Mario’s Mara & Bruce

mara corday by mario chavez

Actress, showgirl and model Mara Corday above (who I believe is still with us at age 89, and who I got to see being both fetching and wicked in an old 1959 Peter Gunn episode rerun Saturday night ) and below, Bruce Wayne by artist and illustrator Mario Chavez. Sorry, but the rather prominent ‘gams’ Wayne’s ogling aren’t actually identified by the artist.

bruce wayne by mario chavez

Gunn’s Hart

Lola Albright 1

Lola Albright played Edie Hart, jazz club chanteuse and girlfriend to Craig Stevens’ private eye Peter Gunn in the 1958 – 1961 ABC TV series of the same name. Actually, her real name — Lola Albright — almost sounds better for a quirky little jazz club singer than her made-up character name. And it was the actress and singer’s real name.

Loal Albright 2

Lola Jean Albright was born in Akron, Ohio in 1924, juggling small-time singing gigs while modeling in Chicago until a talent scout lured her to Hollywood in 1947. Two years in she got her first break alongside Kirk Douglas in 1949’s Champion, but continued to toil in small parts, B-movies, Westerns and television roles, still working as a model on the side, which included posing for well-known pin-up and ‘good girl art’ painter Gil Elvgren. In 1958 she was cast as Edie Hart in the new Blake Edwards produced ABC series Peter Gunn, doing her own singing in nearly forty episodes, nominated for an Emmy in 1959, while recording several successful record albums. During Peter Gunn’s third and final season she fell for the actor/musician portraying the piano player at Mother’s, the little bohemian jazz club private eye Peter Gunn used as his unofficial headquarters, and the two were married from 1961 to 1975. Albright passed away at age 92 in 2017.

A Cold Wind In August

If you get a chance to catch some Peter Gunn episodes, check them out. Hopefully they’ll be the dark, suspenseful and gritty ones, which are a real treat. As is Lola Albright’s breezy performances…and her singing, if you’re fortunate enough to view one in which she performs.

Lola Albright 3

TV Noir With A Mancini Soundtrack

Peter Gunn 1

I can’t keep track of all the oddball cable channels I can access. FETV? Never heard of it, but apparently it’s one of far too many syndicated rerun channels cluttering the cable landscape, and definitely wasn’t marked as a favorite. That is, until I discovered that FETV was running three back-to-back episodes of Peter Gunn, the 1958 – 1961 ABC detective series created by Blake Edwards and starring Craig Stevens as the titular private eye with Lola Albright as his jazz chanteuse girlfriend, Edie Hart.

Peter Gunn 2

Set in an unnamed waterfront city that could hug either coast (but is actually far-too-familiar Universal and later MGM backlot streets), suave and perpetually cool Peter Gunn uses quirky jazz club Mother’s as his unofficial office, drives a car-phone equipped big-finned two-tone ’58 DeSoto and typically gets a cool grand for his jobs. Always nattily attired, Gunn’s not afraid to get his hands dirty, and is good with his fists in a tussle with thugs and, in keeping with his name, ready with his gun when needed. Creator Blake Edwards aimed for a cool, hip tone with this series. The look is visibly ‘noir-ish’, most scenes set at night, the redundantly re-used sets kept dark and shadowy, often filmed in jarring camera angles, and all enhanced by Henry Mancini’s jazzy score. In fact, the “Peter Gunn Theme”, which you’d recognize right away if you heard it, was nominated for an Emmy and two Grammys.

Peter Gunn 4

Not to overpraise. This is still crank-em-out late ‘50’s-early 60’s era TV, and there are some genuinely silly episodes, either formulaic whodunits or misguided attempts at lighthearted humor. The urbane P.I. in a wild west ghost town? Peter Gunn babysitting a seal? Well, skip those and focus on the good ones, and there are a bunch, at least from those I’ve seen so far. Dark, moody and then suddenly erupting with unexpected violence, the best episodes of Peter Gunn are as good as many film noirs and neo-noirs, just compressed into a half hour time slot.

Peter Gunn 5

Blake Edwards also wrote and directed a number of the episodes, and several years later took another whack at his Peter Gunn creation, directing a feature film (co-written with William Peter Blatty of The Exorcist fame) released by paramount and starring TV’s Craig Stevens. There’ve been further attempts to revive the character in 1989, 2001 and as recently as 2013 by TNT, but nothing’s come of them. A DVD boxed set exists, and if I stumble across it at a reasonable price, I’d go for it.

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Raymond Leech

Raymond Leach 1

There seems to be something shared among some UK figurative painters. An affinity for times gone by. The ambience of the taverns and dance halls populated by small time grifters and crooks. Peering into dark bedrooms inhabited by estranged lovers.  Scottish painter Jack Vettriano embraced this somewhat ‘noir-ish’ retro world years ago when he abandoned bright sunlit seashore and resort ballroom scenes.

Raymond Leach 2

UK painter Raymond Leech often dwells in similar milieus, though doing so with an entirely different level of draftsmanship and more visibly soft and ‘painterly’ brushwork.Leech’s bio’s say his affection is for the Cornish Newlyn School of art, like paintings by Stanhope Forbes. And that may be the case with Leech’s charming harborside seascapes. But the darker, brooding paintings shown here probe something quite different, but before drawing too many comparisons between Scottish painter Vettriano and Norfolk bred Leech, keep in mind that it’s unwise to fixate on details like the men’s white shirts and suspenders or even the vaguely 1930’s – 1950’s environments. Shared visual cues in both painters’ work are apparent, but dwelling on them is akin to comparing two artists including red barns in their landscapes or sailing ships in their maritime paintings.

Raymond Leach 3

Leech was born 70 years ago in Great Yarmouth, the eastern most point of England jutting out into the beginnings of the North Sea. As a teen he studied both fine art and graphic design at Great Yarmouth College of Art, and like so many artists, started his career as a designer. But growing skill and increasing success with his paintings eventually directed him to pursue a fine arts career. Not restricted to easel work, Leech works interchangeably in oils, watercolor and pastels.

Raymond Leach 4 Heartbreak Hotel

So, what do UK painters like Jack Vettriano and Raymond Leech really share? Both depict figures sharing the same spaces though they’re often remote and disconnected. Desire is evident, but unfulfilled, love an illusion in scenes that suggest it’s really just for sale. There’s a faux nostalgia (though not sentiment) for undefined mid-twentieth century cinema-style settings and a generous bit of peekaboo voyeurism. But what they may share the most is the fine arts world’s reaction: Disdain or outright dismissal from critics, for them and for most narrative artists, save for the cynical few tricky enough to cloak their figurative work in some sense of irony.

See the next post for additional pieces by UK artist Raymond Leech.

Raymond Leach 10

 

Chicago 1946 – 1957

46 chicago

Late 1950’s Chicago wasn’t much on my radar back in 2000 when Steve Monroe’s ’57 Chicago came out. I’ve probably seen it on shelf in used bookstores, even recently when I’ve been laser focused on 1959 Chicago for my own projects (as in, The Stiletto Gumshoe). Even if I have spotted Monroe’s debut novel, I probably decided to pass, not being much of a fan of the boxing scene, which is the what that novel deals with.

But, it’s on order through my local bookseller now, in the newer 2015 trade pb edition. I requested it along with some other books when I was barely 20 pages deep into Monroe’s second novel, ’46 Chicago from 2002, which I recently bought at a used bookstore. Boxing scene or not, if Monroe’s debut is even half as good as his follow-up, I know it’ll be good.

’46 Chicago deals with semi-rogue cop Gus Carson, recently returned to the force after a harrowing time in the Pacific war, only to find himself suspended over an off-duty shooting in a whorehouse. Where he was a patron at the time. So, let’s be clear: Gus is no angel. Tempted by five hundred easy but obviously suspicious dollars from a Chicago bigwig endorsed by the police brass, Gus is tasked with locating the man behind the numbers game on the south side…who’s been kidnapped. Or, may be dead already. Who’s behind it? The cops? Rivals? The mob? Gus’ search drags him down through the underbelly of the city and up to the sprawling estates of the North Shore’s millionaire power brokers, forced to confront his own violent and less than honest past along the way. He may solve this mystery, but there’s no redemption for Gus Carson at its end. It’s all loosely based on the Chicago mob’s real-life takeover of the south side numbers/policy racket, engineered by Sam Giancana under Tony Arccado’s leadership.

57 chicago

Monroe’s novel is truly harder than hard-boiled, darker than the most noir-ish of noirs, utterly grim and gritty throughout. I just finished ’46 Chicago after work tonight (Tuesday), and now I’m itching for ’57 Chicago to arrive, so I can dive in to that one, fight scene and boxers or not. But only three of the five books I’d ordered have come in so far (those picked up today), ’57 Chicago still en route. Steve Monroe did one more novel in 2015, Pursuit, in what looks like a contemporary setting. According to his website (stevemonroebooks.com) there are a couple more languishing in a file cabinet, including a sequel to ‘46 Chicago. I don’t know if Monroe’s retired (he is or was a successful real estate broker) or if the current publishing/bookselling marketplace conditions have those projects permanently stuck in limbo, but I hope they see the light of day. Some day.

Side note: I did buy ’46 Chicago at a used bookstore, my copy a like-new hardcover with a perfectly clean dustjacket. Only a little way in, what should tumble out from between the pages? The author’s own day-job business card, which may well have been hiding in there since the book’s release in 2002. (The company’s since been absorbed by another in a mega-merger.) And based on the card and his title at the time, I don’t think Mr. Monroe’s hurting for a tight-fisted publisher’s advance minus agent’s commission. Just guessing.

 

Trapped (1949)

Trapped 4

Until recently, Richard Fleischer’s 1949 film noir Trapped was relegated to grainy DVD’s mostly seen on sale racks and in cut-out bins, the poverty row Eagle-Lion Films production being in the public domain. Newly restored by the Film Noir Foundation and UCLA Film and Television Archive, with support from the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, Trapped can now be properly viewed and reassessed as much more than a forgettable low-budget B-movie, and clearly part of the classic postwar noir canon (if cult fans hadn’t already positioned it there).

Trapped Poster

Produced by Bryan Foy, expertly living up to his previous status as the “King Of The B’s” at Warner Brothers and by ’49 in charge at Eagle-Lion, newly restored Trapped received a proper presentation on TCM this past weekend, with Noir Alley host, Film Noir Foundation founder and maestro of all-things-noir Eddie Muller providing an engaging overview of the stories behind the film.

Trapped 1

Think of Trapped as a precursor to William Freidkin’s 80’s neo-noir To Live And Die In L.A., with convicted counterfeiter Lloyd Bridges, in his first real leading man role, here furloughed from prison to assist the Feds with the retrieval of a set of near-perfect $20 bill plates. But Bridges escapes and a dizzying set of double-crosses unfolds. Halfway in, I was ready for any G-Man to be revealed for a crook, and for any counterfeiter to flip out a Treasury Department badge.

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What I wasn’t ready for was just how good twenty-one year-old actress Barbara Payton could be in her own breakout role, playing a nightclub cigarette girl and Bridge’s girlfriend/accomplice. Her sexy, gritty performance (with an undercurrent of weary vulnerability) captivated audiences 70 years ago, along with some Warner Brothers bigwigs who immediately put her under contract. But Payton’s success was short-lived, her penchant for fellows, booze and brawling ending her career only a few years later, with poverty, scandals and arrests in the years that followed, right up to her untimely death at only 39 in 1967.

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“Cigarette Girls”: Smoke And Guns

Smoke And Guns

Her bio says that Oakland librarian Kirsten Baldock actually worked as a cigarette girl during her first year in San Francisco. I didn’t realize that even was a job during our lifetimes. But let’s assume her cigarette girl gig was slightly less dangerous than the one she imagined for her urban noir graphic novel Smoke And Guns (AIT/Planet Lar, 2005 trade pb). Drawn by Brazilian artist Fabio Moon, Smoke And Guns imagines a Sin City style urban nightmare divvied up into districts serviced by licensed gangs of cigarette girls like The Chinatown Dolls and The Grand Avenue Belles. They may look, act and sound like ‘working girls’, (very well-armed working girls, that is) but they sell cigarettes, not sex, and when Scarlett breaks the fragile peace by selling smokes on another gang’s turf, all hell breaks loose.

Smoke And Guns Page -

Baldock’s idea’s an imaginative one, and her dialog is a treat, while Moon’s straightforward black and white brushwork-style draftsmanship is a good example of comic art pages being ready-to-shoot storyboards for a film. This may be an oldie, but it’s a goodie that I still see on some comic shops’ graphic novel shelves. If you spot it, check it out.

Smoe And Guns Page

Black Garters of Death

startling detective feb 1949 copy

Anyone thinking things were safer back in the ‘good ol’ days’ oughta think twice. Evidently a fellow couldn’t even go the picture show back in 1949 without running into a movie-mad blonde wearing black garters of death. So, just keep walkin’, dude…

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