Compelling Imagery

Desconstrucion and analysis of artwork and photos, book covers, film posters, magazine illustrations, adverts, etc., created for a persuasive purpose. My name is Dave Wilt and my mission is to inform and entertain.
“And It Sure Sounds Like Your Voice!” (Home Recordo ad, 1940)           
          Back in the Sixties, I owned a little reel-to-reel tape recorder (it was probably the cheapest consumer-grade device, with 3-inch tape reels) and utilised it to record television shows (holding up the tiny microphone to the TV speaker, naturally) and such.  I still have a box of those tapes somewhere, certainly, although the recorder is long, long gone to the gadget graveyard.  Afterwards, I upgraded to a cassette recorder, and I suppose if I had a smartphone (which I don’t—I do have a Flip camera, which records sound as well as video) I could use that to record things occurring in real life (electronic media gets recorded differently these days, clearly).
            But what did people do to preserve their voices and other sounds prior to the 1960s, you might ask?  Before digital media, before the different permutations of magnetic-tape recorders, there were “wire” recorders (for portable use, albeit not truly consumer-oriented), but professional voice and music recording was done on phonograph records (acetate disks, to be more precise).  This required equipment to literally “cut” (make the grooves in) the master disk, which was then mass-copied. 
          Home recording devices began to be sold in the early 1930s, although these were rather expensive and were single-use (i.e., unlike reusable magnetic tape on reels or cassettes or current digital media, once you made it a record it was done and if you made a mistake you had to start over with a new “blank”).  In 1939, the Wilcox-Gay company began to market their “Recordio” devices, which were more affordable and produced reasonably good audio results.  Some units even had built-in radios which allowed for the recording of broadcasts.  In later years, Wilcox-Gay upgraded the device to use magnetic tape for the recording, and the machine then produced a “hard copy” phono-record (which could be used as a demo for songwriters and musicians to send out, for instance).
[There were also arcade recording “booths”—the Voice-O-Graph system, notably—which were analogous to the photo-booth concept, except instead of a strip of photos you’d get a vinyl recording of your voice.  These can be seen in pop culture—especially films—of the 1940s and beyond, often showing servicemen making audio messages for Mom or My Best Girl, or aspiring performers “auditioning” (Inside Daisy Clover, Badlands).]
However, even the early, basic Wilcox-Gay units were still not cheap (the company advertised in major “slick” magazines, which indicates they were pitching the device to middle-class consumers), and it appears that by 1940 a knock-off version—called the “Recordo” (not “Recordio”)—became available.  Advertised in a lower class of publications  and thus presumably aimed at a less-affluent audience, the Home Recordo was extremely cheap—$2.98!  (How could they do it?  Read on!)  Although there is a significant amount of information on the Web about Wilcox-Gay’s “Recordio” system, very little is available about “Recordo” or the distributor (and manufacturer?), the Home Recording Company at 11 West 17th Street, New York, NY. 
I’ve found 4 different Home Recordo advertisements, all from 1940.  Three of them appeared in comic books (including Batman #1!) and the fourth was printed in at least two small daily newspapers, the “Republic Advertiser” (Republic, Kansas) and the “Boyden Reporter” (Boyden, Iowa).  This suggests there was a big sales push from the company around this time.  [I also discovered an eBay auction selling a complete, unused Home Recordo unit (amusingly, the seller mis-dated it, claiming it was from the “early 1900s”) for just under a thousand bucks, about 333 times its original price.] 
The content of all four print ads is mostly the same, and all four contain the cartoon in which Bob is congratulated for his perspicacious purchase of the device by two lady friends.  One of the adverts, however, features a testimonial for the device from band leader Charlie  Barnet (leader of a well-regarded, musically ambitious big band of the era).  Barnet was a New York native so perhaps he knew someone who knew someone (it’s even vaguely possible he was an investor in the Home Recording Company, since he came from a wealthy family and didn’t need his band money to live on).  Most of the home disk-recording devices touted their usefulness for recording music, but it’s still a little surprising to see an actual, contemporary musical celebrity endorsing what must have been a fairly low-end product.
The specific advertisement I selected for our detailed deconstruction features the Bob-cartoon more prominently and the reproduction quality is better than the others ((it was also the first Home Recordo ad I discovered).  I don’t remember which comic this came from, however, but I’m fairly certain it was a 1940 issue (the same ad appears in Miracle Comics #1, February 1940 but that’s not the source of this illustration).  So, let’s examine it more closely, shall we?
The basic ad layout is fairly utilitarian, with grey-tone art and 5 blocks of pink text (or white letters on a pink block) to spruce it up (something the newspaper version didn’t have).  I have to say, however, that the headline—“MAKE YOUR OWN RECORDS AT HOME”—is not only slightly “buried” by appearing in the middle of the page, but that the text pales in comparison with one of the other Home Recordo ads, which splashes “NOW! HEAR YOUR OWN VOICE!” across the top of the page (while retaining the “MAKE YOUR OWN RECORDS AT HOME” in the same, mid-page position).   The newspaper and “Charlie Barnet” versions both move the “MAKE YOUR OWN RECORDS AT HOME” to the top of the advertisement.
  Instead, “our” version places the rather weak statement “You Can Make Your Own Records if You Sing or Play an Instrument” in the upper left-hand corner, and not even in ALL CAPS!  Who’d bother to read that?  Not to mention the seemingly exclusionary nature of the text itself: what if I don’t sing or play an instrument?  What if I want to do dramatic poetry readings?  Or political speeches?  Or comedic monologues?  Am I not allowed to make my own records?  What do you have against the spoken word, Home Recording Co.? 
Actually, immediately underneath this discriminatory headline, the text does say “you can make a professional-like [ha!] recording of your singing, talking, reciting or instrument playing right in your own home too!” [Apparently the printer charged extra for punctuation marks so this ad simply omits about half of them.]  At the bottom of the page the potential buyer is informed that the device is “suitable for recording a skit, voice, instrument or radio broadcast,” which reinforces the many-splendoured uses of Home Recordo.  Whoever wrote that initial statement should be fired!  You’re scaring away customers!
The ad copy contains some vague and seemingly contradictory statements about the actual nature of the device being sold for $2.98 (which seems awfully low, even for a standard phonograph player of that era, let alone a recording device).  “No other mechanical or electrical devices needed” is pretty straight-forward, isn’t it?  “Everything is included.  Nothing else to buy and nothing else to pay.”  The buyer receives various pieces of equipment and supplies, including a “combination recording and playback unit.”  That couldn’t be any clearer, could it? 
Then why, pray tell, does the text also state “Operates on any A.C. or D.C. electric phonographs [,] record players[,] radio-phono combinations[,] hand-winding phonographs and portables?”  Note that the wording is “Operates on” not “Plays on,” since the latter would (logically) refer to the records you made.  The text also states “Just sing, speak or play and HOME RECORDO unit, which operates on any electric or hand-winding type phonograph, will do the recording on special blank records we furnish.” [emphasis mine]  This certainly suggests Home Recordo is some sort of add-on device that you attach to your own phonograph, doesn’t it?  But, but…doesn’t it say “no other mechanical or electrical devices needed?” 
Fortunately, the aforementioned eBay auction clears up the mystery and exposes the “secret” of how Home Recordo could be sold for about a tenth of the cheapest “Recordio” devices.  To wit: Home Recordo was an add-on which attaches to your own phonograph.  I guess “nothing else to buy” assumes everyone already had a home phonograph, so technically you wouldn’t have to buy one to utilise Home Recordo.  The “combination recording and playback unit?”  It appears to be a horn-shaped device which serves as a microphone (and, possibly, speaker). 
Despite the blatantly misleading ad copy, it seems Home Recordo worked, more or less, although almost certainly not as well as the more expensive recording devices of the era.  You could record your voice (or, as the art suggests, your clarinet, violin, or drum playing), and honestly, for $2.98 (plus postage, on arrival), what more could you ask for?  [I’ll bet some customers were disillusioned, though, since the ads—in addition to the deliberately confusing text quoted above—all depict a phonograph-like machine, implying that you’re buying something similar.  The “Charlie Barnet” version has 4 photographs showing the horn attached to a phonograph, again with the implication that you’re going to get the whole shebang in a box from the nice folks at Home Recording Co.]
In addition to the amusing Bob cartoon (to be discussed, soon), there are 3 small pieces of art which reinforce the musical bias of the ad copy: tuxedo-clad white men play the clarinet and drums, respectively (note the cowbells in the bottom illustration, demonstrating the musician’s versatility and indicating he’s not some kind of musical snob), and a young woman plays the violin, proving the Home Recordo is not just for those horrid jazz musicians.  These same bits of art appear on 2 of the other ads, but are bumped in favour of actual photos in the Charlie Barnet layout.
What drew my attention to this advertisement in the first place was the rather laughable main cartoon in which Bob proudly shows off his Home Recordo (this was the 1940 version of an iPhone, I guess—men and their tech toys, amirite?).   The art is competent enough, although the gray “wash” added to the black-and-white drawing makes it appear Bob and his two friends are blushing furiously (the musicians in the smaller drawings also have huge rouge spots on their cheeks) .  The crude lettering—the words in Bob’s balloon aren’t even the same size!—gives this a charming, home-made feel, as if the ad agency boss handed it to his eight-year-old son and said “Here, you put in the words!”
Bob says: “Think of it! I just made this record with the new Home Recordo!”  We know, Bob, we’re standing right here.  His lady friend on the right isn’t very confident in her mechanical abilities, but she recognises that the “wonderful” Recordo is “so simple—please let me make a record.”  Why sure, Susy, it’s so simple even you can use it!  Girlfriend #2 cryptically says “Yes Bob” (in response to what, I don’t know) and adds “it sure sounds like your voice!” (even though the artwork clearly shows musical notes wafting from the phonograph’s speaker—to be fair, maybe Bob was singing on the record).  Why, this must be one of those “Recording Parties” referred to in the ad copy below, where people sit around and take turns making phonograph records so that everyone can listen to what they just heard them say or sing.  Wow! Sure beats those pot parties and orgies I went to in the Sixties! [Disclaimer: author never attended a pot party or an orgy in the Sixties.]
The ad text is filled with bizarre non-sequiturs (and the font size is weirdly variable).  “No longer need the high price of recording machines or studio facilities prevent you or your family or friends from hearing their own voices or playing.”  Wait, what?  You can’t hear your own voice?  If not, well, playing a phonograph recording isn’t going to cure your hearing disability, I’m afraid.  
"Record a snappy talking feature"?  I don’t know what that means, sorry.  Is it something dirty? ("Snappy" was often a code word for "risqué” in the old days)   "Record jokes and become the life of the party," because jokes are funnier when they’re on a phonograph record instead of, you know, just telling them to the other people at the party. (Unless it’s a “recording party,” of course.)

The Home Recordo ad does point out a few more or less legitimate uses for the device—“Great to help train your voice and cultivate speech,” and “record orchestras or favorite radio programs right off the air and replay them whenever you wish,” i.e., a precursor of the VCR (although, like me and my little reel-to-reel, you’d have to point the Home Recordo microphone “cone” at the radio speaker to pick up the broadcast, since this wasn’t a combo system like the Wilcox-Gay device). 
The possibility of recording yourself singing or playing a musical instrument and subsequently getting “discovered” was a selling point not only for the Home Recordo, but also the higher-end devices (which really were, in certain instances, used by professional musicians to make demo records).  The Home Recordo ad states “how often have you wished for an audition…with the help of HOME RECORDO you might be one of the lucky ones to find fame and success through this simple method of bringing your talents before the proper authorities.”  The proper authorities?!  Oh, right, the Federal Bureau of Talent Investigation, I forgot about them.
[Now, of course, one doesn’t have to follow such a strenuous and restrictive path to stardom, because we have YouTube.  Record yourself singing, dancing, or playing an instrument, upload the video, and fame will surely follow.  It worked for Justin Beiber and Rebecca Black, didn’t it?]
"Send No Money! Hurry Coupon! Start Recording at Once!"  Yes, hurry coupon, hurry!  But you might want to wait until your Home Recordo unit arrives before you start recording.  Because otherwise you’re just talking to yourself.

The Home Recordo ad is a strange amalgam of odd phrasing, mis-matched font sizes, crudely hand-lettered dialogue balloons, and highly misleading claims about the technical nature of the product itself.  Oddly enough, the thing apparently did work.

“And It Sure Sounds Like Your Voice!” (Home Recordo ad, 1940)           

          Back in the Sixties, I owned a little reel-to-reel tape recorder (it was probably the cheapest consumer-grade device, with 3-inch tape reels) and utilised it to record television shows (holding up the tiny microphone to the TV speaker, naturally) and such.  I still have a box of those tapes somewhere, certainly, although the recorder is long, long gone to the gadget graveyard.  Afterwards, I upgraded to a cassette recorder, and I suppose if I had a smartphone (which I don’t—I do have a Flip camera, which records sound as well as video) I could use that to record things occurring in real life (electronic media gets recorded differently these days, clearly).

            But what did people do to preserve their voices and other sounds prior to the 1960s, you might ask?  Before digital media, before the different permutations of magnetic-tape recorders, there were “wire” recorders (for portable use, albeit not truly consumer-oriented), but professional voice and music recording was done on phonograph records (acetate disks, to be more precise).  This required equipment to literally “cut” (make the grooves in) the master disk, which was then mass-copied. 

          Home recording devices began to be sold in the early 1930s, although these were rather expensive and were single-use (i.e., unlike reusable magnetic tape on reels or cassettes or current digital media, once you made it a record it was done and if you made a mistake you had to start over with a new “blank”).  In 1939, the Wilcox-Gay company began to market their “Recordio” devices, which were more affordable and produced reasonably good audio results.  Some units even had built-in radios which allowed for the recording of broadcasts.  In later years, Wilcox-Gay upgraded the device to use magnetic tape for the recording, and the machine then produced a “hard copy” phono-record (which could be used as a demo for songwriters and musicians to send out, for instance).

[There were also arcade recording “booths”—the Voice-O-Graph system, notably—which were analogous to the photo-booth concept, except instead of a strip of photos you’d get a vinyl recording of your voice.  These can be seen in pop culture—especially films—of the 1940s and beyond, often showing servicemen making audio messages for Mom or My Best Girl, or aspiring performers “auditioning” (Inside Daisy Clover, Badlands).]

However, even the early, basic Wilcox-Gay units were still not cheap (the company advertised in major “slick” magazines, which indicates they were pitching the device to middle-class consumers), and it appears that by 1940 a knock-off version—called the “Recordo” (not “Recordio”)—became available.  Advertised in a lower class of publications  and thus presumably aimed at a less-affluent audience, the Home Recordo was extremely cheap—$2.98!  (How could they do it?  Read on!)  Although there is a significant amount of information on the Web about Wilcox-Gay’s “Recordio” system, very little is available about “Recordo” or the distributor (and manufacturer?), the Home Recording Company at 11 West 17th Street, New York, NY. 

I’ve found 4 different Home Recordo advertisements, all from 1940.  Three of them appeared in comic books (including Batman #1!) and the fourth was printed in at least two small daily newspapers, the “Republic Advertiser” (Republic, Kansas) and the “Boyden Reporter” (Boyden, Iowa).  This suggests there was a big sales push from the company around this time.  [I also discovered an eBay auction selling a complete, unused Home Recordo unit (amusingly, the seller mis-dated it, claiming it was from the “early 1900s”) for just under a thousand bucks, about 333 times its original price.] 

The content of all four print ads is mostly the same, and all four contain the cartoon in which Bob is congratulated for his perspicacious purchase of the device by two lady friends.  One of the adverts, however, features a testimonial for the device from band leader Charlie  Barnet (leader of a well-regarded, musically ambitious big band of the era).  Barnet was a New York native so perhaps he knew someone who knew someone (it’s even vaguely possible he was an investor in the Home Recording Company, since he came from a wealthy family and didn’t need his band money to live on).  Most of the home disk-recording devices touted their usefulness for recording music, but it’s still a little surprising to see an actual, contemporary musical celebrity endorsing what must have been a fairly low-end product.

The specific advertisement I selected for our detailed deconstruction features the Bob-cartoon more prominently and the reproduction quality is better than the others ((it was also the first Home Recordo ad I discovered).  I don’t remember which comic this came from, however, but I’m fairly certain it was a 1940 issue (the same ad appears in Miracle Comics #1, February 1940 but that’s not the source of this illustration).  So, let’s examine it more closely, shall we?

The basic ad layout is fairly utilitarian, with grey-tone art and 5 blocks of pink text (or white letters on a pink block) to spruce it up (something the newspaper version didn’t have).  I have to say, however, that the headline—“MAKE YOUR OWN RECORDS AT HOME”—is not only slightly “buried” by appearing in the middle of the page, but that the text pales in comparison with one of the other Home Recordo ads, which splashes “NOW! HEAR YOUR OWN VOICE!” across the top of the page (while retaining the “MAKE YOUR OWN RECORDS AT HOME” in the same, mid-page position).   The newspaper and “Charlie Barnet” versions both move the “MAKE YOUR OWN RECORDS AT HOME” to the top of the advertisement.

  Instead, “our” version places the rather weak statement “You Can Make Your Own Records if You Sing or Play an Instrument” in the upper left-hand corner, and not even in ALL CAPS!  Who’d bother to read that?  Not to mention the seemingly exclusionary nature of the text itself: what if I don’t sing or play an instrument?  What if I want to do dramatic poetry readings?  Or political speeches?  Or comedic monologues?  Am I not allowed to make my own records?  What do you have against the spoken word, Home Recording Co.? 

Actually, immediately underneath this discriminatory headline, the text does say “you can make a professional-like [ha!] recording of your singing, talking, reciting or instrument playing right in your own home too!” [Apparently the printer charged extra for punctuation marks so this ad simply omits about half of them.]  At the bottom of the page the potential buyer is informed that the device is “suitable for recording a skit, voice, instrument or radio broadcast,” which reinforces the many-splendoured uses of Home Recordo.  Whoever wrote that initial statement should be fired!  You’re scaring away customers!

The ad copy contains some vague and seemingly contradictory statements about the actual nature of the device being sold for $2.98 (which seems awfully low, even for a standard phonograph player of that era, let alone a recording device).  “No other mechanical or electrical devices needed” is pretty straight-forward, isn’t it?  “Everything is included.  Nothing else to buy and nothing else to pay.”  The buyer receives various pieces of equipment and supplies, including a “combination recording and playback unit.”  That couldn’t be any clearer, could it? 

Then why, pray tell, does the text also state “Operates on any A.C. or D.C. electric phonographs [,] record players[,] radio-phono combinations[,] hand-winding phonographs and portables?”  Note that the wording is “Operates on” not “Plays on,” since the latter would (logically) refer to the records you made.  The text also states “Just sing, speak or play and HOME RECORDO unit, which operates on any electric or hand-winding type phonograph, will do the recording on special blank records we furnish.” [emphasis mine]  This certainly suggests Home Recordo is some sort of add-on device that you attach to your own phonograph, doesn’t it?  But, but…doesn’t it say “no other mechanical or electrical devices needed?” 

Fortunately, the aforementioned eBay auction clears up the mystery and exposes the “secret” of how Home Recordo could be sold for about a tenth of the cheapest “Recordio” devices.  To wit: Home Recordo was an add-on which attaches to your own phonograph.  I guess “nothing else to buy” assumes everyone already had a home phonograph, so technically you wouldn’t have to buy one to utilise Home Recordo.  The “combination recording and playback unit?”  It appears to be a horn-shaped device which serves as a microphone (and, possibly, speaker). 

Despite the blatantly misleading ad copy, it seems Home Recordo worked, more or less, although almost certainly not as well as the more expensive recording devices of the era.  You could record your voice (or, as the art suggests, your clarinet, violin, or drum playing), and honestly, for $2.98 (plus postage, on arrival), what more could you ask for?  [I’ll bet some customers were disillusioned, though, since the ads—in addition to the deliberately confusing text quoted above—all depict a phonograph-like machine, implying that you’re buying something similar.  The “Charlie Barnet” version has 4 photographs showing the horn attached to a phonograph, again with the implication that you’re going to get the whole shebang in a box from the nice folks at Home Recording Co.]

In addition to the amusing Bob cartoon (to be discussed, soon), there are 3 small pieces of art which reinforce the musical bias of the ad copy: tuxedo-clad white men play the clarinet and drums, respectively (note the cowbells in the bottom illustration, demonstrating the musician’s versatility and indicating he’s not some kind of musical snob), and a young woman plays the violin, proving the Home Recordo is not just for those horrid jazz musicians.  These same bits of art appear on 2 of the other ads, but are bumped in favour of actual photos in the Charlie Barnet layout.

What drew my attention to this advertisement in the first place was the rather laughable main cartoon in which Bob proudly shows off his Home Recordo (this was the 1940 version of an iPhone, I guess—men and their tech toys, amirite?).   The art is competent enough, although the gray “wash” added to the black-and-white drawing makes it appear Bob and his two friends are blushing furiously (the musicians in the smaller drawings also have huge rouge spots on their cheeks) .  The crude lettering—the words in Bob’s balloon aren’t even the same size!—gives this a charming, home-made feel, as if the ad agency boss handed it to his eight-year-old son and said “Here, you put in the words!”

Bob says: “Think of it! I just made this record with the new Home Recordo!”  We know, Bob, we’re standing right here.  His lady friend on the right isn’t very confident in her mechanical abilities, but she recognises that the “wonderful” Recordo is “so simple—please let me make a record.”  Why sure, Susy, it’s so simple even you can use it!  Girlfriend #2 cryptically says “Yes Bob” (in response to what, I don’t know) and adds “it sure sounds like your voice!” (even though the artwork clearly shows musical notes wafting from the phonograph’s speaker—to be fair, maybe Bob was singing on the record).  Why, this must be one of those “Recording Parties” referred to in the ad copy below, where people sit around and take turns making phonograph records so that everyone can listen to what they just heard them say or sing.  Wow! Sure beats those pot parties and orgies I went to in the Sixties! [Disclaimer: author never attended a pot party or an orgy in the Sixties.]

The ad text is filled with bizarre non-sequiturs (and the font size is weirdly variable).  “No longer need the high price of recording machines or studio facilities prevent you or your family or friends from hearing their own voices or playing.”  Wait, what?  You can’t hear your own voice?  If not, well, playing a phonograph recording isn’t going to cure your hearing disability, I’m afraid.  

"Record a snappy talking feature"?  I don’t know what that means, sorry.  Is it something dirty? ("Snappy" was often a code word for "risqué” in the old days)   "Record jokes and become the life of the party," because jokes are funnier when they’re on a phonograph record instead of, you know, just telling them to the other people at the party. (Unless it’s a “recording party,” of course.)

The Home Recordo ad does point out a few more or less legitimate uses for the device—“Great to help train your voice and cultivate speech,” and “record orchestras or favorite radio programs right off the air and replay them whenever you wish,” i.e., a precursor of the VCR (although, like me and my little reel-to-reel, you’d have to point the Home Recordo microphone “cone” at the radio speaker to pick up the broadcast, since this wasn’t a combo system like the Wilcox-Gay device). 

The possibility of recording yourself singing or playing a musical instrument and subsequently getting “discovered” was a selling point not only for the Home Recordo, but also the higher-end devices (which really were, in certain instances, used by professional musicians to make demo records).  The Home Recordo ad states “how often have you wished for an audition…with the help of HOME RECORDO you might be one of the lucky ones to find fame and success through this simple method of bringing your talents before the proper authorities.”  The proper authorities?!  Oh, right, the Federal Bureau of Talent Investigation, I forgot about them.

[Now, of course, one doesn’t have to follow such a strenuous and restrictive path to stardom, because we have YouTube.  Record yourself singing, dancing, or playing an instrument, upload the video, and fame will surely follow.  It worked for Justin Beiber and Rebecca Black, didn’t it?]

"Send No Money! Hurry Coupon! Start Recording at Once!"  Yes, hurry coupon, hurry!  But you might want to wait until your Home Recordo unit arrives before you start recording.  Because otherwise you’re just talking to yourself.

The Home Recordo ad is a strange amalgam of odd phrasing, mis-matched font sizes, crudely hand-lettered dialogue balloons, and highly misleading claims about the technical nature of the product itself.  Oddly enough, the thing apparently did work.

The Allure of the Sea-Shell Bra (Brenda Starr, v2 #3, 1948)
  Conventional wisdom would suggest that certain genres of comic books (or popular culture in general) appeal to specific audiences.  War comic books = boys, romance comic books = girls.  Would this apply to leading characters in comics as well?  Possibly, although this might be skewed somewhat.  For example, if we speculate that “Lois Lane” comics were intended for a female audience, would this imply that “Superman” comics were strictly male-oriented?  In that particular case, probably not.  Genre would appear to trump gender if there was a conflict, although in most cases female-starring comics can be assumed to have had (at least) a certain added degree of interest for distaff readers. (Something like Crimes by Women might be an exception, but who knows?)

            This brings us to the subject of this essay, Brenda Starr comics.  “Brenda Starr” was a long-running newspaper comic strip (1940-2011) written and illustrated (mostly—virtually all major newspaper strip artists had assistants) by a woman, Dale Messick.  (After Messick’s retirement, the subsequent writers and artists were also female right to the end of the feature’s run.)  Starr was a reporter (a “star reporter,” get it?) and the strip often had a crime/adventure slant, although it also contained more romance (and fashion) than similar “adventure” strips with male protagonists, placing it in a narrow no-man’s land (heh) genre between “drama” (or soap opera) comics and adventure comics.  ”Brenda Starr” certainly wasn’t unique even for the period, but the strip became quite popular in a relatively short period of time.
            “Brenda Starr” made the crossover to other media, including a live-action serial, various feature films and TV-movies, a Whitman novelisation, hardcover books reprinting the comic strips, several comic book series, colouring books, paper-doll books, and other merchandising tie-ins.
            The comic whose cover is featured here is Brenda Starr #3 (June 1948), published by Superior Publishers, continuing a short series (2 issues) printed in 1947 by Four-Star Publications (“Brenda Starr” newspaper strip reprints had earlier been featured in several omnibus titles).  Superior’s Brenda Starr  lasted only 10 issues before ceasing publication, although the rights to the red-headed reporter’s adventures were picked up by Charlton in 1955.
            One of the interesting side notes is that Superior was a Canadian publishing company that sold its comics in the USA as well (a reversal of what one would expect).  Superior’s books often reprinted American comics, but it did put out a fair number of original works.  Brenda Starr was not a reprint of American comic books, but the stories themselves (at least for the first 6 issues) were adaptations of newspaper comic strips.
            The cover of this comic (and in fact, all of the Four-Star and Superior issues) was not drawn by Dale Messick, but was instead supplied by the “Iger Shop,” a company which provided finished comic covers and stories to publishers.  Messick’s art, which can be seen inside the comic, is much looser and casual, with thicker lines and less detail: she had a distinctive style but it is technically much less accomplished than the “good girl art” (GGA) by the unidentified Iger employee or employees who drew this cover. 
            Brenda Starr #3, although the first Superior issue, followed the cover style/content established by Four Star’s comics, which depicted a hugely busty Brenda (showing plenty of cleavage) on #1, and a (blonde!) Brenda in a tattered dress, tied up in a shabby room (#2).  Brenda Starr #4 depicted a nude Brenda (covered by a sheet) on an operating table, about to undergo surgery performed by two sinister-looking doctors, and #5 showed Brenda in a bathing suit being shot at!  Oddly enough, these cheesecake illustrations were followed by two humourous covers, several crime-oriented covers, and—for the last two Superior issues of the title—two romance-styled covers!  [It should also be noted that somewhere between issues 6 and 9, Superior stopped reprinting Dale Messick’s newspaper comics and instead featured new adventures of a (short-haired) Brenda Starr, written and drawn by Iger Shop personnel.]
            This inconsistency raises the question: who were the intended readers of Brenda Starr comic books?  Presumably newspaper comic strips were enjoyed by a broad demographic, but it’s unlikely that a similarly large cross-section of American society purchased comic books, so the “Brenda Starr” branding was just one aspect of the title’s marketing: a bit of name recognition for potential buyers, but not the primary reason one would buy the comic.  As I’ve written before (in fact, it’s almost the raison d’être for this whole blog), the cover (or poster, whatever) often sells the product.  So even though (up to a certain point) the contents of the comic were reprints of a woman-created newspaper strip about an intrepid female reporter, Four Star and Superior cloaked this in good-girl art to (one assumes) attract male readers.
            Looking more closely at the cover of Brenda Starr #3, the artwork in some ways resembles Fox’s jungle-girl and/or crime “cheesecake” covers of the same era, but also has a certain horror-comic feel (even though horror comics were not yet popular).  On the one hand, we’ve got Brenda in a scanty, exotic outfit (more on this shortly), and on the other hand the setting is spooky (stalagmites, stalactites, a scary “pagan” idol—as it’s described in the story—and a pretty good approximation of a walking corpse).  [The interior story, surprisingly, delivers most of these elements, as a vacationing Brenda stumbles onto the subterranean hideout of a mad scientist.]
            Brenda’s costume is rather risqué, to say the least, a diaphanous harem-girl outfit, cut low enough in front to almost reveal if the carpet matches the drapes, not to mention an iconic sea-shell bra.  Ah, the sea-shell bra, aka “mermaid bra!”  When long hair isn’t enough to cover the naughty bits.  I’m not sure when this imagery began to appear in popular culture (topless mermaids seem to have been the standard for many years), but the concept is not unlike the “brass bra” beloved of science-fiction pulps or the similar “Cleopatra”-style bra (otherwise known as the “Princess Leia Slave Girl bra”).  Not being a woman, I can’t definitively say if any of these are functional or comfortable (the brass bras and sea-shell bras don’t look like they would be), but they are decorative. 
            Of course, a sea-shell bra is organically relevant for a mermaid, but why harem-girl Brenda is wearing one is open to debate.  In fact, there is a slight possibility that it’s not even supposed to be a “sea-shell” bra, but rather some other design (palm-frond bra?).  Dale Messick designed the costume and the cover artist reproduced it faithfully, but the upper part of the “shells” on the cover are more separated (like leaves) rather than connected (like a sea-shell) as they are in Messick’s art.  In both cases there are clearly no bra straps nor any sort of connection in the back, so the bra must be glued to her breasts, I guess.  Or held on by some sort of suction device in each cup?  You’re not going to get much support out of this garment either way—it’s a triumph of appearance over function.
            Those who would decry the “sexism” of this GGA and Brenda’s revealing costume should note that, as mentioned earlier, the cover art is based on Dale Messick’s original comic strip.   In the story, “Brenda is pleasantly surprised” at finding the outfit, and says she feels like a “priestess” or a “bride.”  In fact, it’s implied that there are multiple costumes available to her, because Professor Squell says “you have chosen the bridal gown.”  [As an aside, in the story Brenda deliberately sets out to vamp the elderly Professor Squell so she and her friends can escape.]
            Brenda’s expression on the cover is at odds with the interior story: on the cover she seems fearful, whereas in the original comic strip she is tough and assertive and doesn’t appear to fear Professor Squell at all.  This reinforces the second aspect of the cover, the “horror” tone.  In Messick’s story, Squell is sort of a pitiful, harmless character and is drawn with a rather prissy expression (his hair is also much longer than on the cover, and he’s wearing two huge, golden, hoop earrings, in the final panel!).  The cover artist drew Squell as a grey/green-faced zombie with a dour expression, who (based on Brenda’s reaction) is a threatening menace.  Inside the comic, he’s a fussy old fellow, lonely and isolated, who—after his hostages escape— accepts it “calmly, but rather regretfully…” and says “Ah-me…Fire Bright [his nickname for Brenda] would have made a beautiful queen.” 
            [He and Brenda somewhat resemble the bride-and-corpse groom on the cover of the Avon paperback version of “I Married a Dead Man” by William Irish, although that wasn’t printed until 1949, so there’s unlikely to have been any direction connection between the two covers.]
            Thus, despite the close correlation between the elements of the cover and the interior strip which inspired it, the cover has a distinctly different “feel” than the contents.  Readers wouldn’t be able to complain (too much) that the interior story didn’t deliver on the promise of the cover, because yes, you do get (a) Brenda in a revealing outfit, (b) in an underground location, complete with a “pagan” idol, and (c) a balding, elderly “villain.”   It’s just not quite as…exploitative as the cover art implies. 

            But hey, you pay your dime and you take your chances, right?

The Allure of the Sea-Shell Bra (Brenda Starr, v2 #3, 1948)

  Conventional wisdom would suggest that certain genres of comic books (or popular culture in general) appeal to specific audiences.  War comic books = boys, romance comic books = girls.  Would this apply to leading characters in comics as well?  Possibly, although this might be skewed somewhat.  For example, if we speculate that “Lois Lane” comics were intended for a female audience, would this imply that “Superman” comics were strictly male-oriented?  In that particular case, probably not.  Genre would appear to trump gender if there was a conflict, although in most cases female-starring comics can be assumed to have had (at least) a certain added degree of interest for distaff readers. (Something like Crimes by Women might be an exception, but who knows?)

            This brings us to the subject of this essay, Brenda Starr comics.  “Brenda Starr” was a long-running newspaper comic strip (1940-2011) written and illustrated (mostly—virtually all major newspaper strip artists had assistants) by a woman, Dale Messick.  (After Messick’s retirement, the subsequent writers and artists were also female right to the end of the feature’s run.)  Starr was a reporter (a “star reporter,” get it?) and the strip often had a crime/adventure slant, although it also contained more romance (and fashion) than similar “adventure” strips with male protagonists, placing it in a narrow no-man’s land (heh) genre between “drama” (or soap opera) comics and adventure comics.  ”Brenda Starr” certainly wasn’t unique even for the period, but the strip became quite popular in a relatively short period of time.

            “Brenda Starr” made the crossover to other media, including a live-action serial, various feature films and TV-movies, a Whitman novelisation, hardcover books reprinting the comic strips, several comic book series, colouring books, paper-doll books, and other merchandising tie-ins.

            The comic whose cover is featured here is Brenda Starr #3 (June 1948), published by Superior Publishers, continuing a short series (2 issues) printed in 1947 by Four-Star Publications (“Brenda Starr” newspaper strip reprints had earlier been featured in several omnibus titles).  Superior’s Brenda Starr  lasted only 10 issues before ceasing publication, although the rights to the red-headed reporter’s adventures were picked up by Charlton in 1955.

            One of the interesting side notes is that Superior was a Canadian publishing company that sold its comics in the USA as well (a reversal of what one would expect).  Superior’s books often reprinted American comics, but it did put out a fair number of original works.  Brenda Starr was not a reprint of American comic books, but the stories themselves (at least for the first 6 issues) were adaptations of newspaper comic strips.

            The cover of this comic (and in fact, all of the Four-Star and Superior issues) was not drawn by Dale Messick, but was instead supplied by the “Iger Shop,” a company which provided finished comic covers and stories to publishers.  Messick’s art, which can be seen inside the comic, is much looser and casual, with thicker lines and less detail: she had a distinctive style but it is technically much less accomplished than the “good girl art” (GGA) by the unidentified Iger employee or employees who drew this cover. 

            Brenda Starr #3, although the first Superior issue, followed the cover style/content established by Four Star’s comics, which depicted a hugely busty Brenda (showing plenty of cleavage) on #1, and a (blonde!) Brenda in a tattered dress, tied up in a shabby room (#2).  Brenda Starr #4 depicted a nude Brenda (covered by a sheet) on an operating table, about to undergo surgery performed by two sinister-looking doctors, and #5 showed Brenda in a bathing suit being shot at!  Oddly enough, these cheesecake illustrations were followed by two humourous covers, several crime-oriented covers, and—for the last two Superior issues of the title—two romance-styled covers!  [It should also be noted that somewhere between issues 6 and 9, Superior stopped reprinting Dale Messick’s newspaper comics and instead featured new adventures of a (short-haired) Brenda Starr, written and drawn by Iger Shop personnel.]

            This inconsistency raises the question: who were the intended readers of Brenda Starr comic books?  Presumably newspaper comic strips were enjoyed by a broad demographic, but it’s unlikely that a similarly large cross-section of American society purchased comic books, so the “Brenda Starr” branding was just one aspect of the title’s marketing: a bit of name recognition for potential buyers, but not the primary reason one would buy the comic.  As I’ve written before (in fact, it’s almost the raison d’être for this whole blog), the cover (or poster, whatever) often sells the product.  So even though (up to a certain point) the contents of the comic were reprints of a woman-created newspaper strip about an intrepid female reporter, Four Star and Superior cloaked this in good-girl art to (one assumes) attract male readers.

            Looking more closely at the cover of Brenda Starr #3, the artwork in some ways resembles Fox’s jungle-girl and/or crime “cheesecake” covers of the same era, but also has a certain horror-comic feel (even though horror comics were not yet popular).  On the one hand, we’ve got Brenda in a scanty, exotic outfit (more on this shortly), and on the other hand the setting is spooky (stalagmites, stalactites, a scary “pagan” idol—as it’s described in the story—and a pretty good approximation of a walking corpse).  [The interior story, surprisingly, delivers most of these elements, as a vacationing Brenda stumbles onto the subterranean hideout of a mad scientist.]

            Brenda’s costume is rather risqué, to say the least, a diaphanous harem-girl outfit, cut low enough in front to almost reveal if the carpet matches the drapes, not to mention an iconic sea-shell bra.  Ah, the sea-shell bra, aka “mermaid bra!”  When long hair isn’t enough to cover the naughty bits.  I’m not sure when this imagery began to appear in popular culture (topless mermaids seem to have been the standard for many years), but the concept is not unlike the “brass bra” beloved of science-fiction pulps or the similar “Cleopatra”-style bra (otherwise known as the “Princess Leia Slave Girl bra”).  Not being a woman, I can’t definitively say if any of these are functional or comfortable (the brass bras and sea-shell bras don’t look like they would be), but they are decorative. 

            Of course, a sea-shell bra is organically relevant for a mermaid, but why harem-girl Brenda is wearing one is open to debate.  In fact, there is a slight possibility that it’s not even supposed to be a “sea-shell” bra, but rather some other design (palm-frond bra?).  Dale Messick designed the costume and the cover artist reproduced it faithfully, but the upper part of the “shells” on the cover are more separated (like leaves) rather than connected (like a sea-shell) as they are in Messick’s art.  In both cases there are clearly no bra straps nor any sort of connection in the back, so the bra must be glued to her breasts, I guess.  Or held on by some sort of suction device in each cup?  You’re not going to get much support out of this garment either way—it’s a triumph of appearance over function.

            Those who would decry the “sexism” of this GGA and Brenda’s revealing costume should note that, as mentioned earlier, the cover art is based on Dale Messick’s original comic strip.   In the story, “Brenda is pleasantly surprised” at finding the outfit, and says she feels like a “priestess” or a “bride.”  In fact, it’s implied that there are multiple costumes available to her, because Professor Squell says “you have chosen the bridal gown.”  [As an aside, in the story Brenda deliberately sets out to vamp the elderly Professor Squell so she and her friends can escape.]

            Brenda’s expression on the cover is at odds with the interior story: on the cover she seems fearful, whereas in the original comic strip she is tough and assertive and doesn’t appear to fear Professor Squell at all.  This reinforces the second aspect of the cover, the “horror” tone.  In Messick’s story, Squell is sort of a pitiful, harmless character and is drawn with a rather prissy expression (his hair is also much longer than on the cover, and he’s wearing two huge, golden, hoop earrings, in the final panel!).  The cover artist drew Squell as a grey/green-faced zombie with a dour expression, who (based on Brenda’s reaction) is a threatening menace.  Inside the comic, he’s a fussy old fellow, lonely and isolated, who—after his hostages escape— accepts it “calmly, but rather regretfully…” and says “Ah-me…Fire Bright [his nickname for Brenda] would have made a beautiful queen.” 

            [He and Brenda somewhat resemble the bride-and-corpse groom on the cover of the Avon paperback version of “I Married a Dead Man” by William Irish, although that wasn’t printed until 1949, so there’s unlikely to have been any direction connection between the two covers.]

            Thus, despite the close correlation between the elements of the cover and the interior strip which inspired it, the cover has a distinctly different “feel” than the contents.  Readers wouldn’t be able to complain (too much) that the interior story didn’t deliver on the promise of the cover, because yes, you do get (a) Brenda in a revealing outfit, (b) in an underground location, complete with a “pagan” idol, and (c) a balding, elderly “villain.”   It’s just not quite as…exploitative as the cover art implies. 

            But hey, you pay your dime and you take your chances, right?

The Inside of the White Slave Traffic (1913): Shopping is Dangerous!  Released in December 1913, The Inside of the White Slave Traffic is, along with Traffic in Souls, an early movie about “white slavery.” 
            White slavery is a vague term which doesn’t refer to traditional, historical slavery as we know it (i.e., a legally recognised institution in which one person is “owned” by another).  And contemporary use of the word “slavery” is usually applied to illegal imprisonment/work, and/or used hyperbolically (cf, “wage slaves”).  White slavery, on the other hand, refers to forced prostitution and/or human trafficking (although human trafficking for non-sexual purposes was often excluded).  In the early years of the 20th century, a theory was developed and promulgated that a international conspiracy existed to abduct young (white) women and funnel them into a global network of brothels. 
          [In 1910, the U.S. Congress passed the “White-Slave Traffic Act,” known popularly as the Mann Act after its sponsor.  This law made it a federal crime to take a woman to another state or country for “immoral purposes.”  In addition to its intended purpose—to cripple the alleged organised white slave trade—the Mann Act was also used to prosecute men who crossed state lines with women who were not their wives, an attempt to legislate morality (and to punish some noted individuals—boxer Jack Johnson, musician Chuck Berry, actors Rex Ingram and Charlie Chaplin, even architect Frank Lloyd Wright were among those charged with Mann Act violations).]

Books, articles, and—inevitably—motion pictures seized upon the white-slave conspiracy theme for both “educational” and exploitative purposes.  Traffic in Souls was a hugely popular melodrama on the subject, and The Inside of the White Slave Traffic—sometimes viewed as an imitation although it was released only a month later, so it could hardly have been cobbled together  in such a short period of time as a response—seems to have also been widely seen…when the authorities weren’t suppressing it.

            In December 1913, the New York City police raided the Park Theatre, which was showing The Inside of the White Slave Traffic.  An earlier summons had been successfully quashed when a number of influential citizens “testified to the moral and educational value of the performance,”  but Deputy Police Commissioner Newberger “determined to personally investigate the complaints which continued to flow into Police Headquarters against the pictures.”  Finding that “the pictures are vicious and are intended to cater to morbid imaginations,”  Newberger ordered his police to shut down the cinema, disappointing “500 persons [who] were clamoring for seats.”  Producer Samuel H. London, a former member of the Secret Service and a contributor to a recent Rockefeller Commission report on white slavery, had a warrant issued in his name for “production of an indecent public exhibition.”
            Originally a 4-reel feature (although films under a hour long are no longer considered feature-length, in the 1910s anything over 3 reels was a “feature”), The Inside of the White Slave Traffic exists today only in a truncated (28-minute) form.  However, even this abbreviated version reveals the picture to be a rather staid, moralistic melodrama rather than a sleazy exploitation movie.  Annie (Virginia Mann—no relation to the Mann Act)—“a good girl with a strong work ethic”—is seduced by a pimp, cast out by her stern father and is forced into prostitution.  She travels from city to city as part of the network of brothels supplied by the white slavery “fraternity,” tries to go straight, becomes a salesclerk, then returns to her pimp and—so a title card tells us—eventually dies and is buried in a potter’s field, far from her family.
            Apparently mostly shot in Denver and El Paso, The Inside of the White Slave Traffic spends a fair amount of time showing the way pimps live and operate (it’s possible much of the missing footage focused on the prostitutes, which would have provided a more balanced picture), with title cards explaining the telegraphic code they use to keep track of wayward whores (“Solo” means “Breakaway, mine left me,” “Wall” means “Parlor House”).  There are two main pimps depicted, George (who “turns out” Annie), and Sam (who takes over her “career”), and while Annie’s story is the film’s main case study, several other young women appear briefly (including a prostitute working for George, and a novice whore seen towards the end of the film).  The production values are adequate for the period, although the department store where Annie is employed after fleeing “the life” is represented by a few props and a painfully obvious painted “perspective” backdrop.
            But what of the poster for this film?  Although I’m not an expert in early film posters, it appears that elaborate, graphic posters for films came into regular use around 1910 (although some earlier examples exist, and simple text-only posters may have also been created prior to this point).  While later film posters utilised the “key art” method—a single image, determined to be representative of the movie’s content and/or the art with the most saleable aspect—it seems early posters were often produced in multiple versions, each one featuring an artistic rendering of a different scene from the film (this was imitative of theatrical posters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries).  Consequently, it’s probable that there were at least several different poster designs for The Inside of the White Slave Traffic, but the one seen above is the only one readily available for examination today.  
This is a nice stone-litho poster, with realistic, albeit somewhat stiff, images of the principals.  The main artwork represents the scene in which innocent Annie is spotted by pimp George and becomes his target. [In the film itself, Annie emerges from the shop (which seems to be an actual drugstore, not nearly as clean and orderly as the one on the poster) and is not simply strolling by carrying an enormous hatbox, as she is on the poster.]
However, it’s quite interesting that the scene’s meaning is almost entirely dependent upon knowledge of the film’s subject (which is revealed by the title and by other graphic elements, to be discussed shortly): take the identical image out of the poster, show it to someone without this context, and there’s nothing especially dramatic or foreboding about it.  We can easily re-imagine it: George (as played by Harold Lloyd, for instance) is a pleasant, decent young man asking the shopkeeper, “I say, old chum, do you know the name of that vision of loveliness who just walked past us?”  He follows, helps her when she has trouble boarding a streetcar with her hatbox, and romance blooms…
           But because it is an illustration of a scene from The Inside of the White Slave Traffic, this artwork imbues daily life in a big city with imminent danger: even a decent young woman on a well-traveled street in a “safe” section of town may be approached by a seemingly-nice, well-dressed young man and eventually lose her virtue and be forced into the world’s oldest profession.  Young women beware! 
A slight digression: this poster is an interesting fashion time-capsule.  Annie’s wearing a shirtwaist blouse (Annie is first seen working as a seamstress in a factory—the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Fire had occurred in 1911, and this might have been an intentional if oblique reference to that event) and a necktie (which would seem to identify her as an office worker rather than a factory worker, although in the film itself she does wear her tie at her sewing machine—unlike her fellow workers—and is wearing it when she visits the drugstore), and a long skirt.  With the exception of the drugstore proprietor, everyone else in the artwork is wearing a hat:  Annie’s got one with a wide brim (the large crown isn’t visible on the poster), George is wearing a straw boater, and a miscellaneous, older male pedestrian has a homburg on his head.  Annie is also carrying an extremely large hatbox (in the film she has a conventional purse), something probably not present in too many homes or shops in today’s mostly hat-less world (baseball caps and hipster fedoras don’t count), although I suppose cowboys and upper-class British people may still have them.  Other old-fashioned sartorial accoutrements include George’s high, stiff “HRH” collar and spats, both of which would generally fade from daily use before the 20th century was too much older.
As mentioned above, the poster’s main image is devoid of specific meaning when removed from its context.  But of course, there is context, and the rest of the poster provides it.  First, you can be pretty darn sure that a film titled The Inside of the White Slave Traffic isn’t a romantic comedy.  Additionally, the primary artwork is framed by a striking image of a sinister-looking man-octopus hybrid (and smoking a cigarette, oh no!).  Octopus and spider imagery is a staple of graphic artwork, especially propaganda: countless posters, magazine and comic book covers, animated cartoons, and other works use the tentacles (or arms) of these creatures to signify the extensive reach of an evil ideology, organisation, dictator, race, religion, class, etc.  Since a major point of this film—and much white slavery-themed popular culture—is the global network of pimps, procurers, madams, brothel-keepers, and so forth, the octopus motif is appropriate here. 
Octopuses and spiders aren’t universally excoriated today (well, many people still find spiders kinda creepy), but pop culture of the first half of the 20th century is filled with negative images of them: octopuses constantly attack divers and swimmers, and scary spiders are certainly prevalent in certain genres.  Offhand I can’t think of any multi-limbed (more than 4 arms & legs, let’s say) animal or insect with a cuddly reputation, so the combination of the “grasping” analogy (facilitated by the eight appendages of octopuses and spiders) and the “bad” reputation of octopuses and spiders makes this motif a frequent one.
There aren’t any true tag-lines on this poster, but the text tries to portray the film in a serious light (as opposed to emphasizing its entertainment or exploitation values). [Indeed, the title itself has a documentary feel to it, particularly compared to the much more melodramatic Traffic in Souls.]  Samuel H. London’s name is prominently displayed, and he’s identified as a “Former U.S. Government Investigator”—these bona fides legitimise the film, as does the name of the production company: the “Sociological Research Film Corporation.”  In later years, exploitation producers would create similarly “scientific” names for their companies in an attempt to convince people of the educational value of their movies (another ploy, used in the films themselves and in roadshow venues, was to have a “doctor” or other “expert” introduce the picture).    

So is this an exploitation film at all?  One can’t read Samuel H. London’s mind to ascertain his purpose.  Was his primary purpose to expose the evils of white slavery, or was he trying to make some money from a hot topic about which he happened to have a certain degree of expertise and reputation?  These aren’t necessarily mutally exclusive goals—even if you’re a sincere reformer you don’t want to go broke (or wind up in jail, or be the subject of civil lawsuits), and you want as  many people as possible to see your work.  But while it appears The Inside of the White Slave Traffic was not intended to exploit the theme of white slavery purely for financial purposes, it seems the authorities (and possibly the general public) considered it a work of exploitation. 

The Inside of the White Slave Traffic (1913): Shopping is Dangerous!  Released in December 1913, The Inside of the White Slave Traffic is, along with Traffic in Souls, an early movie about “white slavery.” 

            White slavery is a vague term which doesn’t refer to traditional, historical slavery as we know it (i.e., a legally recognised institution in which one person is “owned” by another).  And contemporary use of the word “slavery” is usually applied to illegal imprisonment/work, and/or used hyperbolically (cf, “wage slaves”).  White slavery, on the other hand, refers to forced prostitution and/or human trafficking (although human trafficking for non-sexual purposes was often excluded).  In the early years of the 20th century, a theory was developed and promulgated that a international conspiracy existed to abduct young (white) women and funnel them into a global network of brothels. 

          [In 1910, the U.S. Congress passed the “White-Slave Traffic Act,” known popularly as the Mann Act after its sponsor.  This law made it a federal crime to take a woman to another state or country for “immoral purposes.”  In addition to its intended purpose—to cripple the alleged organised white slave trade—the Mann Act was also used to prosecute men who crossed state lines with women who were not their wives, an attempt to legislate morality (and to punish some noted individuals—boxer Jack Johnson, musician Chuck Berry, actors Rex Ingram and Charlie Chaplin, even architect Frank Lloyd Wright were among those charged with Mann Act violations).]

Books, articles, and—inevitably—motion pictures seized upon the white-slave conspiracy theme for both “educational” and exploitative purposes.  Traffic in Souls was a hugely popular melodrama on the subject, and The Inside of the White Slave Traffic—sometimes viewed as an imitation although it was released only a month later, so it could hardly have been cobbled together  in such a short period of time as a response—seems to have also been widely seen…when the authorities weren’t suppressing it.

            In December 1913, the New York City police raided the Park Theatre, which was showing The Inside of the White Slave Traffic.  An earlier summons had been successfully quashed when a number of influential citizens “testified to the moral and educational value of the performance,”  but Deputy Police Commissioner Newberger “determined to personally investigate the complaints which continued to flow into Police Headquarters against the pictures.”  Finding that “the pictures are vicious and are intended to cater to morbid imaginations,”  Newberger ordered his police to shut down the cinema, disappointing “500 persons [who] were clamoring for seats.”  Producer Samuel H. London, a former member of the Secret Service and a contributor to a recent Rockefeller Commission report on white slavery, had a warrant issued in his name for “production of an indecent public exhibition.”

            Originally a 4-reel feature (although films under a hour long are no longer considered feature-length, in the 1910s anything over 3 reels was a “feature”), The Inside of the White Slave Traffic exists today only in a truncated (28-minute) form.  However, even this abbreviated version reveals the picture to be a rather staid, moralistic melodrama rather than a sleazy exploitation movie.  Annie (Virginia Mann—no relation to the Mann Act)—“a good girl with a strong work ethic”—is seduced by a pimp, cast out by her stern father and is forced into prostitution.  She travels from city to city as part of the network of brothels supplied by the white slavery “fraternity,” tries to go straight, becomes a salesclerk, then returns to her pimp and—so a title card tells us—eventually dies and is buried in a potter’s field, far from her family.

            Apparently mostly shot in Denver and El Paso, The Inside of the White Slave Traffic spends a fair amount of time showing the way pimps live and operate (it’s possible much of the missing footage focused on the prostitutes, which would have provided a more balanced picture), with title cards explaining the telegraphic code they use to keep track of wayward whores (“Solo” means “Breakaway, mine left me,” “Wall” means “Parlor House”).  There are two main pimps depicted, George (who “turns out” Annie), and Sam (who takes over her “career”), and while Annie’s story is the film’s main case study, several other young women appear briefly (including a prostitute working for George, and a novice whore seen towards the end of the film).  The production values are adequate for the period, although the department store where Annie is employed after fleeing “the life” is represented by a few props and a painfully obvious painted “perspective” backdrop.

            But what of the poster for this film?  Although I’m not an expert in early film posters, it appears that elaborate, graphic posters for films came into regular use around 1910 (although some earlier examples exist, and simple text-only posters may have also been created prior to this point).  While later film posters utilised the “key art” method—a single image, determined to be representative of the movie’s content and/or the art with the most saleable aspect—it seems early posters were often produced in multiple versions, each one featuring an artistic rendering of a different scene from the film (this was imitative of theatrical posters of the late 19th and early 20th centuries).  Consequently, it’s probable that there were at least several different poster designs for The Inside of the White Slave Traffic, but the one seen above is the only one readily available for examination today.  

This is a nice stone-litho poster, with realistic, albeit somewhat stiff, images of the principals.  The main artwork represents the scene in which innocent Annie is spotted by pimp George and becomes his target. [In the film itself, Annie emerges from the shop (which seems to be an actual drugstore, not nearly as clean and orderly as the one on the poster) and is not simply strolling by carrying an enormous hatbox, as she is on the poster.]

However, it’s quite interesting that the scene’s meaning is almost entirely dependent upon knowledge of the film’s subject (which is revealed by the title and by other graphic elements, to be discussed shortly): take the identical image out of the poster, show it to someone without this context, and there’s nothing especially dramatic or foreboding about it.  We can easily re-imagine it: George (as played by Harold Lloyd, for instance) is a pleasant, decent young man asking the shopkeeper, “I say, old chum, do you know the name of that vision of loveliness who just walked past us?”  He follows, helps her when she has trouble boarding a streetcar with her hatbox, and romance blooms…

           But because it is an illustration of a scene from The Inside of the White Slave Traffic, this artwork imbues daily life in a big city with imminent danger: even a decent young woman on a well-traveled street in a “safe” section of town may be approached by a seemingly-nice, well-dressed young man and eventually lose her virtue and be forced into the world’s oldest profession.  Young women beware! 

A slight digression: this poster is an interesting fashion time-capsule.  Annie’s wearing a shirtwaist blouse (Annie is first seen working as a seamstress in a factory—the tragic Triangle Shirtwaist Fire had occurred in 1911, and this might have been an intentional if oblique reference to that event) and a necktie (which would seem to identify her as an office worker rather than a factory worker, although in the film itself she does wear her tie at her sewing machine—unlike her fellow workers—and is wearing it when she visits the drugstore), and a long skirt.  With the exception of the drugstore proprietor, everyone else in the artwork is wearing a hat:  Annie’s got one with a wide brim (the large crown isn’t visible on the poster), George is wearing a straw boater, and a miscellaneous, older male pedestrian has a homburg on his head.  Annie is also carrying an extremely large hatbox (in the film she has a conventional purse), something probably not present in too many homes or shops in today’s mostly hat-less world (baseball caps and hipster fedoras don’t count), although I suppose cowboys and upper-class British people may still have them.  Other old-fashioned sartorial accoutrements include George’s high, stiff “HRH” collar and spats, both of which would generally fade from daily use before the 20th century was too much older.

As mentioned above, the poster’s main image is devoid of specific meaning when removed from its context.  But of course, there is context, and the rest of the poster provides it.  First, you can be pretty darn sure that a film titled The Inside of the White Slave Traffic isn’t a romantic comedy.  Additionally, the primary artwork is framed by a striking image of a sinister-looking man-octopus hybrid (and smoking a cigarette, oh no!).  Octopus and spider imagery is a staple of graphic artwork, especially propaganda: countless posters, magazine and comic book covers, animated cartoons, and other works use the tentacles (or arms) of these creatures to signify the extensive reach of an evil ideology, organisation, dictator, race, religion, class, etc.  Since a major point of this film—and much white slavery-themed popular culture—is the global network of pimps, procurers, madams, brothel-keepers, and so forth, the octopus motif is appropriate here. 

Octopuses and spiders aren’t universally excoriated today (well, many people still find spiders kinda creepy), but pop culture of the first half of the 20th century is filled with negative images of them: octopuses constantly attack divers and swimmers, and scary spiders are certainly prevalent in certain genres.  Offhand I can’t think of any multi-limbed (more than 4 arms & legs, let’s say) animal or insect with a cuddly reputation, so the combination of the “grasping” analogy (facilitated by the eight appendages of octopuses and spiders) and the “bad” reputation of octopuses and spiders makes this motif a frequent one.

There aren’t any true tag-lines on this poster, but the text tries to portray the film in a serious light (as opposed to emphasizing its entertainment or exploitation values). [Indeed, the title itself has a documentary feel to it, particularly compared to the much more melodramatic Traffic in Souls.]  Samuel H. London’s name is prominently displayed, and he’s identified as a “Former U.S. Government Investigator”—these bona fides legitimise the film, as does the name of the production company: the “Sociological Research Film Corporation.”  In later years, exploitation producers would create similarly “scientific” names for their companies in an attempt to convince people of the educational value of their movies (another ploy, used in the films themselves and in roadshow venues, was to have a “doctor” or other “expert” introduce the picture).    

So is this an exploitation film at all?  One can’t read Samuel H. London’s mind to ascertain his purpose.  Was his primary purpose to expose the evils of white slavery, or was he trying to make some money from a hot topic about which he happened to have a certain degree of expertise and reputation?  These aren’t necessarily mutally exclusive goals—even if you’re a sincere reformer you don’t want to go broke (or wind up in jail, or be the subject of civil lawsuits), and you want as  many people as possible to see your work.  But while it appears The Inside of the White Slave Traffic was not intended to exploit the theme of white slavery purely for financial purposes, it seems the authorities (and possibly the general public) considered it a work of exploitation. 

Before the Planet of the Apes (Thrilling Wonder Stories, Summer 1946)   I (and others) have written before about the predilection of 20th-century pop culture for gorilla imagery (and with the third “Planet of the Apes” movie of the new century scheduled for release in the summer of 2014, it appears this fascination with great apes has not diminished, much). 

            However, many of the earlier (pre-1960s, let’s say) gorilla films, comics, paperbacks, pulps, advertisements, et al., focused on individual gorillas in their native habitat (the jungle) or in “civilisation,” in both cases juxtaposing them with human beings.  The idea of an ape-dominated world was not unknown, but Pierre Boulle’s 1963 novel—most popularly known in English as “Planet of the Apes”—and the subsequent film series popularised the idea widely and led to a seemingly endless number of variants. 

            But as it develops (who knew?), there were a number of precedents for this premise.  Today’s object of discussion is Earl Bergey’s cover-illustration for the Summer 1946 issue of the pulp magazine “Thrilling Wonder Stories.”  This art relates to a story inside the magazine, “Titan of the Jungle” by Stanton A. Coblentz, in which apes and chimpanzees, through ingesting a “mysterious fluid of enlightenment” have become the world’s masters, with humans as their slaves.  Interestingly enough, Coblentz wasn’t  the first to utilise this idea.  L. Sprague de Camp’s story “Living Fossil” (“Astounding Science Fiction,” February 1939) and de Camp’s subsequent collaboration with P. Schuyler Miller on “Genus Homo” (“Super Science Novels,” March 1941) both addressed the dominant-ape theme.  The latter seems to have been particularly prescient re: “Planet of the Apes”—

"…they awaken to a future in which humankind has vanished from the face of the earth, and gorillas have evolved to intelligence and become the dominant species."   

            In between these two stories came the “Power Nelson, Futureman” story in Prize Comics 5 (July 1940).  Superhero Nelson travels to the planet Ato, where “the beasts [gorillas] are intelligent and rule the humans!”  One of the panels (see above) somewhat resembles Bergey’s subsequent pulp-cover painting, but this is likely a coincidence.

            Several years after “Thrilling Wonder Stories,” Aldous Huxley published “Ape and Essence (1948), a satire about a world in which baboons (what, no gorillas?) rule the world.

            Earle Bergey (1901-1952) painted over 100 covers for Thrilling’s 3 primary science-fiction pulp magazines, Startling Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, and Captain Future.  Bergey excelled in painting science fiction scenes featuring pulchritudinous women in futuristic settings, often beset by alien monsters.  This particular painting is somewhat different, though, in that the setting is actually rather prosaic (a forest or jungle) rather than futuristic or even especially fantastic.  Indeed, the cart pulled by human slaves looks rather primitive.

            Having not read Coblentz’s original story, I can’t say if Bergey’s cover accurately reflects the written work or not.  However, most of the “intelligent gorilla” and “gorilla-dominated world” pop culture I’ve seen depicts gorillas in either contemporary settings or science-fictiony future worlds, Boulle’s novel included.  The original script for Planet of the Apes (1968)—by Rod Serling—followed this template, but at some point the decision was made to change the overall design to one which did not resemble Earth: the apes’ architecture and technology became at the same time more primitive and more alien, so early plans to show apes flying helicopters, driving cars, and wearing suits-and-ties were scrapped.  The reasons behind this fundamental change in the look and feel of the movie may have included a need to save on the budget, a desire to keep the final “reveal” (they’re on Earth!) a secret, and—possibly—the belief that audiences would laugh at a movie showing apes playing human roles in a “realistic” setting.   [Although subsequent entries in the original film series departed from this, bringing the apes into contemporary settings, the 2001 reboot of the original returned to a less-developed setting (apes riding horses, carrying spears, etc.). ]

            I can’t help but think there’s a touch of species-ism here.  “How could a bunch of apes build a helicopter and fly it?”  Something like the famous exchange in Queen of Outer Space (1958):

Capt. Neal Patterson: The ray that destroyed the space station and knocked us off our course may have originated right here.

Lt. Mike Cruze: Oh, come off it! How could a bunch of women invent a gizmo like that?

Lt. Larry Turner: Sure, and even if they invented it, how could they aim it? You know how women drivers are!

            A closer look at Bergey’s painting:  de rigueur for his Thrilling pulp covers (especially from the mid-1940s onward), there’s a Bergey Babe in the foreground, wearing an abbreviated costume.  But this character is presented rather differently than many of her contemporaries.  While attractive, she isn’t showcased in a primary “cheesecake” pose—she’s only shown in profile, and only slightly more than half of her body can be seen, two attributes not prevalent in Bergey’s work (and certainly not in combination), given the way this limits the exposure of the character’s physical attributes.   Not all of Bergey’s covers featured a head-to-toe (or nearly so) image of a woman facing the reader, but a heck of a lot of them did.

            Additionally, the situation, facial expression and (inferred) attitude of the female protagonist is not pulp-cover conventional.  Women on science-fiction (and mystery, and Western) pulps tended to be portrayed in perilous straits, yet on this cover the young woman is not in immediate danger.  Additionally,  pulp artists often painted their female characters as frightened, surprised, wary or (less often) determined or stalwart (depending upon their situation: are they victims or assertive Valkyries?): this woman has an anxious look on her face, but not a terrified one.  [She’s also wearing lipstick and nail polish, but who’s to say that freedom fighters in the jungle shouldn’t look nice?]  And she’s got a club!  She’s not a passive observer, the illustration implies, she’s ready to play Whack-an-Ape.

            This artwork is also slightly unusual because it features a group of captive men.  Bergey (and other artists) often painted male heroes rescuing damsels in distress from alien creatures (or a man and a woman teamed up to kick alien arse), or omitted men entirely (other than villains), but portraying men-in-danger and a woman-not-in-danger (thereby suggesting she may be able to rescue them)?  Rare indeed, although not unknown. 

            The other focus of the cover art is the fierce, whip-wielding gorilla.  Although the young woman’s gaze appears to be directed to something behind the wagon-driving beast (check her eye-line), the image of an angry-looking great ape lashing some shirtless, shoeless slaves certainly draws the reader’s attention.  Look at him snarl!  This is one mean ape. 

            For some reason, Bergey’s gorilla looks more gorilla-like than many pulp-cover apes (who tended to resemble men in gorilla costumes), possibly due to its more “realistic” body proportions (although the sharp claws on the gorilla’s hand may not be quite correct, biologically).  The pose does slightly resemble one of the posters for King Kong (1933), but I wouldn’t go so far as to characterise Bergey’s art as a “swipe.”

            So, while this may not be a “typical” Earle  Bergey science-fiction pulp cover, it’s a nice piece of work on its own, conveying the essence of the plot (apes rule cruel, humans bide their time, waiting for the chance to rebel), with a bit of cheesecake and a fearsome monster to boot.

        Two-Faced Woman (“Something About Midnight,” 1951 and Angel, 1984)

            Although I wouldn’t want to necessarily characterise it as “frequent,” the “before and after” visual motif should be familiar to most consumers of pop culture.  In its most basic form, it may literally display “before” and “after” images of the same person—if the purpose is to sell a product, “before” is usually weak, unhappy, fat, skinny, ugly, etc., and “after” is the opposite.  Occasionally we see the reverse, with a happy, healthy “before” and a sickly, degenerate “after” (after using drugs, getting old, smoking, viewing pornography, whatever).  There’s also what I call the “Jekyll and Hyde” variant, showing two aspects of the same person’s personality, physically incarnated (this could also apply to superhero-secret identity dualities, and so on). 

            The two examples here fall into the latter category, since they depict a young woman who is, apparently, both the Madonna and the Whore archetype at the same time (and not a decent person who subsequently turned to streetwalking as a profession).

            “Something About Midnight” was published by Pocket Books in 1951 (it had been originally published in hardback the year before).  The author, “D.B. Olsen,” was actually Dolores Hitchens, who wrote under a number of pseudonyms as well as her actual name.  The novel, whose contents we won’t go into because we’re chiefly interested in the message the cover conveys to potential readers, was part of a series featuring the meek Professor Pennyfeather (who naturally doesn’t appear and isn’t even mentioned on the cover because…sex sells).   Well, here’s a little bit about the story:

But Ernestine was stranger than Freddy thought. During the day, she was an alert and proper college student. At night, she liked to go out and pick up sailors. And shortly after Ernestine met Freddy, she disappeared. A few days later, her body was found, horribly mutilated.

The cover of “Something About Midnight” was painted by Victor Kalin (1919-1991).  Kalin was a prolific commercial artist who did paperback covers, magazine illustrations, record album covers, colouring book covers, etc. (he is even credited on a couple of comic book covers, although whether these are originals or reprints is not known).  For more information about Kalin, who had a long career and worked in a dazzling array of eclectic styles, see:

http://noirwhale.com/tag/victor-kalin/

http://www.illustration-magazine.com/Illustration_Magazine_Site/43.html

https://victorkalin.shutterfly.com/

Kalin’s art for “Something About Midnight” is an excellent example of the Jekyll-Hyde motif, but before analysing the graphic design and images of the cover, let’s briefly examine the cover text.  Pocket Books was the “original” publisher of cheap paperbacks in the USA (at least, it was the company that popularised the medium there), and so “A Genuine Pocket Book Mystery” and the kangaroo logo are “branding” efforts.  Not sure how important that would have been to consumers in 1951, but…it might have been?  “Complete and unabridged” informs the reader that we’re going to get the whole book, not one of those “specially revised for this edition” (i.e., truncated) versions.  The tagline “Ernestine led two lives—and LOST THEM BOTH!” tells us that the two women are the same person (and not identical twins or something), and that she’s going to become a murder victim.  Also—“Ernestine?” 

Not to poke fun at anyone’s given name, but obviously there are names which have passed out of style today.  “Ernestine,” the feminine version of “Ernest” I suppose (I’m not certain how many Ernests are around today, either, but most likely there are more of them than Ernestines), sounds funny to modern ears.  Even as early as the late Sixties and early Seventies, Lily Tomlin’s acerbic telephone operator “Ernestine” was supposed to be funny and had a funny name.  Again, begging the pardon of those who are named or had loved ones with such names, but Ernestine falls into the category of Myrtle, Gladys, Ethel, and so on—once commonplace, now hopelessly old-fashioned and thus in danger of provoking amusement.  But I digress…

Kalin’s cover is deceptively simple: two images of the same young woman, in the same pose, but wearing different clothing and accessories.  On the left, against a bright red background, the “alert and proper college student” Ernestine; on the right, against a black background, the Ernestine who “likes to go out and pick up sailors.”  Let’s call them Ernestine #1 and Ernestine #2.   Ernestine #1 is sweet, attractive, but demure.  Her sweater, although form-fitting, exposes no flesh below the modestly-high neckline.  She’s carrying books and a pencil, signifying “student.”  Hair tied back with a scarf, suggesting she didn’t spend a lot of time styling it, opting for convenience and comfort.  Her head is cocked inquisitively to the side, as if she’s listening, or thinking. 

Ernestine #2, what a difference!  Shoulder and cleavage-baring gown (red) which is also “gathered” to outline her breasts.  Jewelry—earrings and bracelet—whereas Ernestine #1 wore neither.  More makeup on the eyes and eyebrows.  A clutch purse in place of schoolbooks, some sort of gold tiara instead of a simple blue scarf.  And that dangling cigarette—it might as well be a sign reading “Loose Woman!”  Yes, a much larger percentage of the population smoked cigarettes in those days, but Ernestine #1—if she smoked at all—wouldn’t walk around in public with a cigarette hanging out of the corner of her mouth. She’d smoke in a refined fashion, carefully tipping the ashes into an ashtray. Ernestine #2 has an attitude, and the cigarette is its punctuation mark.  Interestingly enough, Ernestine #2’s ensemble doesn’t overtly scream “Whore!” and in another context might simply be evening-wear worn by a perfectly decent young woman, but her pose, gaze, and that slutty cigarette indicate she’s not setting out for cocktails at the Ritz tonight…

The beauty of this cover is that it’s not just artwork of a young woman dressed differently, but that Kalin conveys the sense that Ernestine almost literally changes her personality with her costume.  Is she playing a role or is she inherently two people in the same body? 

Another version of the same motif appeared as the poster for the 1984 film Angel.  This time, the student-prostitute is in high school rather than university—as the classic taglines point out, “High School Honor Student by Day. Hollywood Hooker by Night.”  I don’t know if the graphic artist who created this poster had a copy of “Something About Midnight” in his/her possession, but the dichotomous visual aspects are remarkably similar. 

Once again, the good-girl (Molly) is on the left, and the bad-girl (Angel) is on the right side.  Identical poses, different outfits.  Molly, like Ernestine #1, wears a sweater that covers everything (in fact, Ernestine’s was tight, but Molly’s is bulky), and she’s carrying her schoolbooks.  Hair in pigtails versus Ernestine #1’s scarf, but it’s the same idea: quick and comfy hairstyle, nothing elaborate.  We didn’t get to see the lower half of Ernestine’s body on the paperback book’s cover, but here we’re given a full-body image of our protagonist.  Molly’s skirt—not too short, not too tight—knee socks, and saddle shoes (a sign of juvenile, female innocence and consequently a fetish for those attracted to this concept) are all conservative  (it’s not a Catholic schoolgirl outfit, but it’s leaning in that direction).  The background is a bright, day-time shot of the outside of a school building.  Molly’s facial expression is neutral: she’s smiling tentatively, not provocatively.

But oh, that Angel (ironic name, eh?)! Red, spike-heeled shoes. Bare legs, red leather hot-pants (I wouldn’t think these would be very convenient attire for a hooker, given the difficulty in getting them on and off, but my experience in this area is sadly quite limited), black top showing off her bare shoulders(and cleavage also visible), as in Ernestine #2’s image.  Gold, beaded purse instead of schoolbooks?  Yep.  Earrings and necklace?  Check.  Hair styled, teased, and sprayed in an ‘80s manner?  Correct!  Sultry gaze directed at the audience? Absolutely.  Background image of a street (good place for a streetwalker, amirite?) at night?  Got it. 

So, the lesson to be learned is: if you are a prostitute, dress in bright colours, show lots of skin, accessorise, and look like you want to have sex.  If you’re a student, dress in basic, drab colours, don’t expose your bare shoulders or arms or the tops of your breasts, don’t wear jewelry, and carry textbooks instead of a purse, while carefully maintaining a noncommital expression at all times.  Repress those sexual feelings, repress them deep!

The socio-psychological implications of this artwork are interestingly complex.  It’s not so much an issue of a double standard when it comes to female sexuality as it is a bunch of confusing and contradictory ideas. 

Explicated by Freud as the “Madonna-whore complex,” some men romantically idealise their partners to the extent that they cannot view them as sexual creatures, which can lead to dysfunctional relationships and/or infidelity (“sex with my wife, whom I love, is only for procreation, so I need a mistress to take care of my carnal desires”).  To be fair, this is the man’s problem, and not the fault of his wife, but society has a way of imposing the attitudes of the majority (or at least, the dominant class) on everyone else, so generations of women may have potentially been coerced into repressing their feelings in order to “fit in.”  If males cannot reconcile romantic love and sexual activity, women have to choose between being “decent” wives with no interest in sex, or “indecent” mistresses and whores.  One would hope things have changed already and will continue to change, but…who knows?

Both of the individuals in the examples cited here put themselves in mortal danger (in the novel and film whose images we’re deconstructing, Ernestine #2 is murdered and Angel narrowly avoids this fate) while in their “sexy” persona.  Is this a way of externalising societal attitudes: women should hide their sexuality, and expressing it is not only “un-ladylike,” but potentially dangerous?  If not literally, then at least metaphorically?  Nice girls don’t get murdered?

So…maybe the best thing would be to fall in love with a mentally-unbalanced college student who is “alert and proper” (I don’t exactly get the “alert” part, but I suppose it would be nice if she wasn’t always dozing off while we were talking) during the day, but “likes to go out and pick up sailors” at night?  No, wait, that doesn’t sound like an ideal marriage, either.  “I want a woman who’s a lady in the living room, and a freak in the sheets” might appeal, in theory, but just make sure she’s a freak in the sheets only with you, and not with the aforementioned random sailors. 

“She looks like a flower but she stings like a bee, like every girl in history”—the dual nature of women is an endlessly fascinating topic (for men, at least), as these two pieces of pop culture art illustrate.

           Make Men Obey You with Science! (Or Possibly, Magic!)  
Writing advertising copy takes a special kind of talent, and it’s kind of sad the men and women who help sell the world countless products usually labour anonymously, unsung and unappreciated.  It would, for instance, be wonderful to know the identity of the man or woman who wrote this epic ad entitled “WIN POWER OVER MEN with these COMPELLING PERFUMES!”  Seriously, this is the “War and Peace” or “Remembrance of Things Past” or “Gone With the Wind” of advertisements, comic book category.  Hopefully the reproduction is good enough for you to read and enjoy every word, but I’ve selected a handful of the best parts for closer examination and admiration.  
 [This particular version comes from My Story: Real Romances in Pictures 12 (August 1950).  Slightly-revised versions can also be seen in Fox romance-genre comics of this era, such as My Desire: Intimate Confessions and My Secret Story.]
 The general layout of the ad is curious, as if it’s 8 different little ads meant to be scattered throughout a publication (which was more common in pulp magazines than comics), but instead are stacked up into a full-page of hyperbolic hilarity.  Each different perfume has a tiny piece of artwork, mostly representations of women (or women and men), although “CHEZ-ELLE” in the upper left-hand position features a “Asian” symbol (which may very well be completely bogus, or possibly randomly lifted from a Chinese newspaper or something).  The colour scheme isn’t really significant, but it is interesting to see that some level of care was exercised by the publisher and printer: the main headings (and a few symbols, arrows, and other graphic bits) are red, each of the little drawings has several colours applied, and the yellow background sets the (exceptionally small) text off nicely.
 But the true power of this ad is in the text.  Some of the other versions of this ad have a different layout, 9 perfumes instead of 8, and omit most of the artwork, but they do identify the purported “author” of the text as “David J. Trulove.”  (I’m thinking of adopting this as a pseudonym myself)  Well, Mr. Trulove—if that is indeed your name—I tip my hat to you.  From the headlines to the fine print, this is gold, Jerry, gold!  
 Six of the 8 red headlines pose questions to the reader (who, given that this ad appeared in “romance” comics and is for perfume, one might reasonably assume would be female).  Do You Want to Make Men OBEY YOU? (Yes!) Do YOU want DOUBLE POWER? (For sure!)  Do YOU want to MARRY NOW? (You betcha!) Can YOU Make STRONG Men WEAK? (No, but I’d like to!) Do People Talk About YOU? (Yes, those dirty rats!) Are  YOU Unhappy?  (Why do you ask?  Do I seem unhappy?  Did my mother put you up to this?)   The other two headers are impressively declarative statements: “DRAW MEN to YOU with the CHARM of TRYST” (so, it’s like a man-magnet?) and “FURY commands and no man can refuse!” (and why would he?)
 But it is the text proper of each section which exhibits true copy-writing genius.  All eight of the sections have a very chatty, personal tone—four of them actually begin with the salutation “DEAR FRIEND”—as if David J. Trulove was a genial (possibly gay, since he seems to empathise so well with women) acquaintance of the reader.  However, don’t be fooled by his air of informality, DJT knows when to turn on the hard sell.  I’m particularly enamoured of his use of ALL CAPITALS for emphasis (I’d do it if I could conceivably get away with it, but instead I’m forced to utilise italics and other, weaker methods).
 Some examples of Mr. Trulove’s mastery of the sales pitch:  “Do you want to make him love you wildly, fiercely? Do you want to make him say, ‘Darling, I adore you. I worship you. I’ll do ANYTHING for YOU!’ Do you want to make him OBEY your every command?”  Or how about: “If YOU want to DRAW MEN to you and BEND them to YOUR will…”  Or this:  “YOU should USE YOUR POWER to MAKE HIM MARRY YOU!”  
 In addition to the names of the various perfumes (CHEZ-ELLE, TRYST, DIABLO, FURY, LOVESCENT, BLUE PASSION, GOSSIP, and MANTAP), which are always capitalised, the following words are used in ALL CAPS for special emphasis (note that they fall into several categories)—
 Sales-oriented: GUARANTEE, NOW, RUSH
 Reader-directed:  YOU, YOUR, YOURSELF, YOURS, USE YOUR POWER, THRILLED, LEARN HOW
 Product description: POWERFUL, POWER, COMPELLING
           Results-oriented: DRAW MEN, BEND (them to YOUR will), SUCCESS, TRUE LOVER, POWER OVER MEN, BRING TOGETHER, MAKE HIM MARRY YOU, FOREVER
 I like to imagine David J. Trulove dictating the ad copy to a stenographer and literally SHOUTING the words and phrases in all caps.  “Do YOU dream of THRILLING moments of LOVE and ECSTASY?”  (Yes! Yes! Yes!)
 The mini-ad for “FURY commands and no man can refuse!” reads like a precursor of the “J. Peterman” clothing catalog, spoofed so effectively on “Seinfeld”—
 “DEAR FRIEND: It was in a cafe in Singapore that I first met FURY. She was the most beautiful and exotic woman I have ever known.  Men killed each other just for her favors. And when she beckoned, men leaped to obey. For this was the POWER OF FURY, and no man dared to refuse her.”
 Wow!  Trulove subsequently blended a perfume in honour of this paragon of savage womanhood: “I called it FURY because it captures the great POWER OVER MEN that FURY had.  And like that exotic dancer, Fury [what, no CAPS?] commands, and men leap to obey because they fear FURY.”  He adds, later: “Please use FURY carefully.  It is very powerful.”  Thanks for the warning!
 Several of the other ad-lets contain snippets of back-story, but nothing as detailed as FURY.  TRYST: “You must have heard of that wonderful perfume of Delilah that was ever greater than the strength of Samson.”  Why yes, I believe I did hear about that, possibly in church on Sunday.  DIABLO (aka DOUBLE POWER): “The same Double Power was used when she [I guess “Diablo”?] took a husband away from his wife or a sweetheart away from the arms of his loved one.” So be sure to purchase and use this perfume if you want to break up marriages or romances.  By the way, “you don’t have to ask for more than 2 bottles because it lasts a Long Time and is SO POWERFUL.”  How powerful is it?  SO POWERFUL. 
Some of the text hints at heart-break among the readers of this romance comic book, women whose love lives might not be…quite…fulfilling.  I know, shocking, right?  CHEZ-ELLE: “Another woman told us that she blesses the day she first used CHEZ-ELLE, because now her husband comes home at night to help her.”  Aww…. Or “An unhappy girl I know told me how wonderful life is since she started using Friendly GOSSIP.  She’s not alone and unhappy any more!”  “Don’t YOU be the unhappy girl they talk about.”  Yes, there are sad and lonely women out there, but their lives can be changed by simply investing a few dollars in perfume.
But, you may ask, how can mere perfume perform such miracles?  Oh ye of little faith.  “YOU must have heard of certain perfumes that have an almost MAGIC-like POWER OVER MEN?”  For legal reasons we’re not definitely saying it is magic, mind you, but… “A happily married woman once told me: ‘All my life I dreamed that someday I would find a perfume that could raise a man’s ardor.  I wanted a passionate, pulse-stirring, maddening perfume that would make him pull me into his arms and say to me over and over again, ‘I love you, I love only YOU!’ I searched everywhere for this wicked perfume because I knew it would be hard to find.  I found that perfume when I first found MANTRAP and I have been happy ever since.”  
One might feel David J. Trulove’s claims for his perfumes are exaggerated and just a means to lure potential customers into shelling out $2 or $3 for TRYST, FURY, BLUE PASSION, etc., but he does offer an iron-clad GUARANTEE in every case: “If you are not delighted…if you don’t think that it is exactly what you want…If you do not Bless Me for sending it to you, I’ll send your $2 right back…If you are not completely satisfied…If you don’t agree that CHEZ-ELLE is the most POWERFUL perfume you every used, return it and I’ll send your $2 right back.”  You can’t lose!
I wouldn’t characterise this as a “perfect” advert, though.  The text, although brilliant, is too densely packed.  The sub-headings do a good job of directing the reader to each section, but eight separate perfumes, each carefully described, are probably too many for one comic book page.  But this doesn’t detract from the extremely high entertainment value it continues to provide, more than 60 years after these perfumes have long since evaporated.  In fact…
There probably haven’t been any scientific studies (yet) that could prove it, but I’d be willing to wager that Trulove’s perfumes were a major contributor to the “baby boom” in the United States in the Fifties.  And to think, it all started with a simple advertisement in the back pages of a romance-genre comic book. 

           Make Men Obey You with Science! (Or Possibly, Magic!)  

Writing advertising copy takes a special kind of talent, and it’s kind of sad the men and women who help sell the world countless products usually labour anonymously, unsung and unappreciated.  It would, for instance, be wonderful to know the identity of the man or woman who wrote this epic ad entitled “WIN POWER OVER MEN with these COMPELLING PERFUMES!”  Seriously, this is the “War and Peace” or “Remembrance of Things Past” or “Gone With the Wind” of advertisements, comic book category.  Hopefully the reproduction is good enough for you to read and enjoy every word, but I’ve selected a handful of the best parts for closer examination and admiration.  

[This particular version comes from My Story: Real Romances in Pictures 12 (August 1950).  Slightly-revised versions can also be seen in Fox romance-genre comics of this era, such as My Desire: Intimate Confessions and My Secret Story.]

The general layout of the ad is curious, as if it’s 8 different little ads meant to be scattered throughout a publication (which was more common in pulp magazines than comics), but instead are stacked up into a full-page of hyperbolic hilarity.  Each different perfume has a tiny piece of artwork, mostly representations of women (or women and men), although “CHEZ-ELLE” in the upper left-hand position features a “Asian” symbol (which may very well be completely bogus, or possibly randomly lifted from a Chinese newspaper or something).  The colour scheme isn’t really significant, but it is interesting to see that some level of care was exercised by the publisher and printer: the main headings (and a few symbols, arrows, and other graphic bits) are red, each of the little drawings has several colours applied, and the yellow background sets the (exceptionally small) text off nicely.

But the true power of this ad is in the text.  Some of the other versions of this ad have a different layout, 9 perfumes instead of 8, and omit most of the artwork, but they do identify the purported “author” of the text as “David J. Trulove.”  (I’m thinking of adopting this as a pseudonym myself)  Well, Mr. Trulove—if that is indeed your name—I tip my hat to you.  From the headlines to the fine print, this is gold, Jerry, gold!  

Six of the 8 red headlines pose questions to the reader (who, given that this ad appeared in “romance” comics and is for perfume, one might reasonably assume would be female).  Do You Want to Make Men OBEY YOU? (Yes!) Do YOU want DOUBLE POWER? (For sure!)  Do YOU want to MARRY NOW? (You betcha!) Can YOU Make STRONG Men WEAK? (No, but I’d like to!) Do People Talk About YOU? (Yes, those dirty rats!) Are  YOU Unhappy?  (Why do you ask?  Do I seem unhappy?  Did my mother put you up to this?)   The other two headers are impressively declarative statements: “DRAW MEN to YOU with the CHARM of TRYST” (so, it’s like a man-magnet?) and “FURY commands and no man can refuse!” (and why would he?)

But it is the text proper of each section which exhibits true copy-writing genius.  All eight of the sections have a very chatty, personal tone—four of them actually begin with the salutation “DEAR FRIEND”—as if David J. Trulove was a genial (possibly gay, since he seems to empathise so well with women) acquaintance of the reader.  However, don’t be fooled by his air of informality, DJT knows when to turn on the hard sell.  I’m particularly enamoured of his use of ALL CAPITALS for emphasis (I’d do it if I could conceivably get away with it, but instead I’m forced to utilise italics and other, weaker methods).

Some examples of Mr. Trulove’s mastery of the sales pitch:  “Do you want to make him love you wildly, fiercely? Do you want to make him say, ‘Darling, I adore you. I worship you. I’ll do ANYTHING for YOU!’ Do you want to make him OBEY your every command?”  Or how about: “If YOU want to DRAW MEN to you and BEND them to YOUR will…”  Or this:  “YOU should USE YOUR POWER to MAKE HIM MARRY YOU!”  

In addition to the names of the various perfumes (CHEZ-ELLE, TRYST, DIABLO, FURY, LOVESCENT, BLUE PASSION, GOSSIP, and MANTAP), which are always capitalised, the following words are used in ALL CAPS for special emphasis (note that they fall into several categories)—

Sales-oriented: GUARANTEE, NOW, RUSH

Reader-directed:  YOU, YOUR, YOURSELF, YOURS, USE YOUR POWER, THRILLED, LEARN HOW

Product description: POWERFUL, POWER, COMPELLING

          Results-oriented: DRAW MEN, BEND (them to YOUR will), SUCCESS, TRUE LOVER, POWER OVER MEN, BRING TOGETHER, MAKE HIM MARRY YOU, FOREVER

I like to imagine David J. Trulove dictating the ad copy to a stenographer and literally SHOUTING the words and phrases in all caps.  “Do YOU dream of THRILLING moments of LOVE and ECSTASY?”  (Yes! Yes! Yes!)

The mini-ad for “FURY commands and no man can refuse!” reads like a precursor of the “J. Peterman” clothing catalog, spoofed so effectively on “Seinfeld”—

“DEAR FRIEND: It was in a cafe in Singapore that I first met FURY. She was the most beautiful and exotic woman I have ever known.  Men killed each other just for her favors. And when she beckoned, men leaped to obey. For this was the POWER OF FURY, and no man dared to refuse her.”

Wow!  Trulove subsequently blended a perfume in honour of this paragon of savage womanhood: “I called it FURY because it captures the great POWER OVER MEN that FURY had.  And like that exotic dancer, Fury [what, no CAPS?] commands, and men leap to obey because they fear FURY.”  He adds, later: “Please use FURY carefully.  It is very powerful.”  Thanks for the warning!

Several of the other ad-lets contain snippets of back-story, but nothing as detailed as FURY.  TRYST: “You must have heard of that wonderful perfume of Delilah that was ever greater than the strength of Samson.”  Why yes, I believe I did hear about that, possibly in church on Sunday.  DIABLO (aka DOUBLE POWER): “The same Double Power was used when she [I guess “Diablo”?] took a husband away from his wife or a sweetheart away from the arms of his loved one.” So be sure to purchase and use this perfume if you want to break up marriages or romances.  By the way, “you don’t have to ask for more than 2 bottles because it lasts a Long Time and is SO POWERFUL.”  How powerful is it?  SO POWERFUL. 

Some of the text hints at heart-break among the readers of this romance comic book, women whose love lives might not be…quite…fulfilling.  I know, shocking, right?  CHEZ-ELLE: “Another woman told us that she blesses the day she first used CHEZ-ELLE, because now her husband comes home at night to help her.”  Aww…. Or “An unhappy girl I know told me how wonderful life is since she started using Friendly GOSSIP.  She’s not alone and unhappy any more!”  “Don’t YOU be the unhappy girl they talk about.”  Yes, there are sad and lonely women out there, but their lives can be changed by simply investing a few dollars in perfume.

But, you may ask, how can mere perfume perform such miracles?  Oh ye of little faith.  “YOU must have heard of certain perfumes that have an almost MAGIC-like POWER OVER MEN?”  For legal reasons we’re not definitely saying it is magic, mind you, but… “A happily married woman once told me: ‘All my life I dreamed that someday I would find a perfume that could raise a man’s ardor.  I wanted a passionate, pulse-stirring, maddening perfume that would make him pull me into his arms and say to me over and over again, ‘I love you, I love only YOU!’ I searched everywhere for this wicked perfume because I knew it would be hard to find.  I found that perfume when I first found MANTRAP and I have been happy ever since.”  

One might feel David J. Trulove’s claims for his perfumes are exaggerated and just a means to lure potential customers into shelling out $2 or $3 for TRYST, FURY, BLUE PASSION, etc., but he does offer an iron-clad GUARANTEE in every case: “If you are not delighted…if you don’t think that it is exactly what you want…If you do not Bless Me for sending it to you, I’ll send your $2 right back…If you are not completely satisfied…If you don’t agree that CHEZ-ELLE is the most POWERFUL perfume you every used, return it and I’ll send your $2 right back.”  You can’t lose!

I wouldn’t characterise this as a “perfect” advert, though.  The text, although brilliant, is too densely packed.  The sub-headings do a good job of directing the reader to each section, but eight separate perfumes, each carefully described, are probably too many for one comic book page.  But this doesn’t detract from the extremely high entertainment value it continues to provide, more than 60 years after these perfumes have long since evaporated.  In fact…

There probably haven’t been any scientific studies (yet) that could prove it, but I’d be willing to wager that Trulove’s perfumes were a major contributor to the “baby boom” in the United States in the Fifties.  And to think, it all started with a simple advertisement in the back pages of a romance-genre comic book. 

                      Public Display of Non-Affection: Exotic Romances 26  

     It has been a while since I mocked romance comic book covers (although in my other blog, I frequently post isolated panels from romance comic stories), but I’d singled out this cover for snarky commentary some time back.  

     The cover of Exotic Romances 26 (1956) illustrates the story “Rejected Proposal.”  The splash panel of the interior story features basically the same scene as the cover, but with some subtle changes that have a radical impact on the meaning.  The cover and inside story were done by different artists, but each man’s interpretation of the identical set-up (and very similar dialogue) is quite different.  In fact, in many ways they are diametrically opposed to each other, as we’ll see.

     Exotic Romances (formerly titled True War Romances—from the examples I’ve seen, not many of the romances depicted in this comic book were very “exotic,” but I suppose that depends on your point of view), was published by Quality, a company that would shortly go out of business—-its last issues were dated December 1956—but had a history of excellent artwork and some memorable characters (like “Blackhawk” and “Plastic Man”) dating back to the Forties.  Sadly, the identities of the artists who worked on this cover/story are unknown. [Note: two of the other stories in this issue were reprints from earlier Quality romance comics, so it’s possible “Rejected Proposal” was also a re-run.]  

     Both the cover and the splash panel depict Susan rejecting Randy’s marriage proposal, in favour of “a boy back home.”  The caption asks, “will the time come” when Susan will “shed tears over” turning down Randy “Just Call Me Bird in the Hand” for Handsome Harry Home-boy?  [Hint: yes.]

     On the cover, Randy’s proposal and Susan’s rejection take place in a typical Fifties soda fountain, soda shop, drugstore, malt shop, or ice cream parlour (milk bar for our Aussie friends).  Randy, staring glumly into his soft drink as if he’s spotted a bug in there, mumbles something about Susan marrying him and then the two of them having a “perfect life together,” but his enthusiasm level certainly seems low.  Make eye contact!  Get down on one knee or something, Randy!  One could erase the existing text from his word balloon and replace it with “Susan, I’ve lost my job and my dog just died,” and you wouldn’t have to change his facial expression or body language at all.   

     Is it any wonder Susan is rejecting Randy for her Hometown Beau (his name is Jack, by the way)?  Compare the two of them: Randy, bland and depressed-looking, wearing a sweater vest, his shirt-sleeves rolled up, drinking Coca-Cola with NO ICE (and no straw—or as we used to call it, a “sissy stick”).  Kind of looks like Arthur Kennedy or Van Heflin, good actors but hardly heart-throbs.  Jack in the thought bubble, on the other hand, is clad in a suit and tie, and he’s smiling in a confident, friendly manner.  “Yeah, I know you love me, Susan: tell Randy that your heart is stamped ‘Property of Jack’!” 

      The splash panel of the story inside the comic book changes almost everything other than the basic premise.  Gone is the malt shop: now Susan and Randy are sitting at a table in a swanky, apparently Irish-themed nightclub (note the green table-cloth and shamrock wallpaper), listening to smooth jazz played by a classy saxophone-violin combo.  (The “celebrity” caricatures on the wall are a nice touch, too. Only really swanky New York and Hollywood joints have those!)  Randy is dressed up for the occasion, and this time it’s Jack who’s casually attired.  Curiously, the characters’ gazes are directed differently than on the cover: Randy, seeming slightly more confident and cheerful, is looking at Susan (rather than down at his drink) as he’s proposing, and Jack is the one staring off into the distance.  

     Susan herself—holding her cocktail glass in a rather precarious manner—is avoiding eye contact with the importunate Randy (on the cover she was at least looking at him as she turned him down).  “You and your foolish infatuation are not important, Randy,” she thinks, “I’m busy fantasizing about my blonde hunk Jack.  He’s so dreamy!”  Either that, or that’s not the first cocktail she’s sucked down tonight, which also might explain her glazed facial expression.   She’s exchanged her sensible brown blouse and teeny wristwatch for a flaming red dress with a Vampirella collar and a gaudy bracelet, and is even showing a few inches of her frilly petticoats, the hussy!  

     Although nearly identical, the dialogue of the cover version and the interior story do vary slightly but significantly.  On the cover, Randy makes the rather improbable promise that “We can have a perfect life together!”  Sure, what are the odds of that?  Randy must have a pretty high opinion of himself if he thinks merely being married to him would automatically  result in a perfect life.  Meanwhile, inside the comic book, he simply vows “I’ll do everything in the world to make you happy!”  No guarantees of perfection or even happiness, just a statement that he will make an effort to make her happy.    

     For her part, cover-Susan tells Randy “I like you a lot,” while her interior counterpart makes a more ambiguous statement: “I think a lot of you.”  Yes, saying you “think a lot” of someone is generally accepted to have a positive connotation, but it’s not as unequivocal as “I like you a lot.”  It might mean “I think a lot of you, particularly when I want to go out to a fancy nightclub and dine and dance and have you pay for it, but I never have to make any emotional commitment because I already have a boyfriend in my home town!”  Notice that inside-Susan has a smug little half-smile playing on her lips, whereas cover-Susan has the decency to appear mildly distressed as she gives Randy the old heave-ho.  

      One thing both the cover and splash panel have in common is that Randy makes his proposal to Susan in a public venue.  Having never proposed marriage to anyone (sad, isn’t it?), I don’t know the real-life protocol for such things.  Although you do frequently see mentions in the media about “the guy who proposed to his girlfriend via the Jumbotron screen at the Big Sporting Event,” or “the guy who had a singing clown approach her and pop the question as they ate lunch at a sidewalk café,” and so on.  I don’t know how prevalent this is, honestly.  It certainly gives both people a great story to tell their grandchildren, but I think the man (even in the 21st century, it’s still chiefly the man who does the asking) would have to be darn confident of a positive response before he arranged one of these very public marriage proposals.  If I were doing it, I’d make sure we had complete privacy, just in case…heck, if I could get away with it, I’d propose via e-mail.  That would give her plenty of time to compose a thoughtful response, pro or con.  

     Otherwise, you risk falling into Randy’s shoes: he’s not only been told “no, I won’t marry you,” he’s also basically been informed that Susan’s been stringing him along the whole time, spending his money and wasting his time while she’s been secretly thinking about Smilin’ Jack back in Smallville.  One would hardly blame Randy for breaking down in tears right there in the drugstore or nightclub, another reason to avoid public marriage proposals.   

The “alternate” versions of Randy’s Humiliation in Exotic Romances 26 make this an interesting case study in comic art desconstruction.  But either way you look at it…she said no.

The Staggering Truth Fearlessly Told: The Red Kimono (1925)
 I’ve written before about images of the Devil in popular culture, and will probably do so again.  Are they supposed to be scary, funny or a little of both?  This (re-release?) ad (or poster, it’s hard to tell) for The Red Kimono features a cheery, rather effeminate-looking Satan casting his spell over a shamed, half-nude young woman.  Wouldn’t have the message been more powerful if the Demonic One was a bit more…fearsome?  The crude printing process used here probably didn’t allow for a lot of detail, but this particular Satan would be more appropriate for a can of devilled ham or a box of “Red-Hots” candy, as opposed to a serious exploitation film about prostitution. The Red Kimono (sometimes called The Red Kimona, under which title it has been released on DVD) was produced in 1925 by “Mrs. Wallace Reid.”  Although the name means nothing to most of us today, at the time it was equivalent to “Mrs. George Clooney,” i.e., the wife (actually, the widow) of a popular star.  Wallace Reid married actress Dorothy Davenport in 1913; after his death—the result of medically-contracted drug addiction—in 1923, Mrs. Reid began a very public crusade against drugs, and later expanded this to other social ills, including prostitution. 
                [Interestingly enough, the poster for Mrs. Reid’s first film, the anti-drug Human Wreckage (1923), also included an image of the Devil.] 
               The Red Kimono was based on a screen story by Adela Rogers St. Johns, and adapted to the screen by Dorothy Arzner, who would soon become one of the few female directors in Hollywood in this era (although this particular film was directed by Walter Lang; Dorothy Davenport would herself also receive directorial credit on a handful of pictures).  The film’s story was based on a notorious true crime from 1915, in which prostitute Gabrielle Darley shot her pimp, the man she blamed for her downfall (in the movie version—in real life, she shot him out of jealousy).  Unfortunately for Mrs. Wallace Reid, Gabrielle Darley Melvin (as the movie showed, she later reformed and married an honest man) was still alive and in a litigious mood, eventually (on appeal in 1931) winning an undisclosed amount of money for this appropriation of her life story. [Ironically, it appears she had not actually reformed and may have still been working as a prostitute when she brought the lawsuit, but the sympathetic judges were unaware of this.  The film’s depiction of her precipitous slide from maidenhood to the profession of soiled dove was also largely fictional.] 

           The film industry apparently didn’t learn its lesson, because MGM was sued after making Rasputin and the Empress (1932), and only after that would films routinely contain the disclaimer “All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.  Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.”  Given that The Red Kimono not only used Darley’s well-known story, but also her full name, it’s hard to imagine this disclaimer would have helped.  What were they thinking?  “Oh, she’ll never notice this feature film based on a sensational murder case in which she was the defendant?  Why bother to change the protagonist’s name?”  [While the original publicity for the movie trumpeted Gabrielle Darley’s name, hoping to cash in on the case’s notoriety, note that this particular piece—produced at some later date— does not mention her or the “true story” basis of the plot at all.]
                The movie depicts the seduction of innocent Gabrielle (Priscilla Bonner) by a sleazy cad who “turns her out” as a whore to support him, then goes shopping for a wedding ring for another woman!  Gabrielle kills the two-timing rotter and is tried for murder, but acquitted.  However, she finds it difficult to regain admission to polite society, and is on the cusp of returning to life in a brothel when rescued by the love of a good man.  Mrs. Wallace Reid appears at the beginning and end of the film to deliver a moral message, but doesn’t have a dramatic role otherwise. 
                Mordaunt Hall’s New York Times review wasn’t exactly favourable: “There have been a number of wretched pictures on Broadway during the last year, but none seem to have quite reached the low level of “The Red Kimono,” a production evidently intended to cause weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. Possibly it might accomplish its purpose if the theatre doors were locked, but so long as one knows one can get out of the building, it is another matter.”  
              Despite critical distaste, The Red Kimono was reportedly quite popular, combining exploitation and moralising.  It’s difficult to criticise Mrs. Wallace Reid’s motives: a former actress and a widow with two young children, she had a living to make and motion pictures were what she knew best, yet her real-life tragedy seems to have given her an actual social conscience that she utilised in her productions (at least in the beginning—she eventually moved into mainstream subject matter).

                Original posters for The Red Kimono are tasteful and boring.  “A Daring Subject Delicately Handled”—wait, who wants to see that?!  We want sleaze, or at least the promise of sleaze.  The poster/advert (it’s hard to tell which) examined here is much better in a marketing sense (although artistically it’s quite a few steps below the lovely stone-litho original).  SLAVES OF SATAN is a nice tagline (even if the Satan pictured looks fey and amiable rather than evil and cruel), but the interesting thing about the rest of the text content is that much of it is phrased in form of questions: 
               “Can they [the aforementioned SLAVES OF SATAN] ever return from the depths?”  “Does White Slavery Really Exist?”  “Is it an Actual Menace to American Girlhood?”  I suppose the answer to all of these is “Yes” (the poster does promise the viewer can “SEE THE ANSWER” to the first question—at least—if they watch the film).  If the answer to any of these was “No,” that would be a bummer.
                The other taglines are also impressive: “SEE THE STAGGERING TRUTH Fearlessly Told” and “A Mighty Message to Wayward Girls.”  The first one is self-explanatory, but the second suggests the film is not aimed at “good girls” (to warn them about the dangers of falling for a slick guy who’ll turn you into a prostitute) but rather wants to encourage “Wayward Girls,” affirming that they can get out of The Life, if they merely (a) murder their pimp, (b) get acquitted by the court, and (c) find a good man to marry.  It’s so simple, any whore could do it!  
                This is somewhat at odds with the standard exploitation “warn your children” pitch, whereby audiences were informed they could forestall family tragedy (drug addiction, pre-marital pregnancy, contracting venereal diseases) by seeing these films and avoiding the pitfalls the unwary protagonists weren’t smart enough to avoid. 
           The poster for The Red Kimono shown here appears to be a silk-screen print or some other, cheaper means of mass-production of posters, rather than a stone-litho or offset press process.  This, as noted earlier, limits the reproduction of detail, usually allows for only or two primary colours, and forces the use of a very simple graphic design.  Still, the imagery and text combine here for a fairly effective and entertaining piece of exploitation advertising. 
 

The Staggering Truth Fearlessly Told: The Red Kimono (1925)

 I’ve written before about images of the Devil in popular culture, and will probably do so again.  Are they supposed to be scary, funny or a little of both?  This (re-release?) ad (or poster, it’s hard to tell) for The Red Kimono features a cheery, rather effeminate-looking Satan casting his spell over a shamed, half-nude young woman.  Wouldn’t have the message been more powerful if the Demonic One was a bit more…fearsome?  The crude printing process used here probably didn’t allow for a lot of detail, but this particular Satan would be more appropriate for a can of devilled ham or a box of “Red-Hots” candy, as opposed to a serious exploitation film about prostitution. The Red Kimono (sometimes called The Red Kimona, under which title it has been released on DVD) was produced in 1925 by “Mrs. Wallace Reid.”  Although the name means nothing to most of us today, at the time it was equivalent to “Mrs. George Clooney,” i.e., the wife (actually, the widow) of a popular star.  Wallace Reid married actress Dorothy Davenport in 1913; after his death—the result of medically-contracted drug addiction—in 1923, Mrs. Reid began a very public crusade against drugs, and later expanded this to other social ills, including prostitution. 

                [Interestingly enough, the poster for Mrs. Reid’s first film, the anti-drug Human Wreckage (1923), also included an image of the Devil.] 

               The Red Kimono was based on a screen story by Adela Rogers St. Johns, and adapted to the screen by Dorothy Arzner, who would soon become one of the few female directors in Hollywood in this era (although this particular film was directed by Walter Lang; Dorothy Davenport would herself also receive directorial credit on a handful of pictures).  The film’s story was based on a notorious true crime from 1915, in which prostitute Gabrielle Darley shot her pimp, the man she blamed for her downfall (in the movie version—in real life, she shot him out of jealousy).  Unfortunately for Mrs. Wallace Reid, Gabrielle Darley Melvin (as the movie showed, she later reformed and married an honest man) was still alive and in a litigious mood, eventually (on appeal in 1931) winning an undisclosed amount of money for this appropriation of her life story. [Ironically, it appears she had not actually reformed and may have still been working as a prostitute when she brought the lawsuit, but the sympathetic judges were unaware of this.  The film’s depiction of her precipitous slide from maidenhood to the profession of soiled dove was also largely fictional.] 

           The film industry apparently didn’t learn its lesson, because MGM was sued after making Rasputin and the Empress (1932), and only after that would films routinely contain the disclaimer “All characters appearing in this work are fictitious.  Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.”  Given that The Red Kimono not only used Darley’s well-known story, but also her full name, it’s hard to imagine this disclaimer would have helped.  What were they thinking?  “Oh, she’ll never notice this feature film based on a sensational murder case in which she was the defendant?  Why bother to change the protagonist’s name?”  [While the original publicity for the movie trumpeted Gabrielle Darley’s name, hoping to cash in on the case’s notoriety, note that this particular piece—produced at some later date— does not mention her or the “true story” basis of the plot at all.]

                The movie depicts the seduction of innocent Gabrielle (Priscilla Bonner) by a sleazy cad who “turns her out” as a whore to support him, then goes shopping for a wedding ring for another woman!  Gabrielle kills the two-timing rotter and is tried for murder, but acquitted.  However, she finds it difficult to regain admission to polite society, and is on the cusp of returning to life in a brothel when rescued by the love of a good man.  Mrs. Wallace Reid appears at the beginning and end of the film to deliver a moral message, but doesn’t have a dramatic role otherwise. 

                Mordaunt Hall’s New York Times review wasn’t exactly favourable: “There have been a number of wretched pictures on Broadway during the last year, but none seem to have quite reached the low level of “The Red Kimono,” a production evidently intended to cause weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. Possibly it might accomplish its purpose if the theatre doors were locked, but so long as one knows one can get out of the building, it is another matter.”  

              Despite critical distaste, The Red Kimono was reportedly quite popular, combining exploitation and moralising.  It’s difficult to criticise Mrs. Wallace Reid’s motives: a former actress and a widow with two young children, she had a living to make and motion pictures were what she knew best, yet her real-life tragedy seems to have given her an actual social conscience that she utilised in her productions (at least in the beginning—she eventually moved into mainstream subject matter).

                Original posters for The Red Kimono are tasteful and boring.  “A Daring Subject Delicately Handled”—wait, who wants to see that?!  We want sleaze, or at least the promise of sleaze.  The poster/advert (it’s hard to tell which) examined here is much better in a marketing sense (although artistically it’s quite a few steps below the lovely stone-litho original).  SLAVES OF SATAN is a nice tagline (even if the Satan pictured looks fey and amiable rather than evil and cruel), but the interesting thing about the rest of the text content is that much of it is phrased in form of questions: 

               “Can they [the aforementioned SLAVES OF SATAN] ever return from the depths?”  “Does White Slavery Really Exist?”  “Is it an Actual Menace to American Girlhood?”  I suppose the answer to all of these is “Yes” (the poster does promise the viewer can “SEE THE ANSWER” to the first question—at least—if they watch the film).  If the answer to any of these was “No,” that would be a bummer.

                The other taglines are also impressive: “SEE THE STAGGERING TRUTH Fearlessly Told” and “A Mighty Message to Wayward Girls.”  The first one is self-explanatory, but the second suggests the film is not aimed at “good girls” (to warn them about the dangers of falling for a slick guy who’ll turn you into a prostitute) but rather wants to encourage “Wayward Girls,” affirming that they can get out of The Life, if they merely (a) murder their pimp, (b) get acquitted by the court, and (c) find a good man to marry.  It’s so simple, any whore could do it!  

                This is somewhat at odds with the standard exploitation “warn your children” pitch, whereby audiences were informed they could forestall family tragedy (drug addiction, pre-marital pregnancy, contracting venereal diseases) by seeing these films and avoiding the pitfalls the unwary protagonists weren’t smart enough to avoid. 

           The poster for The Red Kimono shown here appears to be a silk-screen print or some other, cheaper means of mass-production of posters, rather than a stone-litho or offset press process.  This, as noted earlier, limits the reproduction of detail, usually allows for only or two primary colours, and forces the use of a very simple graphic design.  Still, the imagery and text combine here for a fairly effective and entertaining piece of exploitation advertising. 

 

Stop Staring at My Forehead! (Startling Stories, September 1941)            
Startling Stories was “A Thrilling Publication” published by Standard Magazines from 1939 until 1955.  A science fiction pulp magazine, Startling later featured some fantasy stories, as the “witch” cover discussed here illustrates.  But in the early years, most of the  magazine’s covers focused on space opera-style scenes, with stalwart heroes, sexy heroines, and threatening monsters.  Although Earle Bergey is the cover artist most associated with Startling, this particular cover is by his friend Rudolph Belarski. 
            Belarski (1900-1983) was not a science-fiction specialist, working in a wide variety of genres during the pulp era (and on paperbacks and men’s adventure magazines afterwards).  If anything, he’s perhaps best-known for his crime, war, and adventure illustrations.  Belarski’s artwork for Startling Stories September 1941 was re-used for the cover of several paperbacks reprinting pulp stories by author-artist John Coleman Burroughs, his brother Hulbert Burroughs (sons of “Tarzan” creator Edgar Rice Burroughs), and Jane Ralston Burroughs (J.C. Burroughs’ wife)—“The Lightning Men and Other Stories” (2005) and  “The Bottom of the World and Other Stories” (2009). 
            Not the greatest or even the campiest of science-fiction pulp covers—and in fact this is one of the less exciting and action-packed Startling Stories covers, which otherwise tended towards flamboyant, cheesecake-infused scenes of human-alien combat— I nonetheless chose to discuss this one for three reasons: (a) the bizarre aliens; (b) the “Flash Gordon” serial homage; and (c) the evocation (perhaps unintentional) of the various, famous historical works of art depicting  “Christopher Columbus landing in the New World.” 
            The aliens on the cover of Startling Stories 9/41 are green-skinned, humanoid lizard-men (who carry simple daggers and are thus understandably awed by the ray-guns wielded by the new arrivals), but the prehensile, phallic, third-eye stalk growing from their foreheads is their most notable physical attribute.  Snails (in reality) have eye-stalks, as do various bug-eyed monsters (only in fiction, hopefully), but these usually represent their (two) main eyes, and the inclusion of an “extra” eye-stalk makes these particular aliens stand out.  [I mean, I’m assuming these are intended to be eye-stalks and not forehead-penises.  Although the artwork is ambiguous…] 
            The concept of a “third eye” is usually metaphorical rather than literal, referring to a person’s special insight or higher consciousness.  Theosophists believed human beings did at one point have a literal third eye, but it eventually atrophied and became more of a mental thing, albeit in some way related to the pineal gland in the brain.  A character’s enlarged pineal gland erupts from his forehead in From Beyond (1986), which results in a close visual approximation of these creatures in the Startling Stories painting.  Although not specifically an eye-stalk, the protagonist of Dr. Alien (1989) sports a fleshy appendage from the top of his head, which serves to attract and arouse females in his immediate vicinity, and there are other pop culture examples as well. 
            Having a protuberant third eye on one’s forehead might have some advantages—again, assuming this is an organ of vision, it presumably could be used like a periscope, to see around corners, or to look behind you—but I’d imagine it’d also be somewhat inconvenient at times.  Is it retractable?  If not, is it always “erect?”  Otherwise, it might droop down onto your face,  rather like an elephant’s trunk.  It would also seem to be very vulnerable to attack: an assailant could grab it or slice it off with a sword (in From Beyond, the pineal-stalk is bitten off, ouch).  Wearing a hat might also be difficult.  And good luck finding a pair of eyeglasses (maybe you could buy a pair of glasses and a monocle).

            Of course, if this isn’t an actual eye­-stalk, then…well, let’s not go there.  Except to say I can’t think of any particular advantage to possessing a forehead-penis, and the list of potential disadvantages is pretty obvious.
            The second fascinating aspect of Belarski’s cover for Startling Stories is the unbilled appearance of Dale Arden and Ming the Merciless from the 1936 Flash Gordon film serial (as opposed to Alex Raymond’s original comic strip).  Do a simple Google Image search on “Jean Rogers” and “Flash Gordon” and you’ll find numerous photos of the actress in her iconic costume, faithfully reproduced by the artist on this pulp magazine cover.  The costume and facial features of Ming the Merciless (Charles Middleton in the serials) are also clearly recognisable.  Unlike this painting, however, Ming in the comics didn’t have green skin, nor did he in the movie, as far as one can tell—the film was shot in black-and-white but Middleton’s skin is not darkened by makeup; if anything, he looks Asian (the covers of some recent DVD cases depict him with green skin, but that’s pure revisionism).
            Interestingly enough, the other two male humans on the cover don’t especially resemble Flash Gordon.  True, the guy in the yellow jumpsuit looks heroic & stalwart while his companion has a dumb-sidekick face, but  the costumes aren’t Flash Gordon-y (or Flashy, heh)—especially given the dorky helmets, which don’t appear to serve any outer space-related function, having no face-plates or other protective or breathing apparatus—and the main hero may or may not have Flash’s iconic blonde hair.  It almost feels as if Belarski deliberately stayed away from making these men look like Flash Gordon characters, perhaps fearing that would push homage too far.
            The “story” of the cover isn’t too clear: are Dale Arden and Ming inhabitants of the Planet of the Eye-Stalked Lizard Men, or did they arrive on the rocket (in the background, although it more closely resembles a submarine) with not-Flash and his pal?  Are the Lizard Men surrendering?  Are they bowing to Emperor Ming?  What’s Dale looking at?  Is Ming going to conk one of our heroes on the helmet with his branding iron (sorry, his sceptre)? 
            This provides a convenient segue into this cover’s thematic connection to the aforementioned art of Columbus landing in the New World.  A large number of historical paintings, engravings, drawings, etc. depict this event and most of them have common elements: Columbus, his men, a cross and/or a flag borne by Columbus or an aide, his ship, and “natives.”  Many of these images also show various characters kneeling; I thought I remembered indigenous people kneeling before the new arrival, but based on the images which pop up in an online search (hey, I already promoted Google once), it looks like most such artwork shows Columbus’s own men doing the kneeling (thanking God they finally reached land, most likely), while the native peoples stand and gawk.

            Still, Belarski’s Startling Stories cover contains almost all of the elements of the traditional “Columbus landing” motif: “natives,” people kneeling, ship, crucifix/flag substitute (Ming’s sceptre), multiple outsiders arriving in a new land.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Well, I don’t know if the artist deliberately said “I’m going to recreate the landing of Columbus in the New World as a science-fiction pulp magazine cover,” but I have to think Belarski at least subconsciously based his painting on the Columbus images, as the similarities are…startling (as in Startling Stories, hey-o!).  

Stop Staring at My Forehead! (Startling Stories, September 1941)            

Startling Stories was “A Thrilling Publication” published by Standard Magazines from 1939 until 1955.  A science fiction pulp magazine, Startling later featured some fantasy stories, as the “witch” cover discussed here illustrates.  But in the early years, most of the  magazine’s covers focused on space opera-style scenes, with stalwart heroes, sexy heroines, and threatening monsters.  Although Earle Bergey is the cover artist most associated with Startling, this particular cover is by his friend Rudolph Belarski. 

            Belarski (1900-1983) was not a science-fiction specialist, working in a wide variety of genres during the pulp era (and on paperbacks and men’s adventure magazines afterwards).  If anything, he’s perhaps best-known for his crime, war, and adventure illustrations.  Belarski’s artwork for Startling Stories September 1941 was re-used for the cover of several paperbacks reprinting pulp stories by author-artist John Coleman Burroughs, his brother Hulbert Burroughs (sons of “Tarzan” creator Edgar Rice Burroughs), and Jane Ralston Burroughs (J.C. Burroughs’ wife)—“The Lightning Men and Other Stories” (2005) and  “The Bottom of the World and Other Stories” (2009). 

            Not the greatest or even the campiest of science-fiction pulp covers—and in fact this is one of the less exciting and action-packed Startling Stories covers, which otherwise tended towards flamboyant, cheesecake-infused scenes of human-alien combat— I nonetheless chose to discuss this one for three reasons: (a) the bizarre aliens; (b) the “Flash Gordon” serial homage; and (c) the evocation (perhaps unintentional) of the various, famous historical works of art depicting  “Christopher Columbus landing in the New World.” 

            The aliens on the cover of Startling Stories 9/41 are green-skinned, humanoid lizard-men (who carry simple daggers and are thus understandably awed by the ray-guns wielded by the new arrivals), but the prehensile, phallic, third-eye stalk growing from their foreheads is their most notable physical attribute.  Snails (in reality) have eye-stalks, as do various bug-eyed monsters (only in fiction, hopefully), but these usually represent their (two) main eyes, and the inclusion of an “extra” eye-stalk makes these particular aliens stand out.  [I mean, I’m assuming these are intended to be eye-stalks and not forehead-penises.  Although the artwork is ambiguous…] 

            The concept of a “third eye” is usually metaphorical rather than literal, referring to a person’s special insight or higher consciousness.  Theosophists believed human beings did at one point have a literal third eye, but it eventually atrophied and became more of a mental thing, albeit in some way related to the pineal gland in the brain.  A character’s enlarged pineal gland erupts from his forehead in From Beyond (1986), which results in a close visual approximation of these creatures in the Startling Stories painting.  Although not specifically an eye-stalk, the protagonist of Dr. Alien (1989) sports a fleshy appendage from the top of his head, which serves to attract and arouse females in his immediate vicinity, and there are other pop culture examples as well. 

            Having a protuberant third eye on one’s forehead might have some advantages—again, assuming this is an organ of vision, it presumably could be used like a periscope, to see around corners, or to look behind you—but I’d imagine it’d also be somewhat inconvenient at times.  Is it retractable?  If not, is it always “erect?”  Otherwise, it might droop down onto your face,  rather like an elephant’s trunk.  It would also seem to be very vulnerable to attack: an assailant could grab it or slice it off with a sword (in From Beyond, the pineal-stalk is bitten off, ouch).  Wearing a hat might also be difficult.  And good luck finding a pair of eyeglasses (maybe you could buy a pair of glasses and a monocle).

            Of course, if this isn’t an actual eye­-stalk, then…well, let’s not go there.  Except to say I can’t think of any particular advantage to possessing a forehead-penis, and the list of potential disadvantages is pretty obvious.

            The second fascinating aspect of Belarski’s cover for Startling Stories is the unbilled appearance of Dale Arden and Ming the Merciless from the 1936 Flash Gordon film serial (as opposed to Alex Raymond’s original comic strip).  Do a simple Google Image search on “Jean Rogers” and “Flash Gordon” and you’ll find numerous photos of the actress in her iconic costume, faithfully reproduced by the artist on this pulp magazine cover.  The costume and facial features of Ming the Merciless (Charles Middleton in the serials) are also clearly recognisable.  Unlike this painting, however, Ming in the comics didn’t have green skin, nor did he in the movie, as far as one can tell—the film was shot in black-and-white but Middleton’s skin is not darkened by makeup; if anything, he looks Asian (the covers of some recent DVD cases depict him with green skin, but that’s pure revisionism).

            Interestingly enough, the other two male humans on the cover don’t especially resemble Flash Gordon.  True, the guy in the yellow jumpsuit looks heroic & stalwart while his companion has a dumb-sidekick face, but  the costumes aren’t Flash Gordon-y (or Flashy, heh)—especially given the dorky helmets, which don’t appear to serve any outer space-related function, having no face-plates or other protective or breathing apparatus—and the main hero may or may not have Flash’s iconic blonde hair.  It almost feels as if Belarski deliberately stayed away from making these men look like Flash Gordon characters, perhaps fearing that would push homage too far.

            The “story” of the cover isn’t too clear: are Dale Arden and Ming inhabitants of the Planet of the Eye-Stalked Lizard Men, or did they arrive on the rocket (in the background, although it more closely resembles a submarine) with not-Flash and his pal?  Are the Lizard Men surrendering?  Are they bowing to Emperor Ming?  What’s Dale looking at?  Is Ming going to conk one of our heroes on the helmet with his branding iron (sorry, his sceptre)? 

            This provides a convenient segue into this cover’s thematic connection to the aforementioned art of Columbus landing in the New World.  A large number of historical paintings, engravings, drawings, etc. depict this event and most of them have common elements: Columbus, his men, a cross and/or a flag borne by Columbus or an aide, his ship, and “natives.”  Many of these images also show various characters kneeling; I thought I remembered indigenous people kneeling before the new arrival, but based on the images which pop up in an online search (hey, I already promoted Google once), it looks like most such artwork shows Columbus’s own men doing the kneeling (thanking God they finally reached land, most likely), while the native peoples stand and gawk.

            Still, Belarski’s Startling Stories cover contains almost all of the elements of the traditional “Columbus landing” motif: “natives,” people kneeling, ship, crucifix/flag substitute (Ming’s sceptre), multiple outsiders arriving in a new land.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Well, I don’t know if the artist deliberately said “I’m going to recreate the landing of Columbus in the New World as a science-fiction pulp magazine cover,” but I have to think Belarski at least subconsciously based his painting on the Columbus images, as the similarities are…startling (as in Startling Stories, hey-o!).  

The Mystery Half-Wit Has the Girls All Agog! (comic book ad, 1940s)  Tired of your own face?  Want to behave in an uninhibited manner without risking censure (or arrest)?  Feel like accosting women at parties “all in fun?”  Yes, purchase one or more of these Amazing Life-Like RUBBER MASKS and your secret life is safe with us!
            This advertisement appeared in the back of a comic book (title and issue forgotten, sorry) in the late 1940s or early 1950s, but I remember seeing similar ads for years afterwards.  The Don Post Studios sold latex “monster masks” via mail-order for decades—these were the Cadillacs of the mask world, but cheaper versions were also available during the heyday of monster magazines (the Sixties and Seventies). 
Of course, these later monster-character masks were chiefly aimed at horror movie fans and the advert here comes from an earlier era, so the selection is tamer (and doesn’t include any designs that would need to be licensed, such as the Universal versions of the Frankenstein Monster, the Wolfman, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, etc.): we can choose from The Monkey, Satan, Old Man, Old Lady, SANTA CLAUS, Clown, and…IDIOT (I’m not sure why some mask names are in all-caps and others are not).  Ah yes, the IDIOT.  But before we take a closer look at our leering, lecherous, dim-witted friend, what about the other masks in the ad?  “All masks guaranteed perfect,”  by the way. 
The Monkey: not just a monkey, but The Monkey.  Frankly, it doesn’t much resemble a monkey to me, with its pink, hairless skin and buzz-cut hair.  The ad makes a “Monkey-Shines” pun which suggests The Monkey is their star attraction, then discards the silly simian for the much more interesting IDIOT.  Gorilla masks later became popular in the “horror” era, but those masks often had “real” hair attached (“real” meaning “not rubber”) to heighten the verisimilitude.  So, sadly, I’d have to say The Monkey is not my first choice for Rubber Mask hilarity.
Satan: now that’s more like it.  Although I’d have preferred a bit more red in the skin tone (it’s possible that the actual masks were painted more elaborately, and the comic book ad had a limited colour palette to work with), this is a traditional devil figure.  Bald, horns, pointy moustache and goatee, arched eye-brows, evil leer.  One thumbs-up for Satan!
Old Man and Old Lady:  why not Old Gentleman and Old Lady or Old Man and Old Woman?  I detect a double-standard in Rubber-for-Molds’ naming convention.  However, I will admit that “Old Lady” is more dignified than later masks, which were often dubbed “Old Witch” and “Old Hag.” On the other hand, Old Lady looks pretty butch here, I’d have had a difficult time identifying her as female based on the art.  Old Man is balding, so his gender is clear, but in my opinion, Old Lady resembles actor Lyle Waggoner…
SANTA CLAUS: who doesn’t know what Santa Claus looks like?!  We’re not going to waste any valuable space in our ad on an image of him!  Rest assured, however, that this is a Special mask, because it costs $4.95 as opposed to the $2.95 we’re asking for the others.

Clown: this has to be the most horrifying image of a clown I’ve seen today.  No hair.  Pink skin.  Blank eyes.  Pink nose.  Painted-on grin.  *shudders*
IDIOT (or, as he’s referred to by his friends and victims, “Halfwit in all his goofiness”) :  yes, the pièce-de-résistance, the triumph of the rubber-mask-makers’ art.  From our perspective in 2013, the resemblance to (the not-yet-existing) Mad magazine’s “Alfred E. Neuman” (and, perhaps, to former president George W. Bush) is uncanny (except for the blonde, bowl-cut hair).  The story of Mad’s mascot is well-known: the “grinning idiot” image dates back to the 19th-century and by the second or third decade of the 20th century it was being used for advertisements, gag postcards, and other pop culture elements, so this is yet another pre-Mad example of the character. 
“People howl with laughter when you put on this life-like mask.” Sure they do.  That woman in the cartoon doesn’t seem to be howling with laughter.  She looks freaking terrified.  And the woman behind her seems to be shrieking in horror.  Nothing says “having a good time at a party” like “being molested by a cross-eyed Halfwit,” I always say.  The other male guests snidely agree: “These skimpy domino-style masks don’t completely hide our real faces, and thus we can’t grope the female party-goers with impunity, darn it!  I sure wish I had thought of wearing an identity-concealing over-the-head rubber mask!” (that “pulls over the head like a diver’s helmet”)  ”Girls All Agog,” indeed.
“The mouth moves with your lips…you breathe…smoke..talk…even eat thru it.” Fortunately, “Sanitary laws prohibit return of worn masks.”  Because as Canadian writer André Berthiaume pointed out (probably in another context, but who knows?) “We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin.”   
Send No Money!  What a deal, I can afford that!  Oh, wait, if I choose that option, I have to pay for the mask and C.O.D. charges to the postman?  Never mind, I’ll send cash instead and let Rubber-For-Molds, Inc. pay the postage charges.  Sadly, “George [unreadable]” from “427 6th St, Niagara Falls NY” apparently didn’t finish filling out the coupon, so we’ll never know which mask he would have chosen. 


“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”  You’re absolutely right, Nathaniel Hawthorne.  If I purchase the “guaranteed perfect” Mystery Half-Wit rubber mask and wear it to “every dress-up occasion,” savouring the freedom from social constraints that it bestows upon me…will I eventually…become the Mystery Half-Wit?    

The Mystery Half-Wit Has the Girls All Agog! (comic book ad, 1940s)  Tired of your own face?  Want to behave in an uninhibited manner without risking censure (or arrest)?  Feel like accosting women at parties “all in fun?”  Yes, purchase one or more of these Amazing Life-Like RUBBER MASKS and your secret life is safe with us!

            This advertisement appeared in the back of a comic book (title and issue forgotten, sorry) in the late 1940s or early 1950s, but I remember seeing similar ads for years afterwards.  The Don Post Studios sold latex “monster masks” via mail-order for decades—these were the Cadillacs of the mask world, but cheaper versions were also available during the heyday of monster magazines (the Sixties and Seventies). 

Of course, these later monster-character masks were chiefly aimed at horror movie fans and the advert here comes from an earlier era, so the selection is tamer (and doesn’t include any designs that would need to be licensed, such as the Universal versions of the Frankenstein Monster, the Wolfman, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, etc.): we can choose from The Monkey, Satan, Old Man, Old Lady, SANTA CLAUS, Clown, and…IDIOT (I’m not sure why some mask names are in all-caps and others are not).  Ah yes, the IDIOT.  But before we take a closer look at our leering, lecherous, dim-witted friend, what about the other masks in the ad?  “All masks guaranteed perfect,”  by the way. 

The Monkey: not just a monkey, but The Monkey.  Frankly, it doesn’t much resemble a monkey to me, with its pink, hairless skin and buzz-cut hair.  The ad makes a “Monkey-Shines” pun which suggests The Monkey is their star attraction, then discards the silly simian for the much more interesting IDIOT.  Gorilla masks later became popular in the “horror” era, but those masks often had “real” hair attached (“real” meaning “not rubber”) to heighten the verisimilitude.  So, sadly, I’d have to say The Monkey is not my first choice for Rubber Mask hilarity.

Satan: now that’s more like it.  Although I’d have preferred a bit more red in the skin tone (it’s possible that the actual masks were painted more elaborately, and the comic book ad had a limited colour palette to work with), this is a traditional devil figure.  Bald, horns, pointy moustache and goatee, arched eye-brows, evil leer.  One thumbs-up for Satan!

Old Man and Old Lady:  why not Old Gentleman and Old Lady or Old Man and Old Woman?  I detect a double-standard in Rubber-for-Molds’ naming convention.  However, I will admit that “Old Lady” is more dignified than later masks, which were often dubbed “Old Witch” and “Old Hag.” On the other hand, Old Lady looks pretty butch here, I’d have had a difficult time identifying her as female based on the art.  Old Man is balding, so his gender is clear, but in my opinion, Old Lady resembles actor Lyle Waggoner

SANTA CLAUS: who doesn’t know what Santa Claus looks like?!  We’re not going to waste any valuable space in our ad on an image of him!  Rest assured, however, that this is a Special mask, because it costs $4.95 as opposed to the $2.95 we’re asking for the others.

Clown: this has to be the most horrifying image of a clown I’ve seen today.  No hair.  Pink skin.  Blank eyes.  Pink nose.  Painted-on grin.  *shudders*

IDIOT (or, as he’s referred to by his friends and victims, “Halfwit in all his goofiness”) :  yes, the pièce-de-résistance, the triumph of the rubber-mask-makers’ art.  From our perspective in 2013, the resemblance to (the not-yet-existing) Mad magazine’s “Alfred E. Neuman” (and, perhaps, to former president George W. Bush) is uncanny (except for the blonde, bowl-cut hair).  The story of Mad’s mascot is well-known: the “grinning idiot” image dates back to the 19th-century and by the second or third decade of the 20th century it was being used for advertisements, gag postcards, and other pop culture elements, so this is yet another pre-Mad example of the character. 

“People howl with laughter when you put on this life-like mask.” Sure they do.  That woman in the cartoon doesn’t seem to be howling with laughter.  She looks freaking terrified.  And the woman behind her seems to be shrieking in horror.  Nothing says “having a good time at a party” like “being molested by a cross-eyed Halfwit,” I always say.  The other male guests snidely agree: “These skimpy domino-style masks don’t completely hide our real faces, and thus we can’t grope the female party-goers with impunity, darn it!  I sure wish I had thought of wearing an identity-concealing over-the-head rubber mask!” (that “pulls over the head like a diver’s helmet”)  ”Girls All Agog,” indeed.

“The mouth moves with your lips…you breathe…smoke..talk…even eat thru it.” Fortunately, “Sanitary laws prohibit return of worn masks.”  Because as Canadian writer André Berthiaume pointed out (probably in another context, but who knows?) “We all wear masks, and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin.”  

Send No Money!  What a deal, I can afford that!  Oh, wait, if I choose that option, I have to pay for the mask and C.O.D. charges to the postman?  Never mind, I’ll send cash instead and let Rubber-For-Molds, Inc. pay the postage charges.  Sadly, “George [unreadable]” from “427 6th St, Niagara Falls NY” apparently didn’t finish filling out the coupon, so we’ll never know which mask he would have chosen. 

“No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”  You’re absolutely right, Nathaniel Hawthorne.  If I purchase the “guaranteed perfect” Mystery Half-Wit rubber mask and wear it to “every dress-up occasion,” savouring the freedom from social constraints that it bestows upon me…will I eventually…become the Mystery Half-Wit?    

              Rampacked!  The Sadist poster (1963) Although Arch Hall Jr.’s film career is more often cited for its campy, bad-movie value (Eegah!, Wild Guitar) than for its inherent quality, The Sadist is generally considered his best, most “legitimate” picture.  Perhaps not coincidentally, the poster for The Sadist is also the most distinctive and well-designed Arch Hall Jr.-movie poster (although to be honest, none of the posters for his films is really poor).  The excellent graphic design is slightly offset by the odd text, which is not only nonsensical at times but is also confused in terms of grammar and punctuation.

            Still, the poster as a whole is quite effective.  The yellow-tinted photographic (I think, although it’s been re-touched) inset of Hall’s crazy eyes is deliberately too large for the silhouette behind it.  If it had been sized to fit the head, the impact wouldn’t have been quite so strong (and if the silhouette had been larger, the whole balance of the poster would’ve been off).  The black silhouette and the purple background are a nice match, both dark but different enough to distinguish one from the other.  The mix of photos (eyes, Hall Jr.’s figure) and art (the silhouette, the blonde victim) is interesting: not to over-think it (but hey, isn’t that what deconstruction is?), but making the Sadist himself more real (by using photographs) adds an extra dimension of threat, more than mere artwork of the character would have done. 
            The illustration of the terrified blonde is, for a change, not just “artistic license” or hyperbole, since The Sadist does include scenes in which one of the titular character’s victims (schoolteacher Doris, played by Arch Hall Jr.’s cousin, Helen Hovey, in her only film appearance) falls on the ground, has her clothing ripped, and looks terrified.  The “fallen female victim” motif is ubiquitous in pop culture, featuring prominently on pulp magazine covers, movie posters, comic book covers, paperback books, and so on, over many many years.  It’s nice to see that the artist matched up the gazes of fallen-Doris and psycho-Sadist: he stares evilly and lustily at her, and she looks back fearfully and suspiciously. 
            This is essentially a two-colour poster (purple and yellow), with the yellow reserved for the major points of impact—the eyes, the title-word SADIST—as well as the tag-line at the bottom (probably in yellow to balance the composition, with yellow elements at the top, in the middle and at the bottom). 
            The text of the poster doesn’t reach the same heights of effectiveness as the graphic elements, but it has its own charms (and flaws).  “A human volcano of unpredictable terror!” isn’t a bad tag-line (and is also used in the theatrical trailer for the movie, available on YouTube), but whoever printed the poster added an inexplicable period:  A HUMAN. VOLCANO OF UNPREDICTABLE TERROR!  Usually, poster text could use extra punctuation to break up run-on sentences, but in this case someone got a bit over-zealous (or maybe that “period” is just a printing flaw, since it doesn’t seem to appear on every version of this poster that can be seen online—I actually own an original copy of this one-sheet, but don’t have time to track it down and check to see if the dot is on it, sorry).
            The next line has attracted a bit of attention: “Never before a motion picture RAMPACKED with…suspense…terror…sudden shock, as THE SADIST.”  First, this isn’t really a sentence.  It should have been something along the lines of “Never before has there been a motion picture so RAMPACKED…[etc.]” 
            Also: RAMPACKED?  This appears to be a neologism combining “jam-packed,” “rampage,” “crammed,” and/or “rammed.”  Aside from the fact that “rampacked” sounds like the title of a gay porn movie, one wonders why a real word like “packed” wasn’t good enough.   Ad agency writer:  “It’s crammed with suspense…hmm…not strong enough.  It’s packed with suspense?  No…it’s jam-packed with suspense…not quite right…Wait! I’ve got it: it’s rampacked with suspense!”  His colleague: “Rampacked?”  Ad agency writer: “What?  It’s a perfectly cromulent word.”
            The rest of the poster copy is fairly routine, although “A Fairway International IMPACT Picture!” (to distinguish it from “A Fairway International ROUTINE Picture!” I would guess) is clever enough.  The tag-line at the bottom of the poster is filled with buzzwords relating to the film’s title:  a guy called The Sadist is of course filled with fiendish passion, and has to “torment, torture, kill.” 
            As an aside, the title of The Sadist is one of a number of ‘60s movies whose mentally-disturbed/sexual deviance-word titles seem to have been inspired by the success of Psycho (1960):  The Psychopath (1966), Teenage Psycho Meets Bloody Mary (1964), Anatomy of a Psycho (1961), Confessions of a Psycho-Cat (1968), Psycho a Go-Go (1964), Satan’s Sadists (1969), The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism (1967), Psychedelic Sexualis (1966), etc.
            The one-sheet poster for The Sadist is a surprisingly nice piece from a graphic-design standpoint.  The layout, images, and colour work well together to convey a sense of danger, mental instability, and tension.  The text is satisfactory, neither ludicrously overblown nor understated.  So one might say this poster is RAMPACKED with effectiveness!

              Rampacked!  The Sadist poster (1963) Although Arch Hall Jr.’s film career is more often cited for its campy, bad-movie value (Eegah!, Wild Guitar) than for its inherent quality, The Sadist is generally considered his best, most “legitimate” picture.  Perhaps not coincidentally, the poster for The Sadist is also the most distinctive and well-designed Arch Hall Jr.-movie poster (although to be honest, none of the posters for his films is really poor).  The excellent graphic design is slightly offset by the odd text, which is not only nonsensical at times but is also confused in terms of grammar and punctuation.

            Still, the poster as a whole is quite effective.  The yellow-tinted photographic (I think, although it’s been re-touched) inset of Hall’s crazy eyes is deliberately too large for the silhouette behind it.  If it had been sized to fit the head, the impact wouldn’t have been quite so strong (and if the silhouette had been larger, the whole balance of the poster would’ve been off).  The black silhouette and the purple background are a nice match, both dark but different enough to distinguish one from the other.  The mix of photos (eyes, Hall Jr.’s figure) and art (the silhouette, the blonde victim) is interesting: not to over-think it (but hey, isn’t that what deconstruction is?), but making the Sadist himself more real (by using photographs) adds an extra dimension of threat, more than mere artwork of the character would have done. 

            The illustration of the terrified blonde is, for a change, not just “artistic license” or hyperbole, since The Sadist does include scenes in which one of the titular character’s victims (schoolteacher Doris, played by Arch Hall Jr.’s cousin, Helen Hovey, in her only film appearance) falls on the ground, has her clothing ripped, and looks terrified.  The “fallen female victim” motif is ubiquitous in pop culture, featuring prominently on pulp magazine covers, movie posters, comic book covers, paperback books, and so on, over many many years.  It’s nice to see that the artist matched up the gazes of fallen-Doris and psycho-Sadist: he stares evilly and lustily at her, and she looks back fearfully and suspiciously. 

            This is essentially a two-colour poster (purple and yellow), with the yellow reserved for the major points of impact—the eyes, the title-word SADIST—as well as the tag-line at the bottom (probably in yellow to balance the composition, with yellow elements at the top, in the middle and at the bottom). 

            The text of the poster doesn’t reach the same heights of effectiveness as the graphic elements, but it has its own charms (and flaws).  “A human volcano of unpredictable terror!” isn’t a bad tag-line (and is also used in the theatrical trailer for the movie, available on YouTube), but whoever printed the poster added an inexplicable period:  A HUMAN. VOLCANO OF UNPREDICTABLE TERROR!  Usually, poster text could use extra punctuation to break up run-on sentences, but in this case someone got a bit over-zealous (or maybe that “period” is just a printing flaw, since it doesn’t seem to appear on every version of this poster that can be seen online—I actually own an original copy of this one-sheet, but don’t have time to track it down and check to see if the dot is on it, sorry).

            The next line has attracted a bit of attention: “Never before a motion picture RAMPACKED with…suspense…terror…sudden shock, as THE SADIST.”  First, this isn’t really a sentence.  It should have been something along the lines of “Never before has there been a motion picture so RAMPACKED…[etc.]” 

            Also: RAMPACKED?  This appears to be a neologism combining “jam-packed,” “rampage,” “crammed,” and/or “rammed.”  Aside from the fact that “rampacked” sounds like the title of a gay porn movie, one wonders why a real word like “packed” wasn’t good enough.   Ad agency writer:  “It’s crammed with suspense…hmm…not strong enough.  It’s packed with suspense?  No…it’s jam-packed with suspense…not quite right…Wait! I’ve got it: it’s rampacked with suspense!”  His colleague: “Rampacked?”  Ad agency writer: “What?  It’s a perfectly cromulent word.”

            The rest of the poster copy is fairly routine, although “A Fairway International IMPACT Picture!” (to distinguish it from “A Fairway International ROUTINE Picture!” I would guess) is clever enough.  The tag-line at the bottom of the poster is filled with buzzwords relating to the film’s title:  a guy called The Sadist is of course filled with fiendish passion, and has to “torment, torture, kill.” 

            As an aside, the title of The Sadist is one of a number of ‘60s movies whose mentally-disturbed/sexual deviance-word titles seem to have been inspired by the success of Psycho (1960):  The Psychopath (1966), Teenage Psycho Meets Bloody Mary (1964), Anatomy of a Psycho (1961), Confessions of a Psycho-Cat (1968), Psycho a Go-Go (1964), Satan’s Sadists (1969), The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism (1967), Psychedelic Sexualis (1966), etc.

            The one-sheet poster for The Sadist is a surprisingly nice piece from a graphic-design standpoint.  The layout, images, and colour work well together to convey a sense of danger, mental instability, and tension.  The text is satisfactory, neither ludicrously overblown nor understated.  So one might say this poster is RAMPACKED with effectiveness!

No, I haven’t given up…

but some serious family-health issues have taken me away from the Internetz (at least, serious Internetzing) for the past month.  Hope to return soon with more deconstruction of pop culture art!