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Wednesday, August 15, 2018


EDITOR’S NOTE: John Navroth has an encyclopedic knowledge of just about everything related to monsters and horror. On his long-running, award-winning blog, MONSTER MAGAZINE WORLD, his main focus is on vintage monster and horror magazines. But, as I’ve found from being an avid reader of that blog, John’s posts are wide-ranging and often touch on many related genres, from movies and novels to model kits and men’s adventure magazines. After John posted insightful reviews of several books in our Men’s Adventure Library book series that collect stories about monsters and killer creatures, we started an email discussion about our areas of mutual interest. In one exchange, John told me had once written an article about shrunken heads that mentioned the role men’s adventure magazines played in popularizing them in American culture in the 1950s and 1960s. I asked him if I could post that article here on my blog and he said “yes.” John had cool images to use for the post but didn’t have access to some of the MAM issues he mentioned. Luckily, I have them in my collection. So, I made scans of the covers and spreads and the result is below, in John Navroth’s first, and hopefully not last, guest post on MensPulpMags.com, “WHEN SHRUNKEN HEADS WERE BIG!” 

* * * * * *

For a time, you could see them hanging in just about every hot rod or roadster that cruised the streets.

Strung from rear-view mirrors, radio knobs or anything else that stuck out from the dashboard, they were a totem, a fetish, a collective counterculture howl of unconscious teenage angst. You’re probably thinking foam dice, right? Wrong.

We’re talking shrunken heads, Daddy-O!

Originally a war trophy and religious ornament of certain indigenous South American peoples, shrunken heads, or tsantsas as they are called in their native culture, they later became a curio, then a pop culture phenomenon to a generation of novelty-starved baby-boomers.

Robert Ripley & shrunken heads at CBS studios 1920sAlong with the aforementioned foam dice, Rat Fink decals, bobble-hipped hula gals and other wild and crazy ornamentation of (mainly) Southern California car culture, shrunken heads – or their rubber and plastic counterparts, anyway – were appropriated for use as another kind of symbol – that of the rebellious and untamed youth of the ‘50s and ‘60s.

How did these repulsive and downright morbid things ever become so popular?

It’s hard to say exactly, but like many odd and curious objects, they wound their way into the fabric of American society that, at the time, was thirsty for the exotic – not just the thirst for alcoholic drinks like Mai Tai’s and Zombie’s – but all manner of imported cultural kitsch from the islands to the jungles, anything that would help extend the dream of a never-ending Tiki party that celebrated the great post-war surge of American industry and wealth, all with Martin Denny, Arthur Lyman, or Les Baxter wax spinning on the turntable.

So, who do we have to thank for this oddball phenomenon?

The person that most likely popularized shrunken heads in the “civilized” world was a man by the name of Robert Ripley.

Born in 1890, Ripley became a paid professional cartoonist at the young age of 14. A year later he found regular work at the San Francisco Chronicle drawing sports cartoons.

Then he came up with an idea for a one-panel series that featured odd and unusual facts on just about anything under the sun, including those sent in by his growing readership.

This series eventually became known as the famous “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” cartoon.

Ripley was possessed of a wanderlust that took him on his first trip around the world in 1922, during which time he collected many curios and artifacts from the countries he visited.

He became especially fond of Asian culture, even going so far as to sign his cartoons, “Rip Li” for a time.

At one point, he found himself in South America.

Soon after he returned, the world was shocked and amazed to see photos of Ripley holding a bizarre . . . shrunken head in his hand, showing him gazing at it with a rapt fascination that was shared by anyone else who dared to look.

Reputedly, genuine examples of these curios from the mysterious jungle tribes of the Amazon could later be seen “in the flesh”, when Ripley’s Believe It or Not “Odditoriums” began springing up, housing the various objects d’odd he had amassed in his travels.

Few of these exhibits though, came close in popularity to the repulsive, but oddly compelling shrunken head displays.

Shrunken head at Orlando Ripley's OdditoriumRipley's TRUE WEIRD magazine August 1967

* * * * * *

The public’s curiosity for shrunken heads remained stoked with the advent of newsreels and television shows that depicted the adventures of world-wide travelers such as Lowell Thomas in lands hitherto only seen in encyclopedias.

For the first time, audiences could watch in the safety and comfort of their own home everything from African wildlife in action to climbers on Mt. Everest, to Sherpas in Tibet. They were also treated to images of the mysterious South American Indians proudly displaying their tsantsas, miniature trophies made from the severed heads of their slain enemies!

A subculture soon sprung up when GI’s returned to the States after World War II, many still trying to shake off the nerves that came with facing death every day. Returning to a more peaceful lifestyle in rapidly growing suburban America, they still had a hunger for action.

Consequently, the lingering interest in exotic lands, high adventure and the fascination for curious objects, including shrunken heads, began to be pumped through the bloodstream of pop culture by the “men’s adventure” magazines of the day.

Titles like MALE, STAG, and BLUEBOOK teemed with tales of daring exploits and narrow escapes by heroic GI’s, all with an M-1 carbine cradled in one arm and a half-naked island girl on the other.

The “sweats”, as they are sometimes called today, allowed the reader to vicariously relive the war action they had experienced just a few years before.

The addition of these stories of heroism and danger from all parts of the world, combined with the suggestive promise of sex at the end of the day, were all collectively designed to titillate the male ego.

Stories of shrunken heads, head-hunting, and cannibalism regularly appeared in these titles.

MALE, May 1956, cover by Stan BorackMALE, May 1956, headhunter art by Elliot Means

For example, the May 1956 issue of MALE includes a classic headhunter story that’s referred to as “RAID OF THE JIVARO HEADHUNTERS” on the cover. The cover features an eye-popping cover painting by Stanley Borack. Inside, the story is titled “I TRADED IN HUMAN HEADS” and is illustrated with artwork by Elliot Means.

The December 1957 issue of MEN included a cover story with the title: “My Head Was Next”. It features a cover painting by Walter “Wally” Richards.

A 1966 issue of STAG included a story by Carl Sherman with the lurid title, “Stone Age Island Headhunters.”

The STAG story was accompanied by a Mort Kunstler illustration that represented the iconic image that persists even today – a frozen moment of tense action between men (or monsters from the animal world) ready to do battle with a gratuitous bevy of nearly-naked beauties, wilting in a languid torpor and helplessly looking on.

MEN, Dec 1957 - Shrunken head cover by Wally Richards REVSTAG, Sept 1966 - Mort Kunstler GGA headhunters, Carl Sherman story

* * * * * *

One real-life beauty who defied convention was a travel writer who doubled as a pin-up girl – or was it the other way around? Her name was Jane Dolinger and she went by the more men’s mag-friendly nickname of “Jungle” Jane. She was, for a time, the hottest thing going. [See these previous MensPulpMags.com posts about Jane.]

One magazine described her this way: “As pretty as she is adventuresome, Jane Dolinger is a girl with steel nerves and soft curves. A former model, she chose to seek adventure in the wild jungles of South America and found it. Few women would go deep into the savage wilderness of Central Ecuador to get a story, but Jane is quite unlike most women. Fearless, formful, she got what it takes [sic] in more way than one.”

Dolinger was indeed a buxom, statuesque beauty, and the urge to compare her looks to an Amazon warrior was not without merit. To complete the package, “Jungle” Jane never seemed too reserved with exploiting herself and her obvious physical talents. She was a competent writer and was by all accounts, respectful to both the native peoples and places she visited. She was a bit of a “free spirit” to boot, going so far as to pose provocatively in a number of her photo shoots, sometimes topless . . . or even on occasion, nude!

MODERN MAN - 1963 03 March - Jungle Jane Dolinger storyA story appeared in MODERN MAN, March 1963. Entitled, “Jungle Jane: QUEEN OF THE AMAZON,” the byline was Miss Dolinger herself. As an example of her thrilling and adventurous style of writing, following is the text as it appeared in the magazine:

     My name will not he found in Burke's Peerage, but "Queen Jane" is known throughout the Amazon as the white girl who ruled a savage Indian tribe deep in the jungles of Ecuador. Admittedly, I will travel anywhere and do almost anything for a story but this is one adventure I had not planned and one I do not intend to repeat.

     When I set out by Indian canoe on one of my many trips into the Ecuador interior, I had no intention of visiting the Machaqui tribe--but my guide followed the wrong river and I found myself in the territory of these dreaded head-hunters. It was getting too dark to turn back, so we set up camp for the night--without a fire. With the moon riding high across the cloud-flecked sky, I heard the pounding of Indian drums, and I knew that messages were being sent up and down the river to advise the witch doctors that our group was near their main village on the banks of the Rio Tiputini.

     Early the next morning, we tried to slip away. But as we rounded a bend in the narrow river, we were intercepted by six canoes filled with painted Indians. They forced my canoe to the river bank and in Quechua, the native tongue of all Amazon tribes, told us bluntly that their brujo, or witch doctor, was expecting us.

     Prodded by their lances, my guide and I hurried down a wide jungle trail. It was a mass of bright flowers, and overhead in the trees were dazzling pink, white, purple, and black orchids. Flitting through the branches were dozens of yellow and blue macaws, long-billed toucans, and flocks of shimmering green parrots.

     It took two hours to reach the village--a dismal assortment of about 40 palm-thatched huts without walls. We were halted in front of one hut from which dangled a grisly shrunken head. From my experience in the Amazon, I knew that this was the sign of the brujo and that within the next few minutes he would decide my fate.

     A gaudily painted young man--slender, lithe, and wiry--emerged from the hut and studied me with his dark eyes.

     "Do you speak my language?" he asked in Quechua.

     "Not too well," I replied, "but enough, I hope."

     He scratched the back of his head, gave me the once-over, and then burst into a wide grin.

     "Last night," he said, "the drums warned that a woman was near our village, but I could not believe it. We have seen many missionaries, but you are the first white woman to come here...and now that you are here, I want to tell you that for many weeks I have dreamed about a white goddess who would come among us to be our queen."

    MODERN MAN, March 1963 Jungle Jane Dolinger p1&2 I stood open-mouthed not knowing if I should humor him or run. Either he was a playboy with a new line, or he was simply superstitious like the rest. Whichever he was, he was the man who called the shots; and knowing the Indian mind, I finally told the brujo that I, too, had been having dreams and that I had traveled to their village following a destiny over which I had no control. I could pour it on as thick as anyone, I thought, and this was exactly what the witch doctor wanted to hear. He nodded solemnly. Like all other tribes I had visited over the past few years, the lives of the Machaquis are steeped in superstition, and this which doctor was no different.

     I looked up and studied the shrunken head which hung grotesquely from a rafter of the hut. Three long strings of jungle vine tied the mouth shut. Like the head-hunting Jivaros, the witch doctors of the Machaquis sewed together the lips of their victims to make certain that the spirits of the dead men could not escape to wreak vengeance upon those who had mutilated their bodies. Yes, the brujo was serious--deadly serious--and I had gotten myself involved, for better or worse, beyond the point of backing out.

     After the witch doctor left, I was escorted by several Indian women to one of the huts where I was disrobed and clothed in the colorful garments of the tribe. But I made one concession to civilization. While most women were nude above the waist, I insisted on covering my bosom with garlands of flowers. Like all Machaqui women, my cheeks were painted with two red spots made from the juice of the achiote fruit.

     The witch doctor, whose name was Sagino (meaning "wild boar"), was a man of action. That night, the drums pounded. And by noon of the next day, nearly 400 Indians had arrived to watch my coronation as "Queen of the Machaquis."

     My guide had been instructed in the use of my Rollei, and I put him to work photographing the procedure. This was not only a great moment in my life--one which I wanted to record on film--but also, I knew, the pictures would be necessary to prove it!

     There were no white horses, no gilded carriage, and no triumphal procession. But even a transcontinental television hook-up would not have made me feel any more important as I walked along a trail to a throne of palm fronds. I was escorted to a small wooden bench draped in a piece of hand-woven material. The brujo appeared and put on my head a crown of multi-colored bird feathers.

     I do not know what I expected, but I was pleased to learn that there was nothing more to the ceremony, and that I would not have to go out into the jungle and slay a jaguar or shrink someone's head. I was a bona fide jungle queen, and my bird feathers were my authority.

MODERN MAN, March 1963 Jungle Jane Dolinger p3Each day after my coronation, I sat on the "throne" for an hour or two. I doled out to the women hair ribbons, mirrors, combs, cheap lipsticks, bobby-pins, and other trinkets which I always carry on my forays into the jungle. For the men, I had fish hooks and cigarettes, and for the chiefs, gleaming new machetes. In turn, the Indians brought me jungle fruits, colorful plumes of birds, neck laces made of monkey bones and jaguar teeth, and most important, golden nuggets wrapped in palm leaves. I learned later that some of the river beds in Ecuador are repositories for nuggets washed down the slopes of the Andes. The mother lode has never been found.

     It was not all fun, however. The food we ate could scarcely be called a gastronomical delight. A typical dinner consisted of banana soup, boiled boa snake, fried fish (with entrails intact), sweet potatoes, toasted gusanos (grubworms), wild honey, and chicha--a vile and potent brew. To see this food prepared was enough to turn my stomach. Young boa snakes, six to eight feet long, were first decapitated. Their still-writhing bodies were then dumped into clay pots filled with boiling fat. After being cooked for about a half-hour, they were fished out, cut into small pieces, and served.

     I might, however, have accumulated a fortune in gold nuggets had not sex reared its ugly (in this case) bead. On the fifth night of my rule, Sagino told me that all Machaquis had accepted me as their queen. They now wanted to make sure that there would be a successor. Sagino, as brujo, had been chosen by the chiefs to father my child.

     Luckily, I had anticipated something like this when I first met Sagino, so I did not act alarmed. When a white woman lives with savage tribes, they invariably want to find her a suitable husband, because nothing is so unnatural to them as to have in their midst a childless woman.

     I told Sagino I would be happy to comply with the wishes of his tribe. However, first there were certain acts which I had to perform alone in order to purify myself for the matrimonial couch. I clothed these acts in secrecy, claiming that they must be accomplished for the good of all the people of the tribe. I explained very carefully that early next morning I would leave in one of the canoes for a secret destination, there to make certain sacrifices, and bathe in the pure water of one of the many lakes in the vicinity. I would return within three days.

     I also told Sagino that my guide, who served as my personal servant, would accompany me for my own protection.

     When Sagino agreed, I breathed again. He even promised that as a wedding gift, he would give me a pocketbook made of monkey fur, twenty parrots, and a new hut.

     I almost regretted having to deceive the Machaquis, but I also knew what life would be like among them. My short-wrap-around skirt and flowered brassiere were hardly sufficient to protect my body from the bites of swarming, tiny black flies who bit harder than mosquitos and left scars that often remained for a year. The huts were always filled with clouds of smoke, and we slept on bamboo slats without covers and in the same clothes we had worn each day. Then, there was the food. I decided that jungle life could never compare with Paris or London.

     Next morning, while the village was still asleep, I quietly hurried into my slacks, blouse, and jungle boots and followed the trail leading to the river. My guide was waiting for me in the canoe. We hurriedly paddled upstream in the direction of Puerto Napo, expecting at any time to hear the drums signaling natives to stop us. But the drums never sounded.

     It had been a thrilling experience, but five days as "Queen of the Machaquis" had been more than enough.

     Sagino did not know it, but I had abdicated my throne.

* * * * * *

Amazon Head-hunters by Lewis Cotlow, 1954 - Cover by James Meese WMSo, what exactly were these “tsantsas”, these shrunken heads, and how exactly were they made?

These questions would be easily answered for anyone in 1954 that were curious enough to shell out 35-cents for Lewis Cotlow’s Signet paperback, AMAZON HEAD-HUNTERS, off the drug store spinner rack. Cotlow had observed first-hand the practice of head-hunting and subsequent head shrinking by the Shuar tribes indigenous to Ecuador and parts of Peru.

They were known by early European explorers as the Jivaro, but this term has in recent years been less used, as it is considered today to be derogatory, meaning “savage” or “uncivilized”. Historically, the Shuar are noted as being the only ethnic South Americans to successfully resist the Spanish conquistadores. As one might imagine, head hunting, and the resulting ritual of shrinking, has left a considerably larger impression on popular culture. Cotlow, an author, explorer and filmmaker, and who was quite well-known in his day, describes the process:

     Asapi took a sharp bamboo knife from his monkey-fur pouch and parted the hair of the enemy wishinu carefully up the back. Then he cut through the scalp neatly, from the bottom of the bloody neck to the top of the skull. Next he very carefully peeled back the skin, away from the skull, using the bamboo knife where necessary to free the flesh from the bone. In fifteen minutes he had removed the skin from the skull, which he tossed aside. With the skin inside out, Asapi then sewed the eyelids shut from the inside, after which he turned the skin right side out once more.

     From his pouch the tired but happy curaka took three short, pointed pins of chonta wood which he thrust through the lips. He wound long chambira fibers around the pins to make certain the lips remained shut.

     He then went to a jar of water that had been placed over a fire. Into it he dropped the juice of a vine that he knew would keep the hair from falling from his tsantsa. Holding the head by the end of the hair, he lowered it into the water. While the head cooked, Asapi went to the water’s edge looking for stones, round stones of certain sizes. As he found two or three he returned to the fire and put them in the ashes to become hot. He lifted the head from the water to see how it was coming along and noted with satisfaction that it had already begun to grow smaller.

     Asapi had to wander far up and down the stream to find enough of the stones he wanted, for there were eight other warriors going through the same process and all searched for stones. The boys who had come along helped, of course, and watched closely every operation performed by the fighters.

     After about two hours of boiling the head was about a third of the size it had been originally, and with a smile of satisfaction, Asapi took it from the pot of water, holding it by the hair and waving it so it would cool off enough for him to handle it. It did not look a great deal like a human face, for many of the features were out of shape and the skin was a dirty yellow. But Asapi knew he could take care of those things. He had done all this many times before.

     Holding the head in his left hand he made holes with a chonta pin along the sides of the incision, then neatly seed it together with fiber. He now had a kind of hollow sack that had only a few hours before been scowling at him and hurling insults at him. With a forked stick, Asapi reached into the fire and found a round stone that would just fit into the neck opening of his tsantsa. As he dropped it in there was a loud sizzling and a cloud of steam arose. Holding the head in both hands he rotated it rapidly so that the hot stone rolled around inside, searing away all loose flesh and drying out the skin.

     When the sizzling stopped that meant the stone was cool, so Asapi dumped it out and chose another hot stone, this one a little smaller, for the head had shrunk a bit more.

Photos from Amazon Head-Hunters by Lewis Cotlow (1954)James Meese headhunter art

     During the second whirling, Asapi took up a small unheated stone with a smooth flat surface and began to rub it over the outside of the face, pushing here, pressing there to form the features as they should be. So with stone after stone he seared the inside of the head, the heat shrinking it more all the time. And he shaped the features carefully, plucking eyebrows and eyelashes occasionally but being careful not to burn them or pull too many out,. There must be just enough to look in proportion to the small head.

     Finally, Asapi scooped up hot sand from under the fire and poured it into the head. He whirled it vigorously, poured it out when it had cooled, put more hot sand in. The hot sand reached every crack in the inside of the tsantsa, drying and shrinking it. When Asapi concluded that the process had gone far enough, he bound the neck opening with fiber, poked a hole through the top of the head, and pushed a long cord of fiber through it, doubled over a pin to hold it inside. Then he struck his lance into the sand at an angle, hung the tsantsa in the smoke over the fire, and lay down to contemplate his handiwork.”

[EDITOR'S NOTE: In 2011, Heritage Auctions sold this original painting by James Meese and IDed it as the cover art for the 1954 edition of the book AMAZON HEAD-HUNTERS. However, the painting is clearly different from the one on that 1954 book cover. Why it's different is a mystery. If anyone knows, please let me know.]

* * * * * *

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when shrunken heads began to be sold as pop culture novelty items, but sometime around the mid-1950’s ads for them began to appear in magazines, especially in the men’s sweats.

They were even seen for sale along with Venus Fly Traps and “Sea Monkeys” in the pages of kids’ comic books! Later, they were frequently found as an item for sale in the mail order pages of monster film magazines such as FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND, MAD MONSTERS and HORROR MONSTERS.

Shrunken head adsShrunken Head Apple Sculpture ad with Vincent Price

Shrunken heads had been offered for sale as curios as far back as the mid to late 1800’s after tales of the strange objects were brought back from exploration of the Ecuadorian and Peruvian regions.

A surge of counterfeit tsantsas followed, and they began flooding European markets in the early 1900’s.

Poster for THE FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE (1959)Early imitations were made with both human and non-human materials.

Human materials were acquired through the convenient but nefarious practice of unclaimed hospital dead, grave robbing and stealing from morgues (!).

One can easily imagine a South American version of Dr. Frankenstein or Burke and Hare! Non-human materials that were used were from goat or monkey skins. Today’s replica shrunken heads are made usually from goat skins and alpaca hair.

In 1959, during what might have been the height of the shrunken head phenomenon, a horror film hit the drive-ins that epitomized all the popularized notions of tsantsas.

Released by United Artists, THE FOUR SKULLS OF JONATHAN DRAKE starred Eduard Franz, Valerie French and Henry Daniell.

Paul Wexler played a living, walking embodiment of a tsantsa, complete with his lips sewn shut!

Monster Maven John Navroth as a kid WMDirected by Edward L. Cahn from a script by Orville Hampton, the film’s highlight was a sequence where the audience is treated to a scene of the mad Dr. Emil Zurich (Daniell) going through the largely historically accurate process (albeit accelerated for the movie) of shrinking a head in his cramped basement laboratory.

Amazing accuracy coming from a B-movie!

The realistic shrunken head props were designed and created by make-up man Charles Gemora, who had up until then, played the “man in the ape suit” in many low budget horror and comedy films.

The shrunken head market remained a staple of many novelty, joke and magic catalogues throughout the 1960’s.

As mentioned, they could be seen advertised within the pages of various monster film magazines of the period as well, with pronouncements such as “The Most Genuine Looking Shrunken Head Ever Made!”, “Looks absolutely real!”, and “Gives your den or ‘rumpus room’ that lived in look!”

Ads for shrunken heads were still seen into the early 1970’s.

But, as with every other craze, fan phase, and swag du jour, the fad just started to fizzle out.

Even today, you can still see shrunken heads for sale here and there (for instance, Seattle’s world-famous waterfront Ye Old Curiosity Shop has life-like replicas made from goat skin) and they remain on display as curiosities at Ripley’s Odditoriums around the country.

The market may have “shrunk”, but tsantsas will always be indelible as icons of one crazy pop culture phenomenon!

* * * * * *

EDITORS NOTE: Thanks again to John Navroth for this terrific guest post and his past reviews of books in our Men’s Adventure Library series! I look forward every day to your posts on your MONSTER MAGAZINE WORLD site, John. Cheers!

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Related reading and viewing…

Sunday, July 8, 2018

A look at our new book: CUBA: SUGAR, SEX, AND SLAUGHTER...

CUBA: SUGAR, SEX, AND SLAUGHTER, the latest book in the Men’s Adventure Library series I co-edit with New Texture’s head honcho Wyatt Doyle, is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Those of you in other countries can buy copies with free shipping worldwide on the Book Depository site.

This one is a collection of stories and full-color artwork from men’s adventure magazines about Cuba, Fidel Castro, Che Guevara, the Cuban Revolution and its aftermath.

The title is taken from one of the stories included in the book.

The wild painting we used for the cover was created by Norm Eastman. It was first used on the cover of MEN IN CONFLICT, February 1962, then reused on the cover of BATTLE CRY, May 1965.

Like several other books in our Men’s Adventure Library series, the CUBA book comes in two editions: a trade paperback and an expanded hardcover edition that includes an additional story and more artwork. (In fact, there are 20 additional pages of exclusive content in the hardcover edition, some of which is shown in this post.)

I started thinking about doing an anthology of Cuba-related stories more than ten years ago, when I first got serious about collecting and writing about men’s adventure magazines.

As my collection grew, I realized that hundreds of stories about Cuba and Fidel Castro were published in the men’s adventure magazines that flourished in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s.

As I read those stories, I realized that they provide a unique written and visual archive that reveals some intriguing things about Cuba and Castro, about how Cuba and Castro were viewed in the United States, and about how men’s adventure magazine publishers capitalized on current events.

In fact, I think they chronicle, illuminate, and dramatize what was happening in Cuba from the ‘50s to the ‘70s in ways no other American print or electronic media did at the time—or since.

Many MAM stories display a gut-level appreciation of why the people of Cuba passionately supported the revolution Fidel Castro led against dictator Fulgencio Batista. They also show an understanding of why there was equally passionate opposition to Castro, after he became an iron-fisted dictator himself.

The progression of events in Cuba during the Cold War era and the evolution of American views toward Cuba and Fidel Castro are traced in our book through a selection of stories written before, during and after the Cuban Revolution.

- CUBA in Men's Adventure Magazines p118 & 119 WMCUBA in Men's Adventure Magazines p2&3 WM

The covers of the magazines the stories come from and the interior artwork and photographs used for them are shown, along with dozens of other Cuba-related MAM covers and illustrations.

There’s also a special section about Eva Lynd, the actress, pinup model and artists’ model who I met several years ago and have since talked with many times and written posts about on this blog.

If you are a regular reader, you know that Eva was one of the favorite models for top men’s adventure magazine artists Norm Eastman and Al Rossi — and for many top pinup photographers whose photos appeared in men’s magazines during the ‘50s and ‘60.

She’s featured in some of the Cuba covers done by Eastman shown in our CUBA book. I also found out in conversations with Eva that in 1958, just before Fidel Castro took control of the country, she worked as a showgirl at the famed Riviera hotel and casino in Havana. And, while there, she was photographed by LIFE magazine and the famous artist, jewelry maker, photographer and bon vivant Sepy Dobronyi.

In the “Viva Eva!” section of our book, we feature some of those illustrations and photos, accompanied by a reminiscence Eva shared with us about her career and her time in Cuba. 

CUBA in Men's Adventure Magazines p44 & 45 WMCUBA in Men's Adventure Magazines p132 & 133 WM

Early MAM stories about Cuba tended to focus on the “fun in the sun” aspects that made the island one of the hottest Caribbean destinations for American tourists from the late ’40s through the late ’50s. In addition to great beaches and water sports, the glitzy casinos and night clubs in Havana, mostly run by American mobsters, were a big draw.

Another draw was what would now be called “sex tourism.”

That “attraction” is described in the first story in our book—“Havana’s Amazing Flesh Market” from SIR!, June 1958. It puts a harsh light on the realities of the brothels that “lure thousands of sex-starved Americans each year to Havana, the hottest capital in the world.”

The writer of the “Flesh Market” article, journalist J.L. Pimsleur, doesn’t mention that Fidel Castro and his guerilla army were currently waging a revolution from their base in the Sierra Maestra Mountains. But he does hint at coming storm, saying: “Cuba’s political system demands and depends on corruption, vice and violence. Until the police force is purged, social services organized and an intensive educational program for women instituted, vice will continue to prosper.”

As explained by the second story—“Sugar, Sex, and Slaughter,” from MALE, September 1959—Cuba suffered through many bloody dictatorships and revolutions during the past 500 years. This mini-history of the island, done men’s adventure magazine style, is both eye-opening and fascinating.

CUBA in Men's Adventure Magazines p20 & 21 WMCUBA in Men's Adventure Magazines p28 & 29 WM

That overview only briefly mentions Fidel Castro. But there are scores of other fiction and non-stories about Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution in men’s adventure magazines published between 1956, when Castro’s ragtag band of rebels began to gain worldwide notice, and New Year’s Day 1959, when those rebels marched triumphantly into Havana.

Most of those stories portray Fulgencio Batista and his army-backed regime as extraordinarily corrupt and cruel, even by Cuba’s standards. Typically, they portray Fidel Castro and his followers as brave freedom fighters. Many compare Batista and the military and police forces he controlled to Hitler and the Nazi Third Reich.

One example reprinted in our book is “Bayamo’s Night of Terror” from MAN’S MAGAZINE, May 1958. Though embellished, it’s a generally true account of how the Batistiano army leader Col. Fermin Cowley killed and tortured civilians in the rural town of Bayamo—and eventually paid for it with his own life. The subhead under the title reads: “Taking a page from Hitler’s book, the ‘Bayamo butcher’s’ soldiers pillaged the city, raped the women and systematically destroyed every rebel sympathizer they found...This is the shocking, shameful picture of life today in Cuba’s hinterland.”

Another story in the book, “Brotherhood of the Scar” from ADVENTURES FOR MEN, July 1959, is even more gut-wrenching. It’s portrayed as a true account “told to” writer Jack Barrows by the main character. In fact, it’s a work of fiction. Though it, too, is based on real incidents of extreme torture and cruelty committed by the Batista regime. (“Brotherhood of the Scar” is also notable for featuring a series of illustrations by the great men’s adventure mag and paperback cover artist Bruce Minney, “The Man Who Painted Everything.”)

CUBA in Men's Adventure Magazines p48 & 49 ABDCUBA in Men's Adventure Magazines p48 & 49 WMCUBA in Men's Adventure Magazines p62 & 63 WM

Both of these stories are well-written, graphic and moving. Nobody but a saint could read them—and other MAM stories about the Cuban Revolution—without feeling a sense of hatred for the Batista regime and a sense of righteous satisfaction when the rebels take their revenge.

There are many other MAM stories from the mid-’50s to the early ‘60s that are sympathetic to Castro and the Revolution. In addition to having the elements of action, adventure and violence, the Cuban Revolution offered another element of special interest to male readers: fierce, young, often attractive guerilla girls!

Sexy female freedom fighters are a common trope in all types of MAM stories set in various places and wars. Typically, they are mistreated former prostitutes, or “joy girls.” In stories set during the Cuban Revolution, they are fierce, loyal Fidelistas who suffered various types of abuse under the Batista regime.

In stories written after Castro turned from liberator to dictator, the joy girl freedom fighters are fighting to overthrow Castro, and Castro and his followers are compared to Hitler and the Nazis. They are often still former prostitutes, but they are women who were abused by Castro’s Barbudos (“bearded ones”).

The evil Barbudos are usually Fidel Castro lookalikes, wearing khaki uniforms. Often they are wearing black armbands that look similar to those worn by Nazis. But instead of a swastika, their armbands are imprinted with “26 JULIO,” showing that the wearers are loyal members of Castro’s “26th of July” movement—a name chosen in honor of Fidel’s first failed attempt to spark a revolution by leading an attack on the Moncada barracks in Santiago de Cuba on July 26, 1953.

CUBA in Men's Adventure Magazines p18 WMCUBA in Men's Adventure Magazines p14 & 15 WMCUBA in Men's Adventure Magazines p113 & 114

There are a few stories in MAMs that maintained a pro-Castro viewpoint during his first year in power. Some even rationalized not only the Revolution, but also the Castro regime’s execution and imprisonment of thousands of real or suspected Batista sympathizers and counter-revolutionaries.

An example is the story “I Kill for Castro” in CHAMPION, June 1959, which is purportedly an account by a Lieutenant in 26th of July Army who is heading up one of Castro’s firing squads. “At least 20,000 Cubans—20,000 men, women and children—died under Batista’s regime,” he explains. “This is why I kill. This is why I, a peaceful man, can hold the pistol to the heads of condemned prisoners and send their souls to hell. To those who question the ways of our justice, the justice of the Castro government, I say that it is a true justice.”

During the next two years, the depiction of Castro and his regime in MAMs—and in American media in general—became increasingly negative, and grew steadily worse.

During those years, Castro removed moderate Socialists from top positions in the government. He declared Cuba to be a Communist state and allied himself with Nikita Khrushchev’s USSR, America’s biggest Cold War nemesis. He had his brother Raul Castro and Che Guevara oversee the forced “nationalization” of most businesses and farms.

He also ordered the execution, imprisonment, or forced exile of thousands of potential political rivals, intellectuals, businessmen, farmers, and other people who opposed his policies or complained too loudly about the unkept promises he made during the revolution—promises to create a truly democratic Cuba.

Cubans forced into exile in the US soon joined with an underground movement of former Castro supporters on the island to try to find ways to overthrow Fidel. Their most visible effort was the Bay of Pigs fiasco in April 1961. That failed invasion, doomed to failure by the lack of military support from the Kennedy administration, gave Castro a PR victory and an excuse to round up and imprison more than 100,000 additional potential political opponents.

CUBA in Men's Adventure Magazines p12 & 13 WMCUBA in Men's Adventure Magazines p10 & 11 WM

In 1962, American U-2 spy planes discovered evidence of Russian nuclear missiles in Cuba, precipitating the Cuban Missile Crisis. This brought the US and USSR to the brink of nuclear war. Luckily—against the wishes of Fidel Castro—Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev blinked and withdrew the missiles.

Meanwhile, Castro began sponsoring socialist rebellions in various countries throughout the Caribbean and South America, under the guiding hand of Che Guevara. In our book, those efforts are described in the story “Castro’s Commie Blueprint to Take Over Latin America,” from the men’s adventure mag CAVALCADE, October 1961.

People who have romanticized views of Castro and Che and bought Che Guevara t-shirts in their college days may want to dismiss that story as “Red Scare” propaganda, but it’s basically true. Castro and Che did want to turn countries in Central America, South America and the Caribbean into the Western Hemisphere’s version of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, with Cuba in the position Russia played in the USSR. Moreover, his revolutionary efforts in Latin America did more harm than good to the people of those countries. Instead of leading to more glorious revolutions, they led to even more iron-fisted, right-wing dictatorships.

Meanwhile, although it can be argued that Castro was better than Batista in some ways, there’s no getting around the fact that he was a totalitarian dictator who killed, imprisoned and exiled thousands of Cubans. That fact, combined with his obvious anti-American, anti-capitalist, pro-Communist politics, made him and his followers anathema in MAM stories published from 1961 until the genre’s demise in the late ’70s.

The final stories in this book are a few of our favorite examples of fiction stories about Cuba and Castro from those years. One was written by the great Robert F. Dorr, whose MAM war and adventure stories are showcased in our book, A HANDFUL OF HELL. 

CUBA in Men's Adventure Magazines p102 & 103 ACUBA in Men's Adventure Magazines p107 WMCUBA in Men's Adventure Magazines p162 & 163 WM

Bob was a former State Department official who wrote hundreds of war and adventure stories for men’s adventure magazines, thousands of articles for military and history publications, and 80 aviation history books. His 1971 story for MAN’S ILLUSTRATED, about a mission to bring “Castro’s Bacterial Warfare Chief,” is a classic Dorr action yarn.

It’s somewhat similar in setup to the Paul Newman espionage thriller THE PRIZE. In fact, many of Bob Dorr’s best stories share themes with classic movies, where a a normal man finds himself in extraordinary circumstances when he gets caught up in larger conspiracies—a la Alfred Hitchcock’s NORTH BY NORTHWEST, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH, and THE WRONG MAN.

Others stories in the book are the type of over-the-top pulp fantasies that gave the most lurid, low-budget sub-genre of MAMs the nickname “sweat magazines.”

They are similar to the stories featuring sadistic Nazis that are most closely associated with sweat mags. But instead of Hitler and the Nazis, the villains are Fidel Castro and his followers. These stories and the artwork that goes with them—often done by MAM fan fave Norm Eastman—definitely do earn the adjective lurid.

A classic example included in our book is “Squirm in Hell, My Lovely Muchacha!.” The artwork for that one was done by Eastman, and Eva Lynd was the model for the hapless, scantily-clad senorita being tortured with a Cuban cigar by a sadistic Fidelista.

Other great artists whose work is shown in CUBA: SUGAR, SEX, AND SLAUGHTER include Mel Crair, Doug Rosa, George Gross, Mort Kunstler, Rafael DeSoto, Earl Norem, and Samson Pollen. Examples of Pollen’s original MAM artwork are showcased in our other recently-published book POLLEN’S WOMEN: THE ART OF SAMSON POLLEN.

You can see extensive flip-page previews of our CUBA and POLLEN books on the New Texture page on Issuu.com, along with other books published by Wyatt Doyle’s New Texture imprint.

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Click this link or the image below get copies of CUBA: SUGAR, SEX, AND SLAUGHTER

and other books in our Men’s Adventure Library series on Amazon

or go to the Book Depository site to buy them with free shipping worldwide

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Friday, June 1, 2018

Andrew Nette: pulp fiction historian, novelist, blogger – and real cool cat...

Andrew Nette with his recent books
I am more than a little bit in awe of Australian author, editor, pulp paperback expert, and pop culture scholar Andrew Nette.

He not only wrote one of best novels I’ve read this year: GUNSHINE STATE, a gritty, noir-flavored heist and revenge crime thriller set in Australia and Thailand.

He also co-wrote and co-edited the recently-published book about vintage “youthsploitation” paperbacks: GIRL GANGS, BIKER BOYS, AND REAL COOL CATS: PULP FICTION AND YOUTH CULTURE, 1950 TO 1980, published by PM Press — one of the best-researched, most interesting, most lushly-illustrated books I’ve ever read.

I also love Nette’s wide-ranging, interesting and insightful PulpCurry.com blog, which covers various types of pulp-related books, magazines and topics.

As if that’s not impressive enough, Nette was a professional journalist in Cambodia and other Asian counties for nearly seven years in Asia.

He co-founded the Melbourne, Australia-based indie publishing house of Crime Factory Publications, and edited story anthologies for that imprint.

His book reviews and short fiction stories have in dozens of print and on-line publications around the world.

His upcoming book projects include a sequel to GUNSHINE STATE, and a second anthology along the lines of GIRL GANGS to be published by PM Press in late 2018: STICKING IT TO THE MAN: REVOLUTION AND COUNTERCULTURE IN PULP AND POPULAR FICTION, 1956 TO 1980.

He has also written a monograph about the classic 1975 science fiction movie ROLLERBALL, which will soon be published by Auteur.

Teenage JungleSo, that makes three new Andrew Nette projects I look forward to reading later this year.

And, I haven’t yet read his first novel, GHOST MONEY, but it’s next up on my Kindle.

That one is a highly-praised crime story set in Cambodia.

In his “spare time,” Nette is in the process of getting a PhD degree at Macquarie University, one of the top universities in Australia.

His thesis is on the history of pulp paperback publishing in Australia.

I first saw mentions of Andrew’s GIRL GANGS book, in Facebook posts by two other vintage pulp mavens I highly respect: novelist, editor and blogger Paul Bishop and vintage paperback fanzine publisher Justin Marriott.

Despite the dark side of Facebook, it is the premier place for fellow fans of action and adventure novels and magazines from around the world to link up. (Many of us hang out in the men’s adventure-related FB groups here and here.)

After I bought GIRL GANGS and started reading it, I was immediately struck by several things.

One is that Andrew and his co-author and co-editor Iain McIntyre have an incredibly broad knowledge of vintage crime, “sleaze” and exploitation paperbacks published not only in the US, but also in the UK and Australia.

They also expanded beyond their own knowledge by including reviews, analyses and interviews with authors provided by more than 20 other contributors.

The second thing I noted is that Andrew and Iain use the modern, more inclusive definition of “pulp” that goes beyond the early pulp magazines.

Although it annoys some fans of early pulp magazines, the term “pulp” has evolved.

Teenage Jungle 02Just as “noir” has come to be an adjective applied to more than the black-and-white films made in the ‘30s and ‘40s, “pulp” has evolved into a useful and appropriate adjective for that goes beyond the digest-size magazines printed on rough wood pulp paper in the ‘30s and ‘40s.

I also noticed that Andrew and Iain approach the vintage novels featured in GIRL GANGS the way I approach vintage men’s adventure magazines in this blog and in the books in the Men’s Adventure Library series I co-edit with Wyatt Doyle, the multi-talented founder of the New Texture indie book and CD publishing imprint.

Like Wyatt and me, Andrew and Iain have a fan’s appreciation of how cool the stories and artwork are in the pulpy “artifacts” they feature.

But they also delve beyond that surface appeal and discuss their historical and cultural context.

In addition, they provide information about the publishers and authors, some of whom — like Harlan Ellison and Evan Hunter — went on to significant fame.

I plan to write several about GIRL GANGS, BIKER BOYS, AND REAL COOL CATS in future posts to discuss the many interesting similarities and connections between the novels it features and stories in men’s adventure magazines published during the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s.

I’ll start with a few connections that caught my attention in the first section of GIRL GANGS, titled — “Pulp Fiction’s Juvenile Delinquents: TEENAGE JUNGLE” — which focuses on subgenre of ‘50s novels that feature “JDs” and teenage gangs.

Many of the authors of the novels featured throughout GIRL GANGS had stories and “book bonus” versions of their novels published in men’s adventure magazines in the 1950s.

And, many of the cover paintings on the hundreds of books shown in GIRL GANGS (in glorious full color) were done by artists who also did cover and interior artwork for MAMs.

For example, one the JD novel covers featured in GIRL GANGS is the 1957 Pyramid edition of the exposé TEEN-AGE VICE by Courtney Ryley Cooper. (Originally published in 1939 as DESIGNS IN SCARLET.)

Teen-Age Vice by Courtney Ryley Cooper (Pyramid, G252, 1957) The cover art on that 1957 edition was done by the great men’s adventure magazine and paperback cover artist Samson Pollen.

Sam’s original MAM artwork is featured in our book POLLEN’S WOMEN: THE ART OF SAMSON POLLEN.

I also realized that the female and male models Sam used for the TEEN-AGE VICE cover painting are among the models he used for the very first illustration he did that was published in a men’s adventure magazine and for one or more of his early paperback covers.

We included a photo of Sam’s first MAM illustration in a sidebar in POLLEN’S WOMEN, along with the fascinating story Sam told us about it.

The painting shows four male juvies leering threateningly at a buxom blonde girl in an alley.

Sam explained that to find models who really looked like juvenile delinquents, he went to a poolroom in Brooklyn where he knew some tough teenagers hung out and persuaded several of them pose for photos.

He created a painting from those photos and used it as a sample to show Mel Blum, Art Director for the Atlas/Diamond men’s adventure magazines published by Martin Goodman’s Magazine Management company (ACTION FOR MEN, FOR MEN ONLY, KEN FOR MEN, MALE, MEN, STAG, etc.).

Blum loved it and bought it on the spot. Thus, it was that painting that launched Sam Pollen’s long, productive relationship with Magazine Management, resulting in hundreds of great illustrations like those featured in POLLEN’S WOMEN.

Blum used the illustration on the cover of the book about teen gangs ALLEY KIDS, published in 1956 by Lion Books, the paperback subsidiary of Magazine Management.

ALLEY KIDS is a reprint of the HELL’S KITCHEN, originally published by Lion in 1952.

The author, Benjamin Appel, also wrote another notable book about juvenile delinquents and the social conditions that helped produce them titled TEEN-AGE MOBSTER, published in 1955 by Avon.

When a condensed version of Appel’s ALLEY KIDS was used in the June 1956 issue of KEN FOR MEN, Mel Blum used a badly-cropped version of Sam’s poolroom teens painting as the illustration for it.

As Sam explains in POLLEN’S WOMEN, a surprising thing happened after that issue hit newsstands.

“One of the poolroom guys had a lawyer in the family, and he sued Martin Goodman for using his image without a model release,” Sam recalled. “You had to have signed permission to use their picture commercially. But I didn’t know about that. Martin Goodman was really good to me on that, maybe because he liked my work. He said that he’d take a certain amount out of each job he gave me, and I’d pay it off that way. But he never took a penny. They made some arrangement, I guess, and I never had to pay anything. He had his own lawyers, you know. That’s a hell of a way to get started, right?”

Samson Pollen juvies illustration WMKEN FOR MEN, June 1956 - Samson Pollen illustration WM

Sam also did a classic cover painting for another book mentioned in the “Teenage Jungle” section of GIRL GANGS, BIKER BOYS, AND REAL COOL CATS, Bud Clifton’s D FOR DELINQUENT, published by Ace in 1958.

Pollen’s cover painting for that one was reused two years later on the cover of the UK edition of THE BIG RUMBLE by Edward De Roo.

In 1997, the painting was reused again on the cover of TEENAGE CONFIDENTIAL: AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN TEEN PAPERBACK (an excellent book edited by Michael Barson and Steven Heller).

Another juvie cover painting by Samson Pollen appears on the cover of HATE ALLEY (“Days and Nights of a Juvenile Delinquent”), written by Martin L. Weiss and published by Ace in 1957.

Samson Pollen cover art, D FOR DELINQUENTHATE ALLEY (1957) cover by Samson Pollen bd

Sam recently sent me some of the reference photos he took for his magazine and paperback cover art.

I recognized the young lad in one of them as the kid with the hat in the HATE ALLEY cover painting.

Another guy in Sam’s photos looks like the guy in the car on that cover. And I think both are in Sam’s “Alley Kids” illustration that Mel Blum used. I’m showing those reference photos here for the first time anywhere.

In future posts, I’ll discuss some of the other connections between men’s adventure magazines and the “youthsploitation” novels featured in GIRL GANGS, BIKER BOYS, AND REAL COOL CATS.

Samson Pollen juvie reference photos bd2Andrew Nette's Pulp Curry blog

In the meantime, do yourself a favor and buy a copy of that book. It’s available on Amazon worldwide in paperback and Kindle format.

So are Andrew Nette’s novels GUNSHINE STATE and GHOST MONEY.

Also, check out Andrew’s PulpCurry.com site, where I was immensely pleased to see a recent post about POLLEN’S WOMEN.

Thanks, Andrew! You are a veritable gentleman and scholar — and a very cool cat.

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Comments? Corrections? Post them on the Weasels Ripped My Book Facebook Page, email them to me,
or join the
Men’s Adventure Magazines & Books Facebook Group and post them there.

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