Rushed and harried, I left my home on the skirts of Memphis on a recent morn bound for a day of air travel, a trial I normally do not enjoy. Without even my absolutely customary morning cup, I drifted across the surreal pre-dawn cityscape of digital billboards and flashing blue lights of anti-crime cameras towards our airport. Traveling without the company of family for the first time in ages, I hunted an empty spot in economy parking and made my way to the barely percolating ticket counter. After some small talk with the girls at the ticket desk, I maneuvered quickly through security, cheered at the smoothness of it all (I’d forgotten how easy it is to travel alone). Jeans hanging low (belt packed away) and shoes removed, even the indignity of being snapped at “hands in the air!” for imaging of my person seemed more comical and surreal than irritating. No line until the Starbucks, and I was unprepared to stand in line for half an hour, so I made my way through the lovely new terminal (Memphis CAN have nice things) to a great big seat at the gate.
I pulled out my phone and proceeded to my mailbox. A first message greeted me:
NEW: Ranch Romances v191 n02 [1955-04-22}
I tapped the mediafire link and moments later there it was. One tap later, I’m looking at my new magazine, courtesy of a fellow scanner, hot off the presses, newsstand fresh. I flip to the contents to check for authors I recognize, looking forward to giving it a read.
How different is this, really, than when a similar man (or woman, mind you, this pulp had broad appeal) to myself in 1955 ambled to the mailbox and discovered a new issue? A little something to read later but immediately brightening the day. Soon, I boarded the plane and scooched in to the window past the thin brunette in the aisle seat. I stowed my backpack, buckled in, and assumed what Vonnegut called a form of meditation. Two feet on the ground, relaxed, two hands comfortable in front, holding a book (or phone, rather).
Airplane mode. No calls. No texts. “Me time.” A man and his pulp. No distractions at all except an occasional peek by my neighbor at the curious slightly brown pages I was thumbing and the stewardess with a surprisingly good cup of coffee. The pulp I read first was not the Ranch Romance, though I did read some of that one on my second flight, but the Joy Stories I’d scanned and posted for you all the night before. You see, who can feel comfortable reading casually such a fragile rarity? After carefully scanning it, though, my copy being put in a mylar and upon display, now, I get to casually read the thing, coffee in hand, maybe the other hand slightly greasy from a morning snack. One column of a pulp fits perfectly on the phone display, tactile, natural looking pages ease reading at night in bed (no more disturbing wifey with the light), always a paper-only man in the past, I have found a new way to enjoy pulp. Pulp lives!
I want to talk tonight about some misconceptions surrounding the girlie pulps. One pulp enthusiast wonders, why do you collect these girlie magazines, they are tame compared to even a Playboy? Indeed, the modern reader, likely already overexposed to the bacchanalia of the internet will find little as far as base stimulation goes in these magazines. In fact, there are no photos in Joy Stories as with many of the early (and late period) girlie pulps. Given, it may have been an attraction for the male of the day, but there were already art and photo magazines to provide such. Another pulp fan in the traditional mode asks, do you even read the stories? They are terrible! While some may say such things of all pulp in general as well, I kindly disagree. Readers bought these pulps specifically for the stories (even if the whole package is also appealing). Let me state this very clearly so that the point gets across - WOMEN READ GIRLIE PULPS, TOO. Many of the writers were women, many of the editors were women, the letter pages include women, and the biggest clue of all is the mode the stories are written in. They are not sex stories, only slightly risqué. Sure, the formula calls for frequent and vague descriptions of the female anatomy “voluptuous lips” “smooth curves” just as the modern romance genre does in much more frankness. This is pure romantic comedy. Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy finally gets girl for good. Most stories end in a kiss. We all know the beats. I can watch a romantic comedy with my daughter and wife and fifteen minutes in know where it is going. Nevertheless, I laugh, I enjoy the struggle, and I cheer the triumph of love in the face of obstacle upon obstacle. The best writers might subvert the conventions here and there or add a little swing to the beats, but here it is, romance without the melodrama, the absurdity of the never-ending battle of the sexes on glorious display, and entwined in it all, laughter. Many of these writers also wrote for radio and cinema, exercising art through dialogue, the most appreciated form at the time.
I’ll go no further than the first story in the issue to provide example, from Fred Lape, Look to Your Men! I’ll save my short comments until after you’ve read. Take a moment and check it out, it starts slow but is a hoot once it finds the rhythm:
The story begins with our group of mean girls contemplating what they think is good for our heroine, wallflower Linda. Reserved and perhaps prudish, this group of older sorority sisters hatch a scheme so that Linda may blossom. She needs to feel the joy of love and then to lose it, to feel heartbreak so she may arise phoenix like from the ashes. The story’s Casanova, Alan, is more than ready to help and earnestly begins the seduction of miss Linda, sweeping her into the whirlwind of emotions she has never felt before until finally she is seduced upon the waves of passion (any real “action” happens off-screen after the camera cuts away and without fanfare). The next day, he ghosts her, the poor girl on the rack of anxiety. Then the equivalent of the modern “dump by text” and a cold rebuttal of their love. Linda is wrecked. The next year, she shows up ready to party. But now the mean girls think she may go too far. Linda has had enough of this bull and knows what happened with Alan, OK, bitches, Look to your men! Our flapper Beatrix Kiddo proceeds to lure each of the mean girls boyfriends into her trap, seducing them, then tossing them aside, breaking the six hearts of the mean girls and their men and delivering delicious zinger after zinger in the process. But what if Alan were to still love you?, they plead, looking for reprieve. Linda knows now love is for fools. But, as we’ve guessed, Alan who has mysteriously left school has wrecked not only poor Linda but betrayed his own heart as well. You don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone. The player has played himself. He pleads with her by letter to let him back in, she coldly refuses to even open the door a crack to her heart. But he busts right in, and there is the original passion. He was an asshole, he knows, and he doesn’t hold her dalliances against her but understands and accepts, a final kiss, love triumphs, end credits roll. Our lovers are happy and so are we and those mean girls get exactly what they deserve. It’s funny, romantic, and human, forgiving of pride and broken convention. Fine pulp!
There’s other good stories in here, Prudence forgets her name is touching featuring two unusual characters and exceptional sympathy. Katie’s Kisses reminds of Escape (The Pina Colada Song) wherein a husband seeks adventure away from his marriage which has become dull only to find that his wife may have similar ideas, a nice bit of ambiguity at the end too. The Sliver Diggers is a short one with a funny twist I had to re-read to catch on too. Men and women behaving badly. The Raid is a bit out of place as a heist caper, but we do like variety, and The Naughty Cheat by Frank Kenneth Young, mainstay of the genre, is sort of a playful peepshow with nice punchline. I’d like to read the Woodford serial, but someone with the issue is going to need to share the Joy so that I may.
This will probably be an unusual post, as I’m away from the press, so to speak, but there are so many assumptions made about pulp that need to be re-examined. The small group of pulp aficionados that have largely focused on the hero pulps, sci fi, adventure, weird and western pulps neglect the many other genres, especially those favored by the original women readers that made up a good portion of the pulp market (not to mention the potential female audience of today).
I don’t know if I’ll have occasion to type at you again this week (maybe a short one), but even though I’m having a great escape, I’m eager to keep the ball rolling here in my return with new scans and perhaps posts of the many, many old scans that I released on the scene but that didn’t make it “out here” for wider consumption.
Dispatched Pony Express Bandwidth Division from the Wild Wild West, Humboldt, Parts Unknown,