We're going to have fun. I'm well known as the life of the Communist Party.
This cover for M.E. Chaber's 1952 spy thriller All the Way Down is uncredited but pretty nice. The rear pleases the eye too. If we had to guess we'd say it was painted by Rafael DeSoto, who was often utilized by Popular Library during the early ’50s, but with no interior credit, alas, we cannot know for sure. What we do know for sure is that Chaber's real name was was Kendell Foster Crossen, and under various pseudonyms he wrote pulp fiction and sci-fi, and well as other spy novels. Most of the latter category starred franchise hero Milo March, heavy drinker and quick with a quip, with the above coming second in a series devoted to the character. It was originally called No Grave for March, but the good folks at Popular Library thought All the Way Down was a better fit, and of course when it comes to title changes they're always right.
All the way down where? Why into the underbelly of German communism. At the center of the plot is a superweapon—one of those hilarious sci-fi contrivances unique to 1950s mass market literature. March heads to Berlin bearing microfilm concerning this technological atrocity and poses as a member of the American Communist Party in order to infiltrate the German commies. Chaber's descriptions of post-war pre-wall Berlin, the streets, subways, and parks, are obviously written from experience, and those passages add considerable interest to the proceedings as Milo tries to earn the trust of suspicious enemies, stay alive while doing so, and—best case scenario—keep a low level brandy buzz intact the entire time. And of course there's a love interest. Greta is her name. She's German by birth but American by nationality and a member of the Denver Communist Party. Milo wants to march into her panties, so naturally smalltalk brings him around to asking why she joined the movement. Part of her answer:
“Then in 1942, after we Americans were at war against Hitler, someone wrote a name on the window of my father's store. It was the same name that the Nazis had written on his store window in Berlin—only it was written in English instead of German this time. The next day I became a Communist.”
She joined the Communist Party to oppose fascism. Why do we highlight that quote? Well, let's just say people are becoming confused these days about Nazis. It was once universally known that Hitler persecuted and imprisoned leftists, despite the deliberately deceptive name of his political party. Those episodes are mentioned time and again in All the Way Down, as Chaber makes clear that Nazis and communists were at opposite ends of the political spectrum. He probably never would have believed there would be confusion about this, yet here we are in 2019, and increasing numbers of Americans believe (or at least pretend) Nazism and communism were both leftist movements. In any case, Chaber has written an entertaining book here, in which a skirmish between communists and capitalists is deftly won by the capitalists. That's not a spoiler. In 1952, in a Popular Library paperback, it's obviously the only ending that could ever be.
The first symptom will be blood gushing from the center of your chest.
This excellent promo image shows U.S. actress Dorothy Hart in a shot made for the red scare flick I Was a Communist for the F.B.I. Hart made only about fifteen other films, among them The Naked City, Take One False Step, Undertow, Loan Shark, and Outside the Wall. We've seen none, but they all sound like potential winners to us, so we'll report back. This photo is from 1952.
Widmark/Peters noir looks great and packs a punch.
It wouldn't be a film noir festival without at least one anti-commie thriller and Pickup on South Street is it. The movie stars Richard Widmark as a two-bit pickpocket who lifts a wallet during an NYC subway ride and unexpectedly ends up with a priceless government secret meant to be given to commie spies by a cabal of sweaty traitors. Widmark sneers his way into a position where he thinks he can sell the stolen info for fifty grand. He's got another think coming.
Best line: If you refuse to cooperate you'll be as guilty as the traitors that gave Stalin the A bomb!
Well, Stalin had help from spies but we don't think any gave him the bomb like a borscht recipe. He had help on other fronts as well, including from captured German scientists and homegrown Russian knowhow, but this is film noir, so go with it. The good team vs. bad team dynamic continues throughout, and numerous people try to convince Widmark to put his own interests aside and play for the home squad. They're wasting their breath.
The movie co-stars Jean Peters, a good actress and amazing knockout who's been a bit forgotten, even though she was in a few other good films and went on to marry nutball billionaire Howard Hughes. Her opening scene on a humid subway will stick with you. Sadly, she harbors yet another inexplicable film noir infatuation with a male lead who's about as nice as a sack of cold dick tips, but this is film noir so go with it. Ditto for the pushing and slapping Peters endures. She's even knocked cold by Widmark in their initial encounter. Deliberately.
His apology: You okay or did I bust something?
These sly flirtations increase Peters' ardor. The female heart wants what it wants, at least in the minds of wannabe-tough-guy Hollywood screenwriters. That screenwriter would be Samuel Fuller, who actually was acquainted with the underworld from his days as a crime reporter. So it could be that he knew more about gutter love than we do, but we doubt it. Here's what really matters—Peters absolutely kills her role, and does her own stunts too. Thelma Ritter, later of Rear Window, also gets a pivotal turn and nails her part as a tired older lady just trying to get by.
In the end Pickup on South Street comes full circle. While it's about patriotism, and trying to survive in New York City with zero means, and a weird kind of masochistic 1953 infatuation we'll never really understand, it starts with pickpocketing and eventually returns, in a symmetry that feels very modern in screenwriting terms, to that idea for the excellent climax. With Fuller directing and Joe MacDonald handling the cinematography, the final result is a knockout in both senses of the word—looks great, packs a punch.
I go out walkin'... after midnight... out in the moonlight...
Crime writers all face the same task of dumping their heroes into hot water in new and interesting ways. In Night Walker Donald Hamilton shoves his protagonist into a bizarre situation and it all begins with him merely hitchhiking after dark. The next thing he knows he's hurt, housebound, and forced to assume a dead man's identity. If he doesn't continue the charade serious consequences could result, with prison being the least of them. But of course, as in any decent thriller, there's always the promise of great rewards, in this case the dead man's beautiful wife Elizabeth, or possibly the dead man's young mistress Bonita. There's a funny line of dialogue in this one when a character refuses a cigarette:
“Don't take it out on Philip Morris. He hasn't done anything to you.”
Ah, the 1950s, when men were men and cigarettes weren't coffin nails. And another staple of 1950s genre fiction is commie hysteria, also a major component of this book. But that's fine—every literary era has its archetypal villains. The book's fatal flaw is that the latter portion contains long monologues of the bad guy explaining his evil plot, due to the fact that Hamilton hasn't constructed the narrative for the hero to suss it out for himself. Tedious doesn't even begin to describe this sort of writing. Overall Night Walker is middling work from Hamilton, passable in the first half, but a bit taxing in the second. Good thing this 1964 edition from Fawcett's Gold Medal was cheap. And the cover art is nice. It's by Harry Bennett.
I'm getting pretty fed up with your attitude, mister. You should try being as friendly as your wife.
John Deering meets a sexpot in a bar who offers him employment with her rich aunt. The aunt—this is a sleaze book, so she's a total cougar—is mysterious about the job, but when you send your daughter to find a man in a bar what do you suppose the job will be? The aunt lounges about in bed half naked and tells John she'll pay him just to hang around her mansion, allegedly so she can study him and see if he's the right man for the still unspecified job. It's about at this point that he realizes she has no feet. Which makes this passage rather interesting:
“He could not help noticing that her nightgown was high on her hips. She was exposed to his view. He tried not to look at her cunt, but found it next to impossible not to do so. She has a beautiful body, he thought. She must have been ravishing once, before her accident. She still is, he thought further—no mistake about it. There is nothing about her that repels me, as she feared there might be. I find her damned pleasant to look at—feet or no feet.”
John is finally told about the job. The cougar and her husband can't inherit unless they give the patriarch of the clan a grandchild. Why can't the hubby get the job done? Does it matter? This is sleaze. The only job that truly matters is giving readers boners. John is sexually attracted to the aunt, but also likes her daughter, who's more age appropriate for him. Complications arise, including—gasp!—murder. And that's all we'll say. Except that we really enjoy these silly books. The copyright on this one is 1967 and the art is by Ed Smith.
In mid-century action magazines trouble always has a woman at its center.
Adventure for Men is new magazine for us, part of a group a friend couriered over from the U.S. last year. The art in this April 1968 issue is uncredited in the masthead, but two spreads are signed by Howell Dodd. The stories range from tales of wild 1890s San Francisco to uncharted Madagascar to your nearby nudist camp. And of course, par for the course for such publications, all the adventures seem to revolve around women, which makes them miss-adventures, so to speak. But we'll admit we haven't read all of the magazine yet. The piece “Sex Mistakes Most People Make!” for example. We figured we're better off not knowing.
But we did read the story on the sex camps of the Red Chinese. In times of stress people will believe anything, and there was no greater time of stress than the Cold War, a period during which most people feared they were seconds away from nuclear incineration. We're all still potentially seconds away from nuclear incineration, but back then those fears were openly exploited for political gain and monetary profit by con artists as diverse as the U.S. government and the New York City tabloid industry. Adventure for Men joins in the fun with its China sex camps tale.
During the 1960s, when Chinese were already suffering from both famine and widespread state violence, many were sent to prison camps to work and be re-educated. Conditions were generally awful, and often life threatening. Inmates were cold, underfed, besieged by vermin, and physically abused. As terrible as all that is, it still isn't enough for Adventure for Men, as journalist Alexander Ford takes the harrowing story of Chinese dissident Kuo Chung-hsaio and his wife and inflates it into sleaze fiction. Oh yeah. Political imprisonment can be erotic. All Reds are perverts. But the “sex camps” trumpeted on Adventure for Men's cover refers not to any state sanctioned sexual abuse. That accusation is never made. No—it refers to a specific voyeuristic prison official.
This official would not let Chung-hsaio see his wife unless the couple had sex while he was in the room watching. Chung-hsaio describes through Ford how humiliating and horrible the experience was, though he neglects to explain how he and his wife were even able to sexually function with their tormentor staring from the corner. Naturally, in the end it's the official's deviancy that creates the opportunity for the couple's daring escape. Do we buy this titillating tale of how a jailer got his rocks off, let his guard down, and ended up permanently cooled by Chung-hsaio's righteous hand? Not even a little bit. It's right from Hollywood's b-movie playbook—smash cut and they're out. But we'll admit that for short form sleaze it's actually pretty good. Scans below.
Nope. Dead asleep as usual. Looks like I'll be polishing the jewelry again tonight, if you know what I mean.
This book has nothing to do with polishing jewelry—i.e. masturbation—though the cover could be interpreted that way. Or maybe that's just our dirty minds. Anyway, the story deals not with female needs, but with the dawn of the communist witch hunt era in the U.S., and how one man is targeted, with negative effects upon his wife, ex-wife, son, et al. The cover is supposed to depict the dawning of suspicion and distrust in the main character's once stable marriage. The novel originally appeared in hardback in 1949, this Popular Library abridged paperback hit bookstores in 1950, and as is often the case with this publisher, the art is uncredited.
And now, just because we came across them (and about two-hundred others), here are fifteen terms for female masturbation, ranging from the absurd to the sublime:
15: Muffin buffin'
14: Manual override
13: Clicking the mouse
12: Reading braille
11: Playing with Mrs. Palmer's daughters
10: Backslappin' the beaver
9: Driving Miss Daisy
8: Visiting the magic kingdom
7: Making soup
5: Searching for Spock
4: Beating around the bush
3: Soloing on the clitar
2: Tip-toeing through the two lips
1: Fingering the accused*
*also useful for communist witch hunts
Hey ho! Hey ho! Huston and Ferrer must go!
Today in 1952 protestors comprising members of the 17th District American Legion Un-American Activities Committee demonstrate outside the Fox Wilshire Theater in Los Angeles against director John Huston and actor José Ferrer, whose new film Moulin Rouge was premiering that night. Why was the American Legion pissed? Basically because in 1947 Huston helped form the Committee for the First Amendment to protest the House Committee on Un-American Activities hearings (HUAC), and because Ferrer was a liberal. The anti-communist hysteria was in full swing at this point, and more than five-hundred names had been added to anti-communist blacklists.
Today there are numerous HUAC apologists, and their arguments boil down to nothing more than: “But there were communists in Hollywood!” Certainly that was true, but U.S. government incompetence and opportunism destroyed many more innocent people than communist spies were ever caught. A moral effort in crime fighting never hurts more innocent people than criminals. When it does, history laterlabels such periods tyranny. HUAC has been labeled exactly thus, an assessment that is extremely unlikely to change. And of course, it’s worth pointing out that being a communist was not equivalent to being a spy, nor was it a criminal offense. At least not yet—two years later President Dwight D. Eisenhower made communism illegal in the U.S. with the Communist Control Act.
Who were the people behind this magazine? They don't offer many clues.
Top Secret fashioned itself a top tier tabloid, but one thing we’ve never liked about it is an inferior printing process that makes its interior images look like cheap dot matrix. We can’t tell you who to blame for that, though, because Top Secret was so secret it didn’t bother with masthead credits. At least not in the issues we’ve bought. Writers get by-lines, but editors and publishers do not so much as give a hint of their identities. Hell, our issues don’t even have publication dates, but we've discerned this one is from November 1964. Well, the backers might have been incognito but the methods were nothing unusual. One writer digs up dirt on Xavier Cugat and Abbe Lane, another tells the story of mass killer Jose Rosario Ramirez Camacho, another contributor delves into Tuesday Weld’s personal life, and a U.S. “heroin epidemic” is pinned on Chinese plotting to undermine democracy.
Of special note, there’s a photo of Pamela Green (panel 18), whose weird transformation into Princess Sonmar-Harriks we shared a while back. Also, the photo of French actress Astrid Caron (in the bikini) looks familiar. That’s because we saw it in a different tabloid—this issue of Inside Story—unattributed and used for a piece about suntan lotions. It shows how these magazines used handout photos for whatever purposes they saw fit. Also, Top Secret publishes an open letter to America entitled A Homosexual Pleads—Why Don’t You Leave Us Alone! You’d be forgiven for expecting something ridiculous from a mid-century tabloid, but this piece credited to an anonymous writer is smart and serious. It enumerates the injustices gay men face, from housing discrimination to military disenfranchisement, and feels like it could have been written yesterday. Scans below.
Protecting democracy by killing democracy.
Above you see photos of various people involved with the House Un-American Activities Committee, the government body that sought to ferret out communism in the U.S. beginning in 1938. The images were made today in 1951, and the men pictured are A.L. Wirin, Robert Shayne, William Wheeler, Arnold Krieger, and Morton Krieger. Wirin was a defense lawyer who later became prominent in the ACLU, Wheeler was a lead investigator for HUAC, and the others were witnesses called to testify. Some of the latter group offered varying levels of cooperation, with Morton Krieger giving up at least one name, that of Dr. Murray Abowitz, who interrogators described as “a member of one of the professional cells of the Communist Party in the field of medicine.” Abowitz was later fired from his position at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles.
His destruction was indicative of the fact that the communist witch hunts which had begun in Washington, D.C. had by 1951 spread into every sector of society—the entertainment industry, the professional ranks, labor unions, and black communities such as Watts, Harlem, and Oakland. It was a disgraceful period in U.S. history. Consider—many other countries, particularly those in Europe, lived up to their democratic ideals by allowing communist parties to have a voice in the political discourse. But given free reign to disseminate their solutions, communists didn’t then and haven’t since had great success convincing significant numbers of voters to follow their path. In the U.S., by contrast, top political powers decided that Americans could not be allowed to hear such ideas at all. Thus the anti-democratic red squads were conceived and over the next two decades ruined thousands of careers and lives.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1969—Woodstock Festival Begins
The Woodstock Music & Art Fair, which was billed as an Aquarian Exposition, takes place on a 600 acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York. It would run for three sometimes rainy days and feature thirty-two acts performing at all hours of the day and night. Today the festival is regarded as one of the greatest events in popular music history.
1977—Radio Signal Arrives from Deep Space
An unidentified radio signal, nicknamed the WOW Signal for the notation a scientist made on a computer readout, is briefly detected by the SETI (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence) project's Big Ear radio telescope. Despite a month of searching the same section of space, the signal is never found again.
1912—U.S. Invades Nicaragua
United States Marines invade Nicaragua to support the U.S.-backed government installed there after José Santos Zelaya had resigned three years earlier. American troops remain for eleven years.
1936—Last Public Execution in U.S.
Rainey Bethea, who had been convicted of rape and murder, is hanged in Owensboro, Kentucky in what is the last public execution performed in the United States.
1995—Mickey Mantle Dies
New York Yankees outfielder Mickey Mantle dies of complications from cancer, after receiving a liver transplant. He was one of the greatest baseball players ever, but he was also an alcoholic and played drunk, hungover, and unprepared. He once said about himself, "Sometimes I think if I had the same body and the same natural ability and someone else's brain, who knows how good a player I might have been."
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