Living in the Past

I received a nice present in the mail this week from one of my best and oldest buds,  he being former radio personality extraordinaire, editor, movie critic and all around good guy Jeff Gelb. Jeff was and is a huge fan of popular culture, including detective fiction. He was at a Pulp Fiction Festival (the genre, not the film) in Los Angeles recently, visited the dealer room, and popped for a couple of old magazines from my past: Real Detective and For Men Only. Don’t tell anybody, but I got a little misty-eyed when I opened up that plain brown envelope and found those treasures.

Those magazines were a part of my childhood. I grew up in an era when gentlemen got haircuts every two to three weeks whether they needed it or not. The barber shops didn’t have all of the frou-frou crap that they have now. Amenities consisted of a barber pole in front, leather chairs to sit in while you waited for a barber, a gumball machine, and magazines. None of the barbers — not stylists, but barbers — would have been mistaken for Ru-Paul, either. Each and all would be squared away, wearing pressed black pants and white collarless button-up shirts, like they were interns or something, with their tools of the trade on a sink behind them. Hair tonics like Vitalis, Brylcreem and Wildroot were lined up with military precision, with different styles and lengths of scissors laying at the ready next to them. The big deal at the barbershop, however, was the reading material. There were comic books, sure, but there were also stacks and stacks of different magazines, such as the Field & Stream and Popular Mechanics.  And then there were the marginal publications that weren’t quite of the level of Playboy but were “gateway” literature, if you will. One or more of the barbers might frown if you were in short pants and busily thumbing through such lurid articles as “Babes, Brawls and Border Smashing” — many was the time I missed hearing my name called, so absorbed was I in the reading material — but the general rule was that if you were old enough to get your hair cut without mommy waiting with you then it was none of their business. The drugstore and supermarket didn’t consider their magazine sections to be the library, but at the barbershop you could read

 Stag and  Saga and the aforementioned For Men Only. The covers were always adventure-themed, with generic, very capable-looking Marlboro men rescuing women in danger of losing their lives or their underwear, in no particular order. The so-called “true detective” magazines ran a close second, with exciting article titles gracing lurid covers. A publication that met readers of both types of magazines was an irresistible piece of trashy wonder titled The National Police Gazette. The latter was an extremely popular periodical, though no one would admit it. When I was an altar boy (yes, I was) my school was selling magazine subscriptions as a fundraiser.  I asked a geriatric priest I knew if he would be interested in purchasing any subscriptions. He asked, with a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye, “Ya got Police Gazette?” I responded “I wish!” which brought a coughing fit on him so severe that I thought we were going to have to call the emergency squad.

Those magazines are long gone. Stag and the like reached a point where they had to, uh, up (or maybe down) their game to compete with such upstarts as Penthouse and such and just couldn’t meet the production quality (yeah, I know, I know).  The true detective magazines collapsed under their own weight; there were just too many of them. Still, I miss those magazines, and I didn’t have any of them (the “why” is a tale for another time), which is why my friend’s generous gift meant so much.  One of the many sad things about their absence is that they provided a good place for fledgling authors to hone their chops and make some money along the way. Lawrence Block, Stephen King, and Harlan Ellison all paid for electricity and food and diapers with stories in such magazines. The issue of For Men Only which I received contains an excerpt from a new (at the time) book by Alistair MacLean titled THE WOMEN TAKERS, which, we are helpfully informed, is a $5.95 bestseller (that is what a hardback book would set you back in 1968). The same issue contains some lurid but well-written short fiction written by Donald Horig, who would go on to become a well-respected and prominent baseball writer. Horig is still alive, probably cringing at the mention of the story, entitled “The Taming of Mona.” If he’s embarrassed,he should not be.  There are still a few avenues for writers to display their wares — the science fiction and mystery digests come immediately to mind — but  there aren’t many. They’ve gone the way of the traditional barber shop. I miss both.

I ask this question primarily of older readers, but you younger folks can absolutely join in the fun as well: what magazines do you miss, ones that you read during your childhood and teen years but are no longer published? It can be anything from Pageant  to  Humpty Dumpty to Photoplay to, yeah,  The National Police Gazette, but what do you miss? And why?

22 thoughts on “Living in the Past

  1. I too fondly remember those days, magazines, and hair tonics.
    When I was a boy, I never remember going to the barbershop with my mom … always dad.
    Wayne’s Barber Shop in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio — six barbers and a free splash of Bay Rum aftershave on your face and neck.
    True, there were magazines that exposed us to many things forbidden on the home front that opened our imagination and wetted our appetite for new experiences.
    It was a great time with many memories and events that assisted in molding us in to the America and Americans that we loved.
    At the time, we could never have known that the America we knew would be, sorely missed and so fondly remembered.

    • Dave, I read your comment and felt like I was being channeled. We moved from Columbus to Fairlawn in 1963 and I remember getting a haircut at Wayne’s once or twice, though mostly we patronized Plaza Barbers and another place on Copley Road when it was still a decent place. And yeah, we thought those times would live forever. Thanks so much for the shout-out. By the way, I went to St. Vincent but my brother went to Walsh Jesuit.

  2. For me, Joe, it was Classics Illustrated comic books. That was how I got into the great books! I’d tromp down to Greene’s Drug Store every Saturday to see what came in…..Robinson Crusoe; Count of Monte Cristo; Men of Iron; Don Quixote. I’d usually pick up an Archie along with it. I have a few of these in a box, but there was one Classic I remembered as a kid I always wanted to see again, The Hunchback of Notre Dame. So I was signing at Wondercon a couple of weeks ago, and stopped at a comic book exhibitor, and he had Classics Illustrated, and a vintage Hunchback. It’s now mine (yes, I paid for it).

    I also picked up a 1938 Argosy with a new Tarzan novel in it, and a Street and Smith’s Mystery magazine from the early 40s, featuring a detective story by a pulp writer my dad knew, W. T. Ballard. Those pulps aren’t going to last forever. What a great time that was.

    • There you go, Jim! A lot of people criticized those comics but they always encouraged me to go pick up the original source material. I still have some of the originals as well as a bunch of the comics reprinted in digest size. And that issue of Argusy…what a great find! I’m jealous!

  3. “Tales from the Crypt”.
    Holy Hannah, I still get creeped out when I think of those stories. Mom hated that mag. And Alice Cooper. Especially “Cold Ethyl”.
    Good old days.

    • “Tales from the Crypt” was absolutely wonderful, Amanda. Some folks got upset with those stories but there was a dark justice that worked its way through those stories. I still read and re-read those (in reprint form, alas). Creepy just wasn’t the same.

  4. My dad subscribed to True: The Men’s Magazine. I always read it when no one was around. My parents never said I couldn’t read it, but I had the feeling they wouldn’t approve. The one story I remember was about spontaneous combustion in humans. Fascinating and scary all at the same time.

    Life Magazine was another regular at our house. Not a lot of reading in it, but those fabulous pictures sparked an interest in foreign lands and cultures.


  5. Kathy, I remember that article!!!! It gave me nightmares! It still does! Needless to say, it didn’t stop me from reading True whenever I had the chance.

  6. From a slightly more modern erabut quitessentially American: intelligent, irreverent, endlessly clever, lovingly yet keenly satirical of U.S. culture – and always riotously funny…
    MAD magazine

  7. Tom, if you’re referring to the MAD Magazine that was published from the 1950s until the early 1990s or so, I’m with you totally. The current publication bearing that title has moved somewhat beyond me, but for several decades no one could come close to what they did. They did a two-page six or seven panel article in the 1960s about how a movie developed from a concept to a finished product; it hold true to this day. We have the CD set that runs from the first issue to the mid-1990s and would grab it first thing in the event of a fire.

  8. Joe, a great post. True and Argosy are the ones I remember. And the other magazines that always had a blond with a ripped skirt and a Marlboro man with a .45 on the cover. I don’t remember those titles. As for comics, I really liked the Sgt Rock series. The barber I went to was a country guy. He had a hair tonic that he called panther juice. He hunted panthers and bobcats in his spare time. He also had a huge collection of Native American artifacts, a fish hatchery, and peacocks. My cousin lived in a town that had a newstand. He introduced me to MAD in the early 60s. It was the funniest thing I had ever seen. The parody of Bonanza is one that I remember well. Thanks for this post. Lots of memories.

    • Thank you, Lance. Those other magazines, oh my, so many titles, MEN and FOR MEN ONLY and of course MEN ONLY and STAG. Interestingly enough, many of them were published by the same company that published Marvel/Timely/Atlas comics. And I remember that Bonanza parody!!!! Was it called “Bananas”? With Hoss saying nothing in each panel but “Pass the peas pass the bread pass the meat pass the corn”? I loved that!

      That barber shop sounds REALLY cool! He’d probably get shut down now.

    • Joe, it was Bananas. Adam was named Yves; and we, being uncultured, pronounced it wyvez. Another good one was Mutiny on the Bouncy. The barber shop was very cool. Yes, all shut down now, and I’ve never heard what happened to his collection.

  9. Joe
    St. Vincent… they were the Black Tigers nemesis in football.
    If you were there in those exciting times for teenagers, you possibly saw me rumbling through a drive through restaurant in my 67 green Corvette—usually following my buddy Keith in his sixty-five blue Corvette convertible.
    We could write a book about those times with more twists and turns than Jeff Deaver could create.
    But … I would have to have the skill, craftiness and power to pull it off.
    Next life perhaps.

  10. Being so wrapped up in the trip down memory lane I completely evaded your question.
    As to a specific magazine that I miss, none comes to mind.
    Mad magazine was fun but it evolved and so did I.
    It was much later in life that the craft of writing appealed to me, however in retrospect it tugged at me ever since I devoured The Hardy Boys series in the fifties.
    All literature sparks our imagination—some more than others but all that information is lurking beneath our psyche … somewhere.
    Most of us though—will never allow our creative horses to gallop.

  11. Dave, was that drive in by any chance on State Road, that boxy white brick joint east of Portage Trail on the south side of the street, kind of across from the movie theater?! I may indeed have seen you there! And I too first got the writing bug from the Hardy Boys…The Wailing Siren Mystery…

    One last thing…let that creative horse gallop…literally all of the bloggers here and most of our wonderful commenters as well let the reins slip and gave the horses their head. By all means, give it a shot. Or two. Or three.

  12. Joe …
    I had completed a reply … something hiccupped and it was all lost.
    I will begin again.
    The fascia of the building now seems to cloud my mind.
    We use to haunt Lujan’s, in Barberton, the Hungry I in C.F. and others that lurk down there in memory banks.
    At night we went from Reds—I think they were on Waterloo Road, the Cove in downtown Kent, Ohio, Nino’s in C.F.—where my eight-track tape player was stolen out of my car, along with all of my 8-tracks.
    I learned much later that it was a friend, and classmate, who later became a low level “wise guy”.
    I had several of those nefarious friends.
    Other places and hangouts we frequented however, the followers of this blog, may not see relevance to Story.
    But … Life is STORY, and it has its twists and turns, or … we as writers can give it that nudge over the proverbial … cliff, to execute a story.

    • I read most of the Hardy Boys series. The Secret Panel started me on a lifelong search for hidden passages. The Clue of the Screeching Owl was another favorite. The Owl on the cover of the series I read (the blue books) was really something.

  13. Joe, what a great post! I remember finding those magazines in my Dad’s dresser drawer – under his clothes. Boy did they open my eyes! My favorite was Argosy, and I actually read the stories, too. As for barber shops, I grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, where my dad would take us boys to the Maple Hill Barbershop – just exactly as you described – with the fascinating infinity mirrors and all. We got haircuts before school started, and crew cuts in the summer. The place is still in business, just like it was. I, alas, had girls, so I couldn’t take them there, but my brother, who never moved away, took his son there and most recently, his grandson.

    I’m a 3d photographer, and always wanted to do a stereo shot of those mirriors, endlessly retreating into each other…

  14. Dave W., many thanks. Maple Hill sounds like a really cool place, and though I have passed beyond the need for haircuts, it sounds like a road trip might be in order this summer. Also thanks for sharing the story of the three gens of Williams who patronize the place.

  15. Joe, I live accross the river on the Missouri side now, but I’d be thrilled to meet you and show you around if you ever get up this way. Nothing like an old barbershop/barbecue tour. We have many of each in town. And by the way, my brother, who is a retired fire chief in KCK, has also long passed the need for haircuts, as well. But not for barbecue, or nostalgia!

    Okay, now I have to drive over there this week and check out all three. Oh, yeah, and visit my brother…

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