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“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.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

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

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Robert F. Dorr talks about his classic war and adventure stories in A HANDFUL OF HELL – PART 2…

Robert F. Dorr with A HANDFUL OF HELL
My previous post here featured excerpts from the introduction that author Robert F. Dorr wrote for A HANDFUL OF HELL, the fourth book in our Men’s Adventure Library series.

HANDFUL is a lushly-illustrated collection of classic men’s adventure magazine stories written by Bob Dorr in the 1960s and 1970s, before he became the renowned author of more than 70 military aviation history books and, during the past year, two novels.

This post picks up in Bob’s intro where the last post left off.

The illustrations below are pages from our book that show the full-color scans of magazine covers and interior artwork used for stories that he mentions…

– Excerpts from ROBERT F. DORR'S Introduction to A HANDFUL OF HELL –

Some of my men’s adventure magazine stories from the mid-1960s depict everyday Americans in uniform, facing dire situations and doing spectacular things in the midst of war.

Robert F. Dorr, Osan Air Base, Korea, April 6, 1960A fictional example is my story about Captain Sidney Curtiss, the hero of “Fish Him Out—Or Else” from MAN'S MAGAZINE, December 1966.

He is an imaginary composite of several real F-105 Thunderchief pilots who were shot down and rescued during the air campaign against North Vietnam.

The portrait photo used to represent him in the story is a photo of a friend of mine.

It was one of a number of tales of air warfare I wrote that involve flying into the enemy guns and surviving—usually.

A similar example is my is my tale of besieged helicopter crews and GIs in the June 1967 issue of MEN magazine, “5 Downed GIs Who Gutted Ambush Alley.”

Two of the stories I wrote about five years into my Foreign Service career, when I was stationed in Japan, featured Medal of Honor recipients.

One was about U.S. Army Sergeant Tom Baker.

He died in a point-blank firefight with Japanese troops on Saipan, in the Mariana Islands in 1944, when a small number of American soldiers were overrun by several thousand Japanese troops.

Of course, there was no Internet when I wrote my story about him, published as “The Day the Boondocks Ran with Yankee Blood” in BLUEBOOK FOR MEN in 1969.

Today, with a quick search online, you can easily find and read the official Medal of Honor citation for “Baker, Thomas A.” on the website of the U.S. Army Center of Military History.

If you do, you'll discover an account of Baker’s heroism that is less embellished than mine but awe-inspiring in its own laconic way.

HANDFUL OF HELL, Robert F. Dorr p155 watermarkedHANDFUL OF HELL, Robert F. Dorr p178 & 179 watermarked

*     *     *     *     *

Another Medal of Honor recipient I wrote a story about that year was Angelo James Liteky, who later changed his name to Charles James Liteky.

He’s a priest who served as a military chaplain during the Vietnam War. For his heroic efforts to save wounded American soldiers in 1967, he received the Medal of Honor.

After the war, he continued to be a man of indomitable courage and strong convictions.

He opposed the Catholic Church’s celibacy requirements for priests and left the church to marry. In 1986, he renounced and returned his Medal of Honor in protest over U.S. training of military personnel who served the interests of dictators in Central America, at the School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia.

HANDFUL OF HELL, Robert F. Dorr p209 WMHANDFUL OF HELL, Robert F. Dorr p154, 176 & 190 3

My story about Liteky is limited to the combat action for which President Lyndon Johnson presented him with the Medal of Honor in a White House ceremony.

He wasn’t controversial then. But for some reason it wasn’t an easy story to sell.

In April 1969, I submitted it to Editor Phil Hirsch at MAN'S MAGAZINE, using letterhead from the Hotel Akahane in Tokyo.

Phil decided not to use my Liteky story, but he sent me a nice rejection note.

HANDFUL OF HELL, Robert F. Dorr p254 & 255 watermarkedHANDFUL OF HELL, Robert F. Dorr p253

In May 1969, I sent the story to Editor Carl Sifakis at MALE magazine. Carl sent back a handwritten note: “Sorry, we've done Liteky.”

So, I submitted it to B. R. Ampolsk. He owned and edited the publishing companies Q.M.G., Reese and EmTee, which published many men’s adventure magazines of varying quality.

My Liteky story finally appeared in the October 1970 issue of his magazine MAN'S ILLUSTRATED, October 1970 under the title “The Incredible Glory Saga of the Boondock Padre.”

*     *     *     *     *

The collection of character-driven, narrative stories that editors Bob Deis and Wyatt Doyle chose for this book reflect a different era, the 1960s and early 1970s.

In that era, American men who were not anti-war protesters or egghead intellectuals saw war and action stories in strange-sounding, exotic foreign lands as interesting, entertaining and manly.

The readers of men’s adventure magazines certainly liked them. And the men’s adventure magazines gave their readers what they wanted. So did I.

Some of the adventurers in stories I wrote for them evoke Indiana Jones, who hadn't been invented yet but must have been inspired by the men’s pulp adventure mag genre.

Indy's kind of adventurer would have fought those dirty commies in Guatemala, like my character in “I Fought Castro’s Cutthroat Guerrilla Squad” from FOR MEN ONLY, April 1970.

HANDFUL OF HELL, Robert F. Dorr p238 & 239 WMHANDFUL OF HELL, Robert F. Dorr p136 watermarked

Indy could also have crossed paths with the evil sheik in the fictional Arab kingdom of Maraq, which I created for my story in a 1971 issue of FOR MEN ONLY about a Yank soldier of fortune who uses a cross-dressing ploy, wonderfully depicted by artist Earl Norem.

Indiana Jones could also have encountered nefarious commies in Burma, like those I depicted in a story in BLUEBOOK, March 1972.

Then there’s my character Bud Prather, in “Borneo Longshot” from MALE, March 1970.

Bud parachutes into Borneo on a perilous search mission in territory ruled by Nalao headhunters.

When I wrote it, literacy rates in the United States were higher than today, many men were veterans who’d done service and many could find Borneo on a map. But in civilian life, few had any realistic hope of ever traveling to such exotic places. [Editor’s note: The photo of the character Bud Prather in the “Borneo Longshot” story is actually a photo of author Robert F. Dorr.]

HANDFUL OF HELL, Robert F. Dorr p224 & 225 watermarkedRobert F. Dorr Parachuting in Madagascar 1965

*     *     *     *     *

For the men’s adventure magazines I wrote some articles about well-known American heroes, like Medal of Honor recipients. But generally they were war and adventure stories with a realistic-sounding factual type background.

Those were the most common thing I wrote for the men’s pulp magazines until the magazines started changing in the late 1960s.

As they evolved to compete with magazines like PLAYBOY and HUSTLER, they had covers with photos showing fully exposed female nipples instead of painted covers and the types of stories changed.

So then I also began writing sex stories. Most were sex exposé stories like the “Sex Life of Our GI’s in Germany” [included in the hardcover edition of A HANDFUL OF HELL] and “Behind the Scenes of Budapest’s Sex Revolt” and “The Erotic Stewardess Tapes.”

I think people often do too much over-analyzing of such stories. I wrote many for the men’s pulp magazines and it would involve too much analyzing for me to say a great deal about them. But I can tell you there was no first hand research involved.

HANDFUL OF HELL, Robert F. Dorr p286HANDFUL OF HELL, Robert F. Dorr p289 & 290

*     *     *     *     *

An update on Robert F. Dorr...

On November 17, 2015, Bob announced on his blog that he had a brain tumor; specifically a Glioblastoma Multiforme brain tumor, the most common but also the most aggressive kind.

Robert F. Dorr with CRIME SCENE & HTMIn December, he had successful surgery to remove it. Then he underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

As I write this, Bob is still with us and still in good spirits. Unfortunately, his prognosis is not good.

As he explained in an update he posted on his blog on March 12, 2016:

“This type of tumor is always fatal. As one of my doctors, a sports fan, puts it, ‘It's undefeated.’

Depending on what you read, and how you respond to the three forms of treatment, surgery, radiation and chemo, life expectancy runs from three months to fifteen.”

Bob resolved to use whatever time he has left doing the things he loves. In addition to spending time with his family and friends, he has continued to write every day.

Not long after his surgery he published CRIME SCENE: FAIRFAX COUNTY, a mystery novel that features characters from his popular alternate history novel HITLER’S TIME MACHINE.

Bob recently told me he is now working on another novel, despite the fact that the effects of his brain tumor and surgery have made typing a slow process for him.

He has also been posting on his Facebook page and various Facebook groups, including the Men’s Adventure Magazines Facebook Group — which Bob suggested that I create back in 2009, shortly after I first connected with him via email.

In addition, over the past two months, he has written a fascinating and poignant series of blog posts about friends, colleagues and writers who have influenced his life.

I can say this: Robert F. Dorr has definitely influenced mine. He is an inspiration, as a writer and as a human being.

I will be forever grateful to have had the opportunity to get to know him. And, I am honored to have been able to work with him on our collection of his classic men’s adventure magazine stories, A HANDFUL OF HELL.

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

Related reading…

Monday, March 14, 2016

Robert F. Dorr talks about his classic war and adventure stories in A HANDFUL OF HELL – PART 1…

A HANDFUL OF HELL, Robert F. Dorr preview REV 
In November 2009, shortly after I launched this blog about vintage men’s pulp adventure magazines, I received a brief email from author Robert F. Dorr.

“I stumbled upon your blog more or less by accident,” he said. “I wrote hundreds of articles for the men's pulp adventure magazines. I still have a small collection of those mags in the basement. I didn't know anyone else was interested in them!”

I was thrilled.

I was aware, though not nearly as aware as I would become, that Bob Dorr is among the best and most prolific of the many great writers who once worked for the men’s adventure mags.

In fact, he’s right up there with the top luminaries who regularly wrote for the genre, like Mario Puzo, Bruce Jay Friedman, Lawrence Block, Walter Wager, Robert Silverberg, Martin Cruz Smith and Walter Kaylin.

Bob’s email to me led to many things.

It led to an ongoing series of correspondence and phone calls that turned into a long-distance friendship, spanning the 1,200 miles between his home in Oakton, Virginia and mine near Key West, Florida.

It led to a series of posts I wrote for this blog about Bob’s men’s adventure magazine stories and some of his later military aviation history books, such as HELL HAWKS!, MISSION TO BERLIN, MISSION TO TOKYO and FIGHTING HITLER’S JETS.

It led to the creation, at Bob’s suggestion, of the Men’s Adventure Magazines Facebook Group, which now has over 1,500 members from all over the world.

It led to the inclusion of two of Robert F. Dorr’s MAM stories in the first book in our Men’s Adventure Library series, WEASELS RIPPED MY FLESH.

Robert F. Dorr with 4 of his books. CAPTIONED2More recently, it led to the publication of our fourth book in the series, A HANDFUL OF HELL, a collection of classic war and adventure stories Bob Dorr wrote for men’s pulp adventure mags in the ‘60s and ‘70s.

A HANDFUL OF HELL is now available as a paperback and in a special limited edition hardcover that includes additional stories and images.

Both editions are lushly illustrated with dozens of full color scans of the covers of the magazines the stories appeared in and the interior artwork and photos used for them inside.

Both include a fascinating autobiographical chapter Bob wrote especially for the book about the stories and his amazing life as an Air Force serviceman in Korea, a globe-hopping U.S. State Department diplomat who wrote men’s adventure magazine stories on the side, and his second career as a full-time professional author.

Wyatt Doyle, my co-editor, book designer and head honcho at New Texture Books, has created in-depth previews of HANDFUL for the “Look Inside” feature of its listing on Amazon.

He also posted another, even cooler, flip-page preview that you can see on the website.

In this post on and another to come, I’ll provide a slightly different type of preview: excerpts from Bob Dorr’s comments about the stories in his introduction, along with scans of the book pages showing the covers and interiors for the issues and stories he mentions.

Here are some of the things Bob wrote in the introduction for A HANDFUL OF HELL...

*     *     *     *     *

Excerpts from ROBERT F. DORR'S Introduction to A HANDFUL OF HELL

HANDFUL OF HELL, Robert F. Dorr p10I was born on September 11, 1939. I grew up in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C.

From childhood, I’ve had two main interests: airplanes and writing.

I had my first paid magazine piece published in the November 1955 issue Air Force Magazine, the journal of the Air Force Association, when I was 16.

Even though I couldn’t become a pilot I was sufficiently interested in the Air Force that I enlisted the day after I graduated from high school, in June 1957.

The Korean War was over but it was still a very tense situation. It was like the Korean War without the shooting.

The nation of South Korea I was stationed in from 1958 to 1960 was a very crude, primitive country that bears no resemblance to what it looks like today. Today it is in many respects ahead of us in education and technology. But not then.

Part of what my squadron did was to fly reconnaissance missions in C-47s, In everyday jargon that would be a spy plane, although technically speaking a spy is a civilian. We were part of a massive communications intelligence operation that was going on around the world during the Cold War – and continues today.

I got out of the Air Force in August of 1960, just before my twenty-first birthday.

I then spent several years doing various things, mostly in California. I also went to Hong Kong. My goal was to become a writer.

The first example of my work in men’s pulp adventure magazines was published in REAL magazine, a story called “The Night Intruders” in REAL, April 1962. [Included in the special hardcover edition of A HANDFUL OF HELL.]

The editors paid me $100 for the story, about a B-26 crew in the Korean War. The Korean War was a popular subject then.

That was the first of what became several hundred stories and articles in those magazines. I’m using the word articles somewhat loosely because almost all of them contained a great deal of fiction, though I tried to make them all seem to be as realistic as I could.

I did the same thing with the first story in REAL that I did with almost all of the later men’s adventure magazine stories and articles.

I typed them up on 8½ by 11 typewriter paper on a manual typewriter, using Whiteout, booze and cigarettes.

01 - REAL, August 1962 cover01 - REAL, Aug 1962 - Robert F. Dorr story p1&2

I also tried to write literary short stories. During that era, Esquire magazine was the pinnacle for men’s magazines. It was publishing some of the great writers. I wrote a fiction story that came back from Esquire with a scribbled little note from the editor that said: “Almost made it.”

I never did succeed in publishing literary short stories. I wrote some but didn’t get them published.

But I began writing regularly for the men’s pulp magazines, in their heyday.

Writing for the men’s adventure magazines was a learning process in many ways. I think the guys that put out those magazines deserve a lot of credit for helping to teach a whole generation of writers how to write.

In terms of the readers of the men’s adventure magazines I wrote for in the first half of the ‘60s or so, when I did most of my writing for them, almost all of them were veterans. The situation was different then than it is today, when a veteran is perceived as sort of a separate category of human being that’s apart from everybody else.

These magazines were read by regular guys. The fact that they happened to be veterans had something to do with shaping the content. But the fact that they were veterans is sort of an added fact to whatever else is true about them, since so many men were veterans back then.

*     *     *     *     *

Between the Air Force and the time I entered the Foreign Service, there was a period of several years when I was going to college part time. I also worked some part-time jobs. But most of the time I was supporting myself with income from the men’s adventure magazines.

HANDFUL OF HELL, Robert F. Dorr p39 watermarkedI wrote a lot for Magazine Management company, which published STAG, MALE, FOR MEN ONLY, MEN and others, and for Pyramid Publishing, which published MAN’S MAGAZINE and some other men’s adventure magazines.

They usually paid me $350 per article and $350 was pretty good. Not only was it pretty good then, it hasn’t gotten much better. There are plenty of fine, high quality magazines that pay less than that today.

For most of that period, I was moving around a lot, so I had a Post Office Box in San Francisco.

I had a couple of Air Force buddies there that I hung around with, guys I had been in the Air Force with. I remember when we’d get together they would say: “Let’s go down to the Post Office today and see if you got a check from Man’s Magazine.” And every once in a while there would be that wonderful moment when there would be a check for $350 in the Post Office Box and we’d be rich.

One of the stories I wrote in 1962 was “Handful of Hell at 20,000 Feet!”

It was published in the October issue of CLIMAX, a men’s adventure magazine published by Macfadden Publications.

It’s about Air Force Staff Sergeant Henry “Red” Erwin, who received the Medal of Honor in 1945.

I was fascinated by Erwin’s bravery. He was a radio operator aboard a B-29 Superfortress bomber.

During a mission over Japan, he suffered grave burns all over his body when he grabbed and disposed of a phosphorus bomb that had detonated prematurely inside his plane.

It would have destroyed the aircraft and crew if not for his action.

Erwin’s hands, face and body were severely burned. He was covered with bandages and expected to die when he became one of the very few American enlisted airmen to receive the Medal of Honor, our country’s highest award for valor.

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I didn’t do interviews for my men’s adventure stories like I later did for my history books.

I did get to know Red Erwin decades when I interviewed Air Force veterans for one of my aviation history books, titled B-29 Superfortress Units of World War II, which came out in 2002. I never told him about the CLIMAX story. He died in 2002.

Ten years later, and 50 years after my Climax story about Erwin was published, my more accurate and very real account of his bravery appeared in my book MISSION TO TOKYO.

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Another story I wrote in 1962 that was ultimately titled “The Bloodiest Single Mission in Air Force History.” It was published in BLUEBOOK FOR MEN, December 1962.

I was familiar with North Korean geography, and I imagined an attack on the real industrial city of Sariwon, surrounded by anti-aircraft artillery. I gave my manuscript an Alistair MacLean-style name, “The Guns of Sariwon.”

Here’s a little aviation inside baseball about the name of that bomber. During World War II, the U. S. Army's standard medium bomber was the Martin B-26 Marauder. Late in the war, the Army introduced a new attack plane, the Douglas A-26 Invader. Both the B-26 and the A-26 had twin engines, tricycle landing gear, and guns protruding all over.

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When I sent my story about Douglas B-26 Invader bombers to BLUEBOOK, an editor wrote back and asked if I had photos. I did.

I sent him valuable photos that were never returned. They weren’t used, either.

BLUEBOOK illustrated the story with photos of the wrong kind of B-26: Marauders, not Invaders.

More understandably, BLUEBOOK changed my title for the story to “The Bloodiest Single Mission in Air Force History.”

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On January 1, 1963, equipped with a roundtrip ticket and little cash, I traveled to Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei and Hong Kong, lugging an Olivetti Lettera-22 typewriter.

During the trip I used it to write yet another tale about bomber crews in combat. This one was about a B-17 Flying Fortress bombing mission to Berlin.

I sent it to STAG magazine from Hong Kong. Stag editor Noah Sarlat, with whom I later worked regularly but never met, sent me a note saying he liked it be he questioned certain details in the story, such as did American crews really use the term “bomber stream”?

In fact, I told him, my background details were accurate. I’d never actually been inside a B-17, but I didn’t tell him that.

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The name for the plane in the story is based on a girl I’d hung out with in San Francisco, a Berkeley graduate student whose mother called her by the nickname “Lovie.”

My fictional B-17 needed a name so I dubbed the airplane Lovie. My title for the story was “Lovie’s Airborne Ordeal.”

I understood the writing style of the men's adventure magazines better than I grasped their method of determining titles. Noah changed it to “Rammed over Berlin.”

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My story "The P.O.W. General Who Tried to Kill Himself" was published in MAN'S MAGAZINE, November 1965.

It’s about a real man, Major General William F. Dean. He fought in Europe in World War II before commanding the 24th Infantry Division at the outbreak of the Korean War.

It was his misfortune to be in charge during the mid-1950 defense of the Pusan Perimeter when North Korean armor and infantry hammered a poorly equipped, under-manned, outnumbered U.S. ground force.

Dean was awarded the Medal of Honor for his defense of Taejon, not for his subsequent brave conduct as a prisoner of war.

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The Code of Conduct of the United States Fighting Force is a United States Department of Defense directive that took effect during the Eisenhower administration in 1955, two years after the end of the Korean War.

After the Code was adopted, members of the military were required to memorize it. The first of six articles read: “I am an American fighting man. I serve in the forces which guard my country and our way of life. I am prepared to give my life in their defense.”

The Code did not exist when Bill Dean was a P.O.W. But he lived up to it and performed heroically in North Korean captivity.

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In 1951, when I was in the sixth grade, local newspapers carried stories about a T-33 Shooting Star trainer — the two seat version of the F-80 fighter then doing battle in Korea.

I don't remember the newspaper stories making much of the fact that the T-33 pilot who lost his life was a decorated World War II fighter ace, Major Don Gentile.

Fifteen years later I wrote about Gentile's wartime exploits for MAN'S MAGAZINE, in a story called “I'm Going to Ram That Nazi Plane!”

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It is a true story, but a true story with some manufactured dialogue and a little embellishment.

In 2003, I wrote a more straightforward article about Gentile for the magazine WWII HISTORY.  Same story, done in different style, 38 years apart.

Another story I told twice, years apart, was about the P-40 Warhawk fighter pilot, 2nd Lt. George Welch. During the attack on Pearl Harbor, he and his buddy 2nd Lt. Ken Taylor were among the few American pilots who managed to take off and fight the Japanese. [The story “Yank Ace Who Battled the Japs over Pearl Harbor.”]

Working together, they downed several three Aichi D3A Val dive bombers. Welch also downed a Mitsubishi Zero fighter.

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Both men were awarded the highest U.S. Air Force medal for their bravery, the Distinguished Service Cross.

My story about Welch was the cover story in the December 1965 issue of Stag.

I retold his tale as the cover story in the November 2003 issue of WWII HISTORY magazine. Yes, history magazines are prospering nicely nowadays, thank you, and they owe a huge debt to the men's adventure genre.

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I entered the Foreign Service in 1964. 

My first overseas assignment was in Madagascar from 1965 to 1967.

I spent quite a bit of my spare time ay my typewriter during those years. Among other things, that led to two stories I wrote about American bomber pilots on lone-wolf missions into enemy territory to destroy vital enemy targets: “The ‘Impossible’ Raid” for STAG and “Yank Ace Who Saved the Anzio Invasion” which appeared in MAN'S MAGAZINE.

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The idea of one man, or a small force, attacking a vital target was the kind of thing men’s adventure magazine readers loved. It has also always been good stuff for novels and movies. I used it decades later in my novel HITLER'S TIME MACHINE.

The closest thing in air warfare in real life was the “Doolittle Raid” on Tokyo on April 18, 1942—eighty men in sixteen bombers led by James “Jimmy” Doolittle, a Lieutenant Colonel in what was then called the U.S. Army Air Forces, before the Air Force became a separate branch.

In the real world, when American could send thousands of planes on missions, as I later wrote about in books like Mission to Berlin and Mission to Tokyo, lone-wolf air attacks just didn't happen.

The “Yank Ace Who Saved the Anzio Invasion” is a story about a guy who flew the “other” bomber. The B-24 Liberator has never received as much attention as the B-17 Flying Fortress, even though there were more of them and they served everywhere during World War II.

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The same is true of the P-47 Thunderbolt Fighter, which was the most numerous American fighter manufactured during that war. My book HELL HAWKS! covers the pilots, crew chiefs, armorers, repairmen and maintainers who worked on the P-47 Thunderbolts. And the book is a direct descendant of the work I did for the men’s adventure magazines.

When I look at “Yank Ace Who Saved the Anzio Invasion” now I see the beginnings of a career writing articles and books about the experiences of wartime veterans in the Air Force, and I’ve been fortunate to be able to continue to do it.

To read Part 2 of the excerpts from Robert F. Dorr’s introduction to A HANDFUL OF HELL click this link.

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