Happy Belated B-Day, April.

I thought I had this scheduled for Monday the 2nd, but I messed up.

So, a happy belated birthday to “April Dancer” (what a cool character name), The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., AKA Stephanie Powers, one of retro TV’s iconic girl-with-a-gun characters, who later starred in the mystery series Hart To Hart, and earlier in her career earned her ‘Noir Cred’ as Toby Sherwood in Blake Edwards’ creepy 1962 neo-noir thriller Experiment In Terror.

Powers was born Stefania Zofya Paul Federkiewicz in Hollywood (that made for a short trip to get a career rolling) on November 2, 1942, and happily is still with us today. 

Probably too much to ask, but can I have that sleek Girl From U.N.C.L.E. car, pretty please?

Retrowood.

From Mike Vosburg’s fun Retrowood from 2013, a ‘sorta-kinda’ mid-twentieth century Hollywood (but not really) hard-boiled noir with private eye J. Parker Wrighte mixed up in mystery and murder among the decadent tinsel town’s stand-ins most devious (and pervy) denizens. The story is dark but goofy fun, and the art’s almost sedate for Vosburg, while still indulging the figurative master’s flair for lovely — albeit lethal — ladies.

The Queen of Technicolor.

Green eyed and red haired, she was dubbed “The Queen of Technicolor”, but actress Rhonda Fleming (8.10.23 – 10.14.20), who passed away earlier this week at age 97, never cared for that label, preferring people to recognize her professional accomplishments, which were many. Appearing in nearly fifty films between 1943 and the mid 60’s, plus numerous television appearances, she played everything from the best of the good girls to the worst of the femmes fatales in romances, crime films, westerns and costume dramas, but ultimately was perhaps better known for her philanthropic work after she semi-retired from acting. Fleming needs no intro to film noir and crime melodrama enthusiasts, having appeared in classics like Out Of The Past (the memorably malicious San Francisco secretary trying to frame Robert Mitchum), Spellbound, Cry Danger, The Killer Is Loose, While The City Sleeps and others. 

For a glimpse of Rhonda Flemings work (alongside costar Arlene Dahl) hit the link below for more about 1956’s “noir-in-color” Slightly Scarlet from 1956.

https://thestilettogumshoe.com/2019/11/06/a-ruthless-story-of-rackets-and-redheads/

Bettejane Was No Sissy.

Born Bettejane Greer in 1924, Jane Greer legally changed her name in 1945, deciding that Bettejane was “a sissy name. It’s too Bo-Peepish for the type of role I’ve been playing”. RKO promoted her as “the woman with the Mona Lisa smile”, but in fact, teenage Greer suffered from a condition that paralyzed the left side of her face. Even after recovering, she relied on facial exercises to overcome the paralysis, which contributed to her enigmatic expression. 

Teen beauty pageants led to modeling jobs and a big band singing gig in the Washington D.C. area till Hollywood discovered her from a Life magazine modeling spread. Greer appeared in a long list of MGM and RKO films playing everything from crooks to cowgirls and continuing to work in both movies and television into her seventies. This even included a parody of her iconic role as Kathie Moffat, one of film noir’s most iconic femmes fatales, in a 1987 Saturday Night Live skit alongside her Out Of The Past costar Robert Mitchum. Now that I’d like to see!

Jane Greer left us in 2001 at the age of 76.

Girls With Guns: Marie Windsor

marie windsor the narrow margin

One of the 1940’s – 50’s many “Queen Of The B’s”, Marie Windsor (Emily Marie Bertelsen, 1919 – 1980) would’ve turned 100 today, December 11th.  Her film and television resume is a mile long, including her share of crime melodramas and a couple key noir films: Force Of Evil with John Garfield in 1948, and one of her best (and a personal favorite or mine), The Narrow Margin from 1952 (a publicity still from that film shown above) most of which takes place on a train, with Windsor playing a murdered mobster’s widow…or is she? (She’s much, much more.) Naturally athletic and considered tall for her time at 5’9″, she often had to stoop or do scenes sitting down when paired with height-challenged male co-stars.

Remembering Natalia (11.29.1981)

Natalie Wood 2

Born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko in 1938 in San Francisco, the Russian emigre family name later changed to Gurdin, but we knew her as Natalie Wood, first appearing on film at age 4, lighting up the screen in the original Miracle On 34th Street at only 8, later to create memorable screen roles in Rebel Without A Cause, Splendor In The Grass, West Side Story, This Property Condemned, and my personal favorite, Love With The Proper Stranger from 1963/1964…earning three Oscar nominations along the way.

Sadly, it was on this date, November 29th in 1981, that Natalie Wood drowned off the Catalina coast in a boating accident that’s still shrouded in mystery.

Natalie Wood 1

Natalie Wood 4

To say I’m a fan isn’t quite enough. Of course, Wood never played a true ‘femme fatale’, much less a gun moll, film noir heroine or even a real crook, unless you want to count the silly mid-sixties farce Penelope. But for some reason, it was always Natalie Wood that I pictured when envisioning my own creation, ‘The Stiletto Gumshoe’ – Sharon Gardner (real name Sasha Garodnowicz, changed for obvious reasons), a 22-year old trying to make her way in the gritty brown-bricked bungalow rows of Chicago’s ethnic southwest side in 1959. Specifically, it’s the look of Natalie Wood from the early 1960’s, and her Angie Rossini character from Love With The Proper Stranger, like the NYC publicity shots shown above from that film. As Sharon Gardner herself relates, surveying the crowd from her all-too-familiar perch on a barstool in Silky’s cocktail lounge:

“…A decent looking type out for a few snorts after work on a Thursday evening was more likely to go for the loudmouthed lushes squeezed into their sparkly cocktail dresses. But enough liquor can turn me into Natalie Wood, when a fellow wants to believe it. Minus a few curves. And if it’s dark. Which Silky’s usually is.”

Natalie Wood Dance 1

Maybe she got screwed by producers when it came to showcasing obvious singing and dancing talents. Maybe it took a while for her to acquire well-deserved cred for her acting ability and to overcome the child-star label. No question that her prime years included some silly roles, the kind every star was arm-twisted into during the waning days of the studio system. But I just refer anyone unfamiliar with Wood’s work to some of those key films listed above. ‘Nuff said.

Natalie Wood: July 20, 1938 – November 29, 1981. Gone at only 43. We can only imagine the work she left undone at such a young age, but will always have the work she left us with. Yeah, I’m a fan, and always will be.

Natalie Wood Dance 3

No Pumpkin Pie? We’ll Make Do With Cheesecake.

Marilyn Monroe 3

There’s little to be found in the way of “Thanksgiving Noir” so you’ll forgive me if I serve up some cheesecake instead of pumpkin pie.

1950’s – 60’s sad siren Marilyn Monroe packing a gun would make for an iconic film noir photo. But when the rod’s a blunderbuss, and the cheesecake photoshoot’s scanty attire is a barely-there pilgrim costume instead of a fetching femme fatale’s frock, the results will be what they’ll be. I believe these were shot by Bert Stern in 1950, back when Ms. Monroe still had to put up with this nonsense.

marilyn monroe 2

But it’s intriguing to note that Marilyn Monroe had some legit pilgrim credentials, supposedly a distant descendant of John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, certainly some of the most famous among the Mayflower’s passengers. If I’ve read things correctly, Monroe was a seven-times-great-granddaughter of the Aldens through their eldest child, Elizabeth. Of course, neither Priscilla nor Elizabeth were known for showing off their shapely gams in back-seamed fishnets.

And with that, a Happy Turkey Day to you too.

marilyn monroe 1Marilyn Monroe 4

 

Blues In The Dark

Blues in The Dark

L.A. indie film producer Karissa Glover is in the final stages of a messy divorce from a B-grade action film star and needs a new place to live. Like now. Coincidence (or is it?) leads her to an old mansion in West Adams Heights, available at a ridiculously low rent. The house has remained vacant since its prior owner, Ultimate Studio’s overnight star and film noir femme fatale Blair Kendrick, was murdered in the late 1940’s.  The now forgotten star’s furniture and mementoes all remain, and Karissa soon uncovers one mystery after another, all related to Kendrick’s then-taboo relationship with an African-American jazz musician. Obsessed, Karissa begins developing a film based on the actress’ life story, attempting to solve the mysteries surrounding her death. And some mighty dangerous people definitely do not want anyone digging into Blair Kendrick’s death or the mysterious disappearance of her lover.

You’d have to turn in your ‘I-Read-Mysteries’ I.D. card if you don’t see where this one’s going. But that’s not intended as a criticism. Like a fun road trip, sometimes it’s all about the journey, not the destination. And I don’t mean that I anticipated all the twists, turns and details in Raymond Benson’s tale, only that I guessed at its ultimate resolution early on. But that just made me all the more eager to learn how we’d get there. No surprise; Benson’s a good storyteller, done here in chapters that alternate between modern day Karissa Glover’s efforts to learn more about the mysterious 1940’s star, and Blair Kendrick’s postwar Hollywood milieu, in which she tries to avoid the casting couch, falls hard for a handsome jazz pianist, and their desperate attempts to elude period prejudices, lethal studio enforcers and even the mob. Benson knows how to handle this alternating chapter structure well. His multi-book Black Stiletto series (each of which I literally gobbled up) about a 1950’s costumed vigilante employed the technique skillfully.

It bears mentioning that Blues In The Dark’s Karissa Glover is an adoptee, her birth parents unknown, only that she is of mixed racial heritage. Like maybe a beautiful blue-eyed blonde film noir actress and an African American jazz musician. Hmmm…

If you like retro Hollywood settings, a good mystery and a well-told tale, it’d be hard not to like Raymond Benson’s Blues In The Dark.

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