The holiday season got me thinking about what it might have been like if some of the pulpier men’s adventure magazines had used Christmas-themed cover paintings on their December issues.
In my mind’s eye I can envision a men’s pulp mag cover showing a bare-chested Santa fighting off a pack of killer weasels, or perhaps a scantily-clad Mrs. Claus being tortured by a leering Grinch dressed in a Nazi uniform, or maybe a panoramic battle scene showing a well-armed squad of elves facing a Banzai charge by Japanese soldiers, or…
It’s funny to think about. But, of course, actually trying to combine Christmas themes with the typical cover images most men’s adventure magazines used wouldn’t have worked.
That’s why most didn’t even try.
A few of the milder, high-circulation men’s adventure magazines, like True and Argosy, had Christmasy cover paintings on their December issues. But they were much more mainstream than most men’s adventure periodicals, so their cover paintings often looked more like what you’d see on The Saturday Evening Post than on a men’s pulp mag.
For example, the December 1955 issue of True magazine features a painting of three cowboys riding herd on some doggies at night, looking up at an unusually bright star. It’s a semi-manly variation on the Christmas story about the Three Wise Men.
Yeah, cowboys are manly. But the cover is only semi-manly because the scene is also kind of sweet, serene and sentimental — three words that do not apply to most men’s adventure magazine covers.
This December ‘55 True cover was painted by Fred Ludekens, an artist whose work actually did appear on The Saturday Evening Post and other mainstream magazines, including American Magazine, The Country Gentleman and even Good Housekeeping.
Some of the scenes he painted for those mainstream magazines were manlier than their usual Norman Rockwell-style fare, like his painting of a logger on the cover of the December 11, 1943 issue of the Post. I’ve also seen a couple of Western gunfight illos that Ludekens did for the Post on Leif Peng’s excellent illustration art blog, Today’s Inspiration.
But Ludekens work isn’t quite in the same wild, pulpy ballpark as the cover paintings used on most men’s adventure magazines. Compare his serene cowboy cover on True to the cover painting used that same month on Stag.
The cover painting on the December 1955 issue of Stag, by an uncredited artist, is in the animal attack subgenre of men’s pulp mag art. It shows one bloodied, limping hunter being held up by his buddy, as a snarling mountain lion glares at them in the foreground.
Like many men’s adventure cover paintings, this one tells a story. It visually suggests that the bleeding man has been attacked by the big cat. But you can’t blame the cat, or at least I don’t. Because as you look at the cover you notice the cat has been shot in the neck, presumably by one of the “brave” hunters.
The December 1955 issue of Sport Life has an even wilder and more absurd animal attack scene. It shows a vicious “mad Wapiti” elk going after a guy in sleeping bag in the middle of the night. (I’m guessing he deserved it, too.)
I don’t own that issue of Sport Life (yet), but I’m pretty sure the cover painting is by an artist I featured here in another recent post, the legendary Mort Kunstler. Kunstler did hundreds, probably thousands, of cover paintings and interior illustrations for men’s adventure mags in the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s. After that, the men’s pulp mag genre essentially disappeared and Kunstler went on to become much more famous for his historical paintings (especially his Civil War art).
That same December in 1955, the cover of Man’s Magazine featured a painting of two beefy lumberjacks arm-wrestling. It was done by John Leone, who also did many covers and interior illos for men’s pulp magazines (though not as many as Kunstler). Like quite a few men’s adventure magazine artists, Leone later became known for his Western paintings and prints.
The cover of the December 1955 issue of the men’s adventure pulp magazine Fury shows a fierce image of “the Mongol Monster” Tamerlane raising a bloody sword, painted by Tom Beecham.
Like John Leone, Beecham later became more widely known for his Western art, as well as his excellent wildlife art. In fact, the bio for Beecham on AskArt.com describes him as a Western and wildlife artist. It also notes that he did paintings and illustrations for Reader’s Digest, Bantam Books, National Geographic, Outdoor Life, Field & Stream and the popular Remington Arms calendars. All that’s true, but I (of course) am especially fond of Beecham’s work for the men’s adventure mags.
The back covers of Fury magazine often featured photos of popular pinup models, actresses and other glamour girls. The back of the December ‘55 issue has a full-page Christmas cheesecake photo of the once very popular model and actress Gloria Pall.
It’s an understatement to say that Gloria had a colorful life. In addition to being one of the top pinup models of the Fifties and hanging out with many celebrities, she has cult status for her racy 1954 TV show and persona Voluptua and her appearance as a burlesque queen in Elvis Presley’s movie Jailhouse Rock (1957).
Pall now has her own website and line of merchandise, which includes a fascinating series of books she’s written about her career and life. Her photos are still popular collectors’ items on eBay, as are vintage magazines that feature her.
Gloria Pall’s photo on Fury is one of my two favorite Christmas cheesecake pics from 1955.
The other one is not from a men’s adventure magazine.
It’s the Christmas photo of Bettie Page in the January 1955 issue of Playboy (which was actually published in December).
This photo is one of the many shots of Bettie taken by Bunny Yeager, the pinup model who became a fabulously successful pinup photographer.
Of course, Bettie Page is one of the most legendary cheesecake and fetish photo models of all time. Unlike most mid-century pin-up models, she’s even more famous now than she was in the Fifties and Sixties.
By the way, this is second annual Christmas post on MensPulpMags.com, the Men’s Adventure Magazines blog.
The first one was posted about this same time last year, reminding me that I have now been writing this blog for about a year and a half. Time flies…
As I said last year, at the risk of seeming, um, unmanly (and politically correct and incorrect all at the same time) I wish all of you who enjoy the cover art, illustrations, photos and background information I post here Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa and Happy New Year!
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Buy yourself or a friend something cool for Christmas. Here are some of my recommendations…