She looked at him in a puzzled manner
for a moment, then she gave way to the modern equivalent of the old-fashioned
blush--she swore like a longshoreman with a crate on his foot.
by Philip Cyrus Gunion
No. 2, June 1959
WASN'T A LIVE WOMAN within 1,200 miles of the island of Canton and this
fact was turned into a handsome bonanza for Barney Aiken who was fond of
saying. "I've made more dough out of dames than Lucky Luciano.''
He was a perfect example of
the Horatio Alger story come to life; a self-made tycoon who had started
out with some pretty sleazy material. He had arrived on Canton with nothing
but an idea and pictures of three naked naughty ladies. Now he was the
curator of a collection of more than 1,000 specimens all different.
Barney's method of adding
to his stock--like the secrets of most great men was pure simplicity. He
met every plane which came to Canton for fuel and food and shook down the
crewmen for any risqué pictures they might have in their wallets.
The average stop-over was
an hour and this gave him plenty of time to copy the borrowed pictures
and return them. In exchange for the copy privilege, he gave each man two
copies of pictures from his files, along with the original which he had
This enabled him to get hold
of not only pictures of hundreds of naked women whose main and simple virtue
was that they were female and couldn't deny it, but pictures, real or faked,
of some Hollywood stars, some of which subsequently became famous. The
pictures. I mean.
I can best demonstrate what
kept Barney's market brisk by sketching in the story of Capt. Alexander
Graham Bell, our weather officer.
He arrived at Canton just
after dusk one day and walked into the operations office with his flight
bag to report. He found the men on duty huddled over their picture albums.
One sergeant sighed, took
his eyes from a pair of nameless mountains, and walked to the counter to
see what the new captain wanted.
Captain Bell was much impressed
with the studious group. All the albums were jacketed in covers which had
been designed to hold Army Air Force Rules and Regulations and he was deceived
into thinking he had blundered into the most spit-and-polish outfit in
He was instantly disillusioned
when a corporal came across a couple of features in his album which he
had overlooked before and began a series of vocal expressions of extreme
This led the captain to a
personal examination of the regulation which had caused the merriment.
Then he looked rapidly at the other albums. His face grew red and he stalked
out of the room.
His first official act on
the island was to go to the colonel in charge of the island to protest
the habits of the enlisted men. He got nowhere.
The colonel said politely,
but firmly, that he considered the circulation of the albums as nothing
more than a harmless diversion. The men certainly needed something to occupy
their minds. After all, there was no USO on the island. "The men get stiff
in the joints when they spend all their time playing poker, you know."
The captain retired from the field.
He never did know that the
sounds he had heard in the colonel's office before he had been admitted
were caused by the opening and closing of the drawer into which the colonel
had placed his own album before the interview.
Captain Bell fought against
the albums as best he could without support from above for a few weeks,
then he relaxed and became more tolerant. He simply requested the men to
look at them on their own time so that the work of the weather station
could move forward without having huge banks of mammatocumulus clouds coming
from nowhere to obscure the latest synoptic map.
Then came a transitional period
when the captain found himself borrowing albums during the long hours of
the midnight shift--just so that he could see what they were really like.
Eventually, of course, human
nature and the tropics combined, the captain found himself $75 poorer.
He rationalized--at least for our benefit--that it was part of his duty
to keep abreast of the interests of his men.
His feet would be comfortably
propped on the desk so that his knees could support the heavy album as
he turned the pages in a paradox of interested boredom. It became increasingly
harder to reconcile him with Harvard '39 and IBM '41.
The first inkling we had of
the island's growing importance in the scheme of things came when Barney
discovered it was no longer necessary to solicit pictures from air crews
as they climbed out of their planes. The crewmen would be fumbling with
their wallets as they landed.
I asked Barney one day what
he wanted to do after the war was over. I rather expected him to outline
some lurid, slightly illegal venture connected with sex and money, but
he surprised me. "I want to set up a little studio in some jerky little
town, maybe the one where I was born, and take pictures of kids
and their mothers. And brides. Stuff like that."
"On bearskin rugs?" I said
with a leer.
Barney looked at me as if
I were a piece of dirt on top of a chocolate cream pie. "In the sort of
town I mean, people keep their thoughts clean and their clothes on," he
Barney continued to look at
me in scorn as he dipped a famous Hollywood actress, nude of course, into
a bath of developer, although to my untrained eye she seemed developed
This study of this actress,
the same one who eventually came face to face with Captain Bell, became
quite famous in many quarters and is still the subject of debates at the
YMCA and the Yale Club as to whether the picture was a clever fake or a
faithful reproduction of talents the actress had never chosen to display
Barney was already up to his
navel in hypo on the sheer merits of the art itself when it was announced
that the actress herself was coming to Canton as part of a package show
It was like a new oil strike
in Texas. Everyone wanted a copy of that picture and they wanted it right
away. The price of the print jumped to $10.
By the time the actress arrived,
everyone had a copy of the picture and all eyes mentally undressed her
as she stepped from the plane. But she was unaware, as she shook out her
golden hair with a breathtaking motion which made her shoulders quiver
deliciously, of the question that was upper most in all our minds.
There were perhaps 300 soldiers
and officers on Canton at that time and when the star arrived all of them
found it necessary to be near the operations building to watch her arrival
on the plane. Everyone stood in an attitude of complete awe.
The line backed away slightly
as the actress emerged into the brilliant sunshine. You must remember that
no man on the island had seen a woman--any woman--for at least six months,
and here was one of the most beautiful women in the world advancing toward
us in white sharkskin slacks and a tight-fitting golden blouse.
"Hello, all you gorgeous men,"
There was a strangled gasp
from a man in the front row. Then silence.
She walked past us into the
operations building and a sigh like the wind from a burning city swept
The wind grew into a hurricane
as the men speculated loudly--but out of her earshot--about whether the
picture they all carried was authentic or had been patched together. Mental
calipers were called into play. Engineering officers used mental transits.
The cartographers attempted to reconstruct the topography from memory.
Stress and balance men worked with their charts. Our assorted plotters
and planners thought of various--and highly impractical--methods of settling
None of us would have thought
of the truly direct approach Captain Bell, once the proper Bostonian, blundered
It happened that the captain
was chosen to be one of the group of officers to dine with the actress.
He immediately went into a sweat of nervous anticipation.
"I haven't talked to a woman
in so long--My God, it's been eight months--I'm sure to get myself into
trouble," he said gloomily.
"How I'd like to get into
trouble with her," one of his unfeeling enlisted men said.
"Just get the conversation
rolling by asking her if she really posed for that picture," another said.
"What picture?" Captain Bell
asked innocently, betraying himself with the hand which slid over his breast
That elegant nude study must
have preyed on the captain's mind. We got all the dinner details later,
not from the captain but from the enlisted man who was fortunate enough
to have served as the officer's mess waiter assigned to her table.
After several grapples for
unlikely objects lying on the oozy bottom of his mind, the captain came
up with a rare pearl.
The lady had never been to
Boston; the captain had never been to Hollywood. Worse, he couldn't have
been described as a movie fan of even average knowledge. "But we do have
something in common," he blurted out at last, in the middle of an awkward
silence, "we both have strawberry birthmarks."
She looked at him in a puzzled
manner for a moment, then she gave way to the modern equivalent of the
old-fashioned blush--she swore like a longshoreman with a crate on his
"So that damned photograph
has found its way over here," she said when she had calmed down at bit.
"I suppose you have a copy?"
Unwittingly the captain had
come close to settling the uncertainty about the authenticity of the photograph.
If he had only pressed his advantage our suspense might have ended right
there between the carrot strips and radishes and the chili con carne. But
Captain Bell fumbled the ball. He began to eat bean soup as if it possessed
some magical qualities he had never discovered before.
The actress continued to give
him the auger eye until she realized she was the object of a faux pas rather
than a pass.
Her eyes began to twinkle
like they usually do in reel three when she decides it's drizzling so hard
she'd better spend the night on the sofa in the bachelor's apartment and
he brings her the pajamas which are three sizes too large.
"Yes, I do have a strawberry
birthmark," she said with a malicious grin, and our spy reported he could
hear the captain's heart ringing the changes on that one right through
the bean soup. "But so have a great many other girls," she added.
Then she whispered something
into his ear which no one else heard.
Captain Bell never opened
his mouth about the picture after that dinner. But he did keep that mouth
in a peculiar smirk for several days after the historic event.
To show you the way hunch
players bet: Barney was able to raise the price of that particular picture
up to $15 without a squawk from a single customer.