Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Farewell to writer Robert F. Dorr...

Robert F. Dorr (1939-2016)
Robert F. Dorr
, the great military aviation historian, journalist and novelist who got his start as an author by writing stories for men’s adventure magazines in the 1960s and 1970s, passed away on Sunday, June 12, 2016 at age 76.

Regular readers of this blog know that Bob Dorr is one of my favorite writers. I have done many posts here about his stories and books.

Most of Bob’s many fans know him best for the scores of books he wrote about military aircraft and the men who flew them, or for his regular columns and commentaries in military magazines and newspapers, or for the many articles he wrote for aviation and history magazines.

But before all that, he learned his craft as a writer working for men’s adventure magazines. He wrote hundreds of stories for them in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Many are among the best ever written for the MAM genre.

My publishing partner Wyatt Doyle and I included two of them in the first book in our Men’s Adventure Library series.

That first book is a kind of “all star” collection of MAM stories by writers like Lawrence Block, Harlan Ellison, Bruce J. Friedman and Robert Silverberg. That’s the league Bob Dorr was in as a writer of short stories (for any genre).

More recently, we worked with Bob to publish a collection entirely composed of war and adventure stories he wrote for men’s adventure magazine stories, titled A HANDFUL OF HELL.

I have talked to Bob off and on by phone and email since 2009, after he noticed this blog and contacted me to let me know he had written many stories for men’s adventure mags. He became a long-distance friend and eventually a collaborator and a mentor on indie publishing.

Bob’s passing hit me hard, even though I knew it was coming. He told me in a phone call last November, around the same time he announced it in a post on his personal blog on November 17, 2015.

That post reflected his inspiring outlook on life, his love of writing and his wry sense of humor. It said, in part:


     I have a brain tumor.

     It appears to be a Glioblastoma, the most common but also the most aggressive kind.

     I'm still able to talk, including talking on the phone, but the tumor is near the speech center and my ability to speak, to type, and to add and subtract is deteriorating rapidly...

     Robert F. Dorr - news from Bob Nov 2015I'm in good spirits amidst these gorgeous autumn days with wonderful support from family, friends, and readers.

     Well, okay, not every reader. One reader mailed me a package of Preparation H. That's genuinely thoughtful but maybe not the work of an adoring fan.

     My first paid publication was in the November 1955 issue of Air Force magazine when I was in high school. I got to be in the Air Force in Korea and to spend 60 years writing about those who fly and fight. A current example is the cover story on the B-24 Liberator in the January 2016 AVIATION HISTORY magazine...Thanks to my family, friends, and readers for a great time.

In the months after that shocking announcement, the effects of the brain tumor increasingly robbed Bob of his ability to hit the right keys on a computer keyboard.

Nonetheless, in the first few months after his diagnosis, he managed to complete and self-publish his second novel CRIME SCENE: FAIRFAX COUNTY. It was a follow-up to his alternate history novel, HITLER’S TIME MACHINE, his first foray into the realm of novels, though not his first in the realm of fiction.

That was a craft he learned and honed long ago writing for men‘s adventure magazines.

Bob put fiction writing behind him for decades. Then, about two years ago, he became increasingly disillusioned with writing books for mainstream publishers whose fortunes and marketing efforts were waning and decided that writing and self-publishing novels might be a fun alternative.

After his cancer diagnosis, Bob also wrote a series of blog posts about his life, his recent books and people who influenced and inspired him.

The titles of many of those posts include the number of days since Bob’s brain tumor had been discovered.

That struck me as both an acknowledgment of the fact that many people diagnosed with a Glioblastoma tumor die within a few months — and his determination to exceed that timeline and continue to work as a writer as long as he could.

Robert Des LauriersSome of the “influencers” he wrote about in his final blog posts were old friends he knew in the Air Force or during the few years he spent in California in the early 1960s, in between his military service and his 25-year career as a globe-hopping Senior Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. State Department.

Among other things, Bob found it humorous that he had used names and photos of several of his old friends for characters in men’s adventure magazine stories he wrote.

He first told me about that funny aspect of some of his MAM stories when we were working with him on his introduction to A HANDFUL OF HELL.

Wyatt and I also laughed with Bob when we found out that editors had used photos of him for certain characters in his men’s adventure stories. (Several are shown in the book.)

Another “influencer” he wrote about on his blog was Robert Des Lauriers.

Des Lauriers was among the hundreds of Air Force servicemen Bob Dorr interviewed for his magazine articles and history books. He was co-pilot of one of the B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bombers featured in Bob’s World War II history book MISSION TO BERLIN

That and other military aviation history books Bob Dorr wrote, like MISSION TO TOKYO and HELL HAWKS! (co-authored with former astronaut Thomas D. Jones) have aptly been described as being like BAND OF BROTHERS in the sky.

In them, Bob illuminates history and gives it an up-close-and-personal feel by focusing heavily on the first-hand accounts, letters and journals of individual American pilots and crew members.

The war stories Bob wrote for men’s adventure magazines were forerunners of that personalized approach. Some were about real people, many were fictional. But almost all were gripping, highly-humanized stories about rank-and-file guys who fought and died in the air and on the front lines in World War II, the Korean War and the War in Vietnam.

Robert F. Dorr blog post April 2016Bob also tipped his hat to many other interesting people in the blog posts he wrote after his cancer diagnosis.

Three of them are members of the Men’s Adventure Magazines Facebook Group that Bob Dorr co-founded with me over five years ago: novelists Paul Bishop, Chuck Dixon and James Reasoner.

Bob admired them both as talented professional writers and as pioneers in the realm of self-publishing, a course he pursued for his two novels and his last non-fiction book AIR POWER ABANDONED.

That one is a scathing, eye-opening exposé about what Bob called “the dismantling of the U. S. Air Force” that began after the first Gulf War in 1991 and became progressively worse during the tenure of Robert Gates as U.S. Secretary of Defense.

In his next to last blog post, Bob mentioned some amazing facts about himself. They provide a hint of how much he loved flying and writing and how active and prolific he was.

He wrote:

     I've flown aboard 128 different aircraft types. They include restored World War II aircraft like the P-51 Mustang, SB2C-5 Helldiver and B-25 Mitchell. I've also flown the F-15E Strike Eagle, the B-52H Stratofortress and the B-1B Lancer. I have a record of every time I've been off the ground in an aircraft, including every commercial airline flight I've ever taken…

     Since 1955, I've published 80 books, 6,000 magazine articles and 3,000 newspaper columns, mostly about the Air Force. I've enjoyed sixty "straight" years of writing about the Air Force and aviation (interrupted only partially by a 25-year stint as a Foreign Service officer.)

Robert F. Dorr blog post May 2016Knowing the end was coming soon, Bob noted that he had donated his extensive archives about military aircraft to the Glenn L. Martin Maryland Aviation Museum and the Commemorative Air Force (CAF), two groups that he felt “honor veterans, educate young Americans and inspire the public.”

Bob’s final blog post, on May 28, 2016, was poignantly titled “The Last Magazine Article.” 

It discussed what was, in fact, the last magazine article he was able to write: a history piece about Avenger torpedo bombers, published in the June 2016 issue of AMERICA IN WWII magazine.

In his final blog post, Bob also said something he’d said before in several others:

     “No one ever had a greater privilege than to write about Americans who fly and fight.”

That heartfelt line reflects a major thread that runs through of most of Robert F. Dorr’s written works, from his first published men’s adventure magazine war story in the April 1962 issue of REAL to his last piece for AMERICA IN WWII.

For me, it was a great privilege to have had the opportunity to get to know Bob and to reprint his men’s adventure magazine stories.

During the time I knew him, he became one of my own personal heroes — as a writer, as a keeper and teller of part of America’s cultural history and as a human being.

*     *     *     *     *

A number of websites did retrospective posts about Bob Dorr shortly before or after he passed.

Several said things that help shed light on Bob’s legacy, his worldview and his lifelong empathy for the airmen and soldiers who serve in the military.

War Is Bring on Robert F. DorrFor example, the obituary about Bob in the AIR FORCE TIMES recalled:

     “Dorr…became widely known and drew a dedicated following for using his columns to defend rank-and-file troops and call out senior military and Defense Department leadership when he felt they had fallen short.”

Another good farewell to Bob appeared on the ironically-named WarIsBoring.com website, which is anything but boring. It’s a fascinating site about “how and why we fight above, on and below an angry world.”

In a section that discussed Bob’s work as a military journalist, it noted:

     Airmen brought him their gripes and concerns — they knew he would listen to them.

     “I felt like I was able to communicate with them and that I was able to understand their situation, and sometimes I was able to write something that their bosses would listen to, [Dorr said]. The bosses haven’t always done a very good job of understanding what the troops want.”

     Dorr has never been reluctant to challenge authority. At times, his column took overtly oppositional viewpoints. In particular, he was vocal in his condemnation of torture and the U.S. government’s controversial detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba...

     Dorr was also a vocal opponent of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy for homosexual service members.

Another insight into Bob Dorr’s views is in a recent article about him on InsideNova.com, a news site focusing on Northern Virginia, where Bob lived for many years with his beloved wife Young Soon and their dog Autumn. It includes this quote by Bob: 

     “In World War II, we had the citizen-soldier who went in, did his job, came home and took off his uniform. That person represented the wishes and desires of the country, of the population. We have gone from having a citizen-soldier to what we call now the ‘warrior ethos.’ I don’t like American military members to be called warriors. I want them to be members of a country that goes to war only reluctantly and only when it must.”

One of the more personal farewells written after Bob’s passing was posted by writer and extreme sports athlete Tom Demerly, who rightly noted that Bob Dorr “brought knowledge, inspiration, entertainment, education and excitement to readers around the world.”

Another is the obituary written by Bob’s friend Chuck Oldham, editor of the DEFENSE MEDIA NETWORK website and publishing company.

A line in that sums up what anyone who knew Robert F. Dorr, either personally or through his stories and books, recognizes:

     “There will never be another like him.”

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Comments? Corrections? Post them on the Men’s Adventure Magazines Facebook Group.

Related and recommended reading…

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Pulp fiction, pulp art and pop culture treasures from the May 1973 issue of MALE magazine...

EDITOR’S NOTE: Recently, Robert F. Dorr, the great military aviation historian and novelist who started out writing stories for men’s adventure magazines, passed away at age 76.

Last year, I had the honor of working with Bob on A HANDFUL OF HELL, a collection of war and adventure stories he wrote for the men’s pulp mag genre. I first got to know Bob Dorr in 2009. In the years since then, I’ve written many posts on this blog about him, his stories and his books. I’ll be doing more. In the meantime, Bob’s passing led me to look back through my old posts with fondness. The post below was originally uploaded in April 2012.

R.I.P., Bob. I miss you…

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

By 1973, the genre of male-oriented periodicals called men’s adventure magazines was starting to fade away.

Most of those that remained had stopped using action/adventure paintings on their covers and switched to photos of semi-nude models.

For example, the cover of the May 1973 issue of MALE magazine featured a photo of an unnamed topless model laying in the grass.

The rest of the cover is taken up by a jumble of headlines.

Most of those fall short of the gonzo creativity of cover headlines used on men’s adventure magazines in the 1950s and 1960s.

But inside this issue there are some true pulp fiction, pulp art and pop culture treasures.

Among them are two stories by Robert F. Dorr, one of the best and most prolific of the authors whose work appeared regularly in men’s adventure magazines.

I am a huge fan of Bob’s past and present work. I’ve done several previous posts about his stories and books on this blog and in the Men’s Adventure Facebook Group.

After the men’s pulp mag genre disappeared in the late 1970s, Bob went on to become one of our country’s top military aviation historians.

He has written more 70 books, most recently two critically-acclaimed World War II history books about American pilots and their crews: HELL HAWKS and MISSION TO BERLIN.

His latest book – MISSION TO TOKYO: THE AMERICAN AIRMEN WHO TOOK THE WAR TO THE HEART OF JAPANis now available on Amazon.com.)

From the late 1950s to the mid-1970s, before Bob specialized as a history writer, he penned hundreds of stories for men’s adventure magazines.

He wrote war stories, exotic adventure yarns, spy stories, sex exposés (a.k.a. sexposés), and just about every other type of story typically found in men’s adventure mags.

Two of my favorite Robert F. Dorr stories are included in our WEASELS RIPPED MY FLESH! anthology.

Eventually, I hope to publish an anthology made up entirely of Bob Dorr stories.

Two potential options for that anthology are in the May 1973 issue of MALE.

One is an “as told to” outdoor adventure saga about a huge man-killing cougar. The title is “STRANGE REVENGE OF WYOMING’S MOST HUNTED GIANT PUMA.” The subhead at the top of the first two pages hints at the plot: “A Wounded Animal’s Fury Vs. A ‘Psycho’ Tracker’s Raw Hate.”

As that suggests, this one is different than the typical killer creature stories that were common in men’s adventure magazines. In this story, Bob Dorr shows empathy for the animal and portrays a human as the real villain.

The story’s rip-snorting duotone illustration was done by Mort Kunstler, though it’s credited under his favorite pseudonym Emmett Kaye. Kunstler was one of top illustration artists who did cover and interior illustrations for men’s adventure magazines from the mid-1950s to the mid-1970s. He went on to become one of America’s most renowned painters of historical art

The other Bob Dorr story in the May 1973 issue of MALE is a wild sexposé titled “THE EROTIC STEWARDESS TAPES.”

It’s portrayed as a true story. And, on the first page it’s promoted as a “Sensational Pre-Publication BOOK BONUS.”

Both claims may have been believable at the time.

In the late '60s and early '70s, the huge success of the best seller COFFEE, TEA OR ME? inspired a slew of sexy stewardess stories and books. Authorship of that semi-titillating, purportedly-true memoir was originally credited to two airline stewardesses named Rachel Jones and Trudy Baker.

When the book was published in 1967, two young women using those names went on a heavily-covered media tour to promote it.

The book became an international sensation, embedded a catchphrase into the English language, and was made into a TV movie in 1973 starring Karen Valentine and Louise Lasser.

Years later, it was revealed that the book was a hoax that had actually been written by the veteran paperback ghostwriter Donald Bain.

Bob Dorr’s stewardess story in MALE is equally fictitious. The “erotic stewardess tapes” it mentions came from his imagination. And, alas, none of the aviation history books he has written were about the sex lives of stewardesses. Like many “book bonus” stories in men’s adventure magazines, the alleged book did not exist.

I wish it did. Dorr’s story is actually racier and more fun to read than COFFEE, TEA OR ME? In fact, it’s a real hoot, starting with its opening paragraphs:

Tape segment. A hotel room:

KATHY: Take all my clothes off. Everything. I like to have a man undress me.

BURT: Here, baby. Oh, God, even for a stewardess you’re beautiful. You should fly in the nude like this. Your body is just about perfect.

KATHY: Don’t waste time staring. Carry me to the bedroom. I want you to give it to me, Burt. And I'll do anything you want, anything—

BURT: Baby, I’m all hot to trot, too. Okay. Here we go—

These are actual voices. On tape. The girl is an airline stewardess about to enjoy a one-night stand with a man she’s met on a flight.

Like most stewardesses, Kathy has an ad­venturous streak. She’s accustomed to sex in strange cities with strange men. But until recently she never suspected that her mara­thon sex life was being recorded, pho­tographed and documented in a study that's now become the talk of the airline industry.

The photo credits for the story say the shots of the sexy stews were taken by “Yulsman.” That refers to an interesting and talented photographer and author named Jerry Yulsman.

Yulsman’s most familiar photos are probably those he took of Beat writer Jack Kerouac and comedian and social activist Dick Gregory.

One of his shots of Kerouac outside the legendary Kettle of Fish Bar in Greenwich Village was featured on the cover of the 1983 edition of the book MINOR CHARACTERS: A BEAT MEMOIR, written by Joyce Johnson. Johnson was Kerouac’s lover in the late 1950s. That’s her in the neon glow behind Kerouac in the photo.

More recently, a similar Yulsman photo of Kerouac was used for a Gap clothing ad.

Another well-known Yulsman photo appeared on the cover of Dick Gregory’s first book FROM THE BACK OF THE BUS(1962).

In the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies, Yulsman sold celebrity and news-related photos to mainstream magazines, such as LOOK and COLLIER’S. He also sold glamour pinup shots of models, as well as staged photos like those used in Robert F. Dorr’s stewardess story, to many of the top men’s girlie and adventure magazines, ranging from PLAYBOY to MALE.

Along the way, he wrote several books. One is a classic how-to guide for would-be glamour photographers.

Coming up in my next post, more lost men’s pulp mag treasures from the May 1973 issue of MALE, including some rousing adventure and “good girl artwork” by Charles Copeland, Bruce Minney and Samson Pollen, and a Mafia story by the great Walter Kaylin (under his pen name Roland Empey).

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Comments? Corrections? Post them on the Men’s Adventure Magazines Facebook Group.

Related and recommended reading…

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

“Isabelle Eberhardt: The Legion’s Most Wanted Woman”

KEN FOR MEN, May 1957, Art by Julian Paul WM 
Most stories in the classic pulp fiction magazines published from the 1920s to the mid-1950s were just that – fiction – and were identified and promoted as such.

The men’s adventure magazines that flourished from the early 1950s to the mid-1970s also featured pulpy fiction yarns that the editors identified as fiction.

But the MAM genre added a new twist.

Men’s adventure mags include many stories that are portrayed as true, but which are, in reality, partly or even wholly fictional.

Figuring out the fact-to-fiction in MAM stories is often challenging. But I like trying and learn interesting things when I do.

For example, there’s a story in KEN FOR MEN, May 1957 that recently led me to do several hours of enjoyable and enlightening research.

It’s titled “ISABELLE EBERHARDT: THE LEGION’S MOST WANTED WOMAN” and was written by Bill Wharton.

I knew that Wharton had written other men’s adventure magazine stories. But I couldn’t remember how many and what kind. KEN FOR MEN, May 1957. Cover painting by Jim Bentley WMSo, I started my research by searching for other stories he wrote.

I looked at Wharton’s entry on Galactic Central, the amazing magazine index maintained by my fellow vintage magazine geek Phil Stephensen-Payne.

I searched the digitized contents pages I’ve made from issues in my own collection and Googled Wharton’s name.

I discovered that he wrote at least several dozen stories for various men’s adventure magazines, some for other types of men’s magazines and some for FATE, the long-running magazine devoted to stories about supernatural and occult topics.

He also write at least one novel, THE REAL 007. (A different “Real James Bond” than the one featured in the cool men’s adventure magazine story by Walter Kaylin that we included in our HE-MEN, BAG MEN & NYMPHOS collection.)

I couldn’t find any bios of Wharton.

But I did find a good bio of the artist who illustrated Wharton’s story about Isabelle Eberhardt in KEN FOR MEN, Julian Paul, on the official Julian Paul website.

Paul was one of the many talented mid-20th Century illustrators who learned his trade at the Art Students League in New York in the 1950s.

He went on to work as a professional illustration artist for 40 years. He did artwork for mainstream magazines, men’s magazines and print ads, and cover paintings for paperback books.

In the late 1990s, he “retired” to Port St. Lucie, Florida and focused on doing landscape paintings.

When I glanced at the two illustrations Paul did for Wharton’s story in KEN FOR MEN, May 1957, I thought it would probably be a fiction yarn.

But when I looked at the issue’s contents page before I started reading the story, I noted that it was included under the section titled “TRUE ADVENTURE.”

Most of the stories in that issue, including Wharton’s, are listed under that section. The other sections are labeled EXPOSE, OFF-TRAIL and BOOK BONUS.

I also noticed that the headings on the contents page of the May 1957 issue don’t even include a “FICTION” section, like many men’s adventure magazines do.

And, when I looked at the top of the top of the contents page, I focused on the fact that the subhead boldly proclaims: “KEN FOR MEN: TRUE FACTS, TRUE ADVENTURE.”

KEN FOR MEN, May 1957. Julian Paul artwork WMArtist Julian Paul

In other words, KEN FOR MEN was one of those men’s adventure mags that billed itself as a primarily fact-based periodical.

I’m not sure how many readers believed the stories in KEN FOR MEN were true during its sporadic publication from June 1956 to March 1961.

I doubt if they worried about it either way. Because the type of stories, artwork and “cheesecake” photos it featured were exactly what MAM readers enjoyed.

KEN FOR MEN was one of the “Atlas/Diamond” men’s adventure magazines that were published via subsidiaries of the Martin Goodman’s legendary Magazine Management company.

The Atlas/Diamond nickname comes from the fact that Atlas was the name of newsstand-distribution company Goodman owned and the magazines in the series were identified by the “Sign of the Diamond” logo, which appeared either on the contents page or some page in the back of each mag.

The Atlas/Diamond line included many of the best men’s adventure magazines. Magazines like MALE, STAG, MEN, FOR MEN ONLY, ACTION FOR MEN, MAN’S WORLD AND TRUE ACTION. (The list changed over the years as some mags were added by Goodman and others were abandoned.)

KEN FOR MEN, May 1957 - contents page REV2ACTION FOR MEN - 1961 05 May - Diamond Atlas logo

KEN FOR MEN, May 1957 is a classic Atlas/Diamond mag published during what I consider to be the golden age of that series, from the mid-1950s to the late-1960s.

The outstanding cover painting is by legendary pulp artist James “Jim” Bentley.

It goes with a Western story inside written by Dean Ballenger, an incredibly prolific writer who penned hundreds of men’s magazines stories and scores of paperback novels under various pseudonyms.

When I looked at the first Julian Paul illustration for the story “ISABELLE EBERHARDT: THE LEGION’S MOST WANTED WOMAN,” showing Isabelle about to be “dragged behind a horse for two hours,” I assumed it was fiction. That scene and the opening paragraphs are certainly more cinematic than you’d expect from a fact-based historical piece:

      THE girl raised herself on one elbow and stared with bloodshot eyes across the undulating dunes of the Sahara Desert.
     The dead camel, in whose shade she sheltered against the fierce noonday beat, stank to high heaven. But she leaned back against it and closed her burning eyes again to the intense blue heat of the sky. Twenty-four hours ago she had slit into the camel's guts to get at its water supply. Even that was finished now as she waited in an almost vain hope that someone would find her.
     It was towards sunset on her fourth day alone in the desert, after she had been without water for thirty hours, that eight Touareg tribesmen appeared on a sand dune and saw the vultures suspended in the still air over something half a mile away. They turned their camels in that direction and a few minutes later stared down at the unconscious girl.
     Isabelle Eberhardt early 1900s via MensPulpMags.com“Si Mahmoud!” one of them shouted and leaped down from his camel with a waterbag in his hands. Gently the men lifted the girl to the back of a camel. They took her to their camp in the shadow of the Riff Mountains. A few days later she was up and around again, singing ribald songs and drinking potent desert liquor with the men who had saved her life.

Then came a sentence that made me curious. It said:

     Of all the adventurous women of this century, few can compare with Isabelle Eberhardt, known throughout the Sahara as Si Mahmoud.

Just for the heck of it I Googled that name.

The search yielded thousands of results. I was amazed and a bit ashamed that I’d never heard of her.

But thanks to the story in KEN FOR MEN and what I found on the Internet, I now know quite a bit about Isabelle – and have become a fan.

Isabelle Eberhardt was a pioneering, boundary-stretching, cross-dressing female adventurer and journalist who traveled North Africa at the turn of the 20th Century and wrote about its people, Islam and the controversial impacts of French colonialism in Algeria and adjacent areas of the greater Saharan region.

And, she was indeed viewed hostilely by most of the French Foreign Legion commanders who were assigned to “pacify” the nomadic tribesmen and other people who lived in that region.

After reading the KEN FOR MEN story, I read dozens of online posts about her life, starting with her Wikipedia entry.

That led me to watch the movie ISABELLE EBERHARDT, an excellent 1991 biopic available for streaming on Amazon Prime.

It stars Mathilda May as Isabelle and Peter O'Toole as the French Army general Hubert Lyautey, who served as a colonial administrator in Algeria and Morocco in the early 1900s.

I also found an interesting episode of the TV travel show GREAT JOURNEYS that traced Isabelle’s life and travels. It’s titled THE OBLIVION SEEKER: ISABELLE EBERHARDT.

After doing that enjoyable research, I reread Wharton’s KEN FOR MEN story to compare what I’d learned with what he wrote.

His story is embellished with several fictional scenes he appears to have created for dramatic effect.

They include the opening dead camel gambit, the scene in Isabelle she is tortured by Legionnaires by being dragged behind a horse, and scenes related to the second illustration by Julian Paul, in which she seduces a French Foreign Legion officer and then has him shot and killed.

However, many other things in Wharton’s story are either true or quite close to the historical facts about Eberhardt.

Isabelle Eberhardt movie posterIsabelle Eberhardt movie still

Isabelle was a well-educated, multilingual, rebellious prodigy who grew up in Switzerland and developed a high interest in Arab culture and writing early in her life.

She first traveled to Algeria in 1897, at age 20. Once there, she made friends with local tribesmen and religious leaders, converted to Islam and traveled the desert in traditional desert robes under the name Si Mahmoud. She was even initiated into a branch of the mystical Sufi sect of Islam called the Qadiriyya.

Over the next seven years, Eberhardt wrote news stories for a Swiss newspaper owned by a radical French publisher named Victor Barrucand.

As Wharton notes in his story, she was one of the world’s first female foreign news correspondents and possibly the first female war correspondent.

Her news stories exposing the brutalities and slaughters committed by the French Foreign Legion in their effort to subdue the Saharan tribes earned her the enmity of the many of the Legion’s top brass.

Isabelle Eberhardt photos at age 20 REVMeanwhile, her habit of dressing as a man, drinking heavily, smoking kief (the precursor of hashish) and having casual sexual liaisons with both young Arab men and Legionnaires earned her a scandalous personal reputation.

There were also suspicions that she was either a spy for the French or the rebellious Algerian tribes or a double agent for both.

Based on that suspicion and her unladylike behavior, French officials deported her several times. But her love of North Africa, adventure and Sufi mysticism kept drawing her back.

As noted in Wharton’s story, she ultimately married an Algerian soldier (named Slimane Ehnni) to have more legal protection from deportation.

Also as noted by Wharton, a Muslim man tried to assassinate Eberhardt with a sword in 1901.

Some accounts suggest he thought she was working for the French or believed she deserved death for flouting Islamic laws.

Others say a French commandant hired him to kill her because he suspected she was giving information about Legion activities to rebellious local tribes.

Isabelle’s attacker slashed Isabelle’s arm with his sword but failed to kill her. Contrary to Wharton’s version, historical accounts say he was prevented from finishing her off by passersby who restrained him, rather than by her skillful use of the dagger she carried. 

Also, contrary to Wharton’s story, the French General Hubert Lyautey (nicely played by Peter O’Toole in the ISABELLE EBERHARDT film) was friendly toward Isabelle and she toward him. In fact, off and on, Lyautey used Eberhardt as a liaison with local tribal and religious leaders. (Something that helped fuel suspicions that she was a spy for the French.)

Eberhardt’s death at age 27 was as unusual as her life. She drowned in a desert town. Wharton describes it vividly and fairly accurately in his story.

Isabelle Eberhardt's grave & headstoneIn 1904, Isabelle was living in a small mud-walled building in the Algerian town Aïn Sefra, located at the edge of the Sahara desert at the foot of the Atlas mountains.

On October 21, 1904, a rare thunderstorm swept over the area, something that had not happened for decades. Runoff from the mountains created a flash flood that smashed through Isabelle’s house, drowning her.

Wharton ends his story like this:

     Her name lives today as it did then, and there is no Arab-man, woman or child-in the Middle East who does not know the story of the white woman who became a leader of the Arab Brotherhood and who drowned in the heart of the Sahara Desert.

What Wharton doesn’t say is that Eberhardt’s celebrity status in Europe reached a high point a few years after her death.

After the flood, General Lyautey took charge of her burial. He had her laid to rest in the local cemetery and erected a granite tombstone at the head of her grave.

Lyautey also found a cache of Isabelle’s unpublished stories and her personal journal in her house. He sent them to Victor Barrucand.

Barracund published a set of her stories in 1906 in a book he titled DANS L'OMBRE CHAUDE DE L'ISLAM (later called IN THE SHADOW OF ISLAM in English editions). It was a hit. Two years later he followed that success by publishing Eberhardt’s journal, which also became popular.

Interestingly, Bill Wharton’s 1957 story in KEN FOR MEN predates the more recent upsurge of interest in Eberhardt in the US, UK and other English speaking countries.

In recent decades, Isabelle’s unique life has been the subject of novels, a play, a dramatic movie, a video biography, TV shows and even an opera.

Her own works have remained in print and modern editions continue to published. One of the most popular nowadays is THE OBLIVION SEEKERS, a collection of Eberhardt’s stories and journal notes edited by Paul Bowles, the expatriate author and composer who lived in Tangier, Morocco and was a mentor to many Beat writers.

Meanwhile, the number of posts about Isabelle Eberhardt on the Internet has proliferated into the tens of thousands.

Given all that, I was a bit surprised that my own first exposure to her was in a men’s adventure magazine story that came out long before she became a modern feminist icon and rebellious cult figure.

But, as my revelation shows, you can learn lots of things you didn’t know about by reading old men’s pulp adventure magazines.

Some of those things are even true...Sort of.

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Comments? Corrections? Post them on the Men’s Adventure Magazines Facebook Group.

Related reading, listening and viewing about Isabelle Eberhardt:


If you want to read the entire story about Isabelle Eberhardt in
KEN FOR MEN, May 1957, you can download a PDF copy of that complete
issue in my Payloadz store by clicking this link or the image below.

KEN FOR MEN, May 1957. Contents collage V2