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Book Report: Even in the '50s enquiring minds wanted to know

When I was growing up in small town Wisconsin, the most exciting event that happened was the arrival at Fortun's Drug Store of Confidential magazine, the pulpy forerunner of the National Enquirer and other rags that glut the entries of every supermarket checkout counter in America.

Confidential was a tell-all magazine at a time -- the 1950s -- when everyone thought our heroes were all peachy keen and clean.

Not so, said Confidential, which exposed many of our heroes as wife beaters (Bing Crosby), homosexuals (Rock Hudson), neglectful mothers (Rita Hayworth) and sex obsessives like June Allyson. (Darn, I missed that issue, but I always knew something was wrong with her.)

Most folks, even us teenagers, took the exposes with a grain of salt. We were warned by the mainstream media, like Time magazine, that Confidential was "a cheesecake of innuendo, detraction, and plain smut...dig up one sensational 'fact,' embroider it for 1,500 to 2,000 words. If the subject thinks of suing, he may quickly realize that the fact is true, even if the embroidery is not."

Some people did fight, some did not.

Now half a century later there's a book that sheds new light on the activities of Confidential in "Shocking True Story" (Pantheon Books, $26), by Henry E. Scott, a New York media consultant.

Scott gets behind some of the stories and tells of the machinations of studio heads like Louis B. Mayer and other monsters. For instance in 1954 Confidential reported that Van Johnson and Keenan Wynn were an "item." Apparently the story had some merit and so their boss at MGM, Louis B. Mayer insisted that Wynn and his wife get a divorce and that his wife should marry again -- this time to Van Johnson.

It all happened and was duly reported to author Scott by Wynn's and Johnson's ex-wife Evie. Johnson later told the FBI that he had been "cured" of his homosexuality when he was in a car wreck.

Confidential never reported Rock Hudson's gayness. Hudson's agent brokered a deal whereby he gave the magazine a story about how Rory Calhoun was a convicted bank robber. Curiously the story helped the career of the reformed Rory.

Oh, we could go on and on; Tab Hunter, Gustav V of Sweden, J. Edgar Hoover, Kim Novak, et al.


A flood of books from Lerner Publications in Minneapolis recently came across my desk. They're all too numerous to mention, but with baseball season in the offing, I'd be remiss in not mentioning "Dino Baseball," by Lisa Wheeler, illustrations by Barry Gott (CarolRhoda Books, age level 5-9), $16.95).

The game, of course, is played in Jurassic Park where the plant-eating Green Sox face the meat-eating Rib-Eye Reds. The game is a pitcher's duel until the Green Sox's hothead manager gets tossed.

You get the picture. And so will kids from 5 to 9.


For the punctuationally challenged there's Brian P. Cleary's latest "The Punctuation Station," $16.95. Kids get on a train and head for stops like Comma Gulch and Quotation Valley, as Cleary tells them that:

"Punctuation comes in marks--

Some straight, some round, some curly.

And once you get to know them,

You can punctuate quite surely."

Fanciful illustrations by Joanne Lew-Vriethoff.


Graphic Universe is a new imprint from Lerner. In slick comic book format, Brigitt Luciani and Eve Tharlet tell the story of "The Meeting" ($6.95) between Mr. Badger and Mrs. Fox.

This is no simple operation because, "Badgers are slow and careful. Foxes are rowdy and fast. Badgers are tidy, and foxes are messy. They definitely have nothing in common."

But when hunters chase the kits out of their den, something must be done. For ages 5 to 9.

Dave would like to hear from you. Phone him at 426-9554.