Skin rags and girly mags…..
Art Chantry (firstname.lastname@example.org):
Girlie mags, hootchie-cootchie, nudies, skin rags. i’m not talking porn here, I’m talking about those magazines that your dad hid at the bottom of his socks drawer, or under his mattress, or in that special cubby hole in his work shop. You know, naked ladies!! Most of us think ‘Playboy’ (or even ‘Esquire’, that oldie but goodie) was the only game in town and that Hugh Hefner actually started the trend. We’re so stupid.
By today’s standard of pornography, these things were so tame that we could actually show them to children now. Even today’s lamest tamest ‘men’s magazines’ (playboy, penthouse, hustler) are so revealing and, well, PRURIENT and BIOLOGIC that I find them shocking. Our collective ideas about obscenity change with enormous regularity. It’s like a constant you can set your clock by.
Did you know that the biggest retailer of pornography today is not Playboy or the internet? It’s your cable television. They pump more pornography (by anybody’s definition) into our lives than everything else in the entire history of pornography put together. Wholesome, eh? Nothing personal, it’s only business….
But, calling these girlie mags ‘porn’ is really pushing it. At most there are bare breasts and the rare naked bottom. A good friend of mine, Hank Trotter, like to call them “naughty”. That’s the most apt description I can come up with. If you ever wonder where America developed their obsession with large breasts (it’s a fetish, really) just look at these magazines. That’s all they could show and so they REALLY showed them. Most men for several generations likely grew up thinking that these were the only sexual part of the female anatomy.
To give you an idea of which magazines I’m talking about, they had silly ‘manly’, suggestive or euphemistic names like: consort, satan, cocktail, nugget, caper, frolic, mr., jem, mermaid, rogue, monsieur, cavalier, jade, ace, gay blade, sir duke, scamp, flame, spree, swank, playtime, delight, off campus, after hours, millionaire, gent, venus, man, tonight, sheer, relax, topper, cabaret, king and french frills. Quite a collection, eh? And there are dozens and dozens more.
Many of them had ‘themes’ relating to their titles. Like ‘satan’ only depicted women with devil horns and little tails and carrying a trident. French frills concentrated on women in ‘french’ (aka sheer or see-through) lingerie. Cocktail had a drinking theme. many of them (like cocktail and millionaire) concentrated on the cliched post war ‘bachelor’ lifestyle down to the pipe smoking and ascotted leisure wear satin smoking jacket (later wholly lifted intact by the young Hugh Hefner and tuned into the playboy style.)
These magazines seemed to have leaned toward the fetish territory. There was another level of magazines that were specialty fetish magazines that dealt with homosexuality, shoe fetishes, sado/masochism and all sorts of interesting and twistedly silly sexual obsessions. But this is different turf from what I’m talking about here. And I’m not really includin8216;nudist culture’ magazines here, either. That’s another entire category.
These magazines wanted to be (more or less) respectable (to a degree.) They all had articles and fiction and gag panel cartoons. They employed a huge subculture of starving artists – writers, illustrators, photographers, cartoonists, etc. – many working under assumed names. It’s said that this is where people like Hemingway and Kerouac and Saroyan kept themselves in rent and food money while they learned the ropes of the fiction field.
Some of these magazines even went on to accepted and more successful publishing histories. Take ‘Playboy’ for instance. If Hefner hadn’t been able to obtain that nude calendar image of Marilyn Monroe for his fist issue, he would have disappeared along with all these other magazines. It injected so much cash into his operation that he was able to freely pursue ‘respectability’.
Some of these magazines have extremely sophisticated art direction and design as well. Magazines like Gent and Cavalier seem more like literary magazines than girlie mags. The nudes are modest and infrequently displayed. When they are displayed, they are in discreet sections and photographed with elegance. While the illustration and design and the photography (even the printing quality) is expensive and lavish.
Most fit into a lesser category, though. They have cheap printing, awkward design and illustrations. The writing is turgid. However, the cartooning is uniformly wonderful throughout all of these titles. Many of these magazines had staff artists that created little ‘mascots’ characters for the magazine, sporting their ‘theme’. The little mermaids and devil girls and ‘naked ladies in cocktail glasses’ are ubiquitous and are obviously the direct inspiration for the playboy “little bunny’ gal used for decades.
Some of the design in these magazines is clever and fun and even (dare i say) inspiringly inventive. My favorite of this era is a family of magazines whose flagship publication was called “Adam”. This cover I depict is vol. 1, no. 12 from 1957 (published ‘monthly’, but the month is nowhere to be found.) All of the Adam magazines are wonderful items to look at. Whoever the designer/art director was, it was consistent and really great.
Every issue had those stripes on the cover in some color combo or other. The photographs verge on silly (wholesome, really) and generally depicted some of the most (in)famous strippers of the era (names almost every man knew and almost no women had ever heard of) . The anonymous (or pseudo-credited) illustrations and stories don’t totally suck. The cartoons are great. It’s a really cool magazine.
Even the back cover designs are delightful – no adverts! The only ads are incredibly cheezy spot ads for ‘adult movies’ and ‘more fetishistic’ book purchases and third rate ‘Fredericks of Hollywood’ competitors. I think the magazine was little more than a sophisticated ‘catalog’ for the products advertised in the back – likely owned by the same company. Many of these magazines were shills.
Another magazine that was part of the same family was an equally delightful publication called ‘Sir Knight’. It seemed to have lasted a shorter period of time (adam was published for over a decade). It’s final years produced such enormous style changes that I think it might have been sold to another company.
Who designed this stuff? I dunno. This particular issue is credited to an art director named to ‘frank edward lee.’ but, since the editor is working under the name of “lothar ashley’, I doubt any of these names are real. The earlier issues (i have almost all of them) lists no art direction or design credits at all. So, whomever actually designed all of this stuff, he(she) remains an unknown hero.
Since one title, ‘after hours’, actually morphed into ‘famous monsters of filmland’ magazine (go figger. follow the money, follow the fads… it’s what America great), I take the liberty of noting one of my favorite theories:
Harry Chester – master of monster type, friend of bachelor pad hipsters like James Warren and Harvey Kurtzman, chronicler of pinups and cool (two history books he worked on), designer of Mad magazine and famous monster and help and creepy and eerie and dozens of other cool cool pop magazines – was the designer of after hours. I think he actually may have had a hand in the art direction and design of some of these other better conceived and interestingly done magazines (adam, sir knight, et al.) It’s just a guess, but, the style fits.
Who knows? did Mr. Chester have that big a hand in the creation of so much utterly cheezy pop culture?