The Naked City Sep 6 2019
DEATH DID THEM PART
De Mesa marital strife turns into murder.


Above is some random human chaos for your Friday. The photos show the aftermath of the death of Helen de Mesa, who was murdered in broad daylight on a residential Los Angeles street by her husband Nicona de Mesa. In the bottom photo Nicona is questioned in the back seat of a police car as his wife cools on the sidewalk, and we imagine the cop going, “Um hmm... yeah... uh huh... I hear you... but if that was a good reason to kill someone she'd have killed you years ago. You're toast, bud.”

It would appear, based on the blood and lack of a visible weapon, that Nicona shot his wife. We're guessing he was inside the family car and gunned her down as she was standing by the passenger side window, possibly prior to embarking on a drive together. Unfortunately, we can't confirm any of that because every newspaper article about the incident is locked behind a paywall, which has become the sad norm. We also can't confirm de Mesa's eventual fate, but we're guessing federal prison for many years. This happened today in 1951.

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Vintage Pulp Aug 27 2019
BADGE OF DISHONOR
Edmond O'Brien tries to shield himself from the truth.


A cop runs across cash at crime scenes quite a bit. Maybe he snags a little here, a little there. Takes the girlfriend to dinner, buys himself a new fishing rod. He gets used to these little bonuses. Then one day there's $25,000 and nobody around to see him take it. Shield for Murder is the story of a dirty cop played by Edmond O'Brien whose theft of said cash leads to him finally becoming suspected of wrongdoing, which in turn causes him to be hunted by the original possessors of the cash, as well as investigated by his protégé. As the vise tightens O'Brien gets more desperate, and more dangerous. Redemption is never an option, but survival might be—with luck. O'Brien is good in every film role, so what you get here is a solid genre entry, enlivened by a drawn out action climax and a shootout at a public pool that's among the best throwdowns to be found in vintage cinema. Marla English co-stars, which helps plenty. Plus check O'Brien's crazy eyes in the production photos below. He gives this role his all. Shield for Murder premiered in the U.S. today in 1954.

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Vintage Pulp Aug 16 2019
THE DEAN MARTIN SHOW
With special guests the Slaymates of the year.
 
Today we have some beautiful rarities, a set of door panel posters made for the 1968 Dean Martin spy movie spoof The Wrecking Crew. Martin played the wise-cracking and woman-loving Matt Helm, a character created by novelist Donald Hamilton. There have been a lot of loveable drunks in cinema, but Martin certainly was one of the most popular. Boozy Matt Helm was a perfect role for him, and the first film became the launching point for a series that stretched to four entries.

The Wrecking Crew was the last film, coming after 1966's The Silencers and Murderer's Row, and 1967's The Ambushers. The movies were populated by a group of women known as “Slaymates,” and the actresses on the posters below are posing as members of that deadly cadre. They are, top to bottom, Sharon Tate, Elke Sommer, Nancy Kwan, Tina Louise, and a fifth woman no other website seems able to identify, but who we're pretty sure is Kenya Coburn.

These posters are 51 x 152 centimeters in size, or 20 x 60 for you folks who measure in inches, and they caught our eye mainly because of Tate. There's been renewed interest in her, including portrayals in two 2019 films—The Haunting of Sharon Tate and Quentin Tarantino's new effort Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Her poster is definitely one of the nicest pieces of Tate memorabilia we've seen.

We glanced at The Silencers a while back and found it just a little too dumb to consider slogging through the series, but maybe we'll have another go at it. We're sort of newly interested in Tate too, and since The Wrecking Crew was her next-to-last screen role, we want to have a look. Allegedly, Dean Martin quit this highly successful franchise because it felt wrong to go on with it after the Tate–LaBianca murders in August 1969. From what we've read about the era, Martin was far from the only person who felt as if that event changed everything. These days Tate's death makes anything she's in seem ironic and portentous, even, we suspect, a piece of fluff like The Wrecking Crew.
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Femmes Fatales Jul 30 2019
KILLER LOOKS
She's dangerous when her abacus is against the wall.


Above, a cool shot of one of mid-century cinema's agreed upon top beauties, Italian actress Virna Lisi, here standing against an abacus wall that she needs to keep track of all her admirers. We've never seen a wall like this before. Never seen a woman like this before either. The photo was made for her 1965 romantic comedy How To Murder Your Wife, in which she starred with cinematic treasure Jack Lemmon. Definitely see that film. It's incalculably fun.

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Hollywoodland Jun 20 2019
FROM MUSCLE BEACH TO MURDER
Pageant winner fulfilled show business and personal ambitions. Then things went wrong.


Beauty pageants are a bit silly, perhaps, but the participants are generally ambitious people who see them as stepping stones to show business or modeling. And in mid-century Los Angeles in particular, even minor pageants occasionally led to stardom. In the above photos high school student Barbara Thomason wins the crown of Miss Muscle Beach 1954. Listed at 5 foot 3 inches and 110 pounds, she was a body-building enthusiast, and in the shot just below she celebrates her hard fought win by pumping a bit of iron while photographers click away and a crowd watches.

Did Thomason's victory lead to bigger things? Maybe not directly, but it probably helped. She was a habitual pageant participant who also won Miss Huntington Beach, Miss Van Ness, Miss Bay Beach, Miss Southwest Los Angeles, Miss Pacific Coast, Queen of Southern California, andten other titles. All that winning finally got her noticed by Hollywood movers and shakers. In 1955, performing under the name Carolyn Mitchell, she made her acting debut on the television show Crossroads, and in 1958 co-starred in two Roger Corman b-movies, The Crybaby Killer and Dragstrip Riot.

But she put her career on hold when she met and married a star—Mickey Rooney, who was nearly seventeen years her senior and nearly two inches her junior. Their union had problems from the beginning. The couple married secretly in Mexico because Rooney was still awaiting a divorce from actress Elaine Mahnken. They would have to wait almost two years before the law allowed them to wed in the U.S. Legalities, though doubtless bothersome, were the least of their problems. During the next six years, during which Thomason bore four children, Rooney indulged in numerous affairs.

It should probably be noted here that Thomason was Rooney's fifth wife. Among the predecessors were goddesses like Ava Gardner and Martha Vickers. We don't know what Thomason's expectations of marriage were, but clearly Rooney didn't know the meaning of the phrase “for better or worse.” The affairs continued, and eventually Thomason did the same with a temperamental Yugoslavian actor named Milos Milosevic, who performed under the name Milos Milos. But what was good for goose was not good for the gander—Rooney found out about these international relations, moved out of the Brentwood house he shared with Thomason, and filed for divorce, charging mental cruelty. The nerve, right?

On the morning of January 31, 1966, while Rooney was in St. John's Hospital recovering from an intestinal infection he'd picked up in the Philippines, Thomason and Milosevic were found together on the bathroom floor of the Brentwood house, dead. Milosevic had shot Thomason under the chin and killed himself with a temple shot using a chrome-plated .38 Rooney had bought in 1964. The consensus is Thomason had decided to dump Milosevic and he flipped out.

The photos below show Thomason on Muscle Beach during her halcyon years there, a mere teenager, frolicking in the sun, filled with youthful hopes for a good life. She won beauty titles, acted in films, married an icon, and had four children. Any of those accomplishments would have been good legacies. Instead her death at twenty-nine overshadowed all the rest, and she's remembered as another celebrity murder victim, Hollywood style, which is always somehow both sensational and banal.

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Vintage Pulp May 23 2019
TRAIN OF EVENTS
Last stop—the city morgue.


Watching lots of movies eventually brings everything your way. The promo poster for Grand Central Murder lured us, and we found ourselves watching an archetypal Sherlockian whodunnit, complete with the villain unmasked in the final moments. When a Broadway showgirl is murdered on a private train car the police gather a gaggle of suspects and go through each of their stories trying to uncover the killer. Among the detainees—her escaped convict boyfriend, her sad sack ex-husband, her jealous co-worker, her phony psychic stepfather, her theatrical understudy, and others, including the convict's lawyer, played by lead actor Van Heflin. Various alibis and reminiscences are shown in flashback until the killer is revealed via a monologue that wraps everything up nice and neat. We wouldn't call the movie screamingly thrilling and funny like the poster does, but it's okay if you like mysteries, and the mass transit backdrop is actually kind of interesting. Grand Central Murder premiered in New York City today in 1942.

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Femmes Fatales May 16 2019
SUITS HERSELF
Bisset holds all the cards.


English actress Jacqueline Bisset peeks out from behind the suits of a card deck in this striking promo image made sometime during the late 1960s. A different photo from the session was used for the cover of Italian publisher Garzanti's 1970 release of 007 Casinò royal, which you see here as well. Bisset was born as Winifred (ouch!) Bisset in 1944 and made a name for herself in such impactful films as Bullitt, Murder on the Orient Express, The Deep, and Casino Royale. You could include efforts like Under the Volcano, The Man from Acapulco, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, and Two for the Road in the aforementioned list. All told, Bisset seems a bit under-appreciated considering her filmography, but not by us.

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The Naked City May 7 2019
TO GRANDMOTHER'S HOUSE WE GO
She always said his biggest problem was that he was pig-headed. Turns out she was right.


When you achieve something rare you want others to know. Usually these are minor things, like breaking 200 on bowling night or perfectly poaching an egg, and the subsequent boasts are basically harmless. But even people who do terrible things—and really should keep their mouths shut for the sake of self-preservation—will still at the very least hint at their accomplishments. Such was the case with 67-year-old Virginia Hayden, above, who regaled her grandson with tales of how useful pigs can be. Just like in those mafia movies, she explained how pigs will eat every part of a human body, except the cranium.

Visits to gran's house must have been heartwarming affairs. Picture her possibly baking chocolate chip cookies and making pleasant smalltalk, dispensing ageless wisdom like, “Did you know that if a woman were to kill her husband and feed his body to pigs, they would eat every part of that fat, hairy body, apart from the exceptionally hard cranium, which never seemed capable of letting through the things his wife told him, for example to pick up his damn socks and wash a fuckin' dish once in a while? Did you know that, my sweet?”

*ding*

“Oh, good. The cookies are done.”

Rewind a bit from that cozy scene. In 2011 Hayden's third husband Thomas flew to Mexico for medical treatment and never came back. In early 2012 an unidentified cranium, with scalp and hair attached, was found near a rural Pennsylvania road. Nobody put cranium and hubby together until 2017, when Thomas Hayden's daughter, who had been estranged from her dad for more than a decade, contacted police with suspicions that his supposed one-way trip to Mexico was something other than it seemed.

Long story short, Virginia Hayden was arrested last week on suspicion of murder.

The lesson here may be that talking about heinous crimes will sometimes indicate how informed one is in esoteric areas of knowledge, but other times will indicate that one has, in fact, committed heinous crimes. Now some of Hayden's other wise utterances take on a darker tone. For example, she used to mention how stabbing a corpse before sinking it in water would keep it from floating, and how giving a person a heavy snootful of nitroglycerine spray could trigger a heart attack. Hayden's second husband died of a heart attack. And her first? He was a suicide. At the moment there's no indication foul play was involved in either death, but we'll bet you a batch of chocolate chip cookies the police are looking into it.

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The Naked City May 5 2019
A KISS BEFORE DYING
An errant pass leads to an infamous court case.


The National Insider takes on a controversial subject with this issue that hit newsstands today in 1963. The gist of the story is that forty-something George Brinham invited sixteen-year-old Laurence Somers to his London flat, made a pass by saying, “Give us a kiss,” and got clocked on the head by a shocked Somers with a wine decanter. Brinham died, and Somers went on trial for murder. As the details came out, the British public learned that Somers didn't merely hit Brinham once, but three or four times. He then dragged Brinham's body into the bedroom, hit him once more for good measure, and tried to stage the apartment to look as if a burglar had been the assailant. But haste makes waste—he left his coat and a pair of gloves in Brinham's flat. Police caught up with him shortly thereafter and he was arrested and charged with murder.

The case was fascinating. The judge immediately reduced the charges from murder to manslaughter. Defense attorneys portrayed Brinham, a former Labor Party official, as predatory and decadent. A pathologist testified that his body showed “physiological indications of the practice of homosexuality,” and added that his skull was “half the normal thickness.” Meanwhile, Somers' virility and youth was played up, how he once swung a sledgehammer in an abattoir and became unusually strong. At the end of the trial the judge flatly directed the jury to find Somers not guilty, stating: “[Brinham] attempted to make homosexual advances. I think that is about as clear a case of provocation as it is possible to have.” In the end the jury indeed set Somers free.

In general, bludgeoning someone to death for making a non-violent pass, further damaging the body, tampering with the scene, attempting a cover-up, and failing to report a death should result in some charge or other sticking. But not this time. Insider's take on the event pretends journalistic impartiality, but in reality weights the scales. Somers gets the final word: he discusses his incredulity at “setting out for an innocent Saturday night and finishing up a killer.” He'd heard about homosexuals, he says, but never met one. The same could be said of the British public. But after George Brinham was outed, it thought it had. The case confirmed mainstream Britain's toxic prejudices against gay men. But Somers was never forgotten by friends and advocates—his murder became a spark for the gay rights movement of the 1970s.

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Femmes Fatales May 4 2019
LITTLE MISS GUNSHINE
There's not even the slightest glimmer of hope.


Virginia Christine prepares to ventilate someone's cranium in this crop of a promo photo made for her 1947 film noir The Invisible Wall. We haven't watched this yet, but we will, because we have a copy of this flick in some hard drive or other. You probably haven't heard of Christine, but she had a fantastic career during which she appeared in about fifty films and numerous television shows, moving constantly between the two realms like few performers have ever managed. Some of her cinematic highlights include Robert Siodmak's The Killers, Jack Webb's Dragnet, Sam Newfield's Murder Is My Business, and Don Siegel's Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The full version of the above shot, which includes her blissfully sleeping target, appears below.

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Next Page
History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
September 17
1908—First Airplane Fatality Occurs
The plane built by Wilbur and Orville Wright, The Wright Flyer, crashes with Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge aboard as a passenger. The accident kills Selfridge, and he becomes the first airplane fatality in history.
1983—First Black Miss America Crowned
Vanessa Williams becomes the first African American Miss America. She later loses her crown when lesbian-themed nude photographs of her are published by Penthouse magazine.
September 16
1920—Terrorists Bomb Wall Street
At 12:01 p.m. a bomb loaded into a horse-drawn wagon explodes in front of the J.P.Morgan building in New York City. 38 people are killed and 400 injured. Italian anarchists are thought to be the perpetrators, but after years of investigation no one is ever brought to justice.
September 15
1959—Khrushchev Visits U.S.
Nikita Khrushchev becomes the first Soviet leader to visit the United States. The two week stay includes talks with U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower, as well as a visit to a farm and a Hollywood movie set, and a tour of a "typical" American neighborhood, upper middle class Granada Hills, California.
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