From Cocktail No. 5, 1959; illustrator uncredited.
For the last several years, the fastest-growing market in the magazine industry has been men's periodicalsnot Playboy or Penthouse, mind you, but rather a new array of publications that feature semi-nude pictures of young, would-be starlets. Led by British import Maxim, a fleshy blanket of imitators has covered newsstands: FHM, Stun!, Razor, Stuff, etc., etc. Media critics have treated this as a distasteful, yet undeniable, new trend in publishing. In truth, however, it's just the resuscitation of a style of magazine that disappeared in the late '60s: the cheap girlie mag.
After Playboy's immediate success in 1953 (which was due, in part, to its simple expansion of Esquire's format with nude girls), a flurry of imitators hit the racks. For all the talk of '50s-era sexual repression, there sure were a lot of skin ragsin fact, far more than exist today. While most offered weak content and poor execution, several titles really did make a go of it with quality graphic design and photography. However, even the best of them were unable to forge individual identities as they were all more or less imitating the Playboy formula: espousing the bachelor lifestyle with sexy photos, bedroom advice, spicy stories, car and stereo reviews, and mixed drink recipes. It was all tied together with a sniggeringly "urbane" tone, yet none of the girlie mags could pull it off with the same élan as Playboy so their readership was of a decidedly lower brow. Maxim uses this exact same formula today, all the way to the bank (though it should be noted that the current Playboy lacks any sort of élan whatsoever).
With the arrival of Penthouse and pubic hair in the late '60s, all of the remaining girlie mags began fading away as readers' appetites switched to more graphic fare. Once Hustler finally stripped away the need for any sort of pseudo-sophisticated content or romanticized photography, the old girlie mags became viewed as outdated relics (Gallery is probably the only title to soldier on). Of course, most of them no doubt folded because their content wasn't that great even in their heydayjust as many of today's manly lifestyle magazines will soon fold.
So, while the new breed of girlie mags is viewed with trepidation as another sign that our society is descending into amorality, it actually represents old-fashioned (porn) values. We have returned to a state of mind where young men seemingly prefer to be teased by semi-nude photos than to become instantly acquainted with a woman's innermost gynecological organs. Could this step back be perhaps one very, very small step forward for mankind? Well, even if it is, it probably won't last long.
I'm unaware of any girlie-mag histories currently in print. The only book that comes close is Taschen's The Best of American Girlie Magazines, which consists of reprints from publisher Robert Harrison's mags, like Wink, Titter, or Eyeful (while voluminous at 700 pages, much of the artwork is sliced up due to the book's diminutive proportions). Otherwise, you might be able to find two out of print books online: Shake Books published Pin-Up Mania! by Alan Betrock in 1993, which reprints girlie-mag covers (in black & white) from 1950 to 1967 along with capsule descriptions. Harmony issued The Illustrated History of Girlie Magazines by Mark Gabor in 1984, though its current used bookstore prices range anywhere from $30 to $125.
But perhaps we can learn more about the mindset of the American male by looking at his media directly instead of just reading an academic's interpretations. Here, then, is The Gallery of Forgotten Men's Magazines, complete with small excerpts.* It's interesting to note that many of these articles wouldn't look out of place in the most current issue of Maximthe topics and the style of writing are no different. Man's obsession with sex and himself is a timeless passion, often involving really silly ideas.
Care to make an addition to the Gallery of Forgotten Men's Magazines? Send us an e-mail!
*Please note you'll need a 4.0 browser to open the article excerpts.