Monday, February 15, 2010

Magazine Management (Part II): "Throw ’Em a Few Hot Words"

The following is adapted from my chapter in It’s a Man’s World: Men’s Adventure Magazines, the Postwar Pulps (Feral House, 2003):

Throw ’Em a Few Hot Words

He never spoke about the magazines outside the office and rarely brought them home. As a tyke in the late 1950s, I couldn't fathom what my dad did up at Magazine Management—but it looked profoundly fun. Manual typewriters banged away above my head from partitioned bunkers, the fatherly aroma of cigar smoke everywhere. I grabbed handfuls of rubber bands, paper clips and pencils with pyramid-shaped erasers to bite. Cork boards dripped with clippings and memos. It was a bustling New York newsroom, a fraternity of hard-typing men and muscle-bound illustrators at easels. The moment I learned to hunt and peck on a typewriter, by first or second grade, I banged out a page, thrust it into my father's lap and demanded, "Publish it!"

By the time I did enter the game, the men's adventure genre was gone. Magazine Management itself dissolved in 1975. Unlike millions of World War II vets, whose lifelong romance with the noble war was always an industry, those of us raised during the ’60s saw nothing adventurous about Vietnam. Nobody wanted to revel in stories about napalm vs. gooks or Cong hell camps in a war where we were the bad guys and the losers. For the generations to follow, the market slid ever crotchward; mankind was more intent on skipping over text and cutting to the chase—vaginas and nothing but vaginas. After Playboy sold its sibling Oui, it degenerated yearly, until the day it was sold to notorious publisher Murray Traub in the ’80s. (Traub’s magazines operated from the same building as Show World on 8th Avenue.) Oui, like most others in its genre, bottomed out with typo-laden smeary ink, triple-ghost, out-of-focus photos and dirt-cheap printing. Writers became nearly obsolete—strokebook packagers only need apply.

All of which makes the distant era of men’s adventure magazines seem fiercely literary by comparison. The feisty lower ranks of the newsstand spawned dozens of pulp empires. There was Pyramid, Stanley, Star Editions, Candar, Jalart, Hanro, Volitant, Rostam, Emtee, even Fawcett and Macfadden. All had editorial offices in midtown Manhattan. Hundreds of butch titles came and went: Man’s Daring Adventure, Man’s Action, Men in Adventure, Man’s Illustrated, Challenge for Men, Man’s Magazine, Real Men, Man to Man, Man’s Book, Man’s Epic, Men Today, Climax, Sir!, Dude, Nugget and Cavalier.

"Excellent Publications," anxious for credibility denied to the pulps, generously offered its resources on each masthead: “Permission is hereby granted to quote from this issue of this magazine on radio or TV, provided a total of not more than 1,000 words is quoted.”

Real, the short-lived title created by a former Magazine Management editor, ran an article in 1964 called “That Dirty Mess in Vietnam!: Is The U.S. Fighting for a Rotten Cause?” The lead: “Somewhere in the stinking jungles of Vietnam an American GI was dying with a Communist bullet in his belly.” Even anti-war pieces had the political attitude of John Wayne.

Mario Puzo’s piece on sharks (Men, April 1966) predated Jaws by a decade in its aquatic paranoia. It detailed all manner of questionable shark attacks at our nation’s beaches. What would today draw ire for wrong thinking, it suggested readers “go out and kill sharks” to vent anger, as sharks are the most evil monsters on earth. Even more against wildlife was “great white hunter” T. Murray Smith’s “The Monster Every Hunter Enjoys Killing,” an anti-crocodile polemic in Pyramid’s Bluebook from 1965. “I Was Lion Bait. . .” from a 1966 issue of Guy, recounts the moment-by-moment dismemberment of the arrogant Barranco—King of the Lion Tamers—with real photos. Finally, in a 1968 For Men Only, the tide changed with a sympathetic portrait of “nature’s unloved children,” with ample warnings to call off the heartless slaughter of the American wolf.

Thinning out wildlife was but one recurring theme. If all the fatalities listed in men’s adventure magazines were tabulated, the human race might have been wiped out. Though sex became the dominant subject after war played out, a stubborn resurgence of The Good War is still upon us. Historian (plagiarist) Stephen Ambrose’s reglamorization of WWII in the 1990s spawned a new battlefield of movies, documentaries and novels depicting the glory of brotherhood in battle. So nothing much has changed after all.

The illustrators who provided the fabulous covers of soldiers with anacondas wrapped around their necks surrounded by nymphos—now seen as classic period art—were a breed apart. Many were serious bodybuilders, actually resembling the action heroes on their covers. Art Director Mel Blum, for one, was a huge, deaf weightlifter, though he remained terrified of publisher Martin Goodman. “Did Guh-man like it? Is it all right with Guh-man?” he would often ask Bruce Jay. Mort Kunstler was another top-dollar free-lance artist, who could command about a thousand bucks for a detailed painting of a civil war death camp. He was the only one who could take Blum at arm-wrestling, in which they often engaged.

James Bama, a first-string artist, was yet another weight-lifter. Bruce Jay recalls visiting his studio, where he added brushstrokes to a dozen canvasses at once. Then there was Al Hollingsworth, possibly the first Black cartoonist in men’s adventure, whom Bruce Jay brought in early on. Hollingsworth was an exceedingly jolly fellow who later became a distinguished painter, and—needless to say—was also a massive weight-lifter.

The five interviews to follow in the coming weeks on this blog were conducted on behalf of Swank’s 30th Anniversary in 1984. My tribute to Magazine Management’s history was an anachronistic rebuke to tits ’n’ ass mags of that moment. By 1984, Swank was an “impulse buy” —the newsstand choice, you might say, for a customer who had already tired of that month’s Playboy, Penthouse or Hustler. Its pages were strictly gyno, all accompanying text exclamations of orgasmic frenzy. Swank and Stag, then published by Martin's son, Chip Goodman, were the only two titles extant with direct lineage to Magazine Management. Chip, who passed away not long after, seemed quietly satisfied to publish this last hurrah in honor of his heritage. The layout included space-age bachelor pad Swank covers and vintage cheesecake. God only knows who read it.

© 2003, 2010 Josh Alan Friedman

Next week, my interview with Bruce Jay Friedman, followed by Walter Wager, Mario Puzo, John Bowers and Mel Shestack.

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