I've got the wardrobe. Now I need a ship, a crew, and a parrot.
Above is a fun photo of U.S. actress Gay MacGill, who looks a bit like a pirate here on International Talk Like a Pirate Day, but is actually costumed as a Slaygirl from her only movie, the 1966 Matt Helm spy adventure The Silencers. The Slaygirls appeared in all four movies in the Matt Helm series, though they were barely there in the second entry Murderers' Row, and in The Wrecking Crew, the last movie, they became Slaymates. In either case, you can see some examples we shared from The Ambushers here, and another from The Silencers, here. And of course—arrrrr.
I've decided to start a nudist colony. What do you think? Any chance of success?
Monica Gayle was a b-movie actress extraordinaire, appearing in more than thirty mostly low budget films, including Switchblade Sisters, The Harem Bunch, The Erotic Adventures of Pinocchio, and, quite memorably, The Stewardesses, in which she's onscreen for only a few minutes but performs the lotus position in a way you've probably never seen. We also just saw her in Southern Comforts, which is why we're featuring her today—we figured after all those fuzzy screenshots we needed to give you a clearer look. Posing nude was no rarity for her. She appeared in probably a dozen men's magazines, often quite explicitly. This more modest shot of her comes from an issue of the nudist publication Sun Buffs and is from 1970.
Looking pretty sharp, Gayle.
Have you ever seen a profile like this? It belongs to Texas born actress Gayle Hunnicutt, who we last saw in 1969's Marlowe with James Garner. She also appeared in The Wild Angels, The Spiral Staircase, The Legend of Hell House, and several other pulp-pertinent flicks before migrating over to television. She retired from acting in 1999, but her sharp profile will always be remembered.
California stands in for Dixie as sexploitation goes country.
American movies are made today in many places other than southern California as a way to reduce production costs. Regions like Georgia, New Mexico, and British Columbia have built thriving film industries. But once upon the not-so-distant past the reverse was true. In order to avoid high location costs you filmed in and around Los Angeles no matter where your film was set, even if it looked ridiculous. Southern Comforts, which premiered today in 1971, is ostensibly set in the deep south, but one look at its bone dry Dukes of Hazzard landscapes tells you're about as close to the south as Manhattan is to the Bahamas.
A middle-aged huckster and his three mini-skirted companions drive across “the south” looking to stage a beauty contest, but get stranded in hayseedville and decide to do it in the barn of a gentleman rancher named Colonel Melany, who insists on being paid not only in money, but in flesh. Eventually some girls from around the way show up to compete, and everybody gets naughty in the hay as a hoe-down band plays in the background. When the beauty contest finally takes place, it turns into a group striptease, which is eventually raided by local cops. That pretty much covers the plot.
The director of all this, Bethal Buckalew, who had also made the softcore efforts Tobacco Roody and Midnite Plowboy, understood the box office dynamic of the early 1970s wherein it was enough to guarantee profit if you showed a lot of nudity. While less cynical types toiled with plots and production values, the visionary Buckalew simply trafficked in boobs, bush, and flashes of vulva (which earned this film an x rating). The only requirement for his formula was that a few of his actresses be totally uninhibited and somewhat beautiful, and he's covered thanks to co-star Monica Gayle and a couple of uncredited contributors.
Gayle was the reason we watched this. She was in the cult hit Switchblade Sisters, and clearly she moved up in the world, because Southern Comforts doesn't reach anywhere near the level of her girl-gang classic. But we'll give this movie credit for one thing—it looks like everyone had a laugh making it. Back during the liberated ’70s nobody worried that their awful sexploitation flicks might last forever thanks to digital technology. They figured to have fun, get paid, and maybe, just maybe, ascend into mainstream cinema. This amateurish effort helped nobody's career, but at least—along with a few drinks—it helped our Friday night.
There are only three sure things: taxes, death, and trouble.
Above is a poster for the drama Trouble Man, a well known movie from the blaxploitation cycle, not least because Marvin Gaye wrote the excellent soundtrack. In fact, a line from his theme song provided our subhead about taxes, death, and trouble. Like his music, unusual talent went into the film. That goes for the direction by Ivan Dixon, the writing, and the acting. All of that is pretty well known. The movie usually makes it onto lists of best blaxploitation movies. But it can also hold its own with most detective movies from outside the genre made during the early seventies, and because blaxploitation had so many cheap, fly-by-night productions, the fact that you don't have to squint beyond many shortcomings to see it as a good movie is something to appreciate.
Robert Hooks plays a Los Angeles badass who everyone calls simply Mr. T. He makes his money as a fixer, taking care of people's troubles for payment. That's where the “T” comes from—T for trouble. Two underworld figures who run craps games come to him because their game nights are being robbed by masked men. For $10,000 T agrees to stop the thieves. Unfortunately, the robbery tale is a set-up. The two underworld guys plan to frame T for murder. The how of it is a bit complicated to explain in a short write-up, but the important detail is why—the planned mark is a top henchman of a rival gangster, and his death will make the rival's territory ripe for a takeover. The plan works, as does the frame, but T doesn't end up in jail or dead, which means he's on the loose to dig for answers.
Hooks had already been a working actor for years by the time he took on the role of Mr. T, and the experience shows. He's far better than the music stars and ex-athletes that often headlined blaxploitation productions (though a few of them were good too). An ace cast is needed because this is the type of film where the audience knows exactly what's going on from the beginning, while T and the cops are in the dark. Without a mystery, the tension is provided by filling the movie with numerous tough guys who don't give an inch. Hooks has more than enough presence to hold his own. Thanks to him and his capable co-stars, including the regal Paula Kelly as his girlfriend, Julius Harris as a top criminal figure, and Vince Howard as Harris's main strongman, Trouble Man delivers the goods. It premiered today in 1972.
Garner's portrayal of a classic detective feels a lot like a Rockford Files test run.
Raymond Chandler's novels have been adapted to the screen several times. One of the lesser known efforts was 1969's Marlowe, which was based on the 1949 novel The Little Sister and starred future Rockford Files centerpiece James Garner as Chandler's famed Philip Marlowe. You see a cool Spanish popster for the movie above, painted by Fernandez Zarza-Pérez, also known as Jano. As usual when we show you a foreign promo for a U.S. movie, it's because the domestic promo isn't up to the same quality. In this case the U.S. promo is almost identical, but in black and white. The choice was clear.
Since you know what to expect from a Chandler adaptation, we don't need to go into the plot much, except to say it deals with an icepick murderer and ties into show business and blackmail. What's more important is whether the filmmakers made good use of the original material, either by remaining true to its basic ideas or by imagining something new and better. They weren't going for new in this case. They were providing a vehicle for the charismatic Garner and ended up with a movie that features him in the same mode he would later perfect in Rockford.
Marlowe has a few elements of note. Rita Moreno plays a burlesque dancer, and it's one of her sexier roles. Bruce Lee makes an appearance as a thug named Winslow Wong. Garner is the star, so it isn't a spoiler to say that Lee doesn't stand a chance. He's dispatched in unlikely but amusing fashion. Overall, Marlowe feels like an ambitious television movie and plays like a test run for Rockford, but it's fun stuff. We recommend it for fans of Chandler, Moreno, Lee, Carroll O'Connor (who co-stars as a police lieutenant), and especially Garner. It premiered in the U.S. in 1969, but didn't reach Spain until today in 1976.
Back by popular demand.
Earlier this year we shared an issue of one of the prettiest mid-century celebrity magazines—West Germany's Bravo. We have pages from another issue, published today in 1956. We'll return to this publication a bit later.
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.
When Mansfield makes a promise she keeps it—and then some.
Check out the poster at top for the infamous Jayne Mansfield movie Promises! Promises! It's so garish it almost hurts the eyes, but we think it's top notch, a framable classic made for an important cinematic landmark. Around the time this film was produced, Hollywood, for both financial and artistic reasons, was pushing the boundaries of censorship. There had been nude scenes prior to the advent of the creativity-strangling Hays Code, but from the mid-30s to 1960s there were no naughty bits onscreen. Europe was well ahead in that regard, with late 1950s films such as And God Created Woman taking advantage of greater freedoms to include snippets of nudity by major stars. In the U.S., low budget nudie flicks were being made, but no legit star had crossed the line. Marilyn Monroe probably would have been the first, but her flash in 1961's The Misfits was cut, and 1962's Something's Got To Give was never completed.
Cue Mansfield—also so garish she almost hurts the eyes—suffering from a career slump and deciding to seize the nude crown with both hands. Promises! Promises! falls into that classic American category of the schlub sex comedy, which is to say, the lead male is an unremarkable everyman miraculously paired up with a beauty. This formula holds true in American movies and television even today—think Big Bang Theory or Ross from Friends. The plot deals with two childless married couples on a cruise who get pregnant but suspect it happened because the husbands cheated with each other's wives. It sounds like a ripe concept, but unfortunately the filmmakers forgot one of the main ingredients necessary for a sex comedy—laughs. Promises! Promises! is borderline moronic.
But bad movies often make a mint. The producers' bet that audiences wanted to see Mansfield nude was correct. Sophomoric as the resulting film was, it was a big hit, though only non-U.S. filmgoers got to see the uncensored version at first. That's the one we watched, and the promise of a skinful experience was fully delivered—and then some. While Mansfield doesn't show her girlfur, she's naked as a Jaynebird from every angle, and her bare segments are also shown as flashbacks several times to let audiences relive those golden moments. To say she broke the censorship barrier is an understatement. She splintered it and stomped the pieces while screaming at them to stay down. So if you watch this you'll not only be flirting with a boner—you'll be watching a legitimate historical landmark. What more reason do you need? Promises! Promises! premiered in the U.S. today in 1963.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1952—Chaplin Returns to England
Silent movie star Charlie Chaplin returns to his native England for the first time in twenty-one years. At the time it is said to be for a Royal Society benefit, but in reality Chaplin knows he is about to be banned from the States because of his political views. He would not return to the U.S. for twenty years.
1910—Duke of York's Cinema Opens
The Duke of York's Cinema opens in Brighton, England, on the site of an old brewery. It is still operating today, mainly as a venue for art films, and is the oldest continually operating cinema in Britain.
1975—Gerald Ford Assassination Attempt
Sara Jane Moore, an FBI informant who had been evaluated and deemed harmless by the U.S. Secret Service, tries to assassinate U.S. President Gerald Ford. Moore fires one shot at Ford that misses, then is wrestled to the ground by a bystander named Oliver Sipple.
1937—The Hobbit is Published
J. R. R. Tolkien publishes his seminal fantasy novel The Hobbit, aka The Hobbit: There and Back Again. Marketed as a children's book, it is a hit with adults as well, and sells millions of copies, is translated into multiple languages, and spawns the sequel trilogy The Lord of Rings.
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