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December 26, 2002


TURNING THE TABLES ON A PETTY CON-MAN JUST IN TIME FOR X-MY-ASS! Here's a great true story courtesy of aspiring Montreal-based scream-queen Isabelle "Necrophilia" Stephen (pictured right)...

Early November of this year a guy stole 20 bucks off Isabelle "Necrophilia" Stephen near the Lionel-Groulx metro station in St-Henri. She was about to go up the stairs out the metro when a panicked man came up to her ranting how he was a stuntman from LA working on a movie shoot in Old Montreal & he was in big trouble 'cause he'd forgotten all his belongings with the stunt-crew, who, incidentally, were also his "students." He needed to get back to Old Montreal as fast as possible to get his wallet & car-keys & if she could lend him 40 bucks for a cab, he'd leave his portable computer with her as proof that he could pay her back. He quickly asked for her work phone number & they both agreed that he'd call her the day after to meet back in Old Montreal where she works & pay her back.

"Okay, so I'm a nice person… I thought his story might be sincere," Isabelle explained, "I mean, shit happens & if I ever had a similar problem I'd hope someone would help me likewise..."

At this point the guy's story sounded alright but the 40 bucks was making no sense. She knew it only cost maybe 10 or 12 maximum to cab back to Old Montreal, so she told him she only had 20 bucks to her name & no more money in the bank, but that'd be more than enough to cover his ride. He agreed, but as they were climbing the stairs he started complaining how he had asthma & really needed his medication, which was with the crew. He added that he wouldn't mind breaking his car window to get the portable computer for her because insurance would cover it no problem, but he'd rather not.

"When we were practically outside I told him to go get his stuff, I'd wait for him at the door. He said he could, but he was in too much of a hurry & needed medication. He told me he could call people from the United States that could vouch for him. I asked him if he knew Rick Elfman & he said no. I told him Elfman's quite a well known moviemaker from LA that I know. The guy told me he works more in New York than LA, so I asked him if he knew Troma's Lloyd Kaufman. He said the name rings a bell. After asking him if he knew Rick Elfman's brother Danny & he told me he'd heard the name somewhere but couldn't tell me any more, I started to figure how full of it he was. Who, in the movie industry, wouldn't know Danny Elfman, music composer of The Simpsons' theme & soundtracks to almost all of Tim Burton's flicks"?

When they got outside she told him his story was too weird & started walking away, but the guy followed her, demanding that if she wasn't going to help him, she should say so right away. He got very aggressive in tone.

"I started getting really scared 'cause there was nobody around & I had about 70$ US on me so I thought it might be wise to just give him 20 bucks rather than risk being attacked. Who knew whether he would've gotten violent or not? I didn't wanna take that chance. There's a really grungy dark alley near the metro station on Atwater Street & we were getting closer & closer to it. What if he was planning to grab me, push me in there & beat me up? Would I have really been able to fight back? Could I remember those kung fu moves I'd learned years ago? I gave up & handed him a twenty. I didn't feel like finding out the answer to those questions."

Shift gears to Christmas Eve a couple of days ago. December 24th, Isabelle was finishing off some last minute shopping at the Place Alexis Nihon mall up the hill from where she got robbed. Heading for the metro, who does she find standing nearby among the crowd? The same bastard that stole 20 bucks off her a month previous!

"Since I'm a bit of an actress (I'm used to playing the victim in independent films, but I can take on a lot of different personalities so I decided to play the bitch this time), I went up to him with a huge smile; "Hi! How are you? Hey! Now you'll be able to give me back my 20 dollars won't you?" To my surprise, he actually admitted remembering me; "oh hi," he answered, "…er, of course… um, but first I have to meet my grandmother, uh, she has all my money with her…." I said okay & followed him to the middle of Alexis Nihon where there were tons of people & he couldn't do anything nasty to me. He told me he was sorry he never phoned me, he'd lost my phone number. I told him, yeah right, that's just what I thought. He insisted he was telling the truth. In the center of the mall he started explaining how he had to wait for his grandmother & maybe I could come meet them at a certain time later in the day. But I told him with a big smile, "no, no, it's OK, I'll wait with you." Then he said he had to go get her, so I insisted I could go with him. He added that it was really far, she's all the way in Laval, I replied reassuringly, "oh, don't worry, I'll go with you, I have all the time in the world today, no problem at all!" "Well, maybe I have ten dollars on me," he told me. He looked through his pockets & said no, his grandmother had it. So I told him he should look some more because he didn't search hard enough. "You can look better than that," I said. He offered to give me gifts instead (he had a big bag full), so I asked him to show me what he had. He opened the bag & pointed at a bubble-bath bottle, I also noticed an old shirt, & he showed me a watch. As much as he would've liked to give it to his father for Christmas, he told me I could have the watch. Everything looked pickpocketed or shoplifted. I said I didn't want any of it so he closed the bag up & took out a 20 dollar bill from his coat pocket saying that's all he had on him & he needed it for… -But before he could finish his sentence, I yanked it out of his hand & said, "…well, I guess you'll just have to borrow it from somebody else," then turned around towards the exit, patted his back & wished him a"Merry Christmas," making my way out the door without looking back"!

Isabelle Stephen

The Clash's Joe Strummer just died. Rob (American Devices) Labelle (pictured right) reminisces...


I'm writing this sipping Twining's Queen Mary Tea, a special blend that only comes out at Christmas & I'm wrapped in a comforter fighting off a cold. A far cry from the BLJ (Black Leather Jacket) I wore to the first Clash show in Montreal in 1980, I think it was, with The Undertones as openers at the Theatre St. Denis. In the melee in front of the stage, my jacket & I were separated, & were reunited only long after the show when it was found in a clump on the other side of the hall. The Clash weren't new to me. I was already well acquainted with their oeuvre, & was still under the spellbinding shock of their first album, which my friend & bandmate in The Normals, Scott Cameron had brought back from London along with the Sex Pistols & a bunch of other stuff. The Clash were the first British punk band, I believe, to come out with an album (ed note: didn't The Damned beat them to the punch?). It was incredible. Stripped down, I guess you could say it was a British answer to The Ramones, but while The Ramones had that New York archness about their dumbness, The Clash were super-earnest, super-serious. It was a new kind of heroism -which could either rub you the wrong way (which it did for me in later Clash albums), or make you want to join the cause. Only Joe's gravel voice could pull it off. "Down In The Garage With My Bullshit Detector" made being in a band that could hardly play part of some sort of international terrorist organization bent on the destruction of the ruling class, whoever they were. If The Normals were accused of singing with fake British accents, it was probably because we'd filled our ears with the stuff so much it was the only type of sound that could come out. The only thing we couldn't quite get was their fixation on boredom. Here, yes, but in London??? "London's Burning With Boredom, Now! London's Burning Dial 999…" How could they be so bored with all those great punk bands to go see? Things soon inevitably fizzled, however. In spite of, or because of the fact The Clash were the first punk band with a big hit in the US, "Do I Stay or Do I Go," (not sung by Strummer but by other member Mick Jones), & became "the only band that mattered," they quickly became, well, boring. Nothing came close to that first record. The downward spiral was just beginning to happen in that tour back in 1980. Fergal Sharkey of The Undertones finished off their set with "Here Comes The Summer." With that Northern Ireland warble of his it almost sounded like a joke: "Here Comes Joe Strummer..." & The Clash's set, though great, was so loud & proud, it made them seem unable to take a joke.

Degrees of Separation: Two: At the above show my friend, Marc Perron, was pulled up on stage by Joe Strummer to translate "don't spit on me" to the francophone members of the audience. Also, in the shouldn't tell-but-I-just-have-to-department, one of my first boyfriends said he "had a fling" with Joe during a two-month visit to London, & claims he was hung like a horse. Way da go, Joe!

Rob Labelle

December 19, 2002


(Pictured L to R: Present incarnation of THE AMERICAN DEVICES... yours truly, Rick "Electric Vomit" Trembles guitar/vocal, Rob "Normals" Labelle guitar/vocal, Andre "Nutsak" Asselin bass & Chris "Crackpot" Burns drums)

My band THE AMERICAN DEVICES is dragging its sorry ass out one more time, our first electric show since 2000's 20th anniversary gig & it's gonna be the official launch of our 7-song acoustic/instrumental CD "Nacktkultur." Other rare Devices goodies'll also be for sale at the admission table such as critically acclaimed, embossed 1989 vinyl LP "Decensortized" (only a handful of these left, the master recordings have deteriorated), a compilation CD of 90's recordings "Devises Américaines" (Trembles penisaurus sculpture cover pictured atop Snubdom's front page), the 1993 4-song Devices vinyl split single with Marc Montanchez's Megalo & 2000's 20th anniversary vinyl split with Corpusse, Detroit Metal & Phÿcus.

"Nacktkultur" (translation: Naked Culture) was what the nudist movement between world wars in decadent Weimar Berlin was called. Incidentally, of all the various underground sex factions flourishing there at the time (gay movements, S&M movements, etc…), Nacktkultur was adopted by the Nazis after they did away with whatever else they deemed "perverse." Health & body worship fit their agenda. Nudist groups that disagreed with nazism splintered off into opposing factions. The notion of "Naked Culture" suits the stripping down of our tunes to the barest minimum on this CD (acoustic/instrumental) & the turbulence of our brand of music always occasionally evoked for me mental images of bickering nudes, naked as the day they plopped outta their mommies pee-holes. Just call me "perverse" I guess.

As always happens when we have to put back together a set with different members, tunes get revamped a touch to suit players' particular styles, but we have a couple of brand new songs to unveil this time. FIFTY/FIFTY is finished at last. We seem to have finally nailed a difficult recurring off-beat that stumped several drummers previous. The lyrics were written at the turn of the century as a kind of band-suicide number when I was so down in the dumps how difficult it was to keep the act together without being able to afford a rehearsal space anymore. I really thought the end was near for the band & the fact our 20th anniversary was just around the corner seemed to provide a nice round figure to end it all. I tried to kill two birds with one stone by having the words also be about a formative friend that had recently died in a prolonged, debatably suicidal manner (long term drug abuse). Anyhow, to make a long story short, it's a song about death.

Our other ultra brand new tune, BUNCO UNCTION is kind of emblematic & mostly instrumental. Off-beats beat off some more, offset by melancholic melodies that build to a cacophonous clutter exploding into anthemic, monotonous, tired, guttural declarations of independence repeated by simply chanting the name of the band, "American Device." We're bracketing the set with, firstly, an abbreviated version of the song that ends once we've announced our arrival, & then at the end of the set where we'll be doing an extended version that'll include improvised guit-box heroics courtesy of Rob Labelle backed by unobtrusive machinelike droning.

In Evan Light's own words; "THE OTHER THING finally emerge after spending a year & a half honing their craft in an NDG subbasement. Practitioners of improv rock of the Instant Tunes ilk. George Agetees on drums (ex-Fearless Freep, Terminal Sunglasses, Captain Crunch & Let's Do Lunch), Evan Light on Moog & bass (ex-Woozlebug, Quimm Gremlin), Phil Nolan on guitar (original founder of The Devices), Lawrence Joseph on guitar(ex-Terminal Sunglasses, Captain Crunch) & Rebecca on bass."

THE AMERICAN DEVICES & THE OTHER THING, Friday, December 20, at Casa Del Popolo, 4873 St-Laurent. Just south of St-Joseph. 5 bucks cheap.

December 12, 2002

Before I move on to this week's Blather, just a quick note to invite you all to see my band The American Devices' December 20th at Casa Del Popolo 4873 St-Laurent (pictured left to right: Chris "Crackpot" Burns, Andre "Nutsak" Asselin, Rob Labelle & Rick Trembles). Opening up will be The Other Thing, with the founder of the original 1980 incarnation of The Devices (Phil Nylon), ex-Terminal Sunglasses (Lawrence Joseph) & ex-Fearless Freep (George Agatees).

THE ROOTS OF SEXPLOITATION: BIRTH OF A BABY BAIT 'N' SWITCH with Kroger Babb's "MOM AND DAD" (1945) (Pictured below; one of the actual sex manuals sold at screenings of Mom & Dad by bogus doctors placed in the audience)

In honor of this week's Motion Picture Purgatory review of the phenomenal new Sleazoid Express book (which covers the history of NYC's 42nd Street exploitation films), I thought I'd dig up this piece I wrote on one of the first sexploitation films...

"We can even go way back in history to "Mom and Dad", a boring pseudo sex documentary from the forties brilliantly hyped by the great-great grandfather of exploitation, Kroger Babb. Since the film contained footage of an actual birth of a baby, Mr. Babb realized this was a chance to legally show full-frontal female nudity." -John Waters(1)

According to Babb's roadshow salesman in the late forties and early fifties, David F. Friedman, " the thirty-five years or so I knew Kroger Babb, never once did he not proclaim Mom and Dad anything but a great crusade destined to save the world from sin and corruption. Never once did he admit to his friends and associates that it actually was the epitome of expert exploitation."(2) The idea of producing Mom and Dad came into being in 1943 while Babb was providing publicity, advertising and touring with an earlier "birth-of-a-baby" show entitled Dust to Dust (actually the 1935 Bryan Foy produced "High School Girl," renamed). The presentation of this film resembled Mom and Dad's of the oldest carny tricks in the book according to Friedman; "...roadshow guys had been working this dodge ever since the silent-movie days."(3) They would book the film into a theater, advertise heavily, promising sights never before seen, run the film, "...always an innocuous small-town morality play in which an innocent young girl, ignorant of the facts of life because her parents thought such things shouldn't be discussed, gets herself in a family way, generally on her first date; do the lecture, sell the books, run the birth reel and the venereal disease reel, pocket the money, settle up with the exhibitor, usually walking out with half the box office receipts, and then blow out of town before the morality crowd could sic the cops on them."(4)

From the jingoistic opening emblematic, insisting we sing along to the "Star Spangled Banner", to the very ending of the picture where "Mom and Dad's" progressive sex-ed teacher "Mr. Blackburn" faces the camera addressing the audience from his desk to ask if the picture was bold enough for us (if we did indeed learn anything, he pleads, we must show our appreciation by applauding), it's evident that the filmmakers are pushing the buttons on a timid audience in need of reassurance that involvement in anything having to do with the topic of sex isn't an un-American activity. Distinctions continually blur between turgid melodrama, objective and clinical documentary, and extradiagetic lecturing both offscreen and on, with the intention of heightening realism and intimacy, utilizing innovative ways no doubt motivated by projected profits. Mention of the same sex manuals Kroger Babb actually sold during intermission is occasionally slipped into the conversation, as in Mr. Blackburn's friendly sex-ed lecture to highschool classroom students which cleverly takes place shortly after the film's principal character, upper middle-class teenaged damsel in distress, Joan, gets taken sexually advantage of by a handsome stranger to "Centerville". ("Many a girl has spoiled her whole life by making just one mistake" he warns, as we cut to a vulnerable & squirming Joan, desperate for guidance and ripe for the pitch). The teacher laments, however, how much his job's in jeopardy if he even mentions certain sex topics to them, due to narrow school policies.

"Innocence through ignorance cannot be done", he affirms, referring to the "self-styled moralists that would like to keep these facts a secret" (this phrase later makes an appearance as an intertitle during the shocking documentary venereal disease footage shown to boy students, when Mr. Blackburn returns to school after a short hiatus caused by his resignation on the insistence of the Centerville women's club Joan's Mom belongs to. Mr. Blackburn is asked back after successfully preventing Joan's family from falling apart as a consequence of the self-destructive shame-spiral she's swallowed up in due to Mom's repressive home environment. "You and that club'll be running the government next", Dad retorts to Mom after being nagged about Centerville's crumbling moral values for the umpteenth time. Ironically, even their stereotypical black maid thinks Mom's old-fashioned). However, for those who'd like to be better informed on the subject, sex manuals are made available from Mr. Blackburn "after class", (just as they were "after the film" to audiences from Mr. Babb's bogus doctors looming in the aisles during intermission).

In early '44, Babb ran into some trouble after booking one of his acts into an Indianapolis theater with daily newspaper film reviewer Miss Mildred Horn. After sitting through the feature she threatened the exhibitor with encouraging readers to boycott the theater for playing such a cheap, mislabeled morality play. Once Babb was informed of this he assured the theater owner he'd go to her office and personally talk to her to fix things. He not only prevented the bad review from occurring, but ended up living with her for forty years until they got married and shared a business partnership with her until his death in '83 (she also wrote the screenplay for what was to be a revamped version of Dust to Dust: Mom and Dad, as well as the manuscripts for the sex education booklets sold at each showing, "Man and Boy", and "Woman and Girl").

Profits made from touring Dust to Dust, with some investors' money got the ball rolling on production of Mom and Dad. Along with some new partners they formed the Wilmington Ohio-based "Hygienic Productions". Mildred Horn and Babb then went out to Los Angeles to hire William Beaudine Sr., who'd directed many major pictures in the early thirties, but by this time was only making low-budget exploitation films and "all-colored cast" movies for segregated black theaters for the Toddy Pictures Company. Toddy Pictures' Ted Toddy had begun making his own movies once his library of previously acquired Oscar Micheaux films aged beyond the feasibility of exhibition, (legendary Oscar Micheaux was the only black American to ever write, produce, direct, and distribute his own all black cast pictures). According to David Friedman, however, " Americans viewing a Toddy picture today would destroy the theater in which it was shown, and with justification."(5) These films were aimed at the 900 black moviehouses in the U.S. at the time, segregated by law in the south & by custom elsewhere.

Refinements to the old carny formula were to include the birth and VD scenes as a movie-within- a-movie instead of unrelated shorts tacked on at the end, and segregating the actual audience by sex (just as it occurs in the film itself in an interesting mimic of the manner of exhibition employed, heightening realism via audience identification with the characters). The teenaged student girls get to see (in order of the intertitles); "An Explanation of Sex Cycles", "How Ovulation Occurs", "How Conception Takes Place", "Growth of the Fetus", "A Normal Birth", and "A Famous American Surgeon Performs a Caesarian Section" (in which a voice-over boasts, "...the magic eye of the camera makes it possible for you to learn..."). Teenage boys were given a cold shower by being exposed to the more negative aspects of sex, venereal disease; "Seeing is Believing", "The Price of Ignorance", "These Pictures Speak The Truth", and "Is The Gamble Worth The Price?", the wonders of reproduction being too sophisticated a topic for the testosterone fueled teens. As Friedman explains, "...the near stampeding studs thought they were going to see something far more revealing than that being viewed by prim, proper, and delicate females. Theater managers referred to this anticipating audience as "The Thundering Herd", and many a lobby door was demolished."(6) The horrors of VD are explored in a somewhat sloppier way than the girls' footage, with what looks like scavenged, unrelated stock footage salvaged only by a voice over added much later, heralding the lifesaving benefits "clean minds and high moral standards" can provide. These films-within-the-film were enhanced by expressionistic staging and optical effects, animated diagrams resembling military takeover trajectories depicting the scourge of VD, and a flag-waving militaristic parade as the V.O. emphasizes "healthy bodies" via "clean moral life". However, despite its propagandistic tone, in a masterstroke of foresight, no allusions to World War 2 were made, insuring the film's marketability for many postwar years to come.

"Mom and Dad" was shown three times daily; 2:00 and 7:00 P.M. for "Women and Teen-Age Girls", and 9:00 P.M. for "Men and Teen-age Boys", who were expecting something more revealing than the earlier showings. At least two ladies costumed in nurse's uniforms were always on hand to distribute the "Manuals of Hygiene" on sale to the audience during the lecture. ("Mother and Daughter" booklets for the women's screening and "Father and Son" for the men). To upgrade the book pitch, a generic name was fabricated for the lecturer. Suggested by Mildred Horn, who thought the most euphonious and easily-remembered names were short Anglo-Saxon ones ending with "S", the eminent (and fictional) hygiene commentator "Elliot Forbes" was dubbed (& "...they were very careful not to call this guy a professor or a doctor").(7) As many as ten "Elliot Forbeses" could be lecturing at once in the same city since the film was sometimes booked in ten theaters simultaneously and no inquiries were ever made as to how he could be in all these places at once. In order to boost sagging sales with exclusively black audiences where responses to white "Elliot Forbeses" were low, Babb managed to have black 1936 Berlin Olympics winner Jesse Owens make a personal appearance at every performance (Hitler's refusal to shake Owens' hand at the Olympics had earlier resulted in worldwide media coverage).

Mom and Dad's phenomenal success spawned imitators that copied Babb right down to naming their hygiene commentators using the same formula... "Curtis Hayes" for a film called Street Corner, "Alexander Leeds" for Because of Eve, "Roger T. Miles" for The Story of Bob and Sally, (which was produced by Universal Pictures executive Cliff Work and refused distribution for fear of The Legion of Decency, then sold off outright to an independent). In 1950, when bad attendance resulted after 3 of these knockoffs were scheduled against each other at separate drive-ins within a fifteen-mile radius, "Modern Film Distributors" was formed. Realizing the need to consult with each other and divide territories, all four owners of these sex-hygiene films joined together under one happy company.

Declaring that the picture advocated sex education and that sex education should be imparted only in the sanctity of the home and not in a movie, "Mom and Dad" and its ilk were rated "C" for Condemned by The Legion of Decency, a powerful enough organization in cities with large Catholic populations to compel even major film companies to submit their pictures for rating prior to release. Censor boards constantly dogged Hygienic Productions around, and in most instances Babb considered the media attention derived from the controversy nothing less than free publicity, creating a platform for his own sermonizing on pet topics such as separation of church and state, and freedom of speech. By 1957, Kroger Babb had defended his movie in court a grand total of 435 times, losing only three battles.

Whether opposition to "Mom and Dad's" exhibition and the ensuing defensive, gleefully publicized rebuttals did more to authenticate its validity as educational material than discredit it, isn't as interesting as how much it was able to mirror the level of sexual ignorance & repression particular communities fell under. "Mom and Dad" was an effective measuring-stick with which to gauge the temperament of the times in relation to how much consternation the film raised. That Babb was there to capitalize on all the fuss would be insignificant except for the fact that "Mom and Dad's" raison d'être was to prod mores & address sexual ignorance & repression, doing so in a self-reflexive way (albeit less an auteuristic trait than a device to manipulate profits).

There had to come a time when "Mom and Dad" outlived its appeal to audiences seeking info on subjects deemed unfit or inaccessible to them. Inevitably, target audience's insatiable desire for screen realism taken to absurd extremes in the form of birth and VD footage could only contribute to a gradual collective desensitization of the moviegoing public, insuring that the likes of "Mom and Dad" become outmoded. Ticket sales proved this. For example, in describing the futility of trying to draw any more money from Karamoja (one of Babb's horrendous post-Mom and Dad projects) four years after its successful first run, David F. Friedman blamed it on the inevitable growing sophistication of his public; " then it wasn't so shocking, audiences had seen even more sensation onscreen, thanks to people like me."(8) 1954's Karamoja consisted of documentary footage of a tribe living near Uganda, filmed by a dentist and his wife where ritualistic self-mutilation, the drinking of live calf's blood, and full frontal male nudity were among some of the marketable factors Babb saw in purchasing it. "They wore little more than the wind", became part of the lurid ad campaign. It was a major impetus for the "mondo" films of the sixties and double-billed with 1948's Halfway to Hell, featuring Nazi death camp footage.(9)

Was it questionable marketing strategies that prompted legitimate educational and documentary subjects such as these to be deemed objectionable, or the mere content of the films themselves versus a repressive social climate? A bit of both? It seems like that depended on whoever was presenting the picture, and to whom. According to a former employee of Babb's; Joe Soloman, who had "Mom and Dad's" New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania markets, (and went on to form his own company, Fanfare Films), " the afternoon show, I'd turn off the ventilation in the theater, or throw some kind of crap into the ventilation, some gas to make them nauseous, and I'd call the local paper to come and get a picture of the people fainting. The women would be pouring out of the theater holding their heads and moaning. By now we had every guy in town ready to see that picture. They broke down the doors for the evening show. The funny thing was, when the childbirth came on, the men fainted for real. This was in the middle fifties".(10) It's doubtful that Babb would ever have admitted such conduct, but could he have condoned it? Babb's opposition to censorship became a pretense for profiteering, as well as a sincere struggle for delivering truths to an obliging public. "Mom and Dad" is quite bold for its time, painfully skirting around taboos that'd otherwise have been censored, with stodgy euphemisms of the day during the melodramatic segments, and downplaying its frankness during the shockumentary segments, unwittingly enhancing their impact. It surely must have enlightened some people on the subject of sex, although "Mom & Dad's" stance on unwed motherhood comes across cruel and archaic, a tactic preying on the fears of prospective guilt-ridden sex manual purchasers seeking consolation. The manuals are dense with info, encouraging audience members to write to the producers their opinions on the film, most-likely motivated by a search for legitimate endorsements in the form of quotable accolades from (preferably prominent) community members. The best letter had a chance of winning a free prize Chevrolet, Plymouth or Ford. Evidence of ethically ambiguous "public service" messages still linger to this day in the form of "infomercials". ("Mom and Dad", and its ilk could be considered the first blueprints for this pervasive "genre").

Commenting on Ingmar Bergman's, A Summer with Monika, (that Babb retitled Monika: The Story of a Bad Girl, edited down, and launched an advertising campaign for, capitalizing on the nudity contained in the picture after purchasing American theatrical rights to it in '55), "...I don't think too many intellectuals saw Kroger Babb's cut of Monika, but I'll bet the farm that more Americans saw it than any other Bergman film ever imported."(11) Friedman went on to head the Adult Film Association of America for seventeen years.

© Rick Trembles 1994


(1) John Waters, Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters, (New York, Vintage Books, a division of Random House), p.14, (From the chapter 2, "Whatever Happened to Showmanship?").

(2) David F. Friedman, A Youth in Babylon: Confessions of a Trash Film King, (New York, Prometheus Books, 1990), p.37.

(3) Ibid, p.29.

(4) Ibid, p.37.

(5) Ibid, p. 59.

(6) Ibid. p.34.

(7) David F. Friedman, from an interview by David Chute, "Wages of Sin", Film Comment, vol.22, # 4, July-August 1986, p.39.

(8) David F. Friedman, A Youth in Babylon: Confessions of a Trash-Film King, ( New York, Prometheus Books, 1990 ), p.99.

(9) Charles Kilgore, "Mondo Movies", Psychotronic Video #3, Summer, 1989.

(10) Esquire Magazine, 1971.

(11) David F. Friedman, A Youth in Babylon: Confessions of a Trash Film King, (New York, Prometheus Books, 1990), p.114.

December 5, 2002


It's commonly held that the expression "yellow journalism" (describing the practice of attracting readers through sensational headlines & stories with an emotional & populist appeal), was coined after an immensely popular late 19th century cartoon character, "The Yellow Kid." As the story goes, when the owner of The San Francisco Examiner, William Randolph Hearst moved to New York City & purchased The New York Journal, he brazenly hired staff away from Joseph Pulitzer's The New York World. Purportedly included in this raid was R.F. Outcault's The Yellow Kid, "…snatched from under Pulitzer's nose." An unprecedented bidding war for the cartoon ensued whereby "Pulitzer gave in, and hired George Luks to draw The Yellow Kid for his paper." Allegedly, "with Outcault now drawing yellow kids for the Journal, & another artist, George Luks, drawing yellow kids for The World, the term "yellow journalism" was born." Incense over such a contemptible display, all for the ownership of a caricature already considered vulgar by the erudite press, the coinage was supposedly inaugurated.

In fact, the term yellow journalism emerged after an unrelated publicity stunt of Hearst's was characterized as unsavory by the competition for being paraded as front-page news in The Journal. Hearst had masterminded a "Journal-Examiner Yellow Fellow Transcontinental Bicycle Relay" to capitalize on the rising popularity of bicycling (then a relatively new fad). For two weeks, cyclists that were dressed head to toe in yellow captured the public's imagination by relaying a message in an (equally yellow) dispatch pouch from San Francisco to New York City. Hearst's readership was enthralled & sales of his papers skyrocketed. By then, many of the increasingly staid, established New York papers (owing their origins to tactics not unlike Hearst's; most having roots in the sensationalistic "penny press" of the early 19th century) were no longer appealing to the new working class & immigrant readership The Journal was finding. Established papers frowned on the triviality of Hearst's event being masqueraded as newsworthy. An editorial by Evin Wardman expressing these sentiments, whereby the fatefully hued derogation was christened, appeared in the New York Press six weeks before Outcault's Yellow Kid even made it into Hearst's paper.

The bidding war for Outcault may have helped perpetuate the term yellow journalism, indeed, some even later referred to Hearst himself as "The Yellow Kid," no doubt in reference to his tactics rather than out of any resemblance to the cartoon slum urchin bedecked in text emblazoned nightshirt. But the color in question originated out of the "Yellow Fellows" bicyclists' accouterments & not The Kid's. "The error arose from the mistaken assumption that when Hearst conducted his famous raid in January 1896 on the editorial & artistic staff of The World, he came away with Outcault along with everyone else. Outcault, who was then freelancing for The World, would have been of no use to Hearst at the beginning of 1896 because the publisher did not yet have a color press." As much as the hugely popular Kid was awash in yellow ink, Outcault's character hadn't even officially been named The Yellow Kid while it resided within the pages of Pulitzer's World. Outcault had been instead titling his strip after the cartoon neighborhood The Kid came from; Hogan's Alley. The Kid's canonically colored title emerged only later under Hearst's ownership, perhaps as a defiant nod to his falsifiers' denouncements. So far as any link between The Kid & the "Yellow Fellows" is concerned, it's more likely that Hearst chose the hue for obvious reasons eye-catching, rather than draw attention to a rival paper's strip.

The public's interest in the details of the Pulitzer/Hearst bidding war for The Yellow Kid is dubious; both their papers were easily obtainable (and each ended up with different versions of the strip). The characteristics of Hearst's "Yellow Fellows" publicity stunt comes closer to the definition of what yellow journalism was coined for than mere financial bickering between two newspapers. So why the term's enduring mythological association with The Kid? Introducing both The Kid & the combat in one anecdote, history books kill two birds with one stone. Perhaps the faddishness of the bicycle race made for less colorful a story. If only The Yellow Kid (the cartoon, not the magnate) had withstood the test of time, he could've set us straight.

Bibliography: George Perry and Alan Aldridge, The Penguin Book Of Comics, (London, Penguin Books Ltd., 1967), W.A. Swanberg, Citizen Hearst, (New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1961), & Bill Blackbeard's phenomenal, R.F. Outcault's The Yellow Kid, (Northampton, Kitchen Sink Press, 1995)

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