THE connection between sex, art, truth, and magazines may not seem close to some Americans, but that can only be because they have not examined lately our urban news-stands, or visited their village drug-store. Had they done so they must have become conscious of the rise of a great new American literature, ‘throbbing with personality,’ ‘baring the human soul in all its elemental passions,’ letting in the light upon all mysteries of sex, and serving its country by brushing aside the last of our mid-Victorian reserves, reticences, and retirements. Prudery lies slain, false modesty has expired, truth and frankness are enthroned upon their proper pedestals; the human form, too long hidden, has come into its own as in classical antiquity; another precious bit of Anglo-Saxon hypocrisy has died a-strangling. This is revolution, indeed, and what must commend it to all good business-men is that here reform, like virtue, brings its own reward. Our newborn literature pays its snappy way. The dollar has, metaphorically, struck hands with Truth, Progress, Art, and the Revelation of Personality. Overnight a dozen readers grow where but one grew before. No low-descending sun but beholds the rise of a lodestar of the new monthly journalism. The reception of each one leaves no doubt that the little red schoolhouse is at last coming into its own; its graduates are proving in large numbers that they are ready for the high school of the sex magazines.
Let any Doubting Thomas go on a tour of inspection and see for himself. Mr. Frank Kent took a venturesome journey last summer into a hitherto terra incognita — the 5000-inhabitant towns between the Baltimore Sun office and San Francisco, our only bulwark against the unmoral Japanese. Here is his testimony: ‘Between the magazines and the movies a lot of these little towns seem literally saturated with sex. . . .’ The smalltown people, he explains, respond more keenly to the new literature because they, having more leisure than bigtown dwellers, are always more avid readers of all sorts of periodicals. In Steubenville, Ohio, he reports, ‘out of 110 publications in a single store 68 were either out-and-out smut or bordering on the line.’ In Fairmont, West Virginia, ‘1800 copies of a single monthly, exclusively devoted to sex experience and the nude in art, are sold of each issue, says the dealer, mostly to women.’ The principle upon which the new magazine producers act, declares this hostile critic, is that there is no such thing as satiety in sex literature in moral America. Hence a new magazine appears just about as quickly as the last to arrive is well established. In defense of the large city, it must be pointed out that in the leading hotel of Mr. Kent’s own beloved Baltimore the up-to-date news-stand groans with the new literature, while the old-line, backnumber magazines with their historic names are represented only by two or three copies each. What Mr. Kent reports of the 5000-person town is true all the way up. The new publications are to be found everywhere.
What are these novel high lights of press and pen? They fall into several categories. The rage for unadorned truth as to personal experiences finds its expression in the ‘true story’ and the ‘confession’ group, where veracious narratives of titillating human experiences thrill literally millions of readers. Then there is the ‘snappy story’ group, in which the sex motive is the invariable leitmotif — always, of course, for the sole purpose of guiding the footsteps of the unwary into proper paths. That is the point that the unkind Mr. Kent failed to note. Not a publisher of these stories is moved by any mercenary desire — dear, no. It is their duty to safeguard our youth from pitfalls, and more than one of them, after delightfully portraying the pitfalls, makes his characters turn to virtue and repentance. Next we have the ‘artists and models’ group of magazines, in which we see how the inartistic Americans have suddenly developed a thirst for undraped art quite unprecedented in our history; and finally we have the out-and-out vulgar group which describes itself by such titles as Hot Dog, Hi-Jinks, Happy Howls, Whiz Bang, Paris Nights, Red Pepper, and so forth.
The first of these groups, that of the ‘true story’ magazine, was originated by a certain Bernarr Macfadden, as to whom we shall have more to say later. Mr. Macfadden, the successful publisher of the Physical Culture Magazine and writer on many sex problems, received such a mass of letters from men and women who, in his own words, were ‘seeking relief from all manner of troubles, — physical, mental, spiritual, — so poignant, so real, so unlike any other stories I have ever heard,’ that he felt that a magazine made up of them would have a ‘great public appeal ‘ and ‘would do a tremendous amount of good through saving others from making the same mistakes.’ Fortunate prophet! As so often in his career, uplift and dollars came into harmonious partnership. True Story became not only the forerunner of its group, but, as he modestly suggests, ‘the outstanding publishing achievement of the century.’ It made him a millionaire, its sales now approaching 2,000,000 monthly. He followed it with True Romances and True Detective Mysteries. At once there were imitators: True Marriage Experience, I Confess, Young’s Realistic Stories Magazine, True Experiences, True Confessions, My Story, and Secrets. Of these True Romances sells 650,000 copies, True Confessions (now Fawcett’s) 176,000, and True DetectiveMysteries 150,000. Others appeared, only to die quickly. At first these ‘confession’ and ‘ true story ‘ magazines were all filled with the sex appeal. But the original clichés are disappearing in the best of them. Some retain the story which goes straight to the border-line, but Mr. Macfadden has set the standard in True Story. Whether that was brought about by his experience with the law and lawsuits, or whether he has found, like others, that the sex appeal does not sell so well as ‘heart throbs,’ is not easy to determine. At any rate, word has gone out to the writers for some of these publications that the heart throb is what the reading world now pulsates to.
The writers? Well, Mr. Macfadden makes each of his writers sign a skillfully drawn statement to the effect that the story he has written is a true human experience, and he boasts that he has a committee of ministers to pass upon the manuscripts accepted for his various magazines. The other publishers are not outwardly so noble-spirited or so conscientious. The simple ‘truth’ in their cases is that most of the veracious personal experiences which appear in their pages are written by small groups of industrious workers who turn out from 30,000 to 50,000 words a month and are paid from two to six cents or more a word. Hence most of the sad wives and disillusioned flappers whose touching narratives appear every month are in reality mature gentlemen residing in Harlem or Greenwich Village. Often they get their clues and some of their stories from the letters that pour in upon them. To receive several thousand letters from fascinated readers of a single article is no novelty. They come from all over the country, and many are from kindhearted and benevolent persons who offer the reformed sister or abandoned wife a home and the indefinite use of their best parlor-bedroom. If she will just telegraph they will meet her at the train, ask no questions, and receive her as a daughter. One magazine is said to be made up entirely of stories sent in by the unskilled public and edited. True Story, it is declared, now gets most of its material from articles received from the general public in response to an annual award of $50,000 in cash prizes. The resultant flood of manuscripts, or such as are selected by the editors, are licked into shape for publication.
In all justice it must be said here that the ‘true story’ group succeeded because there was a real need of simple, straightforward — if you please, melodramatic — stories such as the public also consumed in great quantity in the days of Robert Bonner and the publishers of melodrama in the eighties. In a sense it is a readers’ revolt against the conventional and sophisticated story which ornaments the pages of the more sedate and conservative magazines.
People whose lives are restricted have their dream world; they wish to live in it, or to live life as they see it, and not as it is in reality. A highly successful writer of ‘true stories,’ who frequently gets a batch of five hundred letters which his publishers believe to be the best in the thousands received, declares that they are extremely touching and illuminating epistles. Not even the Saturday Evening Post reaches this stratum of our reading public, he says, and he is profoundly impressed with the extraordinary loneliness in life which these letters reveal. The writers of such letters are not after salacious stories. They are not afraid to have a spade called a spade, but they want a thrill, an emotion — they wish to sympathize with the unfortunate, or to rejoice in the misfortune of the very rich and of the villains they love to hiss in the movies. They do not object if the stories they read have now become serious and moral, with conventional endings and conventional preaching. If the career of True Story should come to an early end one wonders whether some sort of improved substitute ought not to be offered to this group of readers who, in their primal desire for ‘truthful’ personal narratives, differ but little from their aspiring brothers of the business world who in all our cities and towns pore over the narratives of successful business-men, especially bankers, that rejoice us all in Success and the American Magazine.
As for the second group, the ‘snappy story’ magazines, that is frankly the type to which Mr. Kent particularly objects. They go as close to the line as they dare, and they are very daring. Their readers are willing to pay well, for Snappy Stories sells for $4.50 a year and has a circulation of 125,000, and Breezy Stories costs $4.00 a year, with a circulation probably nearly as great. They are published on cheap paper at a very low cost, and carry a few pages of advertising of the familiar type that appears in cheap magazines, from which you can find out how to get a perfect-looking nose, cure your tobacco habit, clear your skin, reduce your weight, and beautify your thick lips. You may also cure deafness, or get a permanent wave or buy cut-glass diamonds for ten cents apiece. They have many suggestive illustrations, and usually print equally suggestive poems and ‘pearls’ of wit. Here too, we regret to say, there is with some of the group not a little deluding of the reader. That is, headlines and pictures mislead; you find that what appears to be a ‘ red-hot’ story develops into a perfectly proper tale with an altogether moral ending. Even when the heroine confesses to a false step she is penitently returned to her husband or her mother to live happily and properly ever after. A careful student of this group of magazines declares that the great bulk of the stuff published in them, while extremely common, is not really dirty, but that there is usually one story which goes over the line. The chronic readers know that there is always something off-color hidden for them somewhere, and the quest for that lures them into purchasing magazine after magazine.
The newfangled ‘artists and models’ magazine needs but a simple recipe; anyone may create such a concoction. You take a certain number of nude classical pictures from the Metropolitan or the Louvre, or some less-known gallery, and intersperse them with fulllength pictures of scantily clad showgirls from ‘Follies’ or ‘Vanities’ or ‘Revues.’ Add reproductions of the work of some unknown Austrian or Belgian painter or sculptor, and mix in as text the story of how Gilda Gray felt when first she appeared in a cabaret, or how a Ziegfeld beauty climbed to success and kept herself undefiled. You can bring this out twice a month and sell your January issues early in December — the conversions to art for art’s sake go on amazingly. As these little magazines often contain only thirty-two pages, cost probably two or three cents a copy to produce, and sell for fifteen or twenty-five cents, your profits are so great that you can afford to dispense with advertisements. So generous is its devotion to art that one of these magazines in its January 15 edition prints twenty-seven nude female pictures (some of them slightly draped). You get around any officious postoffice censors by sending your edition, which speedily runs into the hundreds of thousands, by express. Thus art and truth triumph over prudery and puritanism.
What makes your task the easier, if you publish one of these contributions to frankness and to nature, is the presence in the metropolis of at least four theatre companies in which practically nude women appear nightly. One smiles to remember the days when attendance at the ‘ Black Crook,’ the first conventional ballet attired in skirts and tights to visit New York in the early eighties, was almost a cause for divorce. Tights, skirts, and stockings have gone, and much beside, and the ‘art lovers” magazines profit thereby. How can you be raided for reproducing faithfully what anybody can pay to see on the stage, plus paintings by Rubens or Bouguereau? The other day a trio of judges in New York dismissed four cases in which those arrested were charged with giving information as to where the American Art Student and Artists and Models could be purchased. That, the judges ruled, was no crime; since these magazines are openly displayed on hundreds of stands they could hardly do otherwise. Counsel for one prisoner at once pointed out that some of the objectionable pictures ‘were reproductions from celebrated paintings in art galleries.’ Justice McInerney, evidently an old-fashioned gentleman, declared as to one of the magazines that it would do no harm if it circulated only among art students, and then he truthfully added: ‘I don’t think this magazine could be given away unless it contained nude pictures.’
Again, the standard has changed in the daily press as well as on the stage. Nearly every Sunday there appear in the illustrated supplements of our most staid and respectable dailies pictures of women athletes or of Palm Beach bathers in scanty costumes that would have raised a storm of protest in the ‘gay nineties’ and even at the beginning of this century. Beautycontest winners, women shot-putters, and champion swimmers display their charms in the Times or the TribuneHerald or the Boston Herald without let or hindrance. The caption under a particularly revealing picture clipped from one of our family papers explains that the lady portrayed is ‘the possessor of the most beautiful legs in the world.’ No daily would have dared to print this picture twenty-five years ago. There is every evidence, however, that the on-coming generation takes no undue interest in one-piece bathingsuits or their wearers. When one has never seen anything else the element of piquancy does not exist; to moralists and sociologists must be left the question whether frankness in these matters is or is not better than the mystery which was supposed to shroud the female figure for bygone generations.
There remains the Hot Dog group. It may be dismissed in a few words. It is the acme of vulgarity; its pages are lined with the kind of jokes commercial travelers have always reveled in, and the coarse humor to be found in low music-halls the world over. These are a type of publication that has always existed, to be passed around on trains and in livery stables when garages were unknown.
At this point it is necessary to call attention to the fact that this promising, but infant, magazine industry is meeting with such serious foreign competition as to compel the wonder why Congress and the Home Market Club are doing nothing about it. While saving the world for Horthy, Mussolini, Hindenburg, and the Bolsheviki, hoards of our young Americans in uniform visited Paris and there acquired various tastes for — well, acquired tastes. Among them was a liking for that standard of French contemporary literature, La Vie Parisienne, and other delectables of the boulevard kiosks. The American troops said good-bye to Lafayette, but La Vie Parisienne came home with them and now ornaments news-stands in our largest cities. With it have come Le Sourire and — one regrets to record such a sad fact — the similar, but clumsy, publications of our late enemies. Reigen and Der Junggeselle are at their old tricks of seeking their place in the sun — as, for instance, on Forty-second Street, New York. Now there is no denying that La Vie Parisienne affords effective competition to our American products. It goes further, it is franker, it invariably opens wide bedchamber doors after people have retired, and it has wit and humor as well as ability. This is serious for us, although intended to be wholly amusing. With all due respect to our late Ally, and with every desire to help France to pay her debts, Americans should none the less insist upon an 80 per cent ad valorem duty if our home industry is to stand upon its own nude feet. The competition grows hourly more serious. It is not offset by the fact that our publications of this type ‘dump’ their unsold copies abroad at ten cents apiece.
It is the evil, not the individuals who batten on it, we would attack. But it will serve this purpose to dwell for a moment on the foremost figure in this field of true ‘literature.’ Bernarr Macfadden — born, as the French say, Bernard A. Mcfadden — is a native of Missouri who came to New York in 1894, equipped with much muscle, an extraordinary chest-development, a shock of hair, and the power to impress his personality upon others. True to the best established American precedent, he arrived in the metropolis friendless and with comparatively small means. A physical-culture matinée, advertised with him in the stellar rôle, attracted few besides a reporter of Dana’s Sun, who recorded for posterity that Professor Mcfadden — even bootblacks were ‘ professors ‘ in those days — ‘chatted and posed in an interesting way for over an hour.’ But the cruel and heartless metropolis failed, as in so many other cases, to recognize genius at first sight, and so the Professor, then twenty-six years old, was compelled to take a job at fifteen dollars a week as assistant to the physical instructor of the Manhattan Athletic Club. Soon thereafter he established his own studio for the business man anxious about his weight and his wind, invented a Mcfadden pulley for muscle-building, and shortly after took his first plunge into the literature he both adorns and dominates. The time was ripe, for, with the coming into vogue of golf and football, prosperous America turned to sports and founded the country club; a new generation was at hand which declined to be as flabby, or as thin-chested, as its elders.
The professorial champion of physical culture from Missouri — who, like Theodore Roosevelt, had built himself from a weakling into a man of great physical power — rode the modern athletic craze to great financial success. If he has not been a hero to his valet he has been one to himself. More than that, he has been a typical American social crusader, and he is touchingly convinced that single-handed he, this Bayard of the body, has achieved great things. ‘The fight I have made against the use of drugs has been felt in every drug-store, by every doctor, and in every home,’ he modestly wrote on September 15, 1924. ‘The campaign I have conducted against prudery has helped to force that monster evil — venereal disease — into the daylight where it can be intelligently attacked. It has taken the ridiculous malforming swimming-costume that women formerly wore and has replaced it with a suit that enables women to use their bodies as God rightfully intended.’
Fortunate Mr. Macfadden! He, too, discovered the relationship of science to health, but unlike other scientific pioneers he was enabled to advance his cult by the unveiling of the human body. Beyond all question he was right in protesting, in an era in which the Boston Public Library rejected Frederick MacMonnies’s nude Bacchante, against a ‘lascivious and obscene attitude toward the human body,’and in asserting that the naked human body is to be neither feared nor regarded as something at which people should look askance. He was but in keeping with his generation in demanding better, more comfortable, and less clothing, and the abolition of the corset. But while physicians and teachers and experts in body-building, from Dio Lewis to Dudley Sargent, could only preach these things by word of mouth in their gymnasiums, it was given to Bernard — beg pardon, Bernarr — to prove that reform and the amassing of a huge pile of dollars could go hand in hand. Nudes sell better than anything else on the news-stands.
It was his rare flair for publicity that gave Mcfadden his self-bestowed title of ‘professor’ and made him change his name— ‘I decided to make it a name out of the ordinary.’ The excellent financial results of his early and earnest preachments led to his establishing his first publishing venture, the Physical Culture Magazine, in which he fought unending fights with popular indifference to physical development and with those monstrous creatures who really wish Americans to be a race of puny, ill-developed, and ill-nurtured men and women — one does not know who such are, but Mr. Macfadden is never at a loss to tilt at them. That flair for publicity early called for Macfadden pure-food restaurants and for beauty shows to help propagate the doctrine of the physical uplift of American manhood and womanhood — with model specimens of the latter attired in what in these days seem like extremely modest union-suits. But never, of course, is the path of the reformer smooth, especially if it is the business of the reformer to reveal the human form. As far back as 1901 the postal authorities in Washington ordered his arrest for the character of his advertising of his beauty show of that year. In 1905 the spotless soul of the late Anthony Comstock was shocked by similar pictures, and Mr. Macfadden and two of his assistants were arrested, just before the show of that year. Needless to say that Mr. Comstock was in considerable degree responsible for the throngs that pushed and jostled their way—for purely scientific reasons, of course— into Madison Square Garden to see the ‘bathing beauties’ on exhibition. It is to the credit of Mr. Macfadden’s consistency that among his exhibits at latter-day meetings have been his own daughters.
On October 23, 1907, our physical culture hero came into serious conflict with the law, a jury in the United States District Court in Trenton, New Jersey, finding him guilty of publishing and sending through the mail in his Physical Culture Magazine an improper story entitled ‘Growing to Manhood.’ The Government declared that the advice and discussions in the article were wholesome, but that the narrative was well calculated to increase evil habits rather than to retard them. So our unselfish crusader was sentenced to two years at hard labor and a fine of $2000, and would have gone to prison had not the kind heart of President Taft been reached. The President remitted the prison part of the sentence. A year later a young woman whose picture was printed by our iconoclast as proof of the desirability of much luxuriant hair — those were benighted pre-‘bob’ days — obtained a verdict of $3000 against Macfadden for using her picture to her hurt and harm, and without her permission indeed, a month after she had requested in writing the return of the picture.
None of these mistakes of the courts deterred our champion of humanity. Like many another such, he early turned his thoughts to education as the final solvent. So, like Dowie, he founded his Zion, the ‘Physical Culture City’ at Spottswood, New Jersey. Here, too, this pioneer met with the ingratitude which is the lot of all good men. Students, those who paid and those who worked their way through, flocked to the City, only to find that the workers were paid six dollars a week, worked ten hours a day, and received only seventy-five cents a week in cash, at which rate they discovered that it would take them five and a half years to earn their diplomas. Patients there were, too, and some were unkind enough to demur at paying eighteen dollars a week for food when they were immediately made to fast for one or two weeks! ‘It was all work and no study, and the contract provisions were so arranged that graduation was virtually unobtainable,’ declared the unkind New York World, after a lengthy description of life in Physical Culture City, in the course of which it allowed the allegation to be made that some of the researches of the students went too far into the personal and intimate. Mr. Macfadden sued the World for $50,000 for libel, but the power of the press triumphed — the jury upheld the World. Physical Culture City exists no more. Three Macfadden restaurants still go their triumphant way; as their organizer modestly says, he has helped to revolutionize the restaurant business, and so ‘you can get wholesome healthbuilding foods most anywhere.’
Striking is the record of this prophet’s publishing achievements. Physical Culture Magazine has 400,000 readers. To it Macfadden gave ‘practically his entire life’ for twenty years. Then in 1919, as already related, he founded True Story. That pointed the way to other successes: Movie Weekly (440,000 copies are now printed monthly); True Romances (650,000 copies sold monthly); Dream World, a magazine of love and romance (200,000 circulation); Fiction Lovers (175,000); Dance Lovers (85,000); Radio Stories (125,000); True Detective Mysteries (150,000); Modern Marriage, the ‘be happy magazine that will not preach, will lay down no rules, will not theorize — but rather will show, by means of amazingly human and interesting stories and splendidly written intimate articles, how others have met the problems that now or will confront you’ (circulation 150,000); and finally, Muscle Builder, which has not yet built its circulation above 80,000. Mr. Macfadden’s own figures are quoted here. The trade figures are lower.
As for his dividends, since January 1, 1920, the apostle of the physical uplift has paid $10,340 in stock and cash for every $1000 invested; his gross revenue from his magazines in 1924 was no less than $8,866,800, an increase of $4,202,700 over 1923 — the figures again being his own. Indeed, so rapid has been the development of his business philanthropy that it has had two important results. He has gone into the dailynewspaper field, and he has generously turned to the public and placed with it some of the stock of his $10,000,000 company, Macfadden Publications, Inc. A supreme motive for this unselfish desire to share his good fortune is that in his judgment the rental of money has not advanced adequately, ‘it remains at the old, antiquated rate of 4 per cent or 6 per cent,’ — and therefore he is determined that believers in physical well-being shall have the advantage of 10 or 12 per cent, to say nothing of alluring stock-bonuses. All of which is set forth in a circular offering this opportunity unparalleled in publishing annals — which circular, one hesitates to say, has also encountered official envy and intolerance, for it has been held up by the authorities in Illinois as not conforming to the ‘Blue Sky Law’ for the protection of innocent investors.
As for his venture into the daily field, it is the New York Evening Graphic. New York obviously needs moral as well as physical uplift, and there were the one million New York City readers of Macfadden publications. They were entitled to see daily their beloved city and the universe through Macfadden spectacles, and so are the 650,000 New Yorkers who read no evening dailies. Founded on September 15, 1924, the daily Graphic on October 1, 1925, had 96,598 readers. But here we must needs chronicle a genuine backset to the onward march of the Macfadden publications. On May 3, 1925, the New York Sunday Graphic was established, carrying in that issue more than thirty thousand lines of paid advertising. But let the prophet’s circular tell the story in its own words: ‘Over two hundred and fifty thousand copies were sold in New York and vicinity. Subsequent issues have been so well received and widely circulated that we can unqualifiedly say that the New York Sunday Graphic has scored a success unprecedented not only in the history of New York journalism but for the entire country.’ Incredible as it may seem, this ‘unprecedented success’ lasted only two months. In July the Sunday Graphic breathed its last; prodigy that it was, it succumbed to two infantile diseases: inefficient nutrition and inadequate circulation — which leads to the suggestion that Mr. Macfadden is less well versed in prenatal care than in afterbirth upbuilding.
As for his daily, he has told us in editorials just what it is that he is after. Here again we come across the dominant uplift motive: ‘ I believe that such a paper can be made to appeal to the masses in their own language; that it can be made so true and real that it will penetrate the hearts and souls of the readers.’ And again: ‘You have to dramatize the news and features that you present in such a manner as will not only interest your readers, but will have an uplifting influence mentally, morally, and spiritually.’
It is interesting to note just how this magnificent programme is being carried out. For the week of November 16 to 21 inclusive, the Graphic gave 183¼ inches of space to crime; 82¼ inches to sex crime; 203¾ inches to divorce and annulments; 472 inches to general news; 167½ inches to local news; 1178¾ inches to sports and radio; 554¼ inches to beauty shows and contests; 132 inches to foreign news; 4071 inches to advertising; 243 inches to contests other than beauty; 144½ inches to editorials; 1848¼ inches to special departments; and 355 inches to fiction. Taking the six issues from October 14 to October 20, inclusive, we learn the following from the front-page headlines: ‘Pretty Girl Has Three Hubbies’; ‘Cop Dying, 4 Bandits Shot’; ‘Heiress Penniless in Cell as Check and Jewel Crook’; ‘Why Donohue Jewel Thief Got Protection and $68,000.’ The next issue bore the legend, ‘Donohue Gem Thief Known,’ and the final headline read, ‘Inside Story of Coal Plot.’ This is an average week, chosen at random. It illustrates clearly how our crusader (for health and the right) appeals to the hearts and souls of his readers, and presents his news in such a manner as to uplift them — mentally, morally, and spiritually. Especially uplifting was the front-page picture published in the Graphic of November 25 portraying the unfortunate woman in a recent sensational annulment case appearing disrobed before the jury, a picture which the Editor and Publisher, trade journal of journalists, declared to be ‘the most shocking news-picture ever produced by New York journalism.’ The photograph was, of course, faked; a chorus girl was paid to pose for the occasion.
Finally it is to be noted that Mr. Macfadden’s unselfishness has led him to ‘expose’ the recent bathing-beauty contest at Atlantic City, which he declared to be a ‘gigantic, nation-wide fraud.’ He is being sued by the Atlantic City Chamber of Commerce for $2,000,000, by its president, Mr. S. P. Lecbs, for $1,000,000, and by Earl Carroll for $1,000,000. Once more are the wicked seeking to put this righteous man out of business.
Announcement has recently been made that the Philadelphia Daily News, an afternoon tabloid, has been taken over by the Macfadden Newspaper Corporation: it will be interesting to observe this ‘ uplifting influence ‘ upon the city of brotherly love.
Well, what is to be done about our new literature? It is Mr. Kent’s belief that, if its spread is not checked, it will be possible in another year or so to say of the United States one of the worst things that can be said about any nation — ‘that its people are steeped in dirty literature.’ The National Council of Women has resolved against the menace and so have the leading organizations of Catholic women. Priests and preachers, chiefs of police and prison heads, have sounded their warning and called for a return to the Bible, it is no answer to say what is true, that no period has been without its pornography — witness Pompeii. There has probably never been so wide a distribution of this sort of thing as is now made possible by modern publishing methods. But a special censorship, — usually the first glib suggestion, — whether Federal or state, should be unthinkable. We already have laws against obscenity which serve in many states, and the censorship of the Post Office Department is steadily at work, sometimes wisely and sometimes otherwise — as witness the recent suppression in New York of a copy of Judge which, while a bit shocking, was but a clever take-off of La Vie Parisienne. Naturally the street sales of this issue were very great, just as it is reported that the suppression, not so many months ago, of an issue of the Harvard Lampoon sent the price of certain outstanding copies to high figures.
In his field the Postmaster-General is supreme. The courts will not interfere to control any executive official in the discharge of a duty involving the exercise of judgment and discretion. The action of the Postmaster-General has been held to be absolute and conclusive on any material or relevant question of fact (Branaman vs. Hill, Federal Reporter, volume 189, p. 463). In another case the test had been defined as ‘the tendency to deprave and corrupt the minds of those who are open to such influence, into whose hands the publication may come’ (Rosen vs. U. S., United States Reporter, volume 161, p. 29).
Since, however, the publications under consideration are delivered through other channels than the mail, the question arises as to what further steps shall be taken. Self-appointed censors of the John S. Sumner and Anthony Comstock type are the last persons to realize that standards are changing, that clothes and social standards — yes, the moral code itself — are constantly being altered. Only censors seem never to change, and never to win popular approval, wherever they may be. Not all of England by any means likes its British censorship of the stage. In the field of books censors may usually be counted on to pick the wrong book to suppress. Few are wise enough to judge, especially to judge genius, and few are tactful enough to do the censoring cannily. When one thinks of the calibre of the officials in many of our towns and cities one shudders at what they might do if the censorship of pictures and publications were placed in their hands. Certainly not many would have the wisdom of the chief of police of Des Moines who abandoned his plan to compel news-dealers to abide by an official magazine ‘white list,’ whereupon the news-dealers agreed to ascertain official desires and voluntarily guide themselves thereby. In Hudson County, New Jersey (opposite New York City), the authorities indicted three news-dealers for distributing and selling Hot Dog, Whiz Bang, Artists and Models, Art and Beauty, Flapper Experiences, and Fottyology. They were convicted, but received suspended sentences after promising to discontinue the distribution and sale of these magazines. Every community can, if it so desires, similarly protect itself against the public sale of such publications where they are plainly obscene, or where it is obvious that they live for no other purpose than to market smut.
As for the ‘snappy story’ and ‘true story’ groups, there is every evidence that they are passing phases of a postwar period, at least in large degree. The fact that some of the publishers are already finding out that heart throbs pay better than sex appeal is very much to the point here. Much can BE done by quiet influencing of news-dealers, through local committees, in the direction of better wares. But anything like wholesale suppression would be a fatal mistake. They will run their course in due time. Or, if they establish themselves firmly and make as much money as Mr. Macfadden’s True Story, they will become more conservative in direct proportion to the capital invested and the sumtotal at stake. Times change with extraordinary rapidity in the American magazine field. Witness the tremendous influence of the religious weeklies in the sixties and seventies, which have practically disappeared — or changed their garb — except in a few instances where they are directly church-sponsored. What could have been more phenomenal than the rise, at the turn of the century and soon thereafter, of the muck-raking magazines? They had years of tremendous influence. Where are they now? Collier’s, the American Magazine, Everybody’s, and the Cosmopolitan still survive — how changed! He would be rash, indeed, who would prophesy where True Story and Breezy Stories will be a few years hence. Follyology is already reported dead, and Flapper Experiences may be nearing its demise. It is better that Live Stories, I Confess, and Art Lovers should run their course than that a permanent censorship should be fastened upon the country, which could be so easily extended to cover opinions and political doctrines in addition to racy stories and suggestive pictures. The price of liberty is often some license — and it is a cheap price.