they got. I would walk around in my pajamas chatting to John Lennon and Keith Moon. Mum would wander around serving cups of tea and trying to get people up into the bedrooms. She loved having friends round to watch the porn films made at the parties. They would sit around giggling as couples groped each other and made love on the bed. Most of them didn't even know they had been filmed.”
So there you have it. Whether Dennis Hamilton unleashed something in Diana Dors or she was always a voyeur party animal we don’t know. Or maybe it was a little of both, exacerbated by her reaching the height of fame as the prim fifties gave way to the swinging sixties. Interestingly, most of the information about the wild parties came from Dors herself at first. It wasn’t until after she died of cancer at age 52 that other people spoke up. But they were often kind with respect to Dors. That could be for many reasons, but we like to think of it this way: they must have had an awfully good time at those parties.
This problem is pretty much licked.
The problem with utterly tasteless tabloid covers is that they lock us into utterly tasteless attempts to make fun of them. We could refuse to be dragged to their level, true, but that would be boring. Anyway, behold The National Insider in all its muckraking glory, published today in 1965. This comes from the book of tabloid covers we scored online last year, which means that even though we’d love to tell you what this miracle cure for lesbianism is, we can’t because we don’t have those pages. Probably, though, there’s a standard twelve-step program, as in Alcoholics Anonymous, where, for example, step one is admitting that you’re powerless over alcohol. So, just substitute the word lesbians. We’re powerless over lesbians. Hmm. Maybe it’s just us, but that doesn’t sound like a problem at all.
It’s a lot like your life, bitches, except everyone is better dressed.
Interesting cover of The National Insider published today in 1964, promising to expose gay life in America, specifically New York City, Hollywood, and Chicago. Think there’s any chance it was a non-homophobic depiction? Well, different tabloids had different approaches. We’ve stored up some material on this and we’ll be getting into it a bit later.
A change is gonna come.
The mid-century tabloid obsession with transsexuals and gender reassignment continues with this issue of The National Insider published today, 1964. This time the subject is Abby Sinclair, who started life as Alvin Sinclair, but changed her sex and—like Coccinelle and Christine Jorgenson before her—became famous on the exotic dance circuit. Somehow Insider got exclusive rights to Sinclair’s story, and ran it as a serial entitled “I Was Male.” The series was later published as a book.
Sinclair, who sources agree had beautiful results with her reassignment, went on to a dual career as a stripper under the management of famed NYC promoter Bobby Colt, and as a manicurist named Alice at the Stage Barbershop in Manhattan. We found this out from a copy of (don’t laugh) The Beaver County Times from June 1965. Our guess is that the manicurist job was an excuse to get close to New York celebs, since her workplace was the preferred haircut stop for the likes of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Tom Poston.
The Times shares an anecdote about a famous columnist who saw Sinclair at Lou Black's Bellydance Emporium one night and recognized her from the barbershop. He sent a note to her only to be informed by Bobby Colt: "That's not Alice, and it's not a girl. That's a guy named Alvin Sinclair from Brooklyn who had one of those operations." Though it sounds as if Colt was turning his own client into a punchline, he really wasn't—the sex change was Sinclair's calling card, and all of her regulars knew she had been a man. For Colt, the more people who knew the story the better. We found nothing more on Abby Sinclair—her moment in history passed quickly. But life goes on, and wherever she went we suspect hers was always eventful.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1981—Ronnie Biggs Rescued After Kidnapping
Fugitive thief Ronnie Biggs, a British citizen who was a member of the gang that pulled off the Great Train Robbery, is rescued by police in Barbados after being kidnapped. Biggs had been abducted a week earlier from a bar in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil by members of a British security firm. Upon release he was returned to Brazil and continued to be a fugitive from British justice.
2011—Elizabeth Taylor Dies
American actress Elizabeth Taylor, whose career began at age 12 when she starred in National Velvet
, and who would eventually be nominated for five Academy Awards as best actress and win for Butterfield 8
and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
of congestive heart failure in Los Angeles. During her life she had been hospitalized more than 70 times.
1963—Profumo Denies Affair
In England, the Secretary of State for War, John Profumo, denies any impropriety with showgirl Christine Keeler and threatens to sue anyone repeating the allegations. The accusations involve not just infidelity, but the possibility acquaintances of Keeler might be trying to ply Profumo for nuclear secrets. In June, Profumo finally resigns from the government after confessing his sexual involvement with Keeler
and admitting he lied to parliament.
1978—Karl Wallenda Falls to His Death
World famous German daredevil and high-wire walker Karl Wallenda, founder of the acrobatic troupe The Flying Wallendas, falls to his death attempting to walk on a cable strung between the two towers of the Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Wallenda is seventy-three years old at the time, but it is a 30 mph wind, rather than age, that is generally blamed for sending him from the wire.
2006—Swedish Spy Stig Wennerstrom Dies
Swedish air force colonel Stig Wennerström, who had been convicted in the 1970s of passing Swedish, U.S. and NATO secrets to the Soviet Union over the course of fifteen years, dies in an old age home at the age of ninety-nine. The Wennerström affair, as some called it, was at the time one of the biggest scandals
of the Cold War.
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