Movies

November 14, 1957 – Apalachin Mafia Summit Bust

Home of Joseph Barbara, Apalachin, New York. Photo: Gordon Rynders, New York Daily News

Home of Joseph Barbara, Apalachin, New York. Photo: Gordon Rynders, New York Daily News

On November 14, 1957 approximately 100 key Mafia bosses, advisors, and their bodyguards converged on Apalachin, New York to meet at the 53-acre estate of Joseph “Joe the Barber” Barbara.  On the agenda: resolve conflicts among the families of La Cosa Nostra (the American version of the Sicilian Mafia) regarding gambling, casinos, local and international narcotics smuggling and dealing, garment industry rackets (manufacturing and loansharking), trucking, labor and unions, and other operational issues.  Recent hits and attempted hits on leaders of individual families also needed attention to prevent all-out war, particularly between the Genovese, Scalice, and Anastasia factions.

Edgar Croswell, a local New York trooper, had grown curious about Barbara estate activities after several suspicious encounters with previous guests.  Learning that many local motel rooms were being reserved by Barbara’s son, he started keeping a close eye on the residence.  As the luxury cars and limos flocked to Barbara’s house, state police began taking down license plate numbers.  Background checks revealed the presence of known criminals, reinforcements were called in, road blocks were set up, and eventually a lot of expensive tailoring was ruined as mob bosses and underlings tried to escape into the brush.  Guns and $100 bills were scattered across the hillside, continuing to turn up for months afterward.

Joseph Barbara

Joseph Barbara. Photo: Geocities/Organized Crime Syndicates website

Fifty-eight men were apprehended, roughly fifty escaped.  Among those consigned to the “paddy wagon”: top figures Vito Genovese, Carlo Gambino, Joseph Profaci, and Joseph Bonanno.  Their explanation that the gathering was a “get-well-soon” coffee clatch for Barbara went over like a set of cement overshoes.  Up to this point, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover had been reluctant to admit the existence of organized crime in America.  The Apalachin summit bust made the syndicate and its influence painfully clear, and Hoover responded by creating the “Top Hoodlum Program” to pursue Cosa  Nostra bosses throughout the country.

The Apalachin summit of “Who’s Who” in 1957 American, Canadian, and Italian mafiosi inspired many portrayals in books and film.  A version of the event appeared in Mario Puzo’s The Godfather Returns, and was also referred to in Hollywood’s Goodfellas and Analyze This.

November 10, 1957 – Elvis at the Honolulu Stadium

Elvis Presley arrives in Honolulu on November 9th, aboard the USS Matsonia. Photo: Elvis Australia website

Elvis Presley arrives in Honolulu on November 9th, aboard the USS Matsonia. Photo: Elvis Australia website

On November 10, 1957, Elvis Presley gave two concerts at the Honolulu Stadium in the American Territory of Hawaii.  Arriving by the cruise ship USS Matsonia for his first visit to the tropical paradise, Elvis promptly fell in love with the beautiful setting and friendly people.  Hawaii became his favorite vacation destination, the setting for three of his films (Blue Hawaii, Girls! Girls! Girls!, and Paradise, Hawaiian Style), and his chosen venue for several large concerts, including a March 25, 1961 fundraiser to help build the USS Arizona memorial.

On this visit, Elvis planned three concerts, the two at Honolulu Stadium, and another the following day at the U.S. Army’s Schofield Barracks.  Elvis-o-philes will want to know that The King stayed at Henry J. Kaiser’s newly opened Hawaiian Village Hotel, conceived on a “village plan”, where “various sections of the development were designed in specific types of motifs indicative of the culture of the hotel’s surroundings”.  If Room 14A still exists, it may be one of the many pilgrimage sites for enduring generations of Presley’s many fans.

The November concerts in Hawaii would be Elvis’ last concerts in the 1950’s.  One month later, after enjoying Christmas at Graceland, Presley received his long-expected draft notice.  In March of 1958 he would be inducted into the United States Army and assigned to Fort Hood, Texas for basic training.

October 17, 1957 – Elvis’ “Jailhouse Rock” in Memphis Theaters

Promotional Image: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Inc.

On October 17, 1957, Elvis Presley’s third film, “Jailhouse Rock”, debuted in Memphis, Tennessee.  Produced by MGM and directed by Richard Thorpe, “Jailhouse Rock” was the musical story of convict Vince Everett and his rise to riches and fame in a post-incarceration singing career.  The film challenged American movie-goers with its positive depiction of Presley as a convict hero who swore and spent on-screen time in bed with his female agent, Peggy Van Alden (Judy Tyler).  Vince and Peggy’s sometimes racy dialogue included a scene in which Peggy protests, “How dare you think such cheap tactics would work with me!”, to which Vince replies, “That ain’t tactics, honey.  It’s just the beast in me.”

The movie opens with Vince serving a one-year manslaughter sentence following his involvement in a bar fight started by someone else.  Vince’s cellmate is Hunk Houghton (Mickey Shaughnessy), a country singer past his prime but happy to pass along to Vince his singing and guitar-playing skills.  Vince is eventually released from prison, starts working in nightclubs, meets Van Alden, a record company talent scout, and records a demo which he and Peggy pitch to a record label.  When his song is given to one of the label’s already established stars, disillusioned Vince and Peggy start their own label.  The American dream comes true for Vince, as he becomes an overnight singing and movie-starring sensation.

The dance sequence to the song “Jailhouse Rock” has been cited as one of Elvis’ greatest moments on screen.  The series of steps, choreographed by Alex Romero and incorporating a number of classic Elvis “moves,” combined with the setting in a men’s-only cellblock, gave an erotically (if not homo-erotically) charged energy to the film.  One of film’s greatest male dancers of all time, Gene Kelly, applauded a run-through of the dance sequence on a visit to the set during production.

Filming had just begun on May 13th when Elvis inhaled a loosened dental cap and was rushed to the hospital.  Surgery to remove the cap, followed by several days of recovery, hardly slowed the speedy film shoot.  “Jailhouse Rock” wrapped on July 17th and just three short months later, men, women, boys and (especially) girls were lapping up popcorn and Elvis in the plush seats of a local movie palace.

October 7, 1957 – Time’s People in the News

On October 7, 1957, the weekly installment of Time magazine included their regular feature on the doings of famous movers-and-shakers, the People column.  During a week which included continuing reports of the forced integration of – and military presence at –  Little Rock Central High School, and the announcement of the USSR’s launch of Sputnik 1, the American public probably enjoyed a lighter moment catching up on high-society and high-celebrity.  Some of the high-points:

Ernest and Mary Hemingway in Venice, 1954.

“With plenty of works in progress but no finished manuscript under his arm, Novelist Ernest Hemingway arrived incognito with wife Mary at a midtown Manhattan hotel for a quiet holiday far from his Cuban finca.  Meanwhile, two short stories, the first new Hemingway fiction to be published since The Old Man and the Sea in 1952, were being put to bed for the centennial issue of the Atlantic, which will be out at the end of October.  Apparently stemming from the experience Hemingway underwent when he was temporarily blinded after his plane crash in Africa in 1954, the stories are paired under the title “Two Tales of Darkness”.

“Following the long antarctic night, the sun rose over the U.S. base at the South Pole last week, and Polar Explorer Paul Siple (Time cover, Dec. 31, 1956) led 17 scientists and servicemen into the open for the reveille that comes there technically only once every six months.  With the temperature at a numbing  minus 88°F and an 18-knot wind blowing across the polar wastes, the ceremonial hoisting of Old Glory turned out to be about the most frenzied since the famed planting of the flag under fire at Iwo Jima.”

LOS ANGELES – OCTOBER 10: Singer Frank Sinatra and actress Lauren Bacall attend a party for the musical ‘Pal Joey’ on October 10, 1957 in Los Angeles, California.

“In seclusion since the death last January of Cinemactor Humphrey Bogart, his widow, Cinemactress Lauren Bacall, was stepping out with an old family friend, Cinemactor Frank Sinatra.  Lauren was recently draped on Frankie’s arm for the Las Vegas premiere of his new movie The Joker is Wild, last week went along with him to a closed-circuit telecast of the Sugar-Ray Robinson – Carmello Basilio fight in a Hollywood theater from which they emerged looking as happy as if they had bet on Winner Basilio.  But though Hollywood gossips buzzed, both Lauren and Frankie denied a wedding is in the wind.”

Eleanor Roosevelt guides visiting Nikita Khrushchev through the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library at Hyde Park, September 18, 1959. Photo: US National Archives & Records Administration, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Public Domain

Eleanor Roosevelt guides visiting Nikita Khrushchev through the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library at Hyde Park, September 18, 1959. Photo: US National Archives & Records Administration, Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, Public Domain

“Describing the Russian people as ‘wonderful’, Globetrotter Eleanor Roosevelt, 72, climaxed her first trip to the Soviet Union by interviewing Communist Boss Nikita S. Khrushchev for almost three hours at his summer villa on the Black Sea near Yalta.  ‘War is unthinkable,’ Khrushchev told Mrs. Roosevelt, who called the hard-drinking, explosive Soviet leader ‘a cordial, simple, outspoken man who got angry at certain spots and emphasized the things he believed.’  But when Khrushchev accused her of hating Communists, Mrs. Roosevelt quickly replied: ‘Oh no, I don’t.  I don’t hate anybody.  I don’t believe in Communism as an ideological way of life.'”

October 4, 1957 – Soviets Launch Sputnik 1

Sputnik 1. Photo: NASA

 

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union upped the ante in the Space Race with the successful launch of Sputnik 1, the first Earth-orbiting artificial satellite.  Blasted through the atmosphere from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard a two-stage R-7 rocket, Sputnik 1 was a 23-inch diameter, 184 pound, aluminum-magnesium-titanium sheathed sphere with two whip-like antennae.  Powered by silver-zinc batteries, it entered a low, elliptical orbit emitting a radio signal which could be received on Earth by both Soviet scientists and the curious (and highly-alarmed) American public.  Sputnik traveled 18,000 miles per hour, completing an Earth-orbit every 96 minutes.  Radio transmissions continued for 22 days, until transmitter batteries were exhausted.  The history-making satellite spent 3 months in orbit, traveling a total of 37 million miles, before burning up in atmospheric reentry on January 4, 1958.

While not able to conduct as many experiments as the Soviets had initially hoped, Sputnik was able to gather information during its three-month run concerning the density of the Earth’s upper atmosphere, radio-signal distribution in the ionosphere, and meteoroid detection by penetration of the satellite’s outer hull.

The successful launch of an artificial satellite was one of the primary goals of the International Geophysical Year (IGY), inaugurated on July 1, 1957.  The Soviets had first proposed developing such a satellite on May 27, 1954, and President Dwight Eisenhower announced on July 29, 1955 that the United States would send their own version of the technological achievement into space during the IGY.  But Sputnik took America and its government by surprise.  Americans now had to take Soviet scientific abilities much more seriously.  A sense of vulnerability to attack led to panic reactions by the public, as they listened in to Sputnik’s ominous “beep-beep” when it passed directly overhead.  The US government responded with renewed commitment to scientific and technological research, and military and educational program revamping and investment.  ICBMs, missile defense systems, and satellites were all placed on a developmental fast-track.  After several failed attempts, the United States’ first successful launch of its own artificial satellite, Explorer 1, occurred on January 31, 1958.

Numerous references to Sputnik in movies, television shows, and pop songs have made the term part of the American cultural landscape.  Replicas and models of the satellite can be found at the United Nations, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, and the Science Museum in London.

September 23, 1957 – “The Three Faces of Eve” Fascinates Movie Audiences

On September 23, 1957, The Three Faces of Eve opened in American movie theaters, starring newcomer Joanne Woodward as multiple personality-possessing Eve White.  Based on a book by Corbett Thigpen and Hervey M. Cleckley, the movie related the story of real-life Chris Costner Sizemore, who revealed her identity as Eve in her 1977 book, I’m Eve.

Personality #1 Eve White is a mild-mannered housewife who suffers from blinding headaches and occasional blackouts.  She consults psychiatrist Dr. Curtis Luther (Lee J. Cobb; On the Waterfront, Twelve Angry Men), who meets Personality #2, wild trouble-maker Eve Black, when he puts Eve #1 under hypnosis.  Eve #2 knows about Eve #1, but unfortunately Eve #1 doesn’t know about Eve #2.  Both Eves are institutionalized when Eve #2 tries to kill their daughter, Bonnie.

Dr. Luther continues to treat the Eves, and helps #1 to remember a deeply traumatic childhood event which led to her personality split (revealed in a spoiler review by Bosley Crowther of the New York Times).  During this work, a stable Personality #3 emerges and takes the name of Jane.  Jane is able to remember everything about Eve #1 and Eve #2, the Eves merge into Jane, and the happy ending sees Jane remarried and reunited with Bonnie.

Joanne Woodward won an Academy Award for Best Actress for her role(s) as Eve, Eve, and Jane.  Two other actresses were rumored to be considered for the part: Judy Garland (director Nunally Johnson’s preference, but deemed too “unreliable”); and June Allyson (who let herself be talked out of it by husband Dick Powell, advising her she’d be “miscast”).  Orson Welles was reportedly offered the role of Dr. Luther, but declined in order to direct Touch of Evil.  David Wayne (How to Marry a Millionaire) appeared as Eve #1 & #2’s husband, Ralph; Nancy Kulp (The Bob Cummings Show, The Beverly Hillbillies) played the role of Mrs. Black; and Alistair Cooke (PBS’s Masterpiece Theater, America) warmed up his voiceover chops as the narrator, lending a British flavor of authenticity and reliability to the tale.  Nunally Johnson both directed and wrote the screenplay for the Twentieth Century Fox production.

September 21, 1957 – Perry Mason’s First Case

Hamilton Burger, Arthur Tragg, Della Street, Perry Mason, Paul Drake. Photo: CBS

On September 21, 1957, defense attorney Perry Mason tried – and won – the first of many cases in the Los Angeles County Courthouse, as one of television’s most successful and longest-running legal series premiered on CBS.  Broadcast from September 1957 until May of 1966,  Perry Mason featured Raymond Burr as cool, brilliant, masterful Mason, Barbara Hale as his attractive, husky-voiced, confidential secretary, William Hopper as blond, handsome, semi-playboy private detective Paul Drake, William Talman as hapless, clownish District Attorney Hamilton Burger, and Ray Collins as smug, thick-skulled police Lt. Arthur Tragg.

Each episode title began with the familiar phrase “The Case of the . . .” and the show progressed following a formula, as well.  The first part of the show set up the audience for the murder of a disagreeable, deserving victim and the presence on, or near the scene, of a likable, innocent, soon-to-be defendant to the crime.  Perry would take on the case, Drake would investigate (dropping into the office through his private back entrance and calling Della “Beautiful”), and soon the courtroom drama would begin.  Over-confident DA Burger would present his case, with evidence from gloating Lt Tragg, Perry would call witnesses, examine and cross-examine, the real killer would get uncomfortable, Drake would arrive at the courtroom in the nick of time with an important envelope, and all of a sudden Perry would force an anguished or angry, emotional confession from the real murderer.

It was formulaic, but it worked.  Perry Mason was highly popular.  Most everyone could hum the show’s theme song, “Park Avenue Beat”.  Many famous actors and actresses appeared as guest stars over the years, including (just to name a few) Robert Redford, Bette Davis, James Coburn, George Kennedy, Angie Dickenson, Louise Fletcher, Burt Reynolds, Barbara Eden, Ryan O’Neal, Diane Ladd, Fay Wray, Cloris Leachman, Lee Meriwether, Dick Clark, Jackie Coogan, De Forest Kelley, Werner Klemperer, Harvey Korman, June Lockhart, and Marion Ross.  Erle Stanley Gardner, the detective fiction author who originally created the story’s characters, played a judge in the final series episode on May 22, 1966.  From 1985 to 1995, 30 made-for-television movies aired on NBC, most starring Burr and Street, with other actors filling in the main roles.  The original episodes are in syndication to this day.

KPTV in Portland, Oregon – where I was born – continuously carried reruns of Perry Mason from its final episode in 1966 until September 4, 2012, when Perry adjourned to another local Portland station, KPDX. Appearing at noon (except for a brief period in the mid-70s when it was moved to 12:30 PM), Perry was a daily lunchtime staple for faithful fans in the Rose City, who will now be co-sleuthing with Mason & Co. at 8:00 AM over coffee, eggs and blueberry granola. For many years, I was one of those faithful fans. As a young adolescent, I found much to love about Perry, a strong, mature man who could always be counted on to protect the good and the innocent. I have to admit that Paul Drake added his own special, erotic thrill.