Shhh! Character assassination in progress.
Above are some scans from an issue of the tabloid Whisper published this month in 1963. We've shared hundreds of tabloids over the years, and we always marvel at them. How would you describe the compulsive need to know what's going on in other people's lives? Is it a from of comparison? Is it schadenfreude? Is it envy? The American Psychological Association calls it natural behavior stemming from the fact that humans are social animals curious about what's going on around them. It's why, according to the APA, we gossip about friends and neighbors.
Your first thought, in terms of tabloids, might be that celebrities are neither friends nor neighbors. However, the headshrinkers tell us they are. People create parasocial relationships with celebrities, and thus the same dynamic exists. And nobody is immune. Condescending remarks about celebrity gossip are liable to come from people inordinately involved with their favorite baseball player, acclaimed author, or television talking head. Some people let celebrity fashionistas suggest what they should wear, while others who consider themselves above such silliness let television pundits tell them who to hate.
We find mid-century tabloids incredibly interesting, even if everybody being gossiped about is long departed. The robust sales of tabloids on auction sites seems to confirm that we aren't alone. In this issue Whisper digs dirt on numerous titans of celebritydom—Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Audrey Hepburn, Bing Crosby, Charlie Chaplin, and others. Editors also let their bigot flags fly by predicting “one of the most sinister trends in history—an organized homosexual drive” to take over the U.S. That one still sells in some quarters. We'll have more from Whisper soon.
The more things change the more they stay the same.
Reading old magazines has helped teach us that things have not changed as much as some people would like you to believe. This issue of Man to Man hit newsstands this month in 1957. We've now seen trans stories in nine mid-century publications, and keep in mind we've not seen even a fraction of a percent of all the magazines ever published. The person under the spotlight this time is Abdel Ibrahim, and Man to Man editors say about him merely that he's “changing from a man into a woman,” and, “he's in an Egyptian hospital for an operation designed to help.”
This dispassionate tone has been the norm, from what we've seen, and shows yet again how the process of creating hysterical prejudice works. First, you train people to believe something unprecedented is occurring, then you frame that as a threat to people's “way of life.” But these old tabs serve as an inconvenient truth—sex reassignments have been around for quite a while, and before then, men who passed or attempted to pass as women go back into the depths of history.
During the mid-century era many trans people became national or international celebrities, from Coccinelle to Christine Jorgensen to Ajita Wilson. The knowledge of transexuals was so mainstream that the top-selling tabloid Whisper even published a 1965 story titled, “A Doctor Answers What Everyone Wants To Know About Sex Change Operations,” with the key word in that header—everyone—suggesting that the dominant reaction socially speaking was neither anger nor fear. Elsewhere in Man to Man you get Zsa Zsa Gabor, including in one photo that looks familiar, sex myths of 1957, motel peepers, war, crime, fiction, a bit of nudism, and a bit of burlesque. You also get two pieces of art from popular illustrator Mark Schneider, who we've highlighted before. He mainly worked for Sir! magazine. We put together a collection of his covers for that publication which you can see here. You can also see three more issues of Man to Man by clicking its keywords below and scrolling down.
National Bulletin's fake cover story was unconscionable even in 1972.
This issue of National Bulletin published today in 1972 features a cover touting rapists going on strike. Do we have any doubt that this sprang from the brows of middle-aged editors with smoker's coughs, fallen arches, and no dates? As we've documented before, cheapie tabloids often trafficked in such imaginary stories. This one is akin to comedy—unamusing, tone-deaf comedy. The gist is that the head of RUFF—the Rapist's Union for Fun and Frolics—says raping women isn't fun anymore because they're too liberated and actually enjoy it. It would have been crude already in 1972 (that's why the editors did it), but these days such sentiments send a cringe through the deepest recesses of your body. The honchos at National Bulletin would, of course, say they're just riffing, yet the fact that the idea was considered by them to be viable as humor still says so much. And what it says isn't good.
So why share such items? Well, we're mainly interested in the art and graphics of old paperbacks and movie posters, and the rare photos of celebrities found in period tabloids. There are starphotos in these publications that literally don't exist online until we upload them. As lovers of old Hollywood, it's mandatory that we do so. But also, in our view, it's important to document vintage social attitudes. And here's why—after enough time passes it's easy for bad faith entities to pretend such beliefs never existed. Sharing these tabloids reminds us both of where we came from, and where we're going. In terms of promotional art and aesthetics, we believe we've ended up someplace worse than before—no matter how many book design awards are given to whichever Photoshopped covers of whatever year. Conversely, in terms of social development, we believe things are generally—despite an eddy of a few years or a decade here or there—improving.
So we're presented with divergent movement—trains traveling in opposite directions on parallel tracks during the mid-century era. On one track is excellent and commemorable visual content, and on the other is a set of social attitudes with which we tend to disagree. While it's true we could separate the art from its context, we think that's a bad practice. Many of the emails we've gotten from students, researchers, filmmakers, writers, and history buffs curious about these magazines indicate to us that without context, understanding the true characteristics of art is impossible. It'd be like looking at Picasso's “Guernica” without knowing there was such as thing as the Spanish Civil War. Yeah, it's still a great painting. But knowing its political genesis makes it more interesting. Knowledge is armor.
Bulletin moves on from the fictional rape story to offer up slightly less horrible fare in its other pages. Readers learn about lesbian communes, consensual bondage, prostitute conservationists, and sexually depraved athletes. Editors also tell readers Americans are losing the “sex race”—i.e. formerly virile men are becoming weak and impotent. If you're thinking you've heard similar masculine moaning on modern cable television, you'd be right, but the sad difference is that Bulletin's story is meant to be farce, whereas modern cable news is deadly serious about “feminization.” Accompanying the text is a photo of a woman taking the pants off a smiling wax figure of Richard Nixon. That is legitimately funny. We've enlarged it below. Feel free to spread that marvelous image far and wide. More tabloids to come.
Police Gazette was a different shade of tabloid.
Above: scans from an issue of The National Police Gazette published this month in 1942. Back then the magazine averaged sixteen pages, which means you just saw everything except a few pages of advertisements. Gazette would later greatly increase its page count, lose its pink shade, and take on the outward appearance of a standard tabloid, but it always stood apart from Confidential, Whisper and other top scandal sheets because it was less focused on Hollywood. Instead, it saved space for boxing, baseball, horse racing, and burlesque. It was one of the longest lived magazines in the U.S., and you can track its evolution through more than seventy-five issues at our tabloid index at this link. Just click and scroll down to “Police Gazette.”
It was a good thing for its readers Hush-Hush didn't know the meaning of the term.
No, we're not going to get into teen-age rapist story that dominates this cover of Hush-Hush published back in January 1965. Though based on a real occurrence, the article is titillation disguised as crime reporting, written during an era when many men thought of rape in one of three ways: vandalization of personal property if the victim was his wife or girlfriend; an attack on the family castle if she was a relative; and she asked for it, which was reserved for most other women. We stress “many men,” not all. From what we gather the majority properly saw it as a heinous attack on the woman. Of course, the vicious nature of it didn't stop it from being widely used as a cinematic and literary device, but that's another discussion, one we've already had and doubtless will again.
Elsewhere on the cover you get photographic proof that topless bathing suits really did exist during the 1960s. There are only a few photos of the things, but Hush-Hush adds to the library of visual confirmation. Now we need proof of the existence of David Dodge's completely backless cache-sexe that made women look nude when viewed from the rear. He says they were worn on the French Riviera during the 1950s, but we have a feeling proof won't be forthcoming anytime soon, absent a time machine and careful coordinates. Lastly, the cover's bottom banner touts wife swapping. How popular was this practice? We can't know. We suggest asking your grandma. But first compliment her cooking: “This casserole is delicious, gram-gram. Did you and paw-paw ever screw other married couples for kicks? Can I have more peas?”
The next article we want to call attention to is, “How Do Tahitian Beauties Drive Men Wild?” Vintage novels that waxed pornographic about the sexual attitudes of Pacific Islanders were almost an official sub-genre, so this story was a must-read for us. And for you too, which can do below. At least mostly. We couldn't upload the entire thing. It's too long, but there's enough to give you the gist. And the gist is simply that Tahitians apparently had no taboos concerning sex, partners, and privacy. The story is framed around alleged trysts with various Hollywood stars, and how Hush-Hush avoided lawsuits from those stars is really a mystery. You'll be entertained. We will say, though, that it's rather unfortunate that the story is couched in insulting terms toward Tahitian women.
As a final note, Hush-Hush used a cheaper printing process and lower quality paper than other publications from the same rank. Those two aspects of the magazine worsened as time passed. By 1965, it was barely a step above the National Informers of the world in terms of technical values. Because of that our scans aren't great. The cheap printing resulted in a scanner moiré pattern on most of the black and white content (though the color came out fine). It's actually fixable in Photoshop or Gimp, so we hear, and we have both programs, but do we want to do all that work for cheap-ass Hush-Hush? We decided we didn't. Therefore, what you see is what you get—twenty-plus scans below.
Tabloid offers pills, thrills, and various painful aches.
Above: assorted pages from an issue of National Close-Up published today in 1968, with sex pills called vitogen, sexual perversion, sex parties, and sex swingers, then conversely, mass suicides, a monster baby, an acid burn victim, car crash deaths, and all that is terrible and painful in the world. Somewhere between those extremes are celebrities, including Julie Christie, Bing Crosby, Donna Marlowe again (seems she was a tabloid staple in ’68), Playboy centerfold Sue Williams (in the advertisement for strip poker cards), and, just above, the lovely June Palmer.
It was the Whisper heard from coast to coast.
Above is a cover of the tabloid Whisper from January 1965, with actress Carroll Baker, convicted murderer Winston Moseley, and New York judge J. Irwin Shapiro starring on the front. But before we get into the magazine, we want to share the good news that our longtime scanning problems are fixed. We didn't get a new scanner, though. We got a new computer—a Mac Studio with plenty under the hood. It's quicker than the old Mac, but it also changed the functionality of the scanning interface. The whole process runs differently, and is about three times faster now. So you'll be seeing more magazines in the future.
Turning back to Whisper, Winston Moseley—who editors call William for some reason—was America's villain of the moment for the murder of Catherine Genovese, who he stalked, stabbed with a hunting knife, then found again where she had taken refuge in a building, and finished her off. Additionally, Moseley was a necrophiliac. He raped his victims—of which there were three total—post-mortem. Of the trio of victims Genovese is the one that's remembered today because her murder sparked a national reckoning about the relationship between citizens and the police, as well as life in big cities, because the press reported that thirty-eight people had seen the crime happening but had done nothing.
As it turned out, that number was wildly inaccurate, but never let the truth get in the way of perfectly cooked, juicy tabloid outrage. A quote appeared in nearly every story about the murder: “I didn't want to get involved.” New York City—where the crime occurred—and other metropolitan centers were criticized as uncaring places. Author Harlan Ellison, who at that time was writing urban crime fiction, weighed in, saying, “not one of [the witnesses] made the slightest effort to save her, to scream at the killer, or even to call the police.” Peak outrage was achieved by New York State Supreme Court Justice J. Irwin Shapiro when he expressed a desire to execute Moseley himself. In the end, Moseley wasn't executed at all. He died in prison in 2016 at age eighty-one.
Elsewhere in Whisper, you'll notice that the magazine is—unsurprisingly, given the time period and nature of the publication—antagonistic toward gay men, as demonstrated by the panel with the blaring text: “Who's Queer Asked the Peer?” But what is a surprise is that later in the issue the editors run a detailed piece on transvestites and transsexuals, and the approach is very different than the contempt shown toward homosexuality. As we've pointed out many times before, mid-century tabloids had a deep interest in trans issues. The story is titled, “A Doctor Answers What Everyone Wants To Know About Sex Change Operations.” The tone is as follows:
The condition he referred to was the common plight of all male transsexuals. Physically he was a man, but emotionally and personality-wise he was a woman, a condition that made it difficult to find successful employment, and to live at all happily. Fortunately, in his case, he had a lawyer and a wise judge who were able to help him in his wish to go to Europe for a sex change operation so that his body could be brought into greater harmony with his mind, and enable him to work and live with a degree of happiness he had never known before.
That's respectful—if not even compassionate—for a 1965 publication considered lowbrow by sophisticated readers. Is it a paradox that the magazine could be so evil toward gay men, yet so civil toward transsexuals? We think so, and we'd love to know the thought process behind it. While we're puzzling that out, you may want to move on to Whisper's slate of celebrity news. Everyone from Romy Schneider to Ernest Borgnine get their due exposure. We've uploaded the magazine's “Behind the Whispers” feature, so you can get the dish on a few Hollywood stars. Please enjoy.
Fillette gets overheated and the final result isn't pretty.
Montreal based Le Rendez-Vous is one of the more interesting mid-century tabloids. It faithfully catalogued celebrity, crime, and nature's misfortunes and atrocities—the classic tabloid formula—but did so with an extra layer of brutality that's amazingly raw for a Canadian publication. Was it that way because Canada was such a safe country and its readers liked to walk on the dark side? We think that could be a factor, though it's true to an extent for all tabloids that their readers seek exotic thrills. But as if to prove our point about Le Rendez-Vous, the crime stories in this issue from today in 1969 all come from outside countries: Mexico, South Africa, and the good ole USA. Canada seemingly wasn't a good source of chaos and killing.
The editors first pump up the sex factor with British actress Margaret Lee on the cover, then, to the right, you see a stack of text about a “fillette de 16 ans.” No, it's not about a dry-aged steak. It says: 16-year-old girl kills her sister... Because she stole her lover father. Lover father? That sounds ominous. And indeed, turns out a Mexico City girl named Amalia Martinez, her sister Cristina, and father Ernesto, were in an incestuous love triangle. Amalia solved this family beef by shooting her sister in the head. “That little silly girl,” she said after being arrested, “got what she deserved.” Clearly she still hadn't quite worked through her anger. Probably she always had to share everything with her sister, and usually got the short end of the stick. It's quite a story from Le Rendez-Vous—100% prime tabloid journalism.
Elsewhere in the issue readers get a feature on circus performers, including a photo of a contortionist that brings to mind the time we saw a woman in Marrakech crawl through a tennis racket (we were searching for a cursed monkey's paw, but seeing that feat was a worthy consolation prize). Also inside is Croatian actress Sylva Koscina on the Côte d'Azur, Italian actress Antonella Dogan in the centerfold, ex-first lady Jaqueline Onassis in Greece, and our old friend, model and actress Donna Marlowe, in a bikini. We have plenty of scans of those items and more below, two other issues of Le Rendez-Vous here and here, and more from this publication to come.
America's worst tabloid pops the bubbly and starts the year strong.
Above is a cover of the tabloid National Informer that hit newsstands today in 1972 featuring an unidentified Champagne toasting model. We love how the editors emphasize the word “truthful” in the second banner, beneath the name of the paper. That's a bold claim from one of the ultimate bottom shelf tabloids of the era, one that traffics in faux news and sensationalism more than actual journalism. But we won't argue the point. Whenever one's reputation is less than stellar don't leave it to chance: tell people what opinion to have of you. National Informer says it's truthful, fine.
There are a couple of stories of note in this issue. According to Informer, German high wire artist Karl Traber died when he lost his balance during a walk between the towers of two Munich churches and fell two-hundred feet onto a spiked fence. We couldn't find a single reference to anyone named Karl Traber online, though we did to a Traber family who remain famous today as aerialists. We did a Boolean search within German websites and still found no Karl Traber who suffered this grisly death. It's no surprise. Cheap tabloids often leave you with more questions than answers. We'll blame it on sloppy journalism (maybe they got a name wrong?) rather than false reporting. But since we don't want to spend our Monday searching the internet, we'll just move on.
Later in the issue Informer's resident seer Mark Travis produces a slate of predictions, and one of them qualifies as his wildest ever: I predict the invention of a serum which is injected into the bloodstream to create more pigmentation of the skin and turn a white person black. It will be very popular among the young college students. This serum [snip] will enable white youngsters from affluent homes to really see what life in the ghetto is like. Since the results will wear off in a few weeks if the injections are discontinued, it will be quite an adventure to “go black” for a short period of time. Only a wig will be necessary to complete the disguise. And since another drug which works in reverse—lightens the skin—will enable any Negro who desires to do so to pass for white, it will soon be impossible to tell who is white, who is black, and who is one in the disguise of the other.
We think we know how that would turn out: the caste-destroying serum would be banned in all fifty states, plus overseas U.S. territories, and bring penalties for usage ranging up to execution. We're only half kidding. Imagining the possible fallout from such a form of recreation makes us want to pitch the idea to some of our Hollywood friends. Can you imagine the television show that could be produced? Travis has made some blah predictions over the years, but we bet this one hit a nerve among Informer's readership. Unfortunately, we don't have the next few issues to check the infuriated responses in reader mail. Maybe it's better that way. As a side note, this is the thirtieth issue of Informer we've shared. |
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1933—Prohibition Ends in United States
Utah becomes the 36th U.S. state to ratify the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution, thus establishing the required 75% of states needed to overturn the 18th Amendment which had made the sale of alcohol illegal. But the criminal gangs that had gained power during Prohibition are now firmly established, and maintain an influence that continues unabated for decades.
1945—Flight 19 Vanishes without a Trace
During an overwater navigation training flight from Fort Lauderdale, five U.S. Navy TBM Avenger torpedo-bombers lose radio contact with their base and vanish. The disappearance takes place in what is popularly known as the Bermuda Triangle.
1918—Wilson Goes to Europe
U.S. President Woodrow Wilson sails to Europe for the World War I peace talks in Versailles, France, becoming the first U.S. president to travel to Europe while in office.
1921—Arbuckle Manslaughter Trial Ends
In the U.S., a manslaughter trial against actor/director Roscoe 'Fatty' Arbuckle ends with the jury deadlocked as to whether he had killed aspiring actress Virginia Rappe during rape and sodomy. Arbuckle was finally cleared of all wrongdoing after two more trials, but the scandal ruined his career and personal life.
1964—Mass Student Arrests in U.S.
In California, Police arrest over 800 students at the University of California, Berkeley, following their takeover and sit-in at the administration building in protest at the UC Regents' decision to forbid protests on university property.
1968—U.S. Unemployment Hits Low
Unemployment figures are released revealing that the U.S. unemployment rate has fallen to 3.3 percent, the lowest rate for almost fifteen years. Going forward all the way to the current day, the figure never reaches this low level again.
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