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Men’s Lifestyle Magazines 1953… The Magazines And I, A Serialized Book. Chapter Five, Part One

September 18, 2020

Chapter Five, Part One

Men’s Lifestyle Magazines … is the fifth chapter from the serialized book I am writing on the magazines of 1953, specifically March 1953, the month I was born.  This is chapter five, part one.  Feel free to back track for chapters one, two, and three in previous blogs.  Enjoy.

In 1951, Hugh Hefner landed a job as a copywriter at Esquire; this was two years before he launched Playboy. The first issue of Playboy was launched in December 1953. It was 44 pages and had a 50 cent cover price. Esquire was being published at that time for the same cover price, but was over large-size 280 pages. When Hef started Playboy,  many believe he used Esquire as a planogram of what a men’s magazine should be, because in 1953 Esquire also had nudity, including a centerfold that they called “Esquire’s Lady Fair,” and was first launched in the March 1953 issue. So, in actuality, there wasn’t anything too original in Playboy when it first hit newsstands.

Now, while this chapter is certainly not just about Hef and two of the most influential men’s magazines around in 1950s, namely Esquire and Playboy, it is about the development of American men’s magazines during that timeframe. It’s about true adventure, grit, masculinity, bodybuilding, virility and ultimately, the journalistic foundation for today’s sophisticated men’s titles. It’s all about what made a man a man in 1953 (according to the content gurus of that era), and it’s about the challenges many titles faced when trying to change some of those cultural constrictions of masculinity of that decade.

The men’s magazines of 1953 were both cutting edge and deliberately predictable. There were the familiar culprits, such as the Great Outdoors, the beautiful women, and the adventure stories, but there were also magazines like Gentry,founded by William C. Segal; it was a forward-thinking, eclectic style bible, where readers would be as likely to read an article on the manufacturing of Scottish tweed as one on the architecture of the American ranch house.

So without further ado, let’s take a look…

ARGOSY

Argosy magazine began as a pulp title way back in 1882. In fact, it is credited with being the first American pulp magazine. It actually began as a children’s weekly story–paper entitled The Golden Argosy. Right before the Second World War, the magazine was considered one of the Big Four pulp magazines, along with Blue Book, Adventure and Short Stories. In December 1888 the title was changed to The Argosy.

In 1920, the magazine merged with publisher Frank Munsey’s The All-Story Magazine, resulting in a new title, Argosy All-Story Weekly. By November 1941 the magazine had switched to a biweekly publication, then became monthly in 1942.

In 1943, the magazine switched from pulp to slick paper and took a step back from its all-fiction content, expanding the idea that Argosy was becoming more and more a “men’s magazine.” Soon it became associated with the men’s adventure genre of that time. While not particularly successful, Argosy began running a new true crime column, “Court of Last Resort” in the late 1940s and 1950s and saw a substantial boost in sales.  The final issue of the original magazine was published in November 1978.

The March 1953 issue of Argosy with the tagline “The Complete Man’s Magazine” has a cover image that would have been many men’s dream getaway: pipe in-mouth, fishing pole in hand, a lone gentleman standing knee-deep in the crystal clear waters of some mountain lake, complete with waterfall behind him. This issue featured four fiction pieces, several articles, and the all-important “Court of Last Resort” offering. The departments were all about the male psyche: “Men’s Books,” “Hunting and Fishing,” “Records for Men,” and many others.

Harry Steeger was the publisher and his commentary in the beginning of the issue was entitled: “Great Hunting – Rocky Mountain Style.” The advertisements in the magazine matched the overall outdoorsy feel: ammunition, fishing lures, and the smooth taste of a good whiskey. It was definitely a magazine that exuded a certain kind of testosterone.

BLUEBOOK

Women’s service journalism  had Redbook, the men of March 1953 had Bluebook. Bluebook ran 70 years under many different titles and in fact was a brother to The Red Book Magazine and The Green Book Magazine. It was published from 1905 to 1975. At first, the magazine was aimed at both male and female readers, but eventually the title became a men’s adventure magazine, publishing purportedly true stories. The magazine was named “King of the Pulps” in the 1930s and some notables in the industry have said that between the 1910s and the 1950s Blue Book achieved and sustained a level of excellence reached by few other magazines.

The March 1953 issue had a gentleman who appeared to be dressed for the desert on the cover with a very ominous look alive in his eyes. He had a cigarette poised to hit his lips and held a shiny-barreled gun of some kind in his hand and was staring menacingly off to the side. Be he a good guy or a bad guy, he was certainly an illustration that grabbed attention.

The content was filled with short stories, articles such as “How To Make a Million Dollars” and even excerpts from adventure novels. Bluebook’s tagline in March 1953 was “Adventure In Fact And Fiction.” Maybe it was up to the reader to decide one from the other.

CLIMAX

Climax was a men’s high adventure magazine that was published by Macfadden Publications, which was owned by Pulp and physical fitness pioneer Bernarr Macfadden. The magazine also featured some of the best cover illustration art ever made. War stories – both fiction and non-fiction – were a common feature in men’s adventure magazines, as were advice and expose stories and news features specifically geared for veterans and active duty serviceman.

The March 1953 issue of Climax was its premier issue, Vol. 1, No. 1. The cover was an illustration of a mercenary type, complete with drapes of bullets banded across his chest and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. The cover lines were stories such as “Chain Gang for the Klan!,” “I Hitchhiked Around the World,” and “Time Check for Control.” The magazine’s content had fiction, crime, war, a department called “For the G.I.,” and other articles and shorter fiction following the same wildly machismo-type stories.

Climax added another facet of “True Adventure” and hardcore action to the men’s magazines of March 1953. And the genre welcomed it.

COUNTRY GENTLEMAN

The Country Gentleman was an American agricultural magazine founded in 1852 in Albany, New York, by Luther Tucker. Tucker also started Genesee Farmer in 1831, which merged with The Cultivator, and was then merged into The Country Gentleman. When the magazine was sold in 1911 to Curtis Publishing, the title began to focus on the business side of farming, which was mostly ignored by the agricultural magazines of the time.

By 1955, The Country Gentleman was the second most popular agricultural magazine in the U.S., with a circulation of 2,870,380. The same year it was purchased by, and merged into, Farm Journal, an agricultural magazine with a slightly larger circulation.

The March 1953 issue was filled with everything a farmer of that era needed to know. The cover was alive with black cows all-in-a-row, farmers considering those bovine, and a red brick barn in the background. Inside were the magazine’s regular features, such as “Country Gentleman Salutes,” “Letters,” “Today,” and other topics of interest.

There were general articles: “Better Stick With Those Beef Cows,” “Triple Your Pasture Yields,” and “Cheap Way To Banish Mud Roads,” among others, one story of fiction and many other items of interest.  Weed control was broached and the advertisements were endemic to the content: tractors, lawn mowers, and cigarettes. We all know it was healthier to smoke in the ‘50s, at least according to the ads.

The Country Gentleman was a magazine that did its job. It handled the everyday life of the agricultural farmer and offered him advice, solutions, and education about new farm implements or anything that was innovative at that time for the land.

To be continued…

 

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