Fredi was ready for Hollywood but Hollywood wasn't ready for equality.
U.S. actress Fredi Washington, née Fredericka Washington, who you see here in a candid style backstage shot, had only six credited motion picture roles despite her talent, which makes her a prime example of what black performers endured during the long apartheid era in Hollywood. Her most notable film was 1934's Imitation of Life, a rare integrated drama in which she co-starred with Claudette Colbert, Rochelle Hudson, and Alan Hale. Her limited cinematic choices were one reason why in 1937 she became a founding member of the Negro Actor's Guild, and tirelessly advocated for equality in film and the theatre. Today Washington is remembered for her activism, but also as a pioneer in a field that barely acknowledged her existence, while Imitation of Life is considered a groundbreaking achievement. This photo is undated, and though some sources say it's from 1940, that would be after her film career ended, so we suspect it's from around 1935.
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.
Don't fool around on Donna Mae.
We're back in Los Angeles County divorce court, a place that got so much celebrity usage during the mid-century period it probably could have benefitted from a VIP section. Above you see famed burlesque dancer and model Donna Mae Brown, aka Busty Brown, attending a spousal support hearing today in 1960. Brown performed throughout the U.S. but was based in L.A., headlining at the New Follies, Strip City, and other popular nightspots. Busty wasn't her only alias. The era was all about unwieldy nicknames meant to generate free publicity, therefore she was also known for a while as “Miss Shape of Things To Come,” and “Miss Anatomy.”
In this case, what was to come was monthly support. She was seeking funds from her second ex-husband Maynard Sloate, a high powered agent whose clients included Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, and Dinah Washington, and who later went into club ownership—including the aforementioned Strip City—through which he trafficked such stars as Anita O’Day and Redd Foxx. At the end of the day Brown, who had initiated divorce proceedings due to Sloate's various infidelities, won fifty dollars monthly, and twenty percent of her ex's gross earnings as support for herself and her children.
The notably slender Brown, who's a brunette above and below, but earned her fame as a platinum blonde, was one of the bolder models of her era, going topless in magazines, baring all for nudie film loops, and getting truly revealing for underground photo club shoots. The latter practice even got her arrested in 1953. The trio of poolside shots below give you a sense of how far she was willing to go, but they're not among her most explicit photos, because there's only so far we're willing to go. If you poke around online you might find those images. She's also fifth in a collection of photos we uploaded a few years ago. I'll admit there are a couple of aspects of marriage to Donna that I'll really miss.
I'm going to reach the top and I'll do it by using the most American method of all—buying my way there.
Above are the cover and original uncredited art for the sleaze novel Convention Girl, written by Rick Lucas for Beacon Signal and published in 1954. This was a one-day read. Basically, at a yearly Washington, D.C. convention staged by the Association of Young Executives, oil tycoon Holly Carroll and beer baron James Barton are both convinced by AYE string-pullers to run for the position of association president. Both are promised the inside track to victory by means not solely involving how many votes they actually get. As ex-lovers, the complications soon pile up between them, as well as between other highly sexed characters. The reasons they were asked to run for president are obscure, but they eventually boil down to a vast communist plot to undermine the free enterprise system. Commie scare fiction mixed with sleaze? What a concept! Sadly, as usual with these anti-commie books, the political aspects are laughably simple-minded. But we expected that. The hurdle that can't be overcome is the tepid eroticism. There's just not much heat—and this in a book with so many reds. We don't think we'll be reading Mr. Lucas again.
Blaxploitation flick goes slapstick and the result is bold but bad.
This poster for the blaxploitation flick Darktown Strutters, aka Get Down and Boogie, is a high quality piece of art. The movie it promotes, conversely, is a low quality piece of art, one of those efforts any rational assessment concludes is an utter disaster, but which has advocates, among them Quentin Tarantino. The advocates are wrong. Tarantino—and it pains us to say this—is wrong. This musical-alleged-comedy about a female motorcycle gang in L.A. battling the owner of a fried chicken franchise is about as entertaining as watching a circus clown punch himself repeatedly in the nose. If you watch it with your Vaudevillian cortex activated you might get a few bemused laughs. And if you dig into it with a pickaxe and mining helmet you might find commentary upon cultural appropriation, feminism, capitalism, and law enforcement. But if you examine it from a technical point of view you'll simply cringe, even factoring in its highly limiting three-day shooting schedule. Since when does lofty intent stand in for basic execution? We missed that memo. But we do love the poster (by an artist we were not able to identify), and we like the promo images below. They show Edna Richardson, Bettye Sweet, Shirley Washington and, front and center, Trina Parks, who thankfully had other opportunities to show her actual talent. Darktown Strutters premiered in the U.S. today in 1975.
She was more than just a movie star.
Smithsonian.com published an in-depth story yesterday about Austria-Hungary born Hollywood icon Hedy Lamarr, and how her technical genius helped bring the world Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and cell phones. Hah! Get with it Smithsonian. We talked about this under-discussed aspect of her life years ago.
It's curious that no matter how many times people write about Lamarr's technological exploits it never seems to become a generally known aspect of her personality. Maybe people want to see her as a beautiful actress, and much of the interest stops there. The Smithsonian piece will probably help change that a bit, and it's well written also (though considering what digital technology has wrought we'd probably add the phrase "for better and worse").
Yesterday's piece comes in tandem with the Smithsonian's Washington D.C. based National Portrait Gallery acquiring a rare original Luigi Martinati poster painted to promote Lamarr's 1944 thriller The Conspirators. We have no idea what it cost, but certainly a pile of money, since Martinati was not just a great artist, but one who tended to focus more on portraiture in his promos. You can see what we mean just below, and by clicking here and scrolling. As for Lamarr, we'll doubtless get back to her—and all her interesting facets—later.
He always manages to insert himself into the most private places.
When one of the Pulp Intl. girlfriends saw this book, she said, “I could use some house dick right now.” That's a true story. But moving on, think you have a right to privacy in your hotel room? Think again. In House Dick the detective main character has the run of a 340-room Washington, D.C. hotel, and he liberally uses his master keys to go where he wishes whenever on the flimsiest of pretexts. This is highly ironic considering author Gordon Davis was in reality E. Howard Hunt and, as a member of Richard M. Nixon's black bag squad, arranged the world's most famous hotel break-in at the Watergate Hotel.
He probably never should have gotten into politics—not only because his name is associated with one of the more shameful episodes in domestic American history (please, no obtuse e-mails, authoritarians), but also because Hunt could actually write. He's no Faulkner, but as genre fiction goes he's better than many. The main character in House Dick, tough guy Pete Novak, is drawn by a beautiful femme fatale into a scheme involving stolen jewels that—naturally—goes all kinds of sideways. There's less D.C. feel than we'd have liked, but the narrative works well overall. Gordon/Hunt wrote something like seventy books and we're encouraged to try a few more. This Gold Medal edition is from 1961 with Robert McGinnis cover art.
Once an addict always an addict.
The title of Jonathan's Craig's, aka Frank E. Smith's novel Junkie! is a bit misleading. The junkie in question has little part in the action save as the damsel in distress, mostly kept offpage. But the art by Ketor Seach captures the book's mood nicely, even if it highlights someone other than the actual protagonist, a jazz musician named Steve Harper who prowls the mean streets and smoky clubs of Washington, D.C. trying to solve a murder, then another, then another. A trio of beautiful women keep him thoroughly baffled, and a specially made couch plays a crucial role. Harper's characterization as an actual musician is thin, but the book is a good read, with short chapters and spare prose. Though the fertile milieu could have led to a higher quality result, we recommend the final product.
Nightbeat shines a light into the darkest reaches of American vice.
This issue of Nightbeat which hit newsstands in December 1957 is the first ever published—and possibly the last. We've seen no hint of another one. That would make it probably both the best debut and finale by any mid-century tabloid. The magazine focuses entirely on call girls, delving into their activities in cities such as Washington, D.C., Hollywood, and Miami Beach. Shame is the name of the game here—there are many photos of arrested prostitutes hiding from the camera, many actual names revealed, and in the Hollywood section many of those names belong to celebrities.
Among the major and minor stars covered are Ronnie Quillen, an actress-turned-hooker-turned madame, who after years in the trade was beaten to death in 1962. Patricia Ward, aka The Golden Girl of Vice, makes an appearance. She was turned out by her boyfriend Minot Jelke, who was heir to a margarine fortune but had fallen on hard times and decided he needed to use his girlfriend'a body to survive. Actress Lila Leeds is covered. She's best known today for being the other party snared in Robert Mitchum's drug bust. Most sources today don't mention that she went on to be arrested in Chicago for soliciting.
The magazine also touches on Barbara Payton. Back in 1957 it was already known that she sold her wares, but she's unique in that we now know what it was like to have sex with her, thanks to Scotty Bowers, who revealed in his 2012 Flickertown tell-all Full Service that for a while Payton was the top call girl in town, and added this tidbit: “I have to say that a half hour with her was like two hours with someone else. She was electrifyingly sexy and made a man feel totally and wholly satisfied.”
The details keep coming for more than sixty pages in Nightbeat. One unlikely character is Lois Evans Radziwill, née Lois Olson, who is better known as Princess Radziwill. Info on her is actually a bit scarce, especially considering she was a princess. She was born in North Dakota, sprouted into a six-foot beauty, and married Polish royal Prince Wladislaw Radziwill in 1950. By 1951 she was divorced and running with the Los Angeles fast set. Nightbeat says she was arrested under suspicious circumstances—check the photo at right—but we can find no official confirmation of that anywhere.
However, according to a couple of non-official sources she became addicted to drugs, pawned most of her possessions, and eventually turned to prostitution in New York City, selling herself on the streets of Harlem—at least according to one account. We'll stress here that these are third party claims from blogs and we're merely collating and reporting them. We make no assertions as to their accuracy or truthfulness. In fact, let's just say they're all lying. We don't want to get sued again. Did we mention Pulp Intl. got sued a while back? That's when you know you've really arrived. We kind of thought being based way out in the Philippines would discourage that sort of thing—but no. We'll get into that some other time maybe.
Anyway, Nightbeat is an amazing magazine. It's possible there was never another issue put together. The first one would have been such a tough act to follow. But the masthead designation Vol. 1 issue 1 seems to indicate others were planned, so maybe there are more out there somewhere. This was really a great find for us. It's going for fifty dollars on Ebay right now, but we got ours for five as part of a group of ten other excellent magazines, including this one. We intend to hold onto Nightbeat for a long time. It's a dirty treasure. We have nineteen interior scans below.
This is loaded, so answer this next question carefully. Who's the star of this movie?
Jean Arthur, née Gladys Georgianna Greene poses for a promo photo made when she was filming the romantic comedy A Lady Takes a Chance with John Wayne. Arthur was a very big star who began in silent cinema, made the transition to talkies, and reached the height of her fame in her mid-thirties. She was billed above Wayne for Lady, and he was a huge star himself. Some of Arthur's other efforts include Shane and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. The photo above dates from 1943, and A Lady Takes a Chance premiered in the U.S. today that same year.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
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.
The federal penitentiary located on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay closes. The island had been home to a lighthouse, a military fortification, and a military prison over the years. In 1972, it would become a national recreation area open to tourists, and it would receive national landmark designations in 1976 and 1986.
1916—Einstein Publishes General Relativity
German-born theoretical physicist Albert Einstein publishes his general theory of relativity. Among the effects of the theory are phenomena such as the curvature of space-time, the bending of rays of light in gravitational fields, faster than light universe expansion, and the warping of space time around a rotating body.
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