Albert Camus' fatal 1960 auto accident may have been a KGB assassination.
Italian author Giovanni Catelli has just published a book that claims French writer Albert Camus was assassinated by the KGB, rather than dying in an auto accident, as largely believed. When you say the words “Cold War intrigue,” we're all in, so the story caught our eye. Catelli's theory, which he first began airing in 2011, is that the KGB silenced Camus because he was a globally famous figure who made a habit of criticizing the Soviet Union. The order was allegedly given by Dmitri Shepilov, the USSR’s minister of internal affairs, after Camus slammed him in the French newspaper Franc-Tireur in March 1957. Camus died in 1960, so the killing took three years to come to fruition, according to Catelli.
His book length argument, La mort de Camus, is getting white hot press right now, however it's very interesting to look back at contemporary articles about the crash. Camus was riding as a passenger in a car driven by his publisher Michel Gallimard, with Gallimard's wife Janine and their daughter Anne in the rear seat. Michel Gallimard died, but his wife and daughter survived to describe the crash. Michel was driving fast and had been told to slow down, and had drunk wine at dinner.
A gander at the wreckage of the heavy Farcel Vega HK500 attests to its speed. We checked the various articles popping up online and found none that mentioned either the velocity of the car or the drinking of the driver, but that's how the internet works—a fantastic claim circles the world five times faster than anything resembling balance or a fact check.
Catelli, though, has an answer for the reckless driving theory—the Soviets had attached a device to the car that would puncture a tire only in the event of sufficient speed. If the Soviets came up with the device described, it would not kick in without the added ingredient of driver haste, which often happens in conjunction with alcohol consumption, which in turn is a near certainty when talking about French people, all of which means the chances of a crash with muddied circumstances were pretty high. The device, if it ever existed, was certainly clever. It would be like a device that tied your shoelaces together, but only if you went downstairs in a rush, and you happened to live in a fourth floor flat with a balky elevator.
Catelli's belief that Camus was disposed of via assassination is bolstered by the fact that the car he was riding in somehow careened off a stretch of straight road thirty feet wide. Nobody described Michel Gallimard trying to dodge a hedgehog or pothole, so despite speed and possible drunkenness, some unforeseen factor seems required to send the vehicle into the weeds. On the other hand, three years is a long time to enact a death plot. We've seen Yankees and Red Sox fans patch their shit up in less time. But let's move this death from the settled bin into the mysterious bin, which is where we like everything to be anyway. Camus, the famed absurdist, once wrote that, “There can be nothing more absurd than to die in a car accident.” And if Catelli is correct, nothing can be more convenient either.
Don't let my title fool you. I'm not here to play and I'm definitely not about to mate with you.
This rare shot shows Playboy Playmate of the Year and actress Claudia Jennings in danger mode, a facet of herself she showed quite often in her various gun toting roles in b-movies, including Deathsport, The Great Texas Dynamite Chase, and 'Gator Bait. This is from 1969.
Forget it, Jake. It's Tinseltown.
We were poking around the architecture forum skyscraperpage.com and ran across this interesting photo of a billboard advertising the film Chinatown. This was located in Los Angeles at the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and Marmont Lane, and as you can see it touts the opening of the film today in 1974. We lived on the west side of L.A. for four years, and used to pass this spot occasionally. Marmont Lane winds to the right toward the famed Chateau Marmont Hotel, where luminaries such as Howard Hughes, Natalie Wood, Elizabeth Taylor, and James Dean once made the scene, and a couple met their ends, including Helmut Newton and John Belushi.
We knew the intersection was one of the city's most important billboard spots and wondered what else had been advertised there. So we had a look. We expected to find an assortment of examples, but it turns out the locale was so coveted a relative few companies monopolized it. The first was the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas, which erected a sign there in 1957, complete with a rotating showgirl and an illuminated marquee listing the headlining acts.
The sheer novelty of the sign helped establish the heavily trafficked intersection as one of L.A.'s go-to spots for promotion, and the sign itself became a landmark. In fact, in 1961 Jayne Mansfield unveiled a Rocky and Bullwinkle statue across the street that was inspired by the Sahara showgirl. It was commissioned by Jay Ward, producer of the television series Rocky and His Friends, for the opening of his office complex.
After the Sahara moved on in 1966 the location was divided into two-tiered advertising. For almost three decades the iconic Marlboro Man towered above the intersection on the higher billboard, first on a horse, and later sans mount. During the time Chinatown was advertised Mr. Marlboro was standing vigil above. The lower location hosted ads for Stroh's and numerous other products, but was a particularly popular home for movie billboards. We found shots of billboards for Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Black Sunday, and other popular films of the 1970s.
Tens of thousands of billboards dot the Los Angeles landscape, especially around Hollywood. An uptick of political billboards has some Angelenos considering whether these objects are more akin to visual pollution. They're already illegal in entire U.S. states, including Hawaii and Maine. We always thought they further cluttered an already chaotic landscape, but we imagine they will survive in Los Angeles longer than almost anywhere else in the U.S. Tinseltown is a place where you don't get people's attention unless you scream for it. Nothing screams better than a well placed billboard.
On a Scala of 1 to 10 she's on the top step.
Above is a photo of Italian actress Gia Scala. We thought her name sounded unusual so we checked it and discovered Gia means “already” and Scala means “ladder.” That clued us in to the fact that maybe her name was a stage creation—duh—and indeed, though she was of Italian descent, she was born in England as Josephine Grace Johanna Scoglio. We definitely like Gia as a name better than Josephine. Scoglio, by the way, means “rock.” Scala is another early Hollywood fatality. She died in 1972 of a barbiturate overdose in her Hollywood Hills home at age thirty-eight, a death that was ruled accidental. This photo is from 1961.
Peggy Cummins hit Hollywood with guns blazing.
According to a story yesterday in The Hollywood Reporter, Wales born Irish actress Peggy Cummins died in a London hospital December 29 after suffering a stroke. She was ninety-two years old. Cummins, who was born Augusta Fuller, played the morality challenged Annie Laurie Starr in Gun Crazy, a low budget film noir that rose above its humble station over the decades to eventually be included in the U.S. Library of Congress’s National Film Registry. While the film is often characterized as a breakthrough fro Cummins, it was actually her eleventh screen role, and did not lead to a career of top notch offers. However, she ultimately appeared in more than twenty-five productions, with her last coming in 1965. The above photo was made a promo for Gun Crazy and dates from 1950. You can read more about the film here.
Cars were her addiction—and her destruction.
Above is a rare photo of U.S. born model, actress, and thrill seeker Claudia Jennings, who started as a Playboy centerfold, moved on to cinema, and died aged twenty-nine before her talent could be realized. Even so, she left behind several entertaining b-movies, such as Moonshine Country Express, Deathsport, and the eternal shlock classic Gator Bait. Jennings loved to drive fast. She considered herself an expert. She once said she could do just about anything with a car, a motorcycle, or a truck, including an 18-wheeler, but crashing was certainly not part of the plan. She died on California's Pacific Coast Highway today in 1979 when her Volkswagen sports car rammed a truck head-on.
Her final answer simply raised more questions.
Above you see two photos of actress Carole Landis, dead on the bathroom floor of her Pacific Palisades home, where she was found today in 1948. She had been dumped by her married lover Rex Harrison the night before, and responded by killing herself with an overdose of prescription medication. She had tried suicide before but had been rescued by friends. This time she took forty Seconal tablets, which leaves little doubt as to her firm intent—one fifth the amount would have killed her. She fell into a coma early in the morning with her head resting on a jewelry box, which is the reason for its elevated position. She also left a note on her dresser for her mother:
Dearest Mommie - I'm sorry, really sorry, to put you through this but there is no way to avoid it - I love you darling you have been the most wonderful mom ever and that applies to all our family. I love each and every one of them dearly - Everything goes to you - Look in the files and there is a will which decrees everything - Good bye, my angel - Pray for me - Your baby
Hollywood suicides are part of the town's lore. Landis's is more remembered than most, not for what Landis did, but for what those around her did. Harrison had been calling her throughout the morning but her maid had told him she wasn't awake. She wasn't going to disturb her employer, so Harrison dropped by himself, entered her bedroom and found Landis non-responsive. He felt her wrist and said he felt a faint pulse, but instead of calling an ambulance rifled through her address book, hoping to call her private doctor and thus keep the disaster under wraps. While he did that, Landis died. After failing to find the number he sought, he went home, called studio head Darryl Zanuck, and set about damage control. The maid, left to deal with the situation, asked a neighbor to call police.
It wasn't unusual for press to have access to death scenes, as we've documented frequently in our Naked City posts. Landis's death photo appeared on the fronts of hundreds of newspapers by the next morning. By then questions had begun to arise. Some said Landis had written a second suicide note that Harrison destroyed. When asked at a coroner's inquest whether there was a note, he said no. Her friend Florence Wasson said there was a second note, but it only asked that the cat be taken to the vet because it had a sore paw. The inquest was closed with no new findings, but years later a policeman who had been at Landis's house that day said he had seen a second note addressed to Harrison, and that the cat had seemed in perfect health.
Landis's family claimed Harrison was guilty of murder—and not just for dithering about when he thought he felt a pulse. They claim he killed her outright to keep news of his affair from damaging his career. However, his relationship with Landis was a poorly kept secret, and tabloids were making sly references to it, identifying Harrison and Landis by their initials. Also, Harrison already had a terrible reputation. People behave irrationally in high stress situations, and Harrison made bad moves at every stage, especially when one considers that there was no way he could hope to hide his involvement. But that shows merely cold-hearted concern for himself, and possibly a lack of awareness how near death Landis was. Add it all up and you have one of Hollywood's most storied suicides—one where an act meant to be a final answer left endless questions.
Winning isn't everything—it's the only thing.
We already shared the West German poster for Deathsport back in September. We'd be remiss if we didn't share these two U.S. promos also. One thing we can't share, though, is the name of person who painted the art. We checked every resource we know of for this sort of thing, and the consensus is that the provenance of this piece is lost to the mists of time. It's a bit of a surprise because the posters are considered collectible, but there you go. The movie premiered in the U.S. today in 1977. If you haven't seen it and want to know what it's actually about, check our previous write-up here. And below, as a bonus, we have a couple of promo images of stars David Carradine and Claudia Jennings.
Every day is a winding road.
Above, a promo photo of actor and icon Humphrey Bogart. Widely considered the greatest star in American film history, the hard-living Bogart—who was a founding member of Frank Sinatra's infamous Rat Pack and once said the problem with the world was that everyone was a few drinks behind—died of cancer this month, 1957.
Fidel Castro's long vigil over Cuba comes to a close.
Above is a unique artifact we've been holding onto for several years—a photo of a metal Fidel Castro billboard located in the vicinity of Holguin, Cuba, a town in the southeast part of the island. Someone we know shot this and gave us a copy, which we squared up a bit in Photoshop. Political billboards are a common sight in Cuba but this one is unique, as far as we know. It says: “Commander in Chief: Order!” We were out of town when Castro died and didn't have a chance to comment on it, and now we've been beaten to it by everyone. Well, no matter. We've written about him—usually in relation to other iconic mid-1960s figures such as John F. Kennedy and Lee Harvey Oswald—numerous times, and you can see those posts yourself by clicking his keywords just below. We may not have any new commentary to add, but we do have a piece of art nobody else does.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1924—St. Petersburg is renamed Leningrad
St. Peterburg, the Russian city founded by Peter the Great in 1703, and which was capital of the Russian Empire for more than 200 years, is renamed Leningrad three days after the death of Vladimir Lenin. The city had already been renamed Petrograd in 1914. It was finally given back its original name St. Petersburg in 1991.
1966—Beaumont Children Disappear
In Australia, siblings Jane Nartare Beaumont, Arnna Kathleen Beaumont, and Grant Ellis Beaumont, aged 9, 7, and 4, disappear from Glenelg Beach near Adelaide, and are never seen again. Witnesses claim to have spotted them in the company of a tall, blonde man, but over the years, after interviewing many potential suspects, police are unable generate enough solid leads to result in an arrest. The disappearances remain Australia's most infamous cold case.
1949—First Emmy Awards Are Presented
At the Hollywood Athletic Club in Los Angeles, California, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences presents the first Emmy Awards. The name Emmy was chosen as a feminization of "immy", a nickname used for the image orthicon tubes that were common in early television cameras.
1971—Manson Family Found Guilty
Charles Manson and three female members of his "family" are found guilty of the 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders, which Manson orchestrated in hopes of bringing about Helter Skelter, an apocalyptic war he believed would arise between blacks and whites.
1961—Plane Carrying Nuclear Bombs Crashes
A B-52 Stratofortress carrying two H-bombs experiences trouble during a refueling operation, and in the midst of an emergency descent breaks up in mid-air over Goldsboro, North Carolina. Five of the six arming devices on one of the bombs somehow activate before it lands via parachute in a wooded region where it is later recovered. The other bomb does not deploy its chute and crashes into muddy ground at 700 mph, disintegrating while driving its radioactive core fifty feet into the earth, where it remains to this day.
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