Men's Magazines

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 rights.

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 logo.

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 DeVross.

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 allow.

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 amateur ranks.

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.