Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Book Recommendation: Pulpwood Days - Editors You Want to Know

So often these days I read a book and make a mental note to recommend or reference it in a future blog post and never do. Hence, today I'm doing a first installment what might become an occasional appearance here on my blog, a good word for a good book. If I can find the author's page or a publisher page, I'll link it. Otherwise I'll just leave it to you, discerning reader, to track down a copy from your local bookseller or that ol' bugaboo Amazon.

If you are like me, you have no use for a negative review (who cares about the oceans of mediocre media out there, just tell me about the good stuff!), so I'll only be passing along my thumbs up for books that I've enjoyed or that are important to my mission here of understanding the History of the American magazine.

One editor you do want to know is John Locke who here has gathered some great articles from the publishing trade magazines of the 20s up through the end of the pulp era. Together, the articles give an insider's look at the fiction factories that tried to sate the public's boundless appetite for reading material. The sometimes tenuous relationship between author and editor (and many personages in the book were both) is explored from both sides. Writers and editors express both admiration and exasperation towards the other party, usually with a good deal of jabbing humor thrown in. A publisher might have just a few pulp titles or up to dozens but was always on the lookout for the particular brand of fiction the readers of each magazine craved. A new talent was a discovery to be cultivated, and the goal of editors was to cultivate ultra-prolific authors that could become a familiar name fans associated the magazine. Of course, finding the time to do this while performing the daily tasks of sifting through mountains of stories while also seeing to the business of magazine production was difficult, and often communications were short and sweet. Sometimes the author might not get much more than a rejection slip. The editors make it clear that they have no time for handwritten or single-spaced typed pages or for stories that do not fit the genre and character of their magazines. This was a popular, money-making exercise, and good editors had a pretty clear idea what they were selling. A sharp author kept his eye on exactly what each magazine was buying and followed the trends. I daresay there's plenty of useful information in here for the modern writer as well.

As a pulp fan/researcher, I absolutely appreciate all the little bits of biographical information in the editor's introduction to each article and in the articles themselves. Putting a personality and background with the authors who I read in the pulps is rewarding, and learning about the editors who heretofore were often only a name is great fun. Locke does an excellent job of giving a glimpse inside a wide number of publishers' outfits (Munsey, Street & Smith, Doubleday, Dell, Columbia, Popular, Fiction House, many more) and represents authors that were prolific as well as relatively new to the field. Some of the writers of the particular articles include the likes of Harold Hersey, E. Hoffman Price, Arthur J. Burks, Ray Palmer, Mort Weisinger, and Robert A.W. Lowndes. I'd be curious to see a second volume in the series, as this volume was both fun and enlightening. I see the editor now has out a couple of volumes with selections from and information on MacFadden's Ghost Stories, I'll have to check them out.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Playgirl v01n04 1956 / Walter Hale's Burlesque Magazines

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Get the full hi-res scan here.

An interruption, today, from continuing with the birth of the girlie pulp with a newly-scanned magazine of a more recent vintage, one of a group of magazines from the mid-50s I find quite fun, Walter Hale's burlesque mags. I've got so many magazines lined up to post for the birth of the girlie pulps, I'll be interspersing some other topics now and then to break up the task.

I'm sure that fans and historians of burlesque know much more about Hale than I do. A quick internet search links to a couple of mentions in Billboard magazine from the 40s and 50s in the "Burlesque Notes" feature as well as to sites with burlesque video footage from the era. From what I can tell, Hale's magazines seem largely a promotion for his stage show and the girls within. Much of the charm of this line of magazines which includes Playgirl, Hollywood Confidential, San Francisco Confidential, and probably other titles as well (Dazzle?) is the amateurish (I mean this as a compliment, mind you) production values. Hale fills the magazine with writings from himself as well as from the girls, and the typesetting and layout have a DIY feel. I think it gives the magazines and intimate feel, and, really, the photos (some of which are the girls' publicity photos) are printed very well with some nice dashes of color and colored tones here and there. There's plenty of humor in these magazines as well as some cute crusading against prudishness not to mention some lovely ladies.

My web search for information on the magazine also turns up an interesting court case. Apparently Hugh Hefner felt the need to sue Mr. Hale over trademark infringement because of the title. Check it out:


Perhaps Mr. Hefner had intentions even back then to publish the magazine for women that would eventually appear in 1973. Hefner says he started Playboy because all of the magazines of the day featured only strippers. Which the public did not seem to mind too much, as Burlesque was very popular at the time, and Robert Harrison's magazines as well as others like Showgirls or Cavalcade of Burlesque sold many copies. Perhaps the mere association of a magazine with his "tasteful" magazine irked him, but the lawsuit seems frivolous to me. I'm not sure how the case turned out, only that I've seen only a handful of issues of Playgirl. Usually a magazine hit by such a suit will change title or cease publication simply because of the hassle of the suit. By this time Playboy was probably selling half a million copies (don't quote me on that), so I don't really see the threat Hugh saw in this little mag. Hale shows up again as editor of Scandolls, and the second issue of Wolf Bait seems very similar to these magazines, though it might have been wholly the work of Zee Zee Martine. I have an incomplete (otherwise I'd have scanned it by now, I like the other one I did so much) first issue of Wolf Bait from 1952 somewhere in my boxes of magazines but couldn't find it to identify the publisher.

But on to some samples of the magazine.

The indicia page, no need for a table of contents, but the girls within are listed and Hale promises every story complete...

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The magazine begins with an article in celebration of nudity from Evelyn West. She makes a good case - I'll go ahead and print the whole article. I love the cowgirl photo.

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Mr. Hale gives Evelyn extra encouragement with a page devoted to encouraging her authorial debut:

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Here, Evelyn West appears with the late Bernarr MacFadden, fallen titan of publishing. Invigorator treatment?! Bernarr, you old hounddog, you.

Rene Andre

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Maxine Martin - Skyscraper

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Gay Dawn - "How to Cootch"

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Vallkyra - The Tempestuous Titan

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Zee Zee Martine - cookin' in the kitchen

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Candide Pojarsky

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Mary Mack -- Rhymes with Shack

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The Notorious Blaze Starr

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Bonnie Bell with gimmick outfit, ring ring.

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A fun magazine for certain, surely of interest to fans of 50s burlesque.

Next time, flappers!!!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Standard & Vanity Fair 952, November 15, 1907 / Bifurcated Morals

The Standard & Vanity Fair 952 (1907-11-15.American Standard)(D&M)
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Get the full hi-res scan here.

Today's issue moves ahead seven years to a point where The Standard has merged with a similar magazine, Vanity Fair. I haven't run across any issues of Vanity Fair, but Dian Hansen in the first volume of her History of Men's Magazines uses the magazine as an origin point of the American girlie magazine in a chapter cleverly entitled, "American Morals Bifurcated." She writes:

While France had a well-established men's magazine industry by 1900, America was just showing its ankles in 1903. A magazine called Vanity Fair (unrelated to the current incarnation) was the raciest thing around, and rooming house loozies the hotties of the time. In this New York, tabloid girls who drank like men might strip down to their petticoats and fall into bed together, exposing their corset cover and stockings to peeping male boarders. The famously loose morals of stage actresses made them popular subjects for these shenanigans, but the biggest thrill of all was bifurcation. "What?" one may well ask. Bifurcation, meaning "split in two", referred to the contours of a woman's legs revealed by her donning men's trousers. Bifurcation was a regular and very popular feature in Vanity Fair, it's popularity leading to Vanity Fair's Bifurcated Girls seen here.

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Hansen includes two thumbnail images of a 1903 issue which looks similar to the content we've seen in The Standard:

Hansen continues:

Women's legs were objects of great mystery and by extension desire in the age of floor-sweeping skirts. Even if a man burrowed under the skirts, there were loose leggings from waist to ankle to conceal the limbs' contours. Bloomers, an invention of the 1880s, designed to allow women to bicycle modestly (traditional leggings were open at the crotch for toilet functions), backfired when they were declared indecently masculine. The transgression of a woman who dared to adopt male clothing has as many layers as her skirts in 1903. First, it suggested she was stepping outside her Heaven-ordained role as hand-maiden to man; second, it hinted at Sapphic perversion; third, it revealed she had legs, which if followed upward from the ankle could lead a good man straight to Hell. So the June 6th 1903 Bifurcated Girls issue of Vanity Fair was really very naughty indeed, even if unrecognizable as a men's magazine today. And in the years immediately following there was little to top it, though French magazines occasionally filtered into the country, to the great delight of those lucky enough to find them. The next step forward wouldn't be until 1919 when Capt. Billy's Whiz Bang, a crude humor magazine appeared...

Vanity Fair might have very well had other contemporaries or predecessors besides The Standard, and there were other magazine crusaders against prudery between these photomags from the turn of the century we've been looking at (in physical culture and movie magazines, at least) and the dawn of the Roaring Twenties, but I think Hansen gives a great description of the proprieties of the era and just how transgressive these managed to be. After looking at all these layers of clothing and all the veils of prudery, the magazines of the 1920s seem almost a world away even though it's not much more than a decade from today's issue to the magazines we'll be looking at that birthed the girlie pulp. The magazines tell the story, a real sexual and cultural revolution was taking place. But before we jump back to the 20s, let's get into today's issue of the merged magazines.

Interestingly, we see the magazine moving away from a society/fashion bent and including sports materials - boxing and horse racing - the bawdy sports of men, for certain. The merged magazine is still mostly girls, though, and there are a couple of extended picture stories, graphic storytelling of playful girls offering opportunity for the imagination to roam and for gams to get shown. In general, though, this issue seems less racy than the earlier issues, maybe there was pressure to tone it down...

Indicia page (I'm going to break this story down into panels following):

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A few lovelies from the magazine.

Boxing! I certainly wouldn't have imagined boxing news in The Standard a few years earlier but the inclusion of sports and cartoons seems to point to an increasingly male readership. Topics include an editorial tearing down of the legend of John Sullivan, Comiskey and Ban Johnson feud over leadership of the American League, and more.

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Tommy Burns talks smack about the legendary Jack Johnson:

A typical stereotypical cartoon portrays Johnson as a jigaboo.

Gunner Moir, the great Brit hope, who Burns would fight and convincingly beat later in 1907. Check out the tats.

But Jack Johnson would get his payback for all the racial invective thrown his way. After finally being allowed to fight for the World Heavyweight Championship he dishes burns a humiliating defeat, jawing with the crowd, completely in command during the entire fight. More here. Or you can watch the fight on youtube:

Cartoons, always a staple of the men's mag, show up. By cartoonist, Mort M. Burger, Oscar Hammerstein, grandfather of the famous lyricist, having just opened a new opera house straddles the line between opera and vaudeville in ownership of various theaters:

A few more lovelies from the magazine. Thanks again to McCoy for the great editing work.

Dorothy Turner

Posey the Model

Mary Winder

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Next time! The Roaring Twenties and a revolution in magazines. A further look at the influence of La Vie Parisienne.

EDIT! I happened to look at the wiki for the more famous magazine by the title of Vanity Fair, which was apparently the magazine Conde Nast began his empire with, initially titled Dress. Wiki sez, "Condé Nast began his empire by purchasing the men's fashion magazine Dress in 1913. He renamed the magazine Dress and Vanity Fair and published four issues in 1913. He is said[citation needed] to have paid $3,000 for the right to use the title "Vanity Fair"[1] in the United States, but it is unknown whether the right was granted by an earlier English publication or some other source. It was almost certainly the magazine "The Standard and Vanity Fair", "the only periodical printed for the playgoer and player", published weekly by the "Standard and Vanity Fair Company, Inc", whose president was Harry Mountford, also General Director of The White Rats theatrical union. After a short period of inactivity the magazine was relaunched in 1914 as Vanity Fair." That magazine would fold into Vogue in 1936 and be relaunched in 1983 as the magazine we know today. Well, what do you know, the magazines are related after all!