It ain't your lucky day anymore, is it, Mister "Oh-look-I-got another-straight-flush"?
Mafia is a non-fiction rundown of the Italian organized crime rackets up to 1952, which is when the book first appeared in hardback. The above edition from Signet appeared in 1954. Author Ed Reid, who was an associate of organized crime crusader Charles Kefauver, covers cosa nostra personalities such as Vito Genovese, Lucky Luciano, the Fischetti Brothers, Albert Anastasia, and many others. Though non-fiction, Reid presents the information as a narrative, and we gather he took a bit of license. But he was a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and Mafia was an eye-opener when it was published. Cover art is by James Avati, and serves as a reminder that the person with the pistol always has the best hand.
Monroe, Curtis, and Lemmon give jazz a swing.
On this promo poster for the Marilyn Monroe comedy Certains l'aiment chaud, aka Some Like It Hot, it looks like Russian illustrator Boris Grinsson went a little strong on Monroe's wink, making her look like she got a splinter of glass in her eye, but Monroe actually looked that way in the promo photo used as the basis of the art, which you can see at right.
You know all about this movie, so we won't bother to go over it. We'll just mention, if you haven't seen it, don't be surprised that it's in black and white. There are so many color production photos from this one—like the several we've shared below—that we even forgot. And we'd seen the movie several times, though not in about ten years. When it opened with documentary style footage of a car chase and shootout followed by a title card reading “Chicago, 1929,” we were thinking, “Ah, this is where it shifts to color.”
But of course it didn't, and we suddenly remembered that this was a later black and white production, made the same year Technicolor films such as Ben Hur and North by Northwest hit cinemas. According to our research, Monroe actually had a stipulation in her contract that all her films had to be in color, but director Billy Wilder wanted black and white because the heavy makeup worn by Curtis and Lemmon—who spend most of the movie disguised as women—looked green in Technicolor. He lobbied Monroe and she finally agreed her co-stars could not be green.
Does Some Like It Hot fit under our self-defined umbrella of pulp? Of course—there are gangsters, the aforementioned shootout, and it's about two jazz musicians on the run. And few Hollywood figures are more pulp in essence than Monroe. The character of nightclub singer Sugar Kane is one of her better creations. Sit back and enjoy. Some Like It Hot premiered in the U.S. in February 1959, and opened in Paris as Certains l'aiment chaud today the same year. Another promotional poster by Grinsson appears below, and you can see the very different West German promo poster here.
Colleen Brennan headlines history's worst mafia flick.
These two promos were made for the Japanese premiere of Mafia Girls, aka Love, Lust, and Violence, a grindhouse production that starred porn actress Colleen Brennan working under the name Sara Bloom and remaining fully garbed until the last three minutes. How do we describe this one? Plotwise, a general and member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff calls on a badass ex-soldier to take on the Chicago mafia, a motley crew that spends most hours of the day either watching live porno or getting blowjobs in a massage parlor. The movie is visually ambitious yet totally inept, which is a difficult combo to achieve, but director Norbert Meisel, a cast of b-grade co-stars, and several disinterested porno queens botch matters to such a degree that a comedic classic is the result. Imagine sweat, sideburns, semi-erect dicks, and pear-shaped bodies mixed with bad technical execution from acting to Z, and you'll have an idea what to expect. We cannot recommend this, but it provided some killer laughs. Mafia Girls premiered today in 1975, and its censored Japanese release occurred some years later.
With husbands like these who needs enemies?
Mary Jo Tarola was born in Portland, Oregon in 1928 and by 1952 had established herself in Hollywood, first under the milquetoast moniker Linda Douglas, then under her own far more interesting name. Just two years into her career she married producer Pasquale “Pat” DiCicco. Not well known now, DiCicco was a bootlegger and pimp who became mafia boss Lucky Luciano’s lieutenant in Tinseltown. He was infamously abusive toward women—one dust-up with his first wife Thelma Todd led to her having an emergency appendectomy, and another with his second wife Gloria Vanderbilt involved him slamming her head into a wall. Tarola’s promising film career ended with her marriage to DiCicco, but at least she left behind a few choice artifacts like the above photo by photographer Ernest Bachrach. It dates from 1952 or 1953.
Top of the world one second. An anecdote the next.
Mobster Bugsy Siegel met his end in a Los Angeles bungalow belonging to his girlfriend Virginia Hill. His killer attacked from the dark through a window, spraying a burst of automatic fire from a .30-caliber military M1 carbine as Siegel was sitting on a sofa. Accounts of the damage to Siegel are all over the map, but the morgue photos tell the story. The shots came from a front rightward angle. He was hit in the torso with bullets that pierced his lungs, and he was hit twice in the head—once in the right cheek, and once in the right side of the nose. The pressure from that bullet passing through his skull blew his left eye out of its socket, but he was not actually shot in the eye. It happened today in 1947.
What do you get for being a member of the Mickey louse club? A cap... in your ass.
Tonight in 1949 just before 4 a.m.—i.e. early in the morning of July 20—L.A. mobster Mickey Cohen was ambushed by unknown gunmen outside a Sunset Boulevard eatery called Sherry’s. The above photo diagram and close-up shows where his assailants hid behind a billboard across the street from the restaurant and opened fire with shotguns. Cohen was hit in the shoulder, three others were seriously wounded, and New York Daily News reporter Florabel Muir was bruised by a ricochet (or shot directly, according to some accounts). The photo just below shows the view the gunmen had from underneath the billboard. And the last two show the immediate aftermath of the shooting, with a surprising number of bystanders and/or restaurant patrons present considering the late hour, and Cohen henchman Edward Herbert on the ground. He would later die from his wounds. The Sherry’s ambush was the second of several attempts on Cohen’s life. None were successful, though as usual, the members of his circle did not fare well. For a look at a cool collection of photo diagrams and an explanation of their use, see here.
Thirty-eight years later the FBI still can’t get him Hoffa their list of troublesome unsolved cases.
One of the most famous missing persons in American history is back in the news. The FBI is searching a field in suburban Detroit where they've been informed long missing and presumably murdered Teamsters labor union president Jimmy Hoffa was buried. Hoffa disappeared in July 1975 from the parking lot of a Detroit restaurant and was never seen again.
The new search is occurring because an ex-Mafia underboss named Tony Zerilli told the Detroit TV station WDIV in February that he knew where Hoffa was buried. Zerilli says Hoffa was bound, gagged, smacked on the head with a shovel and buried alive. Why did he come forward now? You guessed it—he’s promoting a book. Did he actually see Hoffa get the brutal treatment he descibes? No, he was told about it—if he’d been there personally that would constitute a crime, right?
Will Hoffa actually turn up? Hard to say. The FBI is making noises that Zerilli is a credible source, but we think two other factors are just as important in triggering this search—Hoffa’s place in American cold case lore is a longtime thorn in the FBI’s side, and, probably of more importance, the Hoffa family remains prominent even today, with one of his sons serving as the current Teamsters president and one of his daughters a former circuit judge. Zerilli says he was told Hoffa was buried beneath a concrete slab inside a barn. The barn has since been razed but the FBI are bringing in heavy equipment to dig up the area. Zerilli’s report is believable in at least one sense—Hoffa has been reported to be buried everywhere from the Florida Everglades to the New Jersey Meadowlands, but the field where the FBI is searching is just a short distance from where he was last seen alive.
How it started nobody can remember for sure. How it ended nobody can ever forget.
Above is a photo of the aftermath of the Cocoanut Grove fire of 1942. Its appearance belies the scope of the disaster that took place there. The Cocoanut Grove had been founded as an illegal speakeasy and, after the 1933 repeal of Prohibition, became Boston’s trendiest nightspot. It consisted of several properties that had been consolidated into one, and was a labyrinth of tropical-themed bars, lounges, and dining rooms, complete with a famous “rolling roof” that allowed patrons to dance under the stars during warm summer nights. The club’s cobbled together construction meant there were many points of egress, but owner Barnet “Barney” Welansky was preoccupied with the possibility of people using these to dash without paying their checks, and had hidden some exits behind curtains, locked others, boarded up a plate glass window, and bricked over an emergency exit.
About 10:15 p.m. one frigid November night a fire started for the most banal of reasons. A soldier in the Melody Lounge, which was in the basement, had either loosened or removed a light bulb in an artificial palm tree to create the privacy he desired in order to make out with his date. A busboy was ordered to replace or tighten it. He climbed onto a chair and lit a match so he could see, very likely using one from a matchbook like the one at right. Moments later the canopy of artificial palm fronds overhead caught fire. Whether it was the match or the light bulb that started the blaze nobody ever figured out for sure, though the busboy unambiguously blamed himself and the match.
But in any case, flames blossomed through the paper and rattan decorations. Waiters tried to douse them but they quickly became what witnesses described as a fireball. This fireball raced up a staircase to the lounges and bars on the ground floor and men and women ran upstairs with their hair ablaze. The flames burst into the main level and triggered a deadly crush at the revolving door entrance, which was immediately rendered useless as patrons tried to escape by pushing in opposite directions. Another crush formed at a set of double doors that opened inward from the street. In the panic, the patrons couldn’t organize themselves enough to step back so the exit could be opened. As people struggled, passed out, and piled up before the doors, the flames consumed everything.
Many people escaped. They ran through the kitchen, or squeezed through barred windows. The house band’s bass player, Jack Lesberg, who later went on to perform with Louis Armstrong and Sarah Vaughan, among others, smashed his way out using his stand-up bass. Five survivors barricaded themselves in a walk-in freezer. In all, about half the occupants escaped, but in the end the fire killed 492, which was thirty-two more people than were legally allowed to inhabit the building. Some patrons were so quickly overcome by fumes that they died sitting at their tables. Firemen described charred corpses with glasses in their hands. Barnet Welansky went to jail for multiple counts of manslaughter, but was pardoned after only four years by Massachusetts Governor Maurice J. Tobin, who had been the mayor of Boston at the time of the fire. Helps to know people, and helps even more to drink with them. The Cocoanut Grove fire—or inferno might be a better word—was today in 1942.
Two mobsters meet a messy end on the boulevard of broken dreams.
They were known as the Two Tonys—Brancato and Trombino, a pair of wild mobsters out of Kansas City. In May 1951 they robbed the cash room at the mob-controlled Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas. They and their three henchmen had been wearing hats, but Tony Brancato lost his mid-robbery, was caught on camera, and from there ended up on the FBI’s most wanted list. Brancato and Trombino were also identified by a mob subordinate who recognized them because he’d been robbed by them in Beverly Hills. The pair were arrested for the Flamingo robbery, but made bail, then promptly headed to Los Angeles. There they shook down a mob bookmaker’s right hand man, which put them on L.A. crime boss Jack Dragna’s most wanted list. But the difference between his list and the FBI’s was that Dragna’s had nothing to do with capture and trial. He ordered the Two Tonys to be killed, and mob shooter Aladena Fratianno, aka Jimmy the Weasel, took on the task. Brancato and Trombino desperately needed money for their legal defense, and Fratianno told them he’d help them take down a high stakes poker game worth $40,000. The Tonys were thrilled and grateful, but the heist was fiction. Instead, in a car on Hollywood Boulevard, Fratianno had two subordinates murder them. The aftermath appears above and below. Today, 1951.
He might not have looked so unworried if he knew how soon his life was going to end.
This LAPD mugshot of gangster Johnny Stompanato dates from today in 1952, when he was arrested on suspicion of armed robbery. Stompanato was an Illinois boy who joined the army and after his discharge fell into the west coast gangster lifestyle. He quickly became well known to the cops. Beverly Hills police chief Clifford Anderson described him as “one of the most successful wolves in Hollywood,” which was a polite way of saying he was a pimp, blackmailer, and boy toy for a series of wealthy women, who he often shook down for cash. By the time these images were made he was living the high life as a connected subordinate to top tier mobster Mickey Cohen.
After numerous scrapes, liaisons and adventures, plus an arrest in 1956 for violating the White-Slave Traffic Act, aka the Mann Act, Stompanato met actress Lana Turner. It was the spring of 1957. Turner had just survived an ugly divorce involving a husband who molested her daughter from a previous marriage, and her movie career had taken a hit when MGM had declined to renew her contract. But she was still one of the biggest names in Hollywood, and Stompanato thought he’d finally found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Turner was rich, connected, beautiful, and wild. And she was drawn to him because he looked good, had a bad reputation, and was known to be a dynamo in bed.
Stompanato was accustomed to being physical with women, and, while Turner put up with the abuse, her daughter Cheryl grew less and less inclined to stand by and watch. One April night in 1958 Stompanato was allegedly roughing up Turner, when Cheryl—fourteen years old at the time—grabbed a knife and stuck Stompanato in the chest. Either by intent or lucky aim, one of the toughest and meanest wiseguys in Hollywood ended up cold on the floor, and the case became the tabloid sensation of the decade. Turner’s daughter was eventually acquitted at trial of murder charges on the grounds of justifiable homicide. The photos below provide a chronology of the events and aftermath of the night that brought Johnny Stomp to his end, and you can read a bit more about the killing at a previous post here.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1915—Claude Patents Neon Tube
French inventor Georges Claude patents the neon discharge tube, in which an inert gas is made to glow various colors through the introduction of an electrical current. His invention is immediately seized upon as a way to create eye catching advertising, and the neon sign
comes into existence to forever change the visual landscape of cities.
1937—Hughes Sets Air Record
Millionaire industrialist, film producer and aviator Howard Hughes sets a new air record by flying from Los Angeles, California to New York City in 7 hours, 28 minutes, 25 seconds. During his life he set multiple world air-speed records, for which he won many awards, including America's Congressional Gold Medal.
1967—Boston Strangler Convicted
Albert DeSalvo, the serial killer who became known as the Boston Strangler, is convicted of murder and other crimes and sentenced to life in prison. He serves initially in Bridgewater State Hospital, but he escapes and is recaptured. Afterward he is transferred to federal prison where six years later he is killed by an inmate or inmates unknown.
1950—The Great Brinks Robbery Occurs
In the U.S., eleven thieves steal more than $2 million from an armored car company's offices in Boston, Massachusetts. The skillful execution of the crime, with only a bare minimum of clues left at the scene, results in the robbery being billed as "the crime of the century." Despite this, all the members of the gang are later arrested.
1977—Gary Gilmore Is Executed
Convicted murderer Gary Gilmore is executed by a firing squad in Utah, ending a ten-year moratorium on Capital punishment in the United States. Gilmore's story is later turned into a 1979 novel entitled The Executioner's Song by Norman Mailer, and the book wins the Pulitzer Prize for literature.
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