The Naked City Mar 24 2015
DEATH EXAMINED
Tragedy plus a photographer equals sales.


Above and below is a fascinating series of photos from the Los Angeles Examiner during the heyday of tabloids, showing just how invasive such publications could be. The photo above shows the aftermath of a murder-suicide at the Ansonia Apartments in L.A.’s MacArthur Park neighborhood. A mother jumped from a window with her six-year-old son. The photos below show the scene from different angles, then a priest administering last rites to the boy, and finally the father grieving over his son’s body. The Examiner focused on crime, corruption, and Hollywood scandals, and was for a time the most widely circulated newspaper in Los Angeles. Possibly its most famous scoop was breaking the story of the 1947 mutilation murder of Elizabeth Short, better known as the Black Dahlia.

In the references we dug up on the Clouart tragedy the wife’s name is never given—she’s called only Mrs. Gerald Clouart. That was of course common practice at the time, but it’s ironic the way it renders invisible a woman who might have received help had anyone truly discerned her troubles. But in yet another example of the Examiner’s extraordinary access, one of its photos is of Mrs. Clouart’s suicide note, and we were able to get her name from that. The note said: “I’ve reached the point of no return. It’s not your fault. You’ve been a wonderful husband and father. Am taking [John] with me to spare him the disgrace. I’m just inadequate.” It was signed Terry. That was today in 1952.


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Hollywoodland Jan 8 2015
BURNS IN THE FIRE
You’re nobody ’til somebody loves you.


The above photos show Barbara Burns when she was busted for drugs today in 1958 after LAPD officers found track marks on her arms. Burns was the well-to-do daughter of famed comedian Bob Burns, but her father had died of kidney cancer in 1956. Barbara Burns was sentenced to probation after the arrest, and the story got some play in national newspaper, with several calling her probation sentence a storybook opportunity at a second chance. But she didn’t cooperate in the role. She managed to cobble together some behind-the-cameras television work, but was arrested for heroin possession in 1959. That time she served ninety days in jail and admitted in an interview, “I’m really hooked. I had nothing else to do, and my mother wouldn’t talk to me. I wanted to be a singer but I was too heavy and they told me it would help me lose weight.” 

Burns had always called herself an ugly duckling, compared herself unfavorably to her siblings, and felt she could never live up to family expectations. But even though her own words told the world that low self esteem was the root of her problems, a dead father and an estrangement from her mother probably didn't help things. The downward spiral continued. She was arrested for marijuana possession in early 1960 and
earned ninety days in Camarillo State Hospital. In November 1960 she was snared in another weed bust, but that time she walked after a jury acquitted her. When she was arrested for heroin possession again in June 1961, she lamented what had probably been true for longer than she admitted—that she had doomed her chance to have a career in show business.
 
At some point she sought medical treatment for an eye problem and was told by a doctor that she was losing her vision in her right eye. In both August and September of 1961 she attempted suicide, and in January 1962 while awaiting trial on one of her narcotics busts she was found overdosed and unconscious on a Hollywood street, and died a few days later in the hospital. Her suicide note said all she wanted was to be loved but everyone hated her. Many of her obituaries, ironically, described her as “tall and beautiful,” which she certainly would not have believed. They also noted her advantages in life—how she had won the crucial lottery of being born to wealth. But Barbara Burns didn’t see it that way. She once said, “I wish I had been born in some poor, obscure family that nobody knew. Then maybe I would have tried to become somebody.”
 
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The Naked City Dec 29 2014
OUT OF THE BLUE
The worst luck always comes when you aren’t looking.

What you’re seeing here is an aftermath photo of suicide leaper Louise Stark, who jumped from a department store window in downtown Los Angeles. It was a catastrophic fall, as you can discern from the river of blood running into the gutter, but she didn’t just kill herself—she landed on a pedestrian named Victor Angel and killed him too. The unfortunate human nail between the hammer and anvil was deaf, but hearing probably would have made no difference. Even if Angelenos made a habit of looking up while they walked, you have to doubt that a warning shouted by an observer would have done little more than give the man time to look up and see his doom approaching. Still, you never know. This happened today in 1958.

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The Naked City Jun 16 2014
L.A. LEAP
Bridge to nowhere.

Above, another photo from the coffee table book so morbid it will put you off your coffee—Scene of the Crime: Photographs from the LAPD Archive. This image shows the aftermath of a suicide leap from L.A.’s 7th Street Bridge, today 1959.

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Vintage Pulp Nov 21 2013
RAMPAGING BULL
Very little of what they wrote was factual, but at least they were bold about it.


Rampage returns to Pulp Intl. after a six month absence with this issue published today in 1973. The cover star and interior models are unknowns, and the stories are mostly fiction (a fiend stomps a girl’s guts out, a ghost rapes a girl in graveyard, a husband shoots out a rival’s eyes, a wife shoots her husband because he wanted a beer) but the editors do expend a bit of column space on two real people. The first is Richard Burton, who they call a hopeless drunk with violent tendencies—not a newsflash, since other tabloids had already covered his drinking issues to death. Of marginally more interest is a story on Peter Duel, a little-known figure today, but one who was a major star during the 1970s, half of the famed duo from the hit television show Alias Smith and Jones. Rampage claims Duel did not commit suicide in December 1971, but rather was murdered. The evidence? The testimony of a medium who communicated with Duel’s spirit and reported that the aggrieved entity said, “They… murdered….me! I… was… murdered..! Oh God..!” And of course, ghosts being famously elliptical, Duel transmitted all this across the ether without uttering the name of a single assailant.

The last item of note in Rampage is the group of predictions by Mark Travis. His predictions are usually so off as to be pure comedy, but eerily, he nails a few this time. For instance, he predicts the development of a cream that can allow a person to be whatever shade they wish. While many current day Americans have perhaps heard of these only in relation to porn stars whitening their anuses, skin whitening creams are in fact a multi-billion dollar industry in places like Japan, India, and China, where paleness is perceived as an indicator of wealth. The fact that people could so blatantly kowtow to racist paradigms is another issue entirely. We’ll get into that another time maybe. Travis also predicts that American highways will all become toll roads, and that’s of course a wet dream of today’s privatization sect, and one that’s coming closer to fruition every day. Okay, Travis missed a few too. Goat’s milk has not become a major part of the American diet yet. And as far as we know, Mexico has not yet offered instant citizenship to Americans who purchase property over the border. But here’s the thing about predictions—there’s no time limit. If they haven’t come true yet… just wait. We predict that we’ll have more issues of Rampage soon. Scans below.

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Hollywoodland Aug 30 2013
McDONALD DUCKS
Marie McDonald gives her minders the slip in Australia.


Today we’re getting back to what we do well with some scans and tawdry tales from a mid-century tabloid—this time it’s Uncensored, published this month in 1965. There’s quite a bonanza inside. You get stories on Ray Charles’ ongoing narcotics problems, Jack Paar’s runaway ego, the health fad of Finnish saunas, and the astounding “fourth sex” (castratos, in case you’re curious). There’s also interesting coverage of American socialite Hope Cooke’s marriage to Crown Prince Palden Thondup Namgyal of a place called Sikkim, a Himalayan monarchy that is now a part of India. When Cooke married the prince in 1963 she became the second most famous American to marry into royalty (after Grace Kelly). The marriage made her a Maharajkumari, which has a nice ring to it, but the union was not successful. An amusing subhead on Uncensored scribe Aldo Ceruzzi’s article encapsulates the problem: Sophisticated though she is, it’ll take lots of doing to overlook those concubines! 

But the story we’re most interested in here is the one on American actress/singer Marie McDonald. We wrote about her before, her infamous nocturnal disappearance from her house, her discovery in the desert, and her weaving a story of abuse and abduction and placing the blameon two “swarthy” assailants. The cops dismissed her story out of hand, but Uncensored gives us a bit of new information on the debacle: But Marie was able to save the $8,000, six-carat diamond ring she was wearing at the time of the alleged snatch. Her unusual safe deposit box was discovered when a doctor examined her for evidence of [rape]. Probing south of the border, he found there were diamonds in them thar hills!
 
Well, wow. Just wow. And you notice how Uncensored slipped the words “snatch” and “box” into the account? Again, wow. Was that an accident? Noooo. No possible way. Most of the McDonald story, though, is actually about an incident that occurred several months before this issue of Uncensored was published in which she escaped from an Australian mental clinic (or “booby barn,” in Uncensored parlance). The scandalous aspect is not her escape, but the fact that she spent the next forty hours at the home of a “handsome admirer” she had met days earlier. What happened there? The imagination runs wild—with a little help from Uncensored. McDonald’s ongoing personal difficulties hadyears ago overshadowed her career, so readers were probably not surprised to come across yet another strange story about the sex symbol nicknamed "The Body." Seven marriages will have a tendency to turn one into the butt of jokes. But though Uncensored makes light of McDonald in that cutting way tabloids do, her life was truly no laughing matter—she committed suicide just two years after this issue appeared, in 1965. We will have more from Uncensored soon.

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The Naked City Aug 7 2013
DEATH BY KNIFE
Mary’s Lindsay’s last dance.

Her name was Mary Lindsay, but she also went by the alias Mary Irving, and she was found stabbed to death one Friday in L.A.’s Wilshire district, in an apartment known to police as an illegal speakeasy and gaming establishment. The murder weapon, which you can see above in the foreground on the table, is probably at least a foot long. Irving/Lindsay’s live-in companion Emmett Hicks had gone missing after the killing along with a length of clothesline from the yard. Police later found Hicks hanged by that clothesline from a high-tension electrical tower in South Central Los Angeles, near East 99th Street and Zamora Avenue in a vacant lot. Their verdict: murder/suicide, case closed. That was today in 1931. The photo comes from the 2004 book Scene of the Crime: Photographs from the LAPD Archive. 

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The Naked City Jul 23 2013
SUMMERS END
All the Good Samaritans in the world couldn’t help him.

From the USC Digital Archive of mid-century Los Angeles images, the above photo shows the aftermath of the suicide of Russell Summers, who leapt from the seventh floor of Good Samaritan Hospital. There’s no information about why he jumped. That was today, 1951.  

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Hollywoodland | Sex Files Mar 13 2013
IMITATION OF SEX LIFE
The Lowdown proves that it deserves its name.


We’re jumping right into our treasure trove of newly arrived tabloids today with a glance at this issue of The Lowdown published in March 1965. On the cover you see Jean Harlow, Carroll Baker, and Ed Sullivan. We talked about Baker recently and there she is in that crazy gown again (below)—or is she? No, on close examination this is yet another version of the dress. Clearly, the photo was shot on a different night than all the others because her hair and jewelry are different. But the actual dress also looks slightly different from both the Oleg Cassini and Pierre Balmain iterations. A reference in the story clears things up at least a little: “Transparency gowns are another of her big passions and she often wears them.” There you have it. Half naked was a fairly standard look for Carroll Baker. They just don’t make stars like they used to.

You might be curious what the article is about. On the cover the header reads: “The Night Carroll Baker Played a Call Girl,” but on the inside, it says: “The Night Carroll Baker Played a Harlot!” The story goes that she wanted to research her role as a prostitute in the movie Sylvia, so sheventured down to Tijuana, Mexico, toured a few brothels, and somehow disappeared alone for two hours: “We don’t know what happened in the house in Mexico or what sights she could have barged in on, but that is bouncy Miss Baker’s bit.” Lost in a Mexican whorehouse. The mind reels. Do we buy it? Not for a minute.

The other story of note asks: “How Hot Was Jean Harlow’s Sex Life?” Well, let's take an up close look and find out. In 1932 when Harlow was 21 years old she married Paul Bern, a director and screenwriter. Bern apparently had never done well in the sex department due entirely to his own lack of passion, and his shyness was well known. To him Harlow supposedly represented a chance at true sexual fulfillment. If the most desired woman in Hollywood couldn’t rouse his slumbering libido, nobody could. According to The Lowdown, Bern failed on the wedding night. Here’s what the text says:
 
In the wee hours of the morning, Jean’s agent [Arthur] Landau received a frantic call from her asking that he come and get her immediately. When [they] got to Landau’s home, according to the agent, Jean stripped off her filmy wedding nightgown to reveal her beautiful body a mass of welts and bruises. “Her back and buttocks were covered with bruises. Therewas one especially bad bruise directly over her kidneys.” The implication here is because Harlow died several years later of kidney failure that she incurred the fatal damage during that wedding night beating. It gets weirder—brace yourselves. Landau goes to Paul Bern’s house, geared for a confrontation:
 
The bridegroom of some eleven hours was [snip] sprawled nude and drunk on the floor of his den. Silently hating the man at his feet, Landau wanted to kick the slight, pasty body of Bern. Instead he rolled the unconscious man to his back to discover what had never been suspected by anybody in the industry. Paul Bern had the sack and penis of an infant boy. The story goes on to explain that the entire mess was hushed up for the sake of Harlow’s career. Two months later Bern committed suicide via a bullet through the brain. One more excerpt:
 
Paul had prepared himself for death by removing all his clothing and stood before the dressing room mirror. [snip] And, staring at his tormented body, he pulled the trigger. The nudity added a sexual element to his suicide that encouraged a spectrum of interpretations of his farewell note:
 
“Dearest dear, unfortunately this is the only way to make good the frightful wrong I have done to you and to wipe out my abject humiliation. I love you. Paul.
 
You understand that last night was only a comedy.”
 
What was the comedy? Harlow said nothing to the press. But according to Arthur Landau, she told him Paul Bern had spent $200 on a device to increase his manhood. Wearing the contraption he had entered their bedroom intent on finally consummating their marriage. This hope was doomed from the start and the whole plan turned into such a tragic farce that both he and Jean finally gave way to hysterical laughter. That’s probably one of the sadder stories you’ll ever hear. Is it true? It appeared in a biography about Harlow, but we can never know. We can, however, at least answer the question posed by The Lowdown’s story header. No—Jean Harlow’s sex life was not hot at all.


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The Naked City Jul 15 2012
UNDER THE BRIDGE
The loneliest way to die.

Above is a random shot from the USC digital photo archive of a man hanged, either by his hand or others, from a Los Angeles underpass located at West First and North Figueroa. At left in the image you a see a detective using an official LAPD pokin’ stick to turn the corpse for a better look. Except it actually kind of looks like he’s sizing up a piñata purchased from the world’s least festive party supply store, and we can be sure that if he gave it a good whack it wasn’t candy that came out. Meanwhile, the cop below must be thinking that the detective’s exam might not be so hard to pass after all. This happened today in 1951. 

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History Rewind
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
October 24
1929—Stock Market Crashes
Black Thursday, a catastrophic crash on the New York Stock Exchange, occurs when the value of stocks suddenly declines and continues to decline for a month. The event leads to a subsequent crash in world stock prices and precipitates the Great Depression. This after famous economist Irving Fisher had declared that stock prices had reached a permanently high plateau.
October 23
1935—Four Gangsters Gunned Down in New Jersey
In Newark, New Jersey, the organized crime figures Dutch Schultz, Abe Landau, Otto Berman, and Bernard "Lulu" Rosencrantz are fatally shot at the Palace Chophouse restaurant. Schultz, who was the target, lingers in the hospital for about a day before dying. The killings are committed by a group of professional gunmen known as Murder, Inc., and the event becomes known as the Chophouse Massacre.
1950—Al Jolson Dies
Vaudeville and screen performer Al Jolson dies of a heart attack in San Francisco after a trip to Korea to entertain troops causes lung problems. Jolson is best known for his film The Jazz Singer, and for his performances in blackface make-up, which were not considered offensive at the time, but have now come to be seen as a form of racial bigotry.
October 22
1926—Houdini Fatally Punched in Stomach
After a performance in Montreal, Hungarian-born magician and escape artist Harry Houdini is approached by a university student named J. Gordon Whitehead, who asks if it is true that Houdini can endure any blow to the stomach. Before Houdini is ready Whitehead strikes him several times, causing internal injuries that lead to the magician's death.
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