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A Blast From The Past: Gossip Magazines Reign Supreme… From The Vault of Mr. Magazine™

June 11, 2019

You may have noticed lately that I am not as active on the blog as usual.  Two reasons for that, first, the summer break and second, working on two books, the first on how to launch a magazine and the second on the magazines of the 1950s.

In my research I came across this article from Show magazine, July 1955 about Gossip magazines (what we now call Celebrity magazines…)

The similarities between now and then was striking to me, so I decided to publish the entire article here.  Would love to hear your comments…

Enjoy this blast from the past…

GOSSIP…

America’s Newest Parlor Game

“ WHO WOULD have believed two years ago that gossip magazines would be sweeping the country,” remarked a Pulitzer prize winning author at a recent interview. He’s not the only one who has been shaking his head at the new trend in American reading habits.

Unlike anything in the history of the publishing business, gossip magazines have captured the fancy of readers of all ages. What’s behind this reading revolution? Why does the average American delight in seeing other people’s dirty linen washed in public?  Is it a new vogue?

In the first place, it’s the reader, not the magazines, who creates the demand for the gossip publications. The publishers just supply the demand. To date this demand has resulted in over two dozen such publications- all of them following the lead of confidential magazine. Confidential, the first publication to realize the unlimited potential of this market, today outsells on the newsstand any other single magazine- including such giants as Life, Ladies’ Home Journal or TV Guide. Its actual printing is an excess of 4 million copies.

Like any other controversial medium, scandal mags have come under their share of fire- and praise. Al this being done in public arouses public curiosity- and, of course, more sales.

Scandal, which includes anything from the love affairs of top movie stars to the café society set, was certainly not discovered by magazines. Gossip columnist have attracted to their newspapers millions of readers with scandal tidbits. Such items as “ Who is Renovating”- and why, has earned a fortune for Walter Winchell. Other columnists who try to jump into the gossip gravy train, are just imitating the master, Winchell.

DON’T BE SHOCKED

This may be a surprise to you, but in many instances the person whose life or romances is being exposed often gets early proofs of the story for corrections.

The reason? Some playboys and stars feel that publicity either flattering or damaging is good publicity. The publisher of one of the top scandal mags was thanked recently by an entertainer for revealing his “affair” with a movie star. Why? Well, as the entertainer put it, “You sure put me in the big leagues- now a dozen girls in Hollywood want me.”

Another Hollywood star who was a juvenile delinquent with a long record was fully aware he was getting the “treatment” in a gossip mag. It was his one way of getting attention- and did he get it! Readers revealed in the juicy gossip. There’ll be a lot of blushing faces when they read here that this movie star had read and okayed the story for publication. Result? Besides prestige, he now is in greater demand than ever and he’s boosted his movie price per picture by $50,000.

Scandal mags are based on the principle that people forget what they read in the newspapers.

The second gimmick is to research the past of famous people because mistakes and misdeeds of a dozen years ago makes juicy reading to new audiences today. Thus, someone in his or her twenties would be titillated by the Mary Astor Diaries and George Kaufman, the Fatty Arbuckle case, and the Simone Simon Affair- all of which appeared in the papers in sordid detail a number of years ago.

Such people as ex-Madame Polly Adler and Jelke and his V-girls are also fair game for the scandal magazines. The mags seldom, however, present anything that is new to the gullible public.

For any reader who isn’t aware of the pasts of famous stars, members of café society and the what’s what of the who’s who in the social register, the gossip mags provide rather entertaining reading.

SHOW magazine, curious as to why people revel in other people’s inglorious pats, checked with several psychiatrists. For the most part of the doctors agreed that: “Scandal magazines serve a need and are quite comparable to the Charlie Chaplin movies of old. People all over the world enjoyed watching the down-and-out tramp, for no matter how badly off the viewer was, there was someone (Chaplin) who was worse off than he. With the scandal magazines, the same principle holds true. Many people have skeletons in their closets- Kinsey’s report proved that. Yet people are eager to read the exposes of famous men and women whose skeletons are rattled in public- so they can gnaw at the bones. It boils down to the fact that gossip magazines appeal to the snobbishness in all of us.” P.S Several of the psychiatrists admitted that they read the scandal magazines themselves.

It is not mysterious, therefore, to figure out why people stand in line to buy Confidential or Uncensored, the second-best seller in that field. The magazines all follow the same, newsy format of three or four pictures on the cover with splashes of gaudy color all geared to invite the gossip reader to shell out that quarter.

All in all, total sales for the twenty-odd magazines in this scandal category reach close to 10 million per month. This fabulous impact has reacted on other top, general magazines who now seek to compete by placing at least one “scandal-type” expose story between the covers of every issue. The magazines reached the height of something or other recently when Jackie Gleason’s program plugged Confidential, and Time magazine interviewed the publisher of said magazine.

HOW LONG WILL IT LAST?

As long as the gossip holds out that’s how long the magazines will continue their run of popularity. Naturally, this could go on indefinitely- or as long as the public taste for gossip holds out. This could be tomorrow – or 50 years from now.

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