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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Getting manly and “Living the Gay Life” with AMERICAN MANHOOD magazine

American Manhood was an interestingly schizophrenic and unique men’s pulp magazine.

It combined elements of a bodybuilder magazine, a men’s adventure mag and a gay-oriented male pin-up mag.

As I noted in a previous post here, American Manhood was conceived by the famed bodybuilder and fitness icon Josef E. “Joe” Weider.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the publishing company owned by Joe and his brother Ben — Weider Publications Inc. — published magazines in each of the genres that were mixed together in American Manhood.

Those two “Brothers of Iron” are best known as pioneers of the modern bodybuilding and fitness industry. But they were also pioneers in the realm of magazine publishing.

They published some of the first modern bodybuilding and fitness magazines, and some of the first and best post-WWII men’s bachelor and adventure pulp magazines. They even published a few vintage male model mags that appealed primarily to gay men.

The Weider magazine American Manhood didn’t fit snugly into any of those categories. It was an odd hybrid.

Consider, for example, the strange combination of stories, photos and ads in the May 1953 issue.

There’s a manly western adventure “book-length” story, “The Magic Door Of Llano Estacado” by Robert A. Cutter. This yarn glamorizing buffalo hunters has a nice illustration by artist G. Don Ray, who created artwork for various men’s magazines and mystery digests in the 1950s, as well as for The Official Boy Scout Handbook.

There’s also a manly African safari article by Tromp Van Diggelen, a famed white weightlifting champ and strongman from South Africa who was billed as “The South African Hercules.”

Like Ernest Hemingway and other iconic he-men of the Fifties, Diggelen liked to slaughter, er, I mean hunt big game. His story in American Manhood tells us about the various animals he killed, with the help of his big guns and a crew of native “kaffirs” (the South African N-word).

Following Diggelen’s article is another manly piece by American bodybuilding champion Clarence “Clancy” Ross, titled “You Don’t Have To Be Weak And Underweight.” (That’s right, you wimps, you too can get pumped up if you make the effort.)

Also in this issue is a photo spread and how-to piece of historic interest that features George Paine, titled “How You Can Broaden Your Shoulders.”

Paine was one of the first black bodybuilding champions, and Joe and Ben Weider were among the first bodybuilding contest sponsors to let blacks compete.

There’s an interesting mention of this in the online article “How Joe and Ben Weider Became the Founding Fathers of Bodybuilding.” It notes:

When Joe and Ben created their first bodybuilding competitions way back in the 1940s, they also broke race taboos that permeated American culture in general and American sports in particular.

“The Weiders liberalized bodybuilding at a time when black athletes were shunned from competition,” explains Leroy Colbert, the first black Mr. America. “Before that, the competitions were very prejudiced and unfair, and if you were black, you were not allowed to win. But when Joe and Ben began organizing, they said ‘If you’re the best, you’re going to win. We don’t care what color you are.’”

By opening the door for black and Hispanics in bodybuilding, Colbert maintains, the Weiders were the first to apply true sportsmanship to bodybuilding.

One or more ads for Weider bodybuilding equipment, nutritional supplements or books can usually found in most vintage men’s pulp magazines.

In American Manhood, the majority of the ads were for Weider products, like the two below.

However, unlike most men’s pulp mags, which also featured ads for stag films, nude photos of female models and heterosexually-oriented books and sex aids, the only ads in American Manhood that had sex appeal were geared toward gay men, like these ads for male beefcake photos…

As I noted in my previous post about American Manhood, Joe Weider had no problem with homosexuality. He wasn’t gay. But he also wasn’t homophobic.

By the way, back in the 1950s, the term “gay” was not the common term used to refer to someone who is homosexual.

That’s why the article in the May 1953 issue of American Manhood that’s titled “Living The Gay Life” is not a jokey double entendre. In fact, it’s an article about a very manly American military veteran who became the “dean of American weight training instructors” — Art Gay.  

This profile of Gay was written by Barton Horvath, one of many bodybuilders who had a long association with the Weider brothers. Horvath was featured on the cover of the fist issue of the Weiders’ first magazine, Your Physique, in August 1940. He later wrote articles for Your Physique and several other Weider bodybuilding mags, such as Muscle Builder and Muscle Power, as well as for their hybrid mag American Manhood.

Some of the articles in American Manhood suggest that teenage boys and young men in their early twenties were among the key target audiences.

The May 1953 issue included advice-style pieces like “You Can Become An Athlete” and “So You Want To Be A Marine!” My special favorite is the breathless article "SHOULD TEENAGERS PET?" by Dr. A. Michaels.

In case you’re wondering, the answer is exactly what your parents told you — “No!!!”

As summed up by the editor’s blurb for this helpful article: “If YOU think it’s smart for youngsters to pet then read this doctor’s views. This article may save you from ruining your life!”

Naturally, guys who are into bodybuilding, whether straight or gay, like photos of bodybuilders. And, American Manhood had plenty of them.

Below are some examples from the May ‘53 issue that were printed as lush duotones. From left to right, they feature bodybuilders Guy Higgens, Malcom Brenner and Alan Stephan.

The excellent, vaguely homoerotic cover painting used for the May 1953 issue of American Manhood was done by the talented pulp artist Peter Poulton.

An editorial blurb on the contents page says the lifesaving scene in his painting is: “Dedicated to the valiant men of the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard, who serve our country in time of war and peace, with total disregard to their own safety!”

Poulton provided the cover art for all 12 (or so) issues of American Manhood that were published from late 1952 to 1954.

He also did some cover paintings for the Weider magazine Mr. America during the brief period in the early Fifties when it used pulp-style painted covers.

But he is better known for his science fiction cover and interior art.

According to Robert Weinberg’s excellent Biographical Dictionary of Science Fiction and Fantasy Artists, Poulton provided artwork to Astounding Science Fiction, Fantastic Story Quarterly, Future, Science Fiction Magazine, Science Fiction Quarterly, Space Stories, Space Science Fiction, Startling Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories, Wonder Stories Annual and other vintage sci-fi magazines in the 1950s.

He also did cover art for science fiction books, such as Earthbound (1952) by Milton Lesser.

In the near future, I’ll give you my review of Lawrence Abbott’s new biography of “Jungle Jane” Dolinger, the unique adventuress, author and pinup model I’ve featured in some previous posts on this blog.

In the meantime, get in shape you girlie men!

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

Related reading…

Monday, October 18, 2010

American Manhood magazine didn’t ask and didn’t tell – and Joe Weider didn’t care...

I am a big fan of the bodybuilding and fitness guru Joe Weider.

But not because I’m into bodybuilding (or fitness, as my wife frequently reminds me).

I became a big fan of Joe by reading the men’s adventure magazines he created, edited and published with his brother Ben Weider in the 1950s and 1960s.

Of course, those magazines were just a small part of the amazing business empire the Weider brothers built.

Joe and Ben Weider helped create the modern bodybuilding and fitness industry and made millions from their bodybuilding contests, courses, equipment and nutritional supplements.

Ads for “Weider System” products and publications, which often featured a photo of Joe in his bodybuilding heyday, are as common in vintage men’s magazines and comic books as ads for rival bodybuilder Charles Atlas.

The Weider brothers played a major role in shaping the bodybuilding and fitness magazine genre by publishing a long list of popular muscle mags, starting in 1936 with the groundbreaking magazine Your Physique.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Joe and Ben also published men’s pulp adventure mags, like Fury, Outdoor Adventures and Safari, and men’s bachelor mags, such as Jem and Monsier.

Two of the Weider men’s mags — Mr. America and American Manhood — were unusual hybrids: part bodybuilding magazine and part men’s pulp magazine.

For both of these magazines (and most Weider periodicals) Joe focused more on the creative aspects, while Ben focused more on the business management aspects.

In the fascinating joint autobiography written by Joe and Ben, Brothers of Iron: Building the Weider Empire (2006), Joe Weider explained how these hybrid periodicals originated.

He said that by the early Fifties their first popular magazine, Your Physique, seemed “too French-sounding and soft for U.S. readers.”

One of the recent publishing trends that got Joe’s attention was the growing number of men’s adventure pulp mags.

He decided to remake Your Physique into a men’s pulp magazine, with “my own original mix of a muscle magazine and men’s adventure.”

Joe first tried this mix in the magazine Mr. America in mid-1952.

“The combination seemed to make sense, because young men bought both kinds of magazines, and guys who read tough stuff would want to build their bodies to get tough,” he wrote in Brothers of Iron. “It didn’t work, though, because the two genres had different readership. And even guys who bought both kinds of magazines didn’t want them together.”

The men’s pulp version of Mr. America ceased publication in the fall of 1953, although the Weiders later revived the title as a pure bodybuilding magazine heavily associated with the Mr. America contests they sponsored. (This was a forerunner of their Mr. Olympia contest, which helped make Arnold Schwarzenegger famous.)

Joe doesn’t mention the Weider magazine American Manhood in Brothers of Iron, but it was also clearly an attempt to create a hybrid periodical that combined elements of a bodybuilding magazine and a men’s pulp mag.

There were some notable differences between the two magazines.

Mr. America was more men’s pulp mag than muscle mag, especially when Joe revamped and relaunched it (again) in January of 1953.

In that 1953 “premiere issue” (which I featured here in a previous post), the contents are the common elements found most men’s pulp mags in the 1950s: sensationalized news articles and action/adventure stories, spiced up with semi-nude female cheesecake photos.

Some stories about bodybuilding did appear in Mr. America, but they did not predominate.

In contrast, American Manhood was more of a muscle mag than a men’s pulp mag.

Most of the articles were about bodybuilding, famous or up-and-coming bodybuilders, and health and fitness topics. And, instead of female cheesecake pics, most of the photo spreads featured beefcake shots of heavily-muscled men.

In fact, when you look at the covers of American Manhood and the photo spreads inside, it’s pretty clear that it would appeal more to hardcore bodybuilders and gay men than the hetero guys who formed the base readership of vintage men’s adventure magazines.

That didn’t bother Joe one bit. Which is one of the other reasons why I am a fan of Joe Weider.

He was way ahead of his time in his attitude toward homosexuality — in addition to being ahead of his time in terms of race and gender politics. (Joe and Ben allowed and encouraged African Americans, Hispanics and women in their bodybuilding competitions before such open-mindedness was widely accepted.)

Joe knew, of course, that some bodybuilders and fans of bodybuilding were gay.

He knew that a magazine like American Manhood had gay appeal. In fact, several other Weider magazines were much more blatantly homoerotic, such as Adonis and Body Beautiful.

But unlike many men in the 1950s and 1960s, Joe wasn’t homophobic.

“I had no hangups in that direction,” he wrote in Brothers of Iron, “I’ve never understood why guys get all shook up about homosexuality. Maybe they think it rubs off. Maybe they feel threatened because they’re not so sure about themselves.”

However, like the men’s pulp incarnation of Mr. America, American Manhood magazine didn’t appeal to a large enough straight or gay audience to last long.

From what I can tell, only about 12 issues of American Manhood were published, between late 1952 and 1954.

By the way, in case you wondered, Joe Weider is hetero.

His wife of many decades is the famous former pin-up model Betty Brosmer, who eventually became a fitness guru herself after marrying Joe in 1961.

As I write this, Joe and Betty are still alive and kicking. Ben died in 2008.

Also BTW, if you read the captions above you may have noticed that all of the excellent and distinctive cover paintings used for American Manhood were done by Peter Poulton, who was best known for his science fiction and fantasy mag artwork.

In an upcoming post, I’ll tell you more about Poulton and take a look at some of the stories that were published in American Manhood.

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

Related reading…

Sunday, October 10, 2010

“Love slave” stories in men’s adventure magazines – featuring evil geishas, evil hippie chicks and more!

Although the men’s adventure magazines published in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s often claimed to feature “real stories,” most of their stories were pulp fantasy.

I note this because today’s post is about “love slave” stories in those magazines.

For the record, just like any sane person, I agree that a real-life situation in which someone is held against their will and forced to be a sex slave is horribly wrong.

Of course, that doesn’t mean I can’t chuckle at the campy “love slave” fantasy stories in old men’s pulp mags and admire the artwork used for them.

I’m not talking about true crime style stories involving convicted psychos, which were occasionally published in men’s adventure magazines.

I’m talking about the “love slave” stories that are erotic pulp fiction yarns. In general, these stories are mild by today’s standards. But they were pretty wild for their day.

In some of these stories, men are held captive and ravished by evil — but gorgeous — women.

In other stories, women are the “love slaves.” Naturally, they are beautiful women and the evil men who hold them captive are ugly or otherwise abhorrent. Typically, in those stories, there are good-looking, manly heroes who help the damsels in distress escape.

One of my favorite examples of a love slave story that features a man as the “victim” is in the December 1969 issue of Man’s Combat.

The title of the story spells it out for you. Literally. It’s:


This is a supposedly true story related by a former World War II American fighter pilot.

He tells us that during the war he was flying a mission in the South Pacific when his Grumman Wildcat was shot down by the Japs.

He survived, but was captured by evil (but gorgeous) Japanese geisha girls on “Roki Jima” island. (An island I don’t think you’ll find on any map.)

On the magazine’s contents page, the editor offered this enticing blurb about the poor pilot’s story: “They whipped him, tortured him, and almost loved him to death!”

The painting on the cover of that issue of Man’s Combat (shown above), goes with another yarn about a man held captive and ravished by evil (but gorgeous) women.

In that one, they are evil hippie chicks! (IN case you didn’t know, evil hippie chicks are as dangerous as evil geishas girls.) The story’s title is a men’s pulp mag classic: “The Hippies Raped Him And Then They Told Him How Much It Was Going to Cost!”

Unfortunately, the wild artwork for both of these stories in Man’s Combat is uncredited. So I don’t know who the artists were.

Below are a few other examples of “love slave” stories from vintage men’s adventure magazines, starting with: “Love Slave To The Priestess Of Torture,” which features a hot, uncredited illo. It’s from the February 1966 issue of Real Men.

The November 1963 issue of the hard-to-find men’s pulp magazine Women in War features the story “REVOLT OF THE LOVE SLAVES.” (The cover blurb says this was “The nightmare the Nazis dreaded.”)

There’s another, earlier love slave revolt story in the December 1960 issue of Man’s Life magazine. It’s illustrated with an excellent duotone that’s unsigned and uncredited.

The cover painting used on that issue is also unsigned and uncredited. But I am fairly sure it’s the work of the great Wil Hulsey (often referred to as Will Hulsey), creator of the famed “Weasels Ripped My Flesh” cover painting.

Speaking of Hulsey, I recently found out that he is still alive and living in California. I contacted him and asked if he’d do an interview with me. He declined, but I may try again in the future.

In the meantime, be careful out there and watch out for evil geishas and hippie chicks.

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

New, recommended reading:

Jane Dolinger: The Adventurous Life of an American Travel Writer by Lawrence Abbott

This recently published biography is about “Jungle Jane” Dolinger, the only woman who was both a regular writer for men’s bachelor and adventure magazines and a pin-up model.