Friday, December 9, 2016

FFB: DIRTY! DIRTY! DIRTY! by Mike Edison (Soft Skull Press 2011); THE CREATION OF TOMORROW by Paul A. Carter (Columbia University Press 1977)

Paul A. Carter died 28 November, aged 90. He was a very occasional contributor to science fiction literature, but his The Creation of Tomorrow was the first critical/historical volume I read about science fiction, particularly (as the subtitle notes) sf as published in the specialist fiction magazines. The book, published in 1977, was keyed to the golden anniversary of Amazing Science Fiction magazine in 1976, as the oldest inarguable magazine devoted expressly to sf (as opposed to eclectic-fiction/adventure pulps, dime-novel series, boys' papers and fantasy-fiction magazines in English and other languages...or special issues of such Hugo Gernsback magazines as Science and Invention that were market-testers for Amazing Stories' potential appeal). Carter's book is a collection of essays tackling various themes thorough the five decades of its remit, and touching on matters that often weren't discussed in most histories of the magazines at that time nor since. My favorite bit of random knowledge gleaned from Carter's work is an explanation for a thrown-away reference in the Firesign Theater's audio-drama satire LP  Don't Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers to the Rev. Willy Pan, which calls back to an animated character used for mass hypnosis in an early, not widely read Murray Leinster story. I have a copy buried in storage somewhere, and might give a further review sometime soon...but it was certainly a model for a lot of my writing on this blog. 

Mike Edison's been an editor or publisher for such magazines as High Times and Screw, and a contributor to any number of others; in this volume, he traces the history of modern "men's sophisticate" magazines since the foundation of Playboy in 1953, mostly but not entirely focusing on the lives and careers of four editor/publishers: Hugh Hefner, Robert Guccione of Penthouse, Larry Flynt of Hustler and Screw's Al Goldstein. Some attention is given to such other notables as George van Rosen (at whose publishing firm Hefner and William Hamling would meet and apparently together devise their own upgrades on the machismic, unsophisticated magazines such as Modern Man they helped produce for van Rosen, sharing as they did an appreciation for Esquire and a desire to go it a bit more libertine, Modern Man more urbane--with Hamling, already a veteran of the Ziff-Davis pulps and editing and publishing his digest-sized Imagination with his wife out  of their basement, to launch Rogue magazine a year-and-some-months after Playboy began), Ralph Ginzburg (he of Eros and fact magazines), various staffers of the likes of Gallery (co-founded by lawyer F. Lee Bailey, and whose publisher, Montcalm, also would issue The Twilight Zone Magazine and its companions in the 1980s) and High Society, and (Ms.) Dian Hanson of Taschen Books, after co-founding Puritan and a successful editorial run at Leg Show and Juggs. The degree of involvement these magazines and their primary instigators have had in First Amendment court battles, the shift in the Zeitgeist in the US about sexual matters (if probably less profound than they would have you believe, Edison suggests), and general challenge to bluenoses and others make for a rather lively, and rather sobering, narrative...none could be said to have led consistently happy lives, even given the periods of commercial and to some degree or another artistic success they achieved, at least for a while. Also considered: the effects of the work of Betty Friedan, Gloria Steinem (before and since founding Ms.) and Helen Gurley Brown and her Cosmopolitan, a sustained success in distinction to more skin-oriented magazines aimed at women such as Guccione's Viva, and Playgirl, despite both of those magazines having at least reasonable runs (and the last being revived at least once); Edison is firmly convinced of Playgirl's audience having been primarily suburban and rural gay men, otherwise starved for "glamor" magazines aimed at them on accessible newsstands. (Otherwise, the gay male skin magazines, admittedly aimed at comparatively small audiences, are barely mentioned, nor at all are such similar magazines as the lesbian On Our Backs or the bisexual Anything That Moves (or, at least, the more erotically-charged Frighten the Horses), nor, perhaps more surprisingly, Evergreen Review and the slew of not exclusively literary erotica magazines that have followed in its wake, from Yellow Silk to Blue Blood to Paramour to Nerve...none Quite as specialized as, say, Draculina, a short-lived newsstand magazine notable for its photo spreads featuring large-canine-bearing vaginas dentata). Greenleaf Books and Rogue's William Hamling and his frequent editor and general associate Earl Kemp are mentioned by name only for their roles in publishing an illustrated version of the Nixon Administration's report on pornography, which led to them both serving some hard prison time, solely in one of the many useful footnotes provided, and not cited in the index. 
Modern Man about the time of the first Playboy

All four of the central figures of the book were (or in Flynt's case, remain) obsessive, easily triggered task-masters at their corporate offices...which in Hefner and Guccione's cases became their mansions, and to some extent only a small part of those edifices (Hefner because he had a retinue of partiers usually floating about his, Guccione in part because he simply didn't wish to go into certain rooms of his comparatively uninhabited residence). All four had no lack of early trauma they never quite overcame, and, Edison suggests, had differing degrees of self-awareness regarding. Each had key women in their lives, though all had their relations end somewhat badly...particularly for Guccione, whose partner Kathy Keeton died of cancer almost a decade before a different sort took her widower, and Flynt, whose wife died of a combination of AIDS-related ravages and the drugs she couldn't resist. How they interacted, tweaked or simply stole ideas from each other and/or sold material to and or challenged each other in their respective magazines makes for some interesting further contrasts and parallels...Goldstein, with his largely New York City-based tabloid paper, was perhaps for most of the years of their mutual enterprises the one closest to each of the others, contributing most readily and frequently to the magazines of or advising the other three. 

Edison has done his research, in digging into backfiles of magazines and newspapers (for trial coverage and much else) and even such unlikely products as public-access television interview programming (beyond Goldstein's notorious Midnight Blue); it's a pity the book is not copy-edited...Edison is enough of an editor as well as writer to keep the interlocking narratives and background filling-in lively and mostly smoothly-written, but at times repetitive (there are somewhere between six and twenty references to effective defense lawyer Herald Price Fahringer as the "Joe DiMaggio of the First Amendment") and Edison's memory of the less topic-specific historical events can fail him, as when he has Reagan moving into the White House eleven months before John Lennon's murder in December of 1980, rather than the month after; several other similar bobbles pop up here and there.  I was hoping for perhaps a bit more on the involvement of Paul Krassner as publisher of Hustler, during the period Flynt stepped away from the magazine while briefly a convert to Ruth Carter Stapleton's sort of evangelical Christianity, but it's notable also how many other sorts of magazine and other publishing the quartet and their associates were involved with over the years, including the post-Mad Harvey Kurtzman humor magazines Trump and Humbug that Hefner directly or indirectly funded (and Kurtzman's last magazine, Help!, was one of the Warren magazines, which began with a minor, short-lived Playboy imitator After Hours, folded shortly after helping to launch the much more durable Famous Monsters of Filmland and spin-offs, and later the Warren horror-comics magazines such as Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella--before Kurtzman would turn after 1965 to the long-running comic strip "Little Annie Fanny" in Playboy as his most consistent paycheck).  Guccione and Keeton's other projects included Omni and Longevity magazines; he would fund his sisters' more modest project, the digest fiction magazine Espionage as well as his son's music magazine Spin, though Robert Guccione, Jr. didn't attempt his own skin/lad-mag--or younger-skewing Esquire--title Gear till after his father broke off relations and support after two years of Spin's publication, and younger Guccione sought and found independent investors. 

All in all, an impressive book, and interesting to me for some of the holes filled in about these men and women, and their mutual interaction and sometimes reluctant but necessary working in common cause, their rivalries and strengths and weaknesses. All of the primary quartet made, and spent, a whole lot of money in the interests of doing what they wanted to provide what they thought was valuable and challenging material, with some degree of denial in recognizing any damage they might've caused along the way...and cognizant of more than they cared to be, it seems, in each case. 

For more of today's books, please see Patti Abbott's blog.


Walker Martin said...

An interesting combination Todd, a book on science fiction magazines and a book about the men's sophisticate magazines. I remember buying MODERN MAN. It was one of the better risque periodicals. I still have my PLAYBOYS from the late fifties into the eighties. I remember trading the earlier issues for STARTLING STORIES.

Todd Mason said...

MODERN MAN managed to run into the mid '70s at least...when did you read it?

The publishing overlap in just about everything, very much including fiction magazines and gendered magazines (particularly those aiming for the erotic) is just about total, I suspect. Comics and fiction magazines might have a greater overlap, and service/hobby magazines and the gendered ones (particularly the non-erotic) might have more...but not much more.

George said...

THE CREATION OF TOMORROW is a wonderful, if little known, book. It should be updated for today's audience.

Walker Martin said...

I read Modern Man during the fifties and early sixties. It started in 1951 so it was pre-Playboy and lasted to 1967 according to my information. I remember it being very tame by today's standards but kind of risque for the time.

Todd Mason said...

Alas, George, that Carter is now unable to do anything more with does wonder if he wrote further essays over the years with the thought of perhaps another edition. What Mike Ashley has been doing isn't Too dissimilar, if not quite the same.

Walker, you might have the end-date digits transposed there, or perhaps 1967 was the date of an ownership change...the Galactic Central display has covers of MM and its Special Edition version running to the end of 1976. See:

As noted above, it was definitely pre-PLAYBOY...Hefner and Hamling were working together at Publishers Development Corp. (Hefner after his layoff from ESQUIRE, Hamling to supplement what he made from his digest MADGE) as they kicked around ideas for better skin magazines that would result in the founding of PLAYBOY and ROGUE.

I wonder if the MM PDC was also the magazine distributor Mercury Press engaged after ANC's dismemberment and through the 1970s, at least.

Elgin Bleecker said...

Todd – DIRTY… sounds like a great read. The publishing world of the 1950s and 60s is really intriguing.

Todd Mason said...

Certainly, in those decades it was a more well-established menu of how one went about publishing and could make a career in publishing...not usually easily, and there was always room for innovation, but there were established and supported methods of doing the work sustainedly that are mostly less robust today.

Though certainly the democratization of literary media is far greater part because it's easier to take advantage of now...that also makes it even easier than it was previously to lose track of what might be useful or enjoyable or both in all the clamor. Of course, it's also somewhat easier to find at least some of what one might seek, as well...

We've always had a small--to micro-focus--press tradition in the US at very was tougher to know of a given example's existence in the past and harder perhaps to find at least the best examples among all the potentially similar items one might look into now. Dozens of fiction magazines give way to hundreds of websites, what had been in hundreds of newsletters and fanzines and such is now in thousands of blogs, tens of thousands of more succinct if less focused social media offerings.

Sergio (Tipping My Fedora) said...

Arriving at this from a position of almost complete ignorance (I mean, I've seen the movie THE PEOPLE VS LARRY FLYNT but that's about it), this is all intriguing and bewildering in equally measure. The historical context is what is so fascinating, especially when ti feels like things are very much rolling back in terms of social mores. But maybe it was all a male fiction to begin with ... (maybe there is no maybe about it).

Todd Mason said...

The social mores haven't been rolling back in the US...even given the probable Electoral College victory of Trumpkin the First and his even more idiotic second stringer...even old DTs himself is not audibly anti-LGBT, after all, and his misogynist cocksureness lost him some of his perpetuating the EC, btw, the Democrats have now subjected us to two fascist fanboys in the space of eight years (wrapping around our Cool, Underachieving neoliberal incumbent)...even if their party wasn't ridden with neoliberalism, that would be enough reason to not support the party. One of Edison's strongest points is that each of his subjects was presenting a version of a Swingin' uncomplicated sexual libertinism (though Goldstein the least so, as the least fantasy-feeding of them) that no one in their right mind took too seriously...or they would soon learn better. But the potential for sexual and in each case political discussion each fostered--even Fliynt due to his hostility to pious hypocrisy--by the very nature of their magazines and other businesses and how they, and the arguably more enlightened and certainly other-servicing publications that sprung up in their wake (a world without PLAYBOY is quite probably a world without ON OUR.BACKS and possibly even a world without MS.) they helped overturn one source of repression in this country, to an extent that no other publications have. That each man's magazines have been sad in their own ways, adolescent and reductionist, doesn't make them remotely unique nor does it override their utility, however limited it could be, and can remain.