Many early magazines depended upon subscriptions and, being delivered
to the home, tended toward domestic's issues. Popular titles such
as Godey's Lady's Book debuted in 1830 and Good Housekeeping
in 1885. In general, most of the larger 'slicks' were visions of
Victorian tranquility. As a seamier counterpart, papers like the
Police Gazette catered to
a working class clientele. Even the first pulp,
Munsey's, carried early nude figures under the guise of art
in the late 19th Century.
Another art form popular at the turn of the century was burlesque.
Periodicals devoted themselves to covering the antics of stage personalities
and their permissive outfits. Soon after, motion
pictures created a whole new vehicle for pin-ups in a socially
acceptable format. Photoplay was the first, in 1911, and
their direct decendents include today's People magazine.
The connection to associate anything 'French' (i.e. 'French'
postcards) with sexually permissive was soon picked up by the pulps
with their early 'French' themes.
Esquire was launched in 1933 and was an immediate success.
With an early emphasis on men's fashion, 105,000 copies of the first
issue were printed with 100,000 to be given away for free at clothing
stores. When the publishers realized they had stumbled onto a phenomenon,
they recalled as many as they could to sell on newsstands. Esquire
attempted to differentiate themselves by featuring manly authors
such as Ernest Hemmingway and the pulp veteran Dashiell Hammett.
Certinaly the early illustrations by George
Petty couldn't have hurt their sales! Interestingly, in 1943
the Postmaster General of the United States attempted to withdraw
Esquire's second-class mailing privileges on the grounds
that Esquire was "not devoted to useful information" worthy of mail
subsidy. The case was thrown out as a violation of First Amendment
Still, 'slicks' were the provence of those who could afford them.
Esquire may have set a stylish example, but the pulps still
commanded a vast newsstand audience.
Glossy magazines like Esquire could employ the talents of
a Petty, or his successor Alberto Vargas.
The 1930s saw an explosion of periodicals catering to the spectrum
from Fortune (1930), to Life (1936). Competing for
consumer's attention, art direction took to the 'poster style' of
cover illustration where the image was central to the cover, with
little intrusion by written cover lines or even the publication's
The Hollywood crossover effect continued throughout the war, as
starlets found publicity in
the pages of risque publications such as Laff, which featured
the Showgirl of the Month. Including bawdy cartoons, the photo displays
were usually confined to stockings and 'leg show' displays. During
the post-war years, Confidential publisher Robert
Harrison specialized in girlie magazines with such transparent
titles as Beauty Parade, Eyeful, Titter, Wink, Whisper and
Flirt. Although not exactly literary classics, Harrison was
blessed by cover artwork by Peter Driben,
Earl Monroe and Billy
Post war men had a variety of pin-up sources to choose from. There
were nudist magazines and, as
if to make the female form more acceptable, 'art
studies' and titles dedicated to photography
that were just cheap excuses to expose as much skin as the law would
In 1951 Hugh Hefner was hired by Esquire as a copywriter.
When Esquire moved their headquarters from Chicago to New York,
Hefner stayed behind to start his own magagine, Playboy.
The magazine was an immediate success, due in no small part
to the first gatefold Playmate Marilyn Monroe
in her famous cheesecake pose. Playboy
was aimed squarely at the sophisticated hedonist, yearning to break
free of 1950s puritanical morality. The featured centerfold was
based on 'the girl next door' motif, although professionals like
Bettie Page were known to infiltrate the
If we look closely at early Playboy centerfolds, we see that they
conform to our most basic definition of the Pin-Up Genre: The models
are typically semi-dressed,
placed in a
risque tableau and the viewer is actively engaged in the process
either by the situation itself or by eye
contact with the model.
What seperated Playboy from the slew of imitators
was not only the quality of Playmate, but the literary contributions
from Scott Turow, John Updike, Joyce Carol Oates, Harlan Ellison,
Mickey Spillane, Kurt Vonnegut and more, the Interview (Starting
in 1962), jokes and especially the adult cartoons. Since Hef is
an amateur cartoonist himself, he took great pride in attracting
Vargas and Harvey Kurtzman to his roster.
Contrast the early buxom 'girl
next door' Playmates with the more recent anotomically
enhanced vixens. I like to make the comparison between the lost
art of burlesque and tease with today's modern strip clubs where
nothing is left to the imagination. To their credit, Playboy still
employs the best photographers and set designers to set an inviting
scene. The Playboy concept has successfully weathered changes in
political climates and has successfuly exported their libertarian
philospohy to other countries.
Still, it was the 'girl next door' that formed the basis of the
Playmate concept. Famous Playmate alumnea includes Pamela
Anderson and Anna Nicole Smith.
Playboy has also featured pictorials on celebrities such as Farrah
Fawcett and Cindy Crawford.
Following the decline in pulp popularity,
several genres of men's magazines continued to exploit and provide
'Under The Counter' titilation. Although there are overlapping definitions,
there are some trends that seperated men's magazines throughout
the years. Following WW II, there was a substantial niche for men's
magazines that emphasized manly pursuits, with clear
cut antagonists like Nazis, homosexuals and Communists. These
'armpit slicks' have a connection to the 'shudder
pulps' from a generation before, including some famous pulp
alumnae such as Norman Saunders, Rafael
DeSoto and Norm Eastman.
Today there is a glut of 'Lad Mags',
with contemporary starlets posing for the camera. They are predictably
irreverant, with practical advise on how to have as much sex as
possible and, in case the sex doesn't materialize, with obtaining
shiny toys. Since they contain no nudity, they are sold in wider
distribution and have enjoyed great success.