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Saturday, May 23, 2015

For Memorial Day: a look at the first issue of BATTLE CRY magazine...

[EDITOR'S NOTE: A link to download a free PDF copy of the first issue of BATTLE CRY magazine is at the bottom of this post.] 

Memorial Day is a day to remember and honor the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces.

But it also makes me think of my late father, Robert Carl Deis, who served in the Army during World War II and survived.

Dad was a Scout and Rifleman in the 6th Infantry Division (specifically, G Company of the 1st Infantry Regiment). He saw hellish action in the South Pacific.

Like many veterans, when Dad came back to the States, he worked in blue collar jobs to support his family and struggled to understand and adjust to the enormous social changes that were taking place in the 1950s and 1960s.

American military veterans like my Dad and his Army buddies, who served and survived, were the primary audience for many of the men’s adventure magazines of the ‘50s and ‘60s.

And, there were millions of them.
In fact, there were nearly 16 million male veterans of World War II when that global conflict ended in 1945.

Some of them also fought in the Korean War, which began five years later. More than 5.7 million Americans served in that conflict by the time it ended in 1953.

Most of the 160 or so magazines in the men’s adventure genre were designed to appeal to the interests those veterans and, later, to the 8.7 million American men who served in the Vietnam War from 1964 to 1975.

Thus, almost all included war stories of various kinds: true history pieces and eyewitness accounts; serious dramatic war fiction; highly-embellished articles that mixed fact and fiction; and, wild over-the-top yarns featuring sadistic Nazis and Commies, scantily-clad babes, and battling Yanks. However, only some of men’s pulp adventure magazines had a specific focus on war.


Most of the magazines in the war mag subgenre were fairly short-lived (as were many other magazines in the men’s adventure genre in general). The longest-lasting was BATTLE CRY. It was published from late 1955 to mid-1971 by Stanley Publications, Inc., the flagship company of pioneering comic book and magazine publisher Stanley P. Morse.

When the puritanical 1954 Comics Code essentially banned violent or sexy images in comics, Morse discontinued his BATTLE CRY comic book and created the men’s adventure magazine BATTLE CRY.

The comic had lasted for 20 issues. That’s why the first issue of the men’s adventure magazine version, dated December 1955, was numbered Vol. 1, No. 21.

The first issue of BATTLE CRY magazine features a moving cover painting. Unfortunately, it’s uncredited. (My guess is that it may have been done by the great pulp illustration artist Clarence Doore, who did many of the early BATTLE CRY covers.) It shows two American GIs driving a jeep loaded with the flag-covered coffin of a fallen comrade. The words “LAST TRIP,” printed at the bottom of the cover, are the poignant title of the painting, not the title of a story inside.

On the contents page of this issue, there’s a fascinating introduction about the purpose of the magazine, presumably written by the magazine’s initial Editor, Harry Kantor.

This intro doesn’t mention anything about the transformation of the BATTLE CRY comic into a men’s adventure magazine.

Here’s how it explains the genesis and purpose of the new periodical:   

WE’RE mad. Good and mad. P.O’ed.
     This started because of something we overheard. We were reminiscing about the old days in England with the 8th AAF, when some joker butts in with, “The war’s over! When are you guys gonna forget it?” We didn’t answer him. We were too stunned to answer. But his remarks set us to thinking. And wondering.
     We wondered if that’s how most people felt. “Forget about 1940-45, it’s over and done with. World War II and Korea are just history.”
     Well, maybe so. But not to us who were in it. Especially those who shed some blood. We don’t forget that easily. Even if the others do. Korea was an example of that. Just a nice private little war. Only concerned those who were there and their families. Didn’t concern anyone else.
     Well, that’s what we’re sore about. You don’t forget that easily. Or you shouldn’t. And that’s why this magazine.
BATTLE CRY is to make sure you don’t forget.   
     What are our purposes? Our aims? Well, we’re not going off half-cocked and say that through these pages we hope to stop wars. We know that can’t happen. Even though we wish it could. Magazines don’t stop wars. People do.
     But we felt that it’s about time people found out what war is really like. The frustrations, the fears, the anguish, the futility, and all of the rest that makes up combat and the military.
     That’s why this magazine.
     Another reason. Sixteen million present and ex-service men and women. Somewhere on these pages you’ll find something that interests you. That concerns you. A shot of your old outfit. A battle you fought in. A buddy you lost contact with. We’re trying to make this the postwar
YANK. We’re trying to make this YOUR MAGAZINE.
     No, we’re not forgetting we were once in The Service. We’re damned proud of it.
     BATTLE CRY will help us to remember.

Inside the first issue of BATTLE CRY there are announcements of several regular features designed to let veterans communicate with each other — in the same way a modern Internet forum or Facebook group does for people who share certain interests.

For example, the “Whatever Happened To...” section was designated as a place where vets could post messages to old buddies they were trying to find or to announce dates and locations of reunions for their outfits. The “So You’re Out Now” feature was launched as an ongoing source of information about programs for veterans and to provide answers to questions vets sent in about problems they faced. 

The articles and stories in the December 1955 issue of BATTLE CRY and other early issues are not the type of wild-and-crazy “sweat magazine” style yarns that were the primary content of most Stanley Publications magazines in the 1960s and early 1970s (including issues of BATTLE CRY published in those decades).

Many stories were gritty, but not lurid, non-fiction and fiction war stories, such as:

“CALL ME TRAITOR!,” an insightful “as told to” story about a soldier who was a prisoner of war in Korea;

“THE BLOODY 100th,” a fact-based story about B-17 crews in the 100th Bombardment Group that reminded me of the recent history books MISSION TO BERLIN and MISSION TO TOKYO, by former men’s adventure writer Robert F. Dorr;

“TANK TRAP,” another fact-based story, about WWII tank crews;

“WORLD’S TOUGHEST KILLERS IN KHAKI,” a salute to the Australian military;

“THE BLOODY BUTCHERS OF MILNE,” an account of the WWII Battle of Milne Bay in New Guinea

“YOU DON'T COUNT FOR A DAMN,” a ripping WWII fiction yarn;

“YA GOTTA KILL ‘EM TO TRAIN ‘EM,” an endorsement of tough basic training techniques;

“WHAT MEN THINK OF IN THE FACE OF DEATH,” another story about the bravery of American bomber crews, this time B-24 crews in the South Pacific; and,

“SUICIDE SUB,” a true story about the USS Tang, a famed WWII submarine that sank 33 Japanese ships before being sunk by a malfunctioning torpedo in 1945, killing most of the crew.

Not all of the stories in the first issue of BATTLE CRY are serious. For example, there’s an article about the often laughable “GI SEX INSTRUCTION FILMS” (a.k.a. sex hygiene films) that were supposed to educate American soldiers about how to avoid catching a venereal disease (or getting the local gals pregnant).

There’s a humorous story about the, uh, side benefits of serving behind the lines in an office that had female staff, titled “I WAS A FILING TIGER.”

And, as usual in vintage men’s pulp mags, there are advertisements that often provide unintended humor, like the oddly-placed ad about the power of prayer that’s sandwiched between ads for illustrated porn booklets on one of the back pages.

There are also some classic cheesecake photo spreads in this issue, featuring the famed stripper Evelyn “Treasure Chest” West, the alluring, somewhat notorious actress and model Francesca De Scoffa and a lesser-known pinup model named Lee Wilson.

In the 1960s, BATTLE CRY moved increasingly into “sweat magazine” territory and left behind many of the original goals outlined in the Editor’s introduction in the December 1955 issue.

Yet, as noted by vintage magazine expert Dr. David M. Earle, author of the excellent book ALL MAN!: HEMINGWAY, 1950s MEN'S MAGAZINES AND THE MASCULINE PERSONA, men’s adventure magazines published in both the ‘50s and ‘60s played an important role in the lives of America’s military veterans. 

In an interview I did with Dr. Earle a while back, he explained:

“The most concentrated exploration of men’s adventure magazines that I make in the book, and which I find pretty enthralling and novel still, is how they offered veterans of World War II a means to deal with and categorize both their wartime experience and the difficulties of returning to United States. They returned to a society that was, for a large part, unaware of exactly how horrible their experiences had been. The bloody realities of the war had generally been censored by the government and avoided by the press.

Yes. The end of the war was obviously a happy time, but also a very traumatic time: a difficult shift to a postwar economy, pressures of suburbanization, the simple difficulties of readjusting, and even the difficulty of expressing, to your family and yourself, the experience of war. Men’s adventure magazines like BATTLE CRY featured stories by and about vets, soldiering, battle. They offered columns for reuniting with former war buddies. They returned men to the camaraderie of soldiering, but in a safe place. The stories about war provided a text and narrative for vets to identify with. This is one of the important parts of healing for PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder], hence why ‘rap sessions’ were implemented for vets returning from the Vietnam War. Audie Murphy, the World War II hero who became a famous actor, wrote an amazing story about this for BATTLE CRY in 1956 [“The Day I Cried,” August 1956] that was instrumental in breaking the previous taboo about discussing war-related mental problems.

The aspects of men’s adventure magazines mentioned by Dr. Earle are front and center in the first issue of BATTLE CRY. It remains one of the best issues of the magazine from its early, pre-sweat mag years.

In fact, I consider it a classic within the entire men’s adventure genre. That’s why I scanned in the entire copy and added it to the MensPulpMags.com virtual newsstand.

To download a complete, high resolution PDF copy of BATTLE CRY, December 1955, click this link or the image below. Then click the button to the right of the cover image that says FREE DOWNLOAD.

In honor of Memorial Day, I am making this issue available for free to interested readers.

This one’s for you, Dad.

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

Click this link or the image below to download a PDF copy of:

BATTLE CRY, December 1955

This is a digital copy of the complete issue, in high resolution PDF format, featuring gritty war stories, classic pulp art, vintage cheesecake photos of Evelyn “Treasure Chest” West, and much more.

BATTLE CRY, December 1955. Cover & stories

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Fidel Castro and Cuba in men’s adventure magazines: Part 1…

Recently, I've been reading stories in men’s adventure magazines from the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s about Fidel Castro, the Cuban Revolution and the first decades of Cuba’s Communist era under Castro.

Given the new warming of relations between the United States and Cuba and the fact that I live near Key West, which has deep cultural and historical ties to Cuba, I find Cuba-related stories particularly interesting.

Most men's adventure magazine fans are familiar with some of the gonzo “sweat magazine” style covers that feature Fidel lookalikes torturing scantily-clad babes. (Often using Cuban cigars, of course.)

A classic example is the one Norman Saunders painted for the cover of NEW MAN, November 1964. (Now in the awe-inspiring collection of men’s adventure magazine artwork owned by my MAM mentor and friend Rich Oberg.)

That Saunders cover goes with the titillating tale “SLAVES OF SIN FOR CASTRO'S TRAVELING TORTURE MASTER.” 

It’s one of many sweat mag fiction yarns about evil Fidelistas who torment barely-clothed babes and then, typically, get their just desserts at the end of the story.

But those are just one subset of the Cuba-related stories you find in men’s adventure magazines.

From the early 1950s to the genre's decline in the mid-1970s, MAM periodicals featured scores of stories about Cuba.

Some are pure fiction. Some are fact-based but highly stretched and sensationalized. Some are surprisingly straightforward news articles.

Taken together, these stories provide a unique and fascinating look at Fidel Castro, the Cuban Revolution, and the pre- and post Revolution eras in Cuba.

One of the most noticeable things about the stories is how their basic viewpoint changed over time.

Cuban politics were not high on MAM radar screens though most of the 1950s.

During much of that decade, the majority of men’s adventure magazine stories about Cuba were about the glitzy (Mob run) casinos and other types of, er, nightlife in Havana, which made it a tropical precursor of Las Vegas that attracted millions of tourists.

Stories like the sexposé “HAVANA’S AMAZING FLESH MARKET” in SIR!, June 1958…

The subhead and captions for the photographs laconically sum up the common thrust of such stories:

“Only a few hours from Miami, Cuba has no taxes, exists on tourist vice trade. Most Havana girls become prostitutes because it's the only job they can get in this lust-ridden city.”

“Gambling, like prostitution, is tolerated by government as source of cash. New $14 million casino, the Havana-Riviera, operates on 24-hour basis, said to be backed by U.S. gambling syndicate.”

“Chippies [prostitutes] come in all sizes, shapes, prices. In lowest, $2 gals lounge in doorways. Middle range houses charge $10 or $20 a night, chick goes to client's hotel, cooks breakfast for him next morning if she likes him.”

Relatively few men’s adventure magazine stories published in the early and mid-1950s focused heavily on the political situation in Cuba.

Those that did usually acknowledged the growing consensus that Cuban President Fulgencio Batista was a corrupt and brutal dictator who catered to (and raked in money from) wealthy Cuban businessmen, US corporations that operated in Cuba, and American mobsters who owned the big Havana casinos – while trying to ignore the severe poverty faced by most Cubans and suppress any political opposition or dissent.

One of the earliest men’s adventure magazine stories I found that reflects this is an intriguing one-page news brief in the May-June 1953 issue of HIS magazine. The headline describes Cuba as a “VICE TRAP.” The caption of the lead photo, showing a sexy dancer in a nightclub, calls it the "Rum and Rhumba" island.

But the focus of the story is actually on the growing political backlash against Batista.

And, although the timing was a bit premature, the conclusion of the story now seems prophetic. It says:

“Batista has used his dictatorial powers to attack—head on—the influential Socialista Popular—the Cuban Communist Party. He has also severed diplomatic relations with the U.S.S.R. Moves like this spell trouble, making mere internal corruption child’s play by comparison. The Cuban C. P. is going ‘underground,’ and Batista’s suppression of it is causing resentment among liberal Cubans, driving many of them into the C. P. ranks. If the situation should touch off riots, the Reds could take over the vital Caribbean bastion overnight.”

A photo at the bottom of the HIS story show Havana University students burning an effigy of Batista. Another shows heavily-armed government soldiers next to a wall painted with anti-Batista graffiti.

The covers of those issues of SIR! and HIS don’t feature Cuba-related illustrations. But they are very cool, so here’s a look for those who may be curious.

Unfortunately, there’s no artist credit for the HIS cover.

I’m hoping someone who sees this post can ID the artist.

If you can, please drop by the Men’s Adventure Magazines Facebook group and let me know.

Stories about the increasing political turmoil in Cuba began to appear with some frequency in MAMs and the mainstream media between 1956 and 1959.

Those were the final few years of the revolution led by Fidel Castro.

And, at that point, several things had become fairly clear.

Most observers recognized that Cuban president Fulgencio Batista was a bad guy.

Most understood that the majority of people in Cuba had good reasons for rebelling against him.

By 1957, it was also apparent that Castro and his ragtag but growing guerrilla army actually posed a serious threat to Batista.

Fidel and his top aides, such as his brother Raúl Castro and Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and the male and female fighters who followed them were often portrayed sympathetically by the American media, including men’s adventure magazines, during the late 1950s.

A good example is the fact-based story “Bayamo’s Night of Terror.”

It was published in MAN’S MAGAZINE, May 1958 (an issue that has a superb cover painting depicting one of Castro’s rebel soldiers by artist Mel Crair).

The story features one of Batista’s most infamous military henchmen, Col. Fermin Cowley. Cowley and his soldiers terrorized, tortured, killed and raped their way through Bayamo and other towns in 1957, in an effort to root out supporters of Castro.

In addition to recounting the series of bloody events that earned Cowley the nickname “Butcher of Bayamo,” the MAN’S MAGAZINE story includes details that you won’t find in mainstream publications.

According to the story, the widows and mothers of nine of the local men Cowley had killed were forced to look at photographs of their dead husbands and sons. It adds: 

“Each man had been castrated and on each shoulder had been placed the amputated parts, where they would be plainly seen.”

The story ends by describing Cowley’s fitting end. In November 1957, he was ambushed and assassinated in a hail of bullets by Castro partisans. His killing was reported US newspapers the next day. The Associated Press story about the incident included the Batista regime’s official spin, which was that Cowley was killed “in a plot organized by terrorist elements.”

Such stories help shed light on why Castro and the Cuban Revolution received positive news coverage and attracted many supporters in the United States in the late 1950s.

By 1957, American reporters were competing to be among the first to visit Fidel and his men in their remote hideaways in the Sierra Maestra mountains. One of the first to succeed was Andrew St. George, a freelance stringer for CAVALIER, one of the top tier men’s adventure magazines.

His story in the October 1957 of CAVALIER, “HOW I FOUND CASTRO, THE CUBAN GUERRILLA,” was a huge scoop. Alas, I don’t have that issue, but you can read the text online on the CAVALIER archive site.

I do have the February 1961 issue of MAN’S MAGAZINE, which includes the reminiscences of another one of the first reporters to interview Castro in his mountain hideaway, Chicago reporter Ray Brennan.

It’s illustrated with an amazingly cool painting by the great Basil Gogos and it’s another great piece of MAM artwork that now resides in the Rich Oberg Collection.

Coming up in my next post, a look at some more men’s adventure magazine stories about Fidel Castro, the final stages of the Cuban Revolution and the early years of Castro’s dictatorship.

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Comments? Questions? Post them in the Men’s Adventure Magazines Facebook Group.

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