Last year I penned a heartfelt tribute to Lilian Gish and that first generation of cinematic ladies who made male hearts swoon, back when it was still gentlemanly to swoon in mixed company. Alas, the big bold number at the top of this article threatens an accusation of sexism if I don’t supply that article’s flip-side in short order. So here you go: five sploosh-worthy gents who first glued eyes to screens.
It’s important to note that the qualifications for being a sex symbol in the 1910’s were somewhat different than today. Washboard abs were barely an asset; Fatty Arbuckle was a lady’s man and he had the body shape of a Barbapapa. Acting back then was all in the eyes, and it was to the eyes that our attention was drawn. I suspect that in 1914, Channing Tatum’s beady greens wouldn’t have made the cut.
The style of acting required for silent film is truly unique; no one knew (or cared) whether these men could sing, or if their voices sounded like a sack of wet noodles being dragged through a frog’s trachea. We say that Hollywood is superficially mired in its obsession with physical looks today (seriously, why has every on-screen cop since Andy Sipowicz been traditionally attractive?), but back then looks was all they had. Looks, and the ability to brood on cue. Gotta have that brooding glare.
Those eyes will look into your soul, rearrange the contents therein and leave you a changed person. This is Sessue Hayakawa, and he was causing hearts to throb before literally any other Hollywood star. In his time – which began about a hundred years ago – he was as popular and beloved to audiences as Charlie Chaplin. Born in Tokyo, Sessue broke down racial barriers before the paint had even dried on their walls. He refused any role that perpetuated schlocky Asian stereotypes, and was thusly thrust into the spotlight when Cecil B. DeMille cast him as the romantic lead in 1915’s The Cheat. Read more…
I confess: I am but one week away from commemorating my 40th year on this planet, and I have yet to ever play The Game of Life. This is not due to some ethical or existential objection to simulating the course of one’s existence upon a square slab of cardboard, but rather due to my friends and I having spent our youthful recreation time with Star Wars toys and kindly ol’ Super Mario. I never got around to playing Candyland either.
As beloved as this board game may be, with its plastic minivans, its cruel cash-drains and generous paydays, buried deep within its roots is a transformative story. The original version of the game, concocted by Mr. Milton Bradley himself, elevated the concept of gaming from prescriptive quests for moral elevation to a more practical and modernized measure of success. More importantly, it came packaged with choice.
The Game of Life as we know it (well, as you probably know it, since I’ve never played the thing) features one early decision: go to school or get a job. After that, each soul is subjected to the whim of the spiteful spinner, suggesting that life is but a cavalcade of random collisions, and that we are always at the mercy of the fickle flick of fate. Mr. Bradley’s outlook on destiny was far more empowering.
Tracing the Bradley lineage would suggest that a rather dreary definition of “life” could have taken center-stage in his outlook. The family tree was planted in America in 1635, and since then its bark shows the hatchet-marks of murder, Indian attack, kidnapping, and at one point hot embers being poured into an infant’s mouth. When Milton finally squeezed his way onto the planet in 1836, the Bradleys were a little less prone to being butchered, but far from being economic titans. Read more…
There’s a tiny voice inside my head, that interminable squawk of the ever-shrinking crimson-lensed optimist, who wants to believe that Dr. Theodor Morell was doing his best to assassinate Adolph Hitler from the inside out. Morell was the Fuhrer’s personal physician, and as the world began to warp around the consequences of his patient’s actions, his freewheeling approach to the prescription pen increased. Was he doing his ill-informed best to keep Germany’s leader in good health? Or was he subversively hoping to kill him?
Okay, that’s an easy one; Dr. Morell was an incompetent putz who appeared to have forged his medical path through a garbled jungle of whim and outlandish guess-work. Had he truly been looking to snuff out Hitler’s flame he would have been just a bit more thorough in his boobery. Also, he would have likely been facing a swift execution by the other Third Reich brass.
The truth behind Hitler’s health is a curious stew of horrors and weirdness. The man deserves none of our pity of course, but in looking over what we have learned about his bizarre journey through Germany’s medical industry, I have to wonder if some of his unmitigated evil might have been a result of the strange goings-on within his innards.
In November 2008 a curious story wormed its way into the news cycle. The story can be traced through Polish priest and amateur historian Franciszek Pawlar, who claims to have once spoken with a man named Johan Jambor (pictured above). Jambor had been a medic for Germany during the first World War, and it was he who treated a wounded Adolf Hitler at the Battle of the Somme in France in 1916. Hitler had received a wound to the “groin” – a more specific account I’m afraid I can’t offer. Read more…
Forever conjoined in the tomato sneer of fate, love and sacrifice provide the familiar minor-key chime beneath so many tragic tales. Our past is riddled with them, bleeding their florid twists onto the otherwise sterile emotional landscape of a history which is otherwise defined by dates and wars and steel-grey timelines. The great forgotten love stories are the smack of mustard upon the otherwise bland wiener of historical record.
The story of the notorious Biddle Brothers had reached its final chapter, and was stretching its leg toward its terminus when love intervened and produced an eleventh-hour twist. Two men were given a second chance at freedom. One woman sacrificed everything. Another man met his grisly end.
These are the stories that paint pink acrylic swirls upon the serifs of the font that transcribes our past. After nearly 1000 paths of investigative prose (with the occasional dab of poetry), these are the stories that still ignite my imagination and wonder.
Jack Biddle, along with his little brother Ed and their friend Frank Dorman, became known around Pittsburgh as The Chloroform Gang. Their modus operandi was to assist their victims into slumber by using chloroform-soaked rags, then to rob them thoroughly. One morning, it all went wrong.
They were hoping to pilfer as much as they could from the residence of grocer Thomas Kahney. Someone – possibly Kahney’s wife, or perhaps one of the intruders – made some noise, and Kahney found himself face to face with the would-be thieves. One of them (and the brothers would pin it on Dorman) shot and killed the man. When the police came snooping for suspects at a nearby home where the gang was hiding out, another blast was fired, killing Detective Patrick Fitzgerald. Read more…
Within the margins of human behavior, how is it possible for our hunger for self-awareness to coexist with our penchant for abandoning empathy and basic compassion? History’s most exquisite brains have combed the mines of knowledge and speculation in order to pilfer as much truth about ourselves as can be swallowed by mortal minds, yet in doing so they have occasionally stomped upon our collective dignity by treating the subjects of their study as though they belonged to an unrelated sub-species.
Ota Benga was just a dude. Had the trajectory of his existence not been marred by western interference, he might have lived a blasé life of hunting, storytelling and raising a family. Instead he was plucked from the lush, equatorial forests of his youth and made a slave, a sideshow wonder, and a zoological exhibit for slack-jawed tourists.
Most of the injustices thrust upon Ota’s arc were done with the false pretense of anthropological education, cloaked in evolutionary flim-flammery and racist eugenics. But what did we learn, apart from humankind’s tragically vast tolerance for our own assholishness?
A member of the Mbuti tribe in what was then called the Belgian Congo, Ota Benga’s life was first derailed by Belgium’s King Leopold II around the turn of the 20th century. Leopold had dispatched the Force Publique, a heavily-armed militia aimed at reminding the Congolese natives that they’d best remain devoted to producing rubber for Belgium’s financial gain. Ota was out on a hunt when the armed men showed up and murdered his wife and two children. When he returned to his village, he was captured as a slave. Read more…
“If you’re going to do something, do it right.”
So sayeth the big book of unspoken laws – the same book that also condemns hack writers who open articles with unattributed clichés, tagged with stupid quotation marks that indicate that the words have been spoken, though in this case only within the writer’s mind. Hey, sometimes I’m lazy. But at least I’m honest about it.
Sometimes – and this pops up most frequently when an occasion forces me to try dancing without a sufficient dosage of alcohol to abuse my bloodstream – I’m downright incompetent. That’s not a crime; we all take a stumbling stroll through the courtyard of fuckuptitude now and then. The key is not to be incompetent when it really counts. Like when you’re meeting your in-laws. Or performing a recital. Or trying to kill somebody.
That’s a big one. Screw up an assassination attempt and you’ll be plopped into history’s laughing bin , filed under ‘G’ for Gut-Bustingly Idiotic. These five would-be snuffers of life weren’t out for notoriety, and the failure of their mission, though it opened them up for mockery galore, did little to sway whatever kooky inspiration had fuelled them past the checkpoint of legality into the realm of the fiercely wicked. But at that point, who cared?
Get your pointing finger ready and cue up your next laugh. These folks have earned it.
When a white man fatally shot the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. in April of 1968, it stuck a searing needle into race relations. But King had been targeted before – in this instance by a black woman in September of 1958 – and the end result was actually more encouraging than divisive. Izola Curry’s beef with the Reverend was not so much issues-based as it was wacko-nutjob-based. She met Dr. King at a Harlem book signing, and proceeded to jab a steel letter opener into his chest. Read more…
Yes, I’m writing about dogs again. Last year saw the earthly departure of Rufus and Yoko, my two loyal – albeit halitosis-heavy – bulldog assistants, and I would be remiss (which is Latin for “an asshole”) if I did not honor their memory with a few feel-good tales of puckish pooches to warm the cockles (which is Latin for “the taint”) of the heart. Luckily, as chock-full as the internet may be with cat pictures, it is similarly packed with tales of loyal canines.
I make no apologies for the fact that I am a dog person. Dogs may not be smarter than cats – though they could be; I distinctly recall some Youtube video in which a dog retrieves a beer from the fridge – but they are more emotionally devoted to their human friends. I love that when I come home every day, my remaining bulldog assistants (Bessie & The Bean, so named for her legume-esque stature) are jubilant to the point of ridiculousness. In my limited experience, cats simply don’t offer that kind of overflow of positive energy.
And devotion. That’s a big one. The loyalty of my slobbery little friends has never truly been tested, but I’m sure it exists. The canine companions who grace today’s page have all demonstrated a form of loyalty that every super-villain dreams of extracting from but one of their grunting minions.
Any pile of devoted-dog stories must contain a customary bow to Hachiko, the Akita owned by University of Tokyo professor Hidesaburo Ueno. Every afternoon, Hachiko would show up at Shibuya Station to await Ueno’s train. In May 1925, only about a year into their relationship, Ueno suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and never made it home. Hachiko showed up anyway, and proceeded to pop in to the station at the exact same time every day to await his master’s return. For almost ten more years. Read more…
The air was as thick as a steak and almost as full of blood. Lieutenant, Junior Grade Dieter Dengler stared at each of his fellow P.O.W.s and wondered which of them would be up for the escape. There were three men from Thailand, one Chinese man, and an American “kicker” named Eugene DeBruin, all of whom had been working for the CIA’s Air America, covertly delivering food and supplies to refugees in the early stew of the Vietnam War. The other man was First Lieutenant Duane W. Martin, the only other American serviceman among them.
The Chinese man, Y.C. To, was suffering from a fever – he wasn’t likely to keep up. But postponement of the escape was not an option; one of the Thais had overheard a guard mutter something about taking the seven men out to the jungle and shooting them, making it look like they’d been trying to flee. Now the flee would have to be.
Dieter was the one who drew up the scenario. He’d slip out of his restraints while the guards were eating, grab some weapons, then let the bullets fly. Dieter had trained for this. He was ready.
As a boy in Wildberg, Germany, Dieter had always dreamed of being a pilot. He’d never met his father, and was raised under the tutelage of his grandfather – the lone citizen of his hometown who had not voted for the Nazi Party. Dieter packed up what little he had and made for New York City, where he lived on the gritty streets for a week before popping into the local Air Force recruiting station. Read more…
Every so often I like to illuminate the pages of this online repository of phact and phantasy with a story so luminous I can practically hear the creak of my readers’ perfunctory grins as their hearts glow from toasty delight.
This is not one of those days.
Today’s kilograph is a meandering stroll through the most dank and squalid corridors of mental illness and human tragedy. The story herein is so polluted with sadness and horror it could make the Coen Brothers squeamish. The only disclaimer I can offer is that the details of this tale will likely pummel your stomach like pizza dough and send you scrounging for a pick-me-up, be it literary, broadcast or pharmaceutical. This is an ugly one.
This is a story of unchecked insanity, of a man who squirmed through the cracks of a system that never clued in to the demons playing table tennis inside his cranium. This is paranoid schizophrenia, cranked up to ten then breaking off the knob. This is how the world utterly and completely failed Richard Chase and those who were to become his grizzly victims.
At age ten, Richard wholly embodied a phenomenon known as the MacDonald Triad – a trio of symptoms that all but closed the book on a person’s sociopathic bent and/or likelihood of homicidal leanings: he was cruel to animals, he lit stuff on fire and he wet the bed far beyond when a kid should stop. As a teenager, Richard discovered drugs, alcohol and a terrifyingly vivid stew of hypochondria.
Sometimes he felt his heart stop beating. Other times he was convinced someone had stolen his pulmonary artery. Vitamin C might fix him, or so he believed, leading him to hold oranges against his head in order to allow the vitamin to ooze past his skull via diffusion. I’m just guessing, but I doubt Richard scored a lot of high marks in biology class. At one point he became convinced that his cranial bones were shuffling around like drunken salsa dancers, so he shaved his head to keep track of them. Read more…
In choosing to part with a precious dollar in order to venture beyond the chalky flap into the freak-show tent, one must be prepared for what one is about to experience. If you’re the type whose cup gurgleth over with empathy, you’ll likely succumb to the fangs of your own guilt, having paid a pittance to merely gawk at the afflicted (a similar guilt may also strike as one sits and gapes in a strip club, though the desire to see boobies often trumps the hand of conscience).
If you’re a skeptic, you’ll spend your time deducing the construct of the visual trickery before you. In today’s post-Mos-Eisley world of latex costuming and SFX rigging we’re all a little harder to fool than our grandparents were.
Or perhaps you’re a pragmatist, and your concern lies with those who don’t pony up a buck to help get these poor souls a decent meal.
The Spider-Legged Woman is probably a fake. The guy who’s only a head with no body is probably perched above a carefully-placed mirror that conceals his other parts. But step forward if you dare, for these folks I present to you today were anything but a myth. For the most part, they made their living along the outskirts of the big top because that was all they could think to do. Prepare to have your mind blown and your eyes boggled – I’m not making any of this up. Probably.
A prop leg? That’s a pretty simplistic gag, even for the early 20th century. But Frank Lentini was no scam artist; due to a partially absorbed conjoined twin, Frank boasted a completely functional, full-size third leg on the right side of his body. Part of his shtick involved booting a soccer ball across the stage to demonstrate the leg’s impressive capability. All three of his legs were different lengths: 38 and 39 inches for his primary legs and 36 for the extra one. Read more…