|Vintage Pulp||Sep 4 2016|
|Hollywoodland||Dec 23 2015|
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.
|Vintage Pulp||Nov 28 2015|
|Politique Diabolique||Sep 11 2015|
|Politique Diabolique||Jul 9 2015|
Collier’s isn’t the most visually striking of magazines, but this issue that hit newsstands today in 1954 caught our eye because it contains several nice photos of Marilyn Monroe. There’s also a bit of interesting graphic art, specifically a colorful baseball illustration by Willard Mullin. The other item that attracted us was a story called “What Price Security?” about U.S. government overreach in its search for communists. No art to speak of, but the content gives a window onto the Red Scare period of American life. Author Charlotte Knight tells readers that government efforts against communism have been “so irresponsibly administered that it may have done more harm to the United States than to its enemies.” Sound familiar?
Knight slams witch hunting Senator Joseph McCarthy, and characterizes the fervor around alleged subversives in Washington, D.C. as creating a ripe environment for paranoiacs and liars to ruin innocent people. But of course, as well written as Knight’s article is, she should not have been surprised by anything she discovered. Witch hunts always become vehicles for revenge, personal advancement, and profiteering, because society and politics become warped in such a way as to clear a path for these pursuits. History invariably judges such periods as human tragedies and political failures, though sadly, too late for the ruined and the dead. Scans below.
|Vintage Pulp||Feb 4 2013|
Above and below, the mix of fiction, fact, hysteria, photos, and art that is NYC-based Volitant Publishing’s Sir! This February 1954 issue has a great portrait of Gina Lollobrigida, along with articles on the danger of Peeping Toms, “Hungarian” dancer Yvonne Davis, and how to spot frigid women. The promised story on sex in the Caribbean, which the cover art is supposed to illustrate, does not appear in the magazine. We’ve never seen that happen with a tabloid. Maybe the writer had a Eureka! moment during his field research: Wait—I'm having sex in the Caribbean. Why would I ever go back to New York? In any case, the story is MIA.
|Vintage Pulp||Aug 1 2011|
Above: a rare poster for the Republic Pictures drama The Red Menace, which as you might guess was a cheeseball propaganda film designed to instill terror into Americans about communism’s plans for global domination. You get plenty of subterfuge here, along with lots of betrayals and a few brutal beatdowns, and one of the commies—Betty Lou Gerson—would later portray purest evil by voicing Cruella de Vil in Disney’s One Hundred and One Dalmations. Ironically, when The Red Menace premiered the U.S. government was entering into a period during which it would sponsor numerous anti-democratic coups in Latin America, Asia, and the Middle East. This was unknown to most Americans, but it’s debatable whether they would have been concerned. The years immediately following World War II marked a rising anti-communist wave in the U.S., a movement that would create fertile conditions for the political stardom of witch hunting senator Joseph McCarthy. He would flame out within a decade, but at the beginning of his crusade he had substantial public support. For its part, Republic Pictures was interested more in profit than propaganda, and Menace was rush-released to take advantage of the public mood. The haste showed—the movie was spectacularly, hilariously bad, and is considered today by many to be the Reefer Madness of anti-communist films. It premiered today in 1949.
|Vintage Pulp||Feb 2 2011|
Communists were already said to be under every bed in America in 1956, so why not under every bed in Mexico too? In this February 1956 Sir! editors float a preposterous story about communists controlling the vice rackets south of the border. Did they really expect people to buy this stuff? Yes, they did—after all, there was a communist party in Mexico, and hence communists. They had no real-world connection to the vice trade but in the fear mongering climate of that time the Sir! story would not have seemed so farfetched. Does it make you wonder what stories people will laugh at us fifty years from now for believing? Yeah, us too.
|The Naked City | Vintage Pulp||Oct 7 2010|
We double up on the murders today, thanks to the always informative true crime magazine Master Detective. This issue is from October 1954, with Barye Phillips cover art, and amongst the horrors revealed is one involving Massachusetts spouses Melvin and Lorraine Clark. The Clarks were heavy into key-swapping parties, at which opposite sexes blindly selected each other's keys from a bowl or sack to randomly determine who would be whose companion for the evening. If you’ve ever seen the Sigourney Weaver movie The Ice Storm, it was exactly like that—a few drinks, a few joints, and some freewheeling, no-strings-attached sex. But when Melvin came home the night of April 10, 1954, and found Lorraine in bed with another man outside the context of a swapping party, an argument ensued that escalated to the point where Lorraine stabbed her husband with a knitting needle and shot him twice. She wrapped Melvin’s body in chicken wire, weighed him down with a cement block or two, and dumped him off Rocks Village Bridge into the Merrimack River, where the current was supposed to carry him out to sea.
Lorraine never expected to see her husband again we can be sure, and even filed for divorce as part of her cover story, claiming he had abandoned her after a bitter confrontation. But Melvin hadn’t abandoned her—in fact, he hadn’t gone far at all. A bird watcher found his mostly skeletonized body in a riverside marsh in early June. Under police questioning Lorraine caved in pretty much immediately and, long story short, earned a life sentence in federal prison. She never named an accomplice, but no bodybuilder she, it seemed clear she could not have done the heavy lifting involved in the murder without a helping hand. Also, for someone who had little to no experience with firearms, she sure had good aim. Melvin had taken one in the forehead and one in the temple. But Mrs. Clark was not pressed to name a partner in crime, did her time in silence, and was eventually paroled. In retrospect, you wonder if local bigwigs wanted the case to go away. After all, you meet the most interesting people when you swap.
Master Detective treats us to a second fascinating story, this one on Italian fashion model Wilma Montesi, who in April 1953 was found dead on Plinius Beach near Ostia, Italy. Police declared her death a suicide oraccidental drowning—case closed. But the public had many questions. How had she drowned in just a few inches of water? If it was suicide, why had she shown no signs of depression? Why were her undergarments in disarray? The police weren’t keen to reopen the case, but agreed to an informal re-investigation. Weeks later they announced once more: suicide or accidental drowing. But the public suspected cops weren’t trying to reach any other conclusion.
When the editor of the neo-fascist paper Attualita charged in print seven months later that Wilma Montesi had not gone to Ostia the day of her death, but to a fancy hunting lodge in nearby Capocotto, the story was not just ignored—Italian authorities hauled the editor before a court and threatened him with charges for spreading false information. But his tale was backed up by a witness—Anna Maria Caglio, who had spent time at the lodge and dropped a bomb on Italian society when she said it was a front for drugs and sex parties—sort of like The Ice Storm again, but with much richer and more powerful people involved. By powerful, we're talking about judges, politicians, the Pope’s personal physician and other Vatican officials, and the well-connected Foreign Minister’s son Piero Piccioni, who you see pictured just above.
When the national Communist party began making waves, the carabinièri—Italy’s military police—stepped in. Like the local cops, they weren’t keen to pursue the case, but they weren’t about to let the Communists break it open and potentially expose the corruption of the entire political establishment. The carabinièri’s involvement angered many upper crust Italians, but when their officers walked the streets during those months the general public literally applauded them for daring to tread where the police had not. Their investigation soon focused on Piccioni, who besides being the scion of a political family was a famous jazz composer. But Piccioni had an alibi—at the time of the murder he was in the house of actress Alida Valli in Amalfi, where he claimed to be sick in bed. Rumors sprang up that he was Valli’s lover. Why did anyone care? Because Valli, a big star at the time who had appeared in Orson Welles’ The Third Man, was married to another famous musician, Oscar de Mejo. The case was now a full-blown media circus.
This is the way it may have gone: every direction the carabinièri turned, politically connected Italians threw up walls in their path. Alternatively, it may have gone like this: the carabinièri made a noisy show of annoying a few heavy hitters, but were only performing for a suspicious and cynical public. What was clear was very powerful people wanted the orgiastic activities in Capacotto forgotten. Behind-the-scenes manuvering was rife. Anna Maria Caglio even wrote a letter to the Pope warning him that there were people around him who meant him harm, presumably because they wanted to expose the involvement of Vatican officials in the late night shenanigans at the lodge. Pressure came down from the highest levels of the Italian establishment to put the case to bed quickly. It wasn’t quick. But neither was it necessarily thorough. Eventually four people were brought to trial, including Piero Piccioni. All were acquitted. Perhaps the only consequence of the investigation is that it became one of the most celebrated mysteries of all time, inspiring many books, and even a symbolic reference in the incomparable Federico Fellini film La Dolce Vita. But what really happened to Wilma Montesi? Nobody knows. Today the case is still unsolved.
|Hollywoodland||Aug 5 2010|
Hush-Hush magazine goes for broke in this issue from August 1963, offering up a slate of tales narrated in their usual breathless style. First, they tell us how Roddy McDowall took nude photographs of Elizabeth Taylor on the set of Cleopatra and tried to sell them, but was thwarted when she “erupted like Mount Vesuvius”. They then demonstrate the limits of their imaginations by telling us that Italian singer Silvana Blasi reacted like “an uncontrollable Mount Vesuvius” when an African-American dancer was hired at the Folies Bergère. Two volcano similes in one issue is bad enough, but the same mountain?
For investigative journalism, Hush-Hush shows us photographs of a dead Carole Landis and an unconscious Susan Hayward, and concludes that sleeping pills are bad. And finally, the magazine stokes the fires of paranoia with two stories: in the first, they explain how Fidel Castro plans to conquer America with heroin, which he’s growing with the help of two-thousand Chinese advisors; in the second, they reveal that the second wife of Dr. Sam Sheppard is a Nazi who plans to revive the Third Reich, and that she’s being helped by—you guessed it—Fidel Castro, who is somehow a communist and a Nazi. Neat trick that.
As we’ve mentioned before, though these stories are laughable, people actually believed them, and believed them by the millions, as evidenced by Hush-Hush’s sales figures. The lesson is clear: the choice between popularity and truth is really no choice at all.