Despite its status as being amongst the top three of the major general fiction pulps, alongside Argosy and Adventure – indeed, it has been called “the king of the pulps” – surprisingly little has been written about Blue Book and, with the exception of the issues featuring Edgar Rice Burroughs, it does not seem to highly prized. It never acquired the prestige of Argosy or the allure of Adventure. Yet, to my mind, it is a more exciting and readable magazine than either of its main rivals, and it contains much that is surprising and appealing. In some ways Blue Book was closer to a ‘slick’ magazine than a pulp – in fact I tend to think of it as a ‘slick in pulp clothing.’
Perhaps I have the zeal of the convert. Although I acquired my first issue of Blue Book (April 1940) back in around 1968, I must’ve had the bad luck of getting one of the less appealing issues as, for a long while, I did not bother to acquire any more. But steadily issues came into my hands and a few years ago I realized that I was hooked on it and began to collect it with greater determination. I’m still a fair way from completing my run – I have about three-quarters of its full run of 613 issues – but I certainly have more than enough to be able to assess the magazine. I have also looked through the early years held at the British Library in London (which is missing only the first two volumes). At least I can produce some groundwork on a survey of the magazine and hope that others may follow.
I tend to divide Blue Book’s life into five periods. The first was its unillustrated, “Stageland” period, which ran for the first ten years from 1905-14. Then there was its more formative ‘pulp’ period which took up the next thirteen years, 1915-27. Then comes what I think of as Blue Book’s ‘golden age’ from 1928-40, followed by the ‘mature years’ from 1941-51, when its major editor, Donald Kennicott, retired. Then there are its final years as a men’s ‘adventure’ magazine from 1952-56. In this survey I ignore the final incarnation of the magazine, as Bluebook for Men, when it was revived in 1960 and ran to, at least, 1975. That came from a different publisher and was a very different magazine that is best forgotten.
1. The “Stageland” days, 1905-1914.
Blue Book was founded by Chicago businessman and entrepreneur Louis Eckstein (1865-1935). He had already issued Red Book in May 1903 and would later launch Green Book in January 1909. Curiously, at the outset Blue Book’s title didn’t follow the pattern. It began life as The Monthly Story Magazine, which made clear the distinction between itself and Red Book. Though both were the standard magazine size of the day — 6½ x 10 inches – and running to a substantial 192 pages, Red Book was published on good quality coated stock. It ran a wide range of features as well as stories, was highly illustrated and contained a significant amount of advertising. The Monthly Story Book was, with one exception, all fiction and carried no illustrations and limited advertising. It was published on pulp paper; not the usual thick low quality woodpulp but a better quality, which I tend to think of as closer to book paper. It’s quite thin and unfortunately does not age well so these early issues are brittle.
The one exception was a heavily illustrated thirty-page feature published on top quality coated stock and which opened each issue. This was “Stageland”. At this period several popular magazines, in both the United States and Britain, found it beneficial to link themselves with the theatre, much as today many magazines have film or tv tie-in features. “Stageland” consisted of photos from the main stage plays of the day and, starting in December 1906, there was also a theatre review section at the back of the magazine, run by Charles Darnton. The phrase “Stageland” featured at the top of the front cover on every issue, so much so that I have known some people think that that was the magazine’s name. So popular was the feature that within a couple of years the magazine also included a free “color supplement” immediately inside the front cover portraying what amounted to the “actress of the month”.
The covers were also far removed from any identity with an action, all-thrills pulp magazine. They featured a demure portrait of a woman in the fashion of the day, just as did Red Book. Painted by Gustavus Widney, James Albert Lane and others, these portraits suggested a magazine looking back more to the 1890s than the twentieth century.
In fact the whole atmosphere of both Red Book and The Monthly Story Magazine, was related more to the standard popular magazines like Harper’s and Scribner’s than to the other popular fiction pulp magazines like The Argosy or The Popular, both of which grew out of the dime novel tradition. This gave The Monthly Story Magazine an aura of sophistication that was somehow missing from the rival pulps, a sophistication that it retained even in its most die-hard pulp days of the mid-thirties. There was the added element of detachment that Monthly Story was published in Chicago and not in the capital of the pulps, New York. I don’t know how much this affected distribution, indeed it may have helped it, as by 1909, Blue Book was reporting a circulation of 200,000.
Nevertheless there was clearly a trend emerging rapidly at the time that The Monthly Story Magazine appeared. Its first issue was dated May 1905 and appeared on the stalls on 1st April. Just a few months earlier the first issue of The All-Story Magazine had appeared as a companion to Argosy, dated January 1905. Gunter’s Magazine appeared in February 1905, whilst over at Street & Smith, Smith’s Magazine appeared dated April 1905. Street & Smith had also converted their “boy’s” magazine, The People’s Magazine, to an all-fiction pulp in February 1904, and more were to follow.
There was no editorial credit in the first issue of Blue Book – in fact there wouldn’t be for the first ten years. It’s probable the magazine was edited by the same editor as Red Book – the noted explorer and war reporter Trumbull White (1868-1941). The first issue of Blue Book had no editorial but it did have a “Publishers’ Foreword” which may have been written by Louis Eckstein. It said:
The Monthly Story Magazine, of which this is the initial issue, expects to win a place in the favor of the reading public by deserving it. It desires to be judged by its contents and by its successive numbers in which constant improvement is to be sought. It is dedicated to the people, for their entertainment and pastime and they must be the judges of its merits. An elaborate pictorial section of theatrical scenes and favorites and a wealth of clever short fiction, with now and then a feature article of timely interest and value, will measure the scope of its contents. The purpose is to combine attractive quality and large quantity of good reading at a popular price.
The reference to “clever fiction” is an instant reminder of The Smart Set, arguably at the time the leading magazine of fiction, which called itself “The Magazine of Cleverness”. The Black Cat, which also prided itself on its unusual stories, would sometimes refer to itself as “the magazine of clever fiction.” These were stories of ingenuity and surprise rather than of dare-devil action and adventure: stories that made you think. These magazines marked the territory that Blue Book aimed at rather than the growing pulp school, and it is probable that in its early years, The Monthly Story Magazine did not think of itself as a “pulp” magazine.
As so often with magazines of this period, few of the contributors to the early issues are remembered today, even though their names were impressive at the time. Unfortunately I’ve not been able to find any of the first few issues, nor do I know anyone who owns them, so I am unable to comment on the stories themselves. The lead author in the first issue was Forrest Crissey with “The Ordeal of Fire.” Crissey was a well known writer and reporter in his day, who became a regular columnist on the Saturday Evening Post. Probably his best known book was the satirical Tattlings of a Retired Politician (1903) though he also wrote a commercial history of Chicago and a lot of articles about the rural economy. Also in this issue was popular children’s writer Emma C. Dowd, with what may well be a story for children, “The Reign of Queen Nabby”, the American mystic Grace Kincaid Morey and noted historian Edward Boltwood. But the only name likely to warm the cockles of pulp devotees is that of W. Bert Foster, the well known dime novelist and pulpster who wrote reams of material for various Street & Smith publications.
The second issue (June 1905) had a lead story by the British writer Eden Phillpotts, “Letters from Algiers”. This was the start of a brief but evidently popular trend where Blue Book ran a lot of stories by British writers. Robert Hichens is also in this issue with “Doctor Lisle” and later issues would include W. Pett Ridge, Mrs Coulson Kernahan, Max Pemberton, E. Phillips Oppenheim and Guy Boothby. I have not checked them all, but I believe some of these stories were reprinted from the English Windsor Magazine, though I suspect most were original submissions by authors following an announcement about The Monthly Story Magazine in the British magazine The Author. That was how William Hope Hodgson came to be a contributor, of whom more in a moment. A later editorial announcement suggested that the stories by British authors were amongst the most popular published in the magazines first couple of years.
One writer of interest in the second issue was Crittenden Marriott. This story was “The Editor’s Waterloo”. Amongst Marriott’s later novels was The Isle of Dead Ships (1909) which is set amongst a society of shipwrecked people who have become ensnared by the Sargasso Sea. Marriott became a regular contributor to The Monthly Story Magazine and several of his stories are borderline science fiction, starting with “The Road to Chester” (January 1910) about the first transatlantic crossing in a new kind of aircraft.
I don’t know much about Crittenden Marriott but his work intrigues me, particularly because William Hope Hodgson was a fellow contributor. Hodgson’s first appearance in The Monthly Story Magazine was in the issue for April 1906 with “From the Tideless Sea”, his haunting story of a family stranded for decades in the Sargasso Sea. So popular was this story that Hodgson wrote a sequel, “More News from the Homebird” (August 1907). Although Marriott was not in those issues, he was in issues within months either side, and it is very likely that he read those stories. It certainly raises the question as to whether Hodgson’s stories inspired Marriott’s The Isle of Dead Ships, written so soon after their appearance. There is one other strange link. Marriott’s story, “The Road to Chester” has the aeronaut John Wilbur cross the Atlantic when he learns that his daughter, Bessie, is seriously ill. At that time, living just outside Chester, at Cheadle Hulme, was Betty Farnworth, known to her friends as Bessie, who became Hodgson’s wife a few years later, in 1913.
Hodgson would contribute two other stories to The Monthly Story Magazine/Blue Book. “The Terror of the Water-Tank” (August 1907) is one of his minor stories but the other, “The Voice in the Night” (November 1907) is his best known and an acknowledged classic of the genre.
Hodgson was not the first contributor of supernatural, fantasy or science fiction to the magazine. The very first issue ran “The Enchanted Ring” by Charles F. Willcutt, and there was also “A Strange Experience” by S.J. Adair Fitzgerald and “A Withered Hand” by Talbot Morgan in the July 1905 issue. Alas I have yet to find any of these issues and stories.
The first of any note appeared in the September 1905 issue, “The Time Reflector” by George Allan England. This was England’s first fiction sale, which makes the issue highly collectible. As a story it’s fairly typical of the invention stories of the day – in that a professor invents something which later proves too dangerous to keep and is destroyed in a struggle where the professor is also killed. What makes the story rather more important is that the invention is a machine for witnessing the past through stored light – an idea not a million miles away from Bob Shaw’s “The Light of Other Days”, written sixty years later.
Several other science-fiction stories appeared during the magazine’s first year or two. Apart from Hodgson’s, four are of particular interest. Perhaps the most pulpish and also the most absurd, is “Five Men in Atlantis” (March 1906) by F.J. Knight-Adkin, in which climbers on Mount Everest are swept away by a passing asteroid which turns out to be a surviving remnant of Atlantis. Of more interest is “The Secret of Japan” (April 1906) by George W. Draper, which is typical of the early sf Gernsback would be publishing in The Electrical Experimenter ten years later. Set during the Russo-Japanese war it involves the invention of a ray that, through special vibrations, turns anything in its path invisible. James Barr was the Canadian-born younger brother of British writer and editor Robert Barr. His story, “The Last Englishman” (July 1906), is set in a future when the British Empire has collapsed, the United States has weakened against an Asiatic empire led by China, and when both factions find themselves under threat from a rising army of Moslems. Finally, in the December 1906 issue, there is “An Inter-planetary Rupture” by Frank L. Packard. Packard is much better known for his stories of gentleman thief Jimmie Dale, but this early item by him is fully-fledged cosmic sf, set in the year 3102, and charting a war between Earth and Mercury.
Although Blue Book would become well known for its science fiction and fantasies in the thirties and forties, it was only an occasional and not typical part of the contents of the early issues. The magazine was still establishing itself and developing a style and character. In September 1906 it renamed itself The Monthly Story Blue Book Magazine, a rather clumsy hybrid that soon changed to The Blue Book Magazine in May 1907. Thereafter that always remained its official title even though the cover and spine later shifted to simply Blue Book and, in 1952, Bluebook. The publisher commented on the initial change in title.The addition of the words “Blue Book” is associated with the best – people and things. The use of the term “Blue Book” sets a standard in itself, a standard that will be lived up to by the fiction which appears in the magazine.
Three issues later the magazine declared that there would be no serials in the magazine but that all stories would be complete, with lead novels. Blue Book was evidently setting itself up against the other fiction pulps where the emphasis was on serials. Argosy, for instance, would often run three or four per issue. Two issues after that, in February 1907, Blue Book declared further proposed improvements. There would be bigger issues, more artistic covers, an enlarged “Stageland”, and an emphasis on lead complete novels rather than serials and, most importantly, plenty of series. Needless to say all this came at a cost. The cover price increased from ten cents to fifteen.
In its emphasis on series Blue Book was recognising the formula that had been so successful in Britain for The Strand in 1891 which had decided not to run serials but capitalized on connected story series, with the runaway success of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Perhaps it was no coincidence, therefore, that one of the first series was “The Adventures of Carleton Clarke” by Frank Lovell Nelson. The eponymous Clarke, who first appeared in “The Aurovia Lodge Case” (January 1907), was referred to as “a second Sherlock Holmes.” Despite the apparent success of the series, which was hailed by the editor in each issue, so far as I can tell it has never appeared in bookform. In fact I can’t find anything by Nelson in bookform. Nelson was the picture editor of the New York Times and contributed at least one science-fiction story to Blue Book, “The Hugmetite Airship” (July 1907), about the discovery of antigravity and the unfortunate results.
In rapid succession during 1907 a number of series started. The month after Carleton Clarke’s debut came Judge Braxton, something of a contemporary Uncle Abner, created by Joseph Altsheler. One of Kentucky’s favorite sons, Altsheler was editor of the New York World but was already establishing a reputation for his stories about frontiersmen and the winning of America. Next came “Mysteries of the Rail” (started May 1907), curiously shown as “edited by” Marvin Dana, but in fact being a series of Victor L. Whitechurch’s noted railway crime stories. In June 1907 came “The Exploits of Colonel Forsythe” by L.P. Anderson. Forsythe was a professional swindler, reminding me of the Colonel Clay stories by Grant Allen collected in An African Millionaire (1897). July 1907 saw the first story in the mystery series, “The Man With the Ebony Crutches” by British writer Ward Muir. Finally, December 1907 saw the start of the self-explanatory series, “Tales of the Secret Service” by William J. Bacon.
This last named is a pointer to a series that would dwarf all others. This was “The Adventures of a Diplomatic Free-lance” by Clarence Herbert New. Although that series did not start until the March 1910 issue, New worked his way towards it with two similar series. His first, “The International Bureau”, began in the May 1908 issue and was followed by “An Agent for the Government” (started February 1909) about millionaire playboy and secret service agent Cyrus M. Grisscome. New then combined the best elements of both series to start “The Adventures of a Diplomatic Free-lance”, about freelance British agent, Lord Trevor, who is called in by diplomats throughout Europe, to help out in difficult situations. In the years just before and during the First World War, New’s series was forever topical and never seemed to lose its popularity. New continued to write it for the rest of his life. By the time the series ended in 1934 it had run for 289 instalments and totalled around three million words, making it the longest running of any magazine series. Through to his last appearance, “The Warburton Mystery” (May 1934), New had a total of 387 stories in Blue Book, under his own name and the pen names Culpeper Zandtt and George Hopkins Orcutt, making him the magazine’s most prolific contributor.
Despite the attention I’ve paid to mystery and science fiction stories, these accounted for at best about a quarter of the magazine’s contents. During this first phase of its life, Blue Book ran the whole range of popular fiction, from exotic adventures to poignant romances and from sport stories to humorous slice-of-life episodes. There are some well known authors contributing to these, including a few surprises.
Ellis Parker Butler was a frequent contributor starting with “A Christmas Stopover” (February 1906) and later including his clever series about the country-boy conman Jabez Bunker who uses his skills to great effect in the big city. Butler would also contribute one of the best early sf stories, “The Last Man” (September 1914), set in a New York where a major catastrophe has wiped out the population. Thirteen years before he became renowned for the character Zorro, Johnston McCulley appeared regularly in Blue Book starting with “The Escape” (December 1906) and including his humorous series, “Todd the Tourist”, which began in the July 1908 issue.
A surprise for many people will be the appearance of Damon Runyon with two stories, “The Red Grave” (January 1907) and “The High Graderess” (October 1910). The first could well be Runyon’s first published story. His earliest attributed piece of fiction is usually cited as “The Defence of Strikerville” in the February 1907 McClure’s, but here we have a story a whole month earlier and one that, so far as I know, has never been reprinted.
One of the regular contributors to Blue Book, and a name synonymous with exotic adventure, was that of Australian writer James Francis Dwyer. Dwyer writes about his relationship with Blue Book in his volume of reminiscences Leg Irons on Wings (1949). He relates how he had come to New York, via England, in 1907 and after a few months surviving as a reporter for the New York World, he turned his hand to fiction. He recalls that in November 1907 he wrote two stories sending one to Railroad Man’s Magazine and the other to Blue Book. He received cheques by way of acceptance from both magazines on the same day, 28 November. For his story in Blue Book, “The Imp of Dhatmar Singh”, which is about 3,000 words long, he received $30, showing that for new writers at least, Blue Book was paying a cent a word at that time. By 1928, though, Dwyer notes that Blue Book was paying him $1000 a story, regardless of length. During 1910 Dwyer wrote his own series of exotic adventures with “Red O’Neill of the South Seas” (February-July 1910).
The importance of Dwyer’s memoirs is that he names Blue Book’s editor in 1908 as Karl Harriman (1875-1935). White had left Blue Book and Red Book in 1906, moving on to become editor of Appleton’s Magazine. He would subsequently join the Ridgway Company where he would launch Adventure in November 1910, and in that sense Adventure is a stepson of Blue Book. It was Harriman who saw through all the early changes in Blue Book, though the more significant changes were down to his successor, Ray Long (1878-1935). Long is one of the legendary magazine editors. He remained at Blue Book, and its two companions, from 1911 to 1918 when he joined William Randolph Hearst’s organization as editor of Cosmopolitan. In a short space of time he doubled that magazine’s circulation and was reputed to be one of the highest paid editors of the 1920s, earning a salary of $100,000 (today the equivalent of $1 million). Long had both the common touch and an ability to give a magazine an air of sophistication.
Long’s influence became evident from the start. He shifted the balance between Blue Book and Red Book so that the latter took on the greater proportion of love stories and society tales. Blue Book started to become the bye-word for adventure and thrills. Some of this may be due to Long’s assistant, the then young Donald Kennicott (1881-1965). Kennicott had joined the company in 1910, as assistant to Harriman. As Kennicott recalls in his article “Adventures in Editing” (November 1954), when Long became editor-in-chief he “turned over the buying for Blue Book to me.” His name first appears on the masthead in the first issue that actually lists its editors, June 1916, and it may be from then that Long delegateted the role. Kennicott would not become sole editor for another ten years, but from 1916 on, Blue Book was primarily in his hands.
One of the early exponents of the bizarre mystery series was the Australian writer (resident in Britain) Max Rittenberg, whose series, “The Strange Cases of Doctor Xavier Wycherly” (which had just started in the British London Magazine) began in the June 1911 Blue Book. Wycherley is both a psychic and a psychologist and he solves his strange cases through being able to sense the aura of individuals. His adventures were eventually published in book form as The Mind Reader (1913). Rittenberg followed this series with the stories of Magnum, the Scientific Detective and Consultant to Scotland Yard, starting in the October 1913 issue.
Science fiction was not far behind. From December 1911 to May 1912 ran six closely linked stories under the title “Tales of Twenty Hundred” by the great dime novelist and pulpster William Wallace Cook. This is a wonderful example of Gernsbackian sf yet I wonder whether Gernsback, who was at the same time running his novel “Ralph 124C 41+” in Modern Electrics, ever saw it. The series – it is almost a thinly disguised serial – is about billionaire industrialist and inventor Vincent Blake who is determined to change the world’s climate. He has already brought warm water to the Arctic by blowing up the Aleutian Islands and now he plans to tip the Earth so that its access is straight and not tilted. Though he is supported by the English-speaking Quadruple Alliance (which includes the United States and Britain) he is opposed by the Federated States of South America. The series follows the various attempts by the Federated States to stop Blake, though this seems to be little more than an excuse for a non-stop list of amazing inventions and changes in society. In the end Blake prevails following support from an unexpected quarter – the Martians.
Series, which had already grown under Harriman, now became the order of the day. Nearly half the stories in the February 1913 issue, just to pick one example, form part of a regular ongoing series. In addition to the latest adventures of Clarence New’s Diplomatic Free Lance and Max Rittenberg’s Doctor Wycherley we have the first episode of the “Bird of Paradise” series by Randolph Bedford. This concerns the adventures of “Find-Out" Jack Wagstaff and his quest to the South Seas in search of the elusive feathers of the Bird of Paradise. “The Tender Heart of Trixie” is the third story in the series about Danny Murdoch, Aviator by Henry M. Neely. “Trapped by a Devil-Fish” was the latest underwater adventure featuring the highly popular Matt Bardeen, Master Diver, by Frederic Reddale. Ellis Proctor Holmes provided his latest adventure of African trader, Remus Romuluski, in “Romuluski’s Musical Extravaganza”, whilst in “The Conspiracy” Fred Jackson reveals another of the fascinating cases of Detective Kristian White, a kind of proto-Ironside, known as “The Man in the Chair” because he is confined to a wheelchair following an accident in a hotel fire years before. In the series “The Fiery Mills of Men”, Charles Wesley Sanders provides an opportunity to look at the working man’s life. A millionaire takes on the persona of worker Jim Malone and goes to work in a steel mill to get a full understanding of what is required. The conflicts that emerge made this one of the more original series at the time. Finally in “A Political Boss Meets Defeat”, A.L. Sarran tells his latest adventure of boy prankster Willie Bill, a kind of “Our Gang” forerunner.
These alone show the diversity of series that Blue Book was running, let alone the variety of the free-standing stories. In this issue, these included a melodramatic lead-story mystery, “The House of the Shifting Lights” by William Tillinghast Eldridge”; a couple of naval adventures, “The Proving of Captain Holden” by Adolph Bennauer and “To Spite His Face” by Caspar Johnson; a couple of light romances, “O’Reilly-a-Book” by John Barton Oxford and “A Night of Miracles” by Horace Hazeltine; an adventure in revolutionary Mexico, “The Swinging Rock” by Richard Post; and a fine example of the “clever” story, “Mind Versus Millions” by Stella Wynne Herron, in which a chauffeur outwits a millionaire.
Soon after Long dispensed with Blue Book’s rule of no serials, which he had already bent in half, by running James Francis Dwyer’s lost-race novel “The Blue Lizard” in seven episodes from August 1913. Like his previous two successes, The White Waterfall and The Spotted Panther, this was another fantastic adventure set in the allure of the South Seas. In this case an adventurer convinces a millionaire to accompany him and his daughter on a search for the lost tribe of the Kymer, deep in central Asia, but before they get there their ship is wrecked in a storm and they find themselves on a sinking island menaced by the very Kymer they had gone to find. Unlike Dwyer’s earlier novels, and all too like many of the series in Blue Book, this novel did not make it into bookform. By the time that serial finished two more were running and Dwyer contributed a further serial before the end of 1914.
During 1913/14 Long introduced further great names to Blue Book. Octavus Roy Cohen’s very first story sale appeared in the May 1913 issue, “Below the Surface”, and he rapidly became a regular, publishing many stories with a sporting theme long before he found fame in the Saturday Evening Post in the 1920s. Edgar Wallace, who was well on his way to becoming the “King of Thrillers”, made his first appearance with “Queen of the N’gombi” (September 1914), one of his Sanders of the River African adventures which had first appeared in Britain in The Weekly Tale-Teller (14 September 1912). Albert Payson Terhune first appeared in the October 1914 issue with a short novel of political ambition, “The Slugger”. Gaston Leroux, still fresh from his massive success with The Phantom of the Opera (1911), appeared with a dramatic South American lost-race novel, “Bride of the Sun” (November 1914) whilst the British writer, H. De Vere Stacpoole, who had also scored a great success with his desert-island romance The Blue Lagoon (1908), made his first appearance with a similar exotic adventure “Pearl Island” (December 1914).
Blue Book had now become the magazine of sensational stories. Long finalized the transition. He moved the “Stageland” feature (which had briefly become the “Motion Picture Department”) to Green Book with effect from the October 1914 issue and increased Blue Book’s size to 240 all-fiction pages, making it the largest fiction pulp on the stands. Somewhat anachronistically the demure female continued to adorn the covers and it would be a while before that changed. Blue Book thus kept it’s rather genteel and sophisticated coat, but inside it was a magazine of mystery, intrigue and adventure. Green Book would linger on for another six years but folded with the July 1921 issue.
2. The ‘pulp’ beneath the sheets, 1915-1927.
The roll-call of names from Blue Book’s first ten years were, for the most part, new writers who would go on to establish their reputations in the slick magazines. Some of them remained true to their pulp roots, others turned their back on them. Several would continue to appear in Blue Book, as we shall see, as it always remained a ‘slick’ under the skin, but from 1915 on, for at least the next quarter of a century, it’s contents were predominantly in the pulp tradition, with a few surprises.
With its growing reputation for exotic adventures who better to have in Blue Book than the grandfather of them all, H. Rider Haggard. Haggard may have been past his prime, but his name was still held in high regard and his work always sought after by the magazines. Long acquired Haggard’s latest Allan Quatermain novel, “The Ivory Child”, which he serialized from the February to September 1915 issues. The novel was being serialized at the same time in England syndicated through various weekly newspapers, but the first episode appeared first in the US, by just a few days – January 1st compared to the 4th in England. Long’s real coup, though, came a year later when he secured a new series of Tarzan stories from Edgar Rice Burroughs. These short stories, published under the generic title of “New Stories of Tarzan” (September 1916-August 1917), and in bookform as Jungle Tales of Tarzan (1919), had been rejected by Bob Davis of All-Story, who preferred the novel-length works. According to Irwin Porges in his biography of Burroughs, The Man Who Created Tarzan (1975), Davis even went so far as to ask “Who was so foolish as to take the series?” In fact these short stories, which look back on Tarzan’s early life, have since come to be highly revered by Burroughs fans and are amongst the most interesting of the whole series. Porges also tells us that Burroughs received $350 for each story (today the equivalent of around $5,300 or $64,000 for the full series). He was paid at the rate of around five cents a word.
Burroughs went on to cement his relationship with Blue Book, first with the rather implausible “The Oakdale Affair” (published March 1918) and then with the great lost-world adventure trilogy which later saw book publication under the title of the first story, “The Land That Time Forgot” (August 1918). That title, incidentally, was the inspiration of Ray Long himself; Burroughs’s title had been “The Lost U-Boat”. In fact, according to Porges’s detailed biography, it looks like the idea for these stories was suggested by Long. Burroughs didn’t get the full five cents a word for these stories, but about half that, though it still amounted to $3,000 for the trilogy (today equal to about $42,000).
It is Burroughs’s presence that makes these issues of Blue Book so collectible today, though he is not the only writer of note that Long published during his last two years as editor. The June 1916 issue, in addition to Ellis Parker Butler, Edwin L. Sabin, Louis Tracy, Cyrus Townsend Brady and Octavus Roy Cohen managed to publish a new Chinatown story by Sax Rohmer, “The Pigtail of Hi-Wing-Ho”, and a new series of stories by Gilbert Parker. Though Rohmer was rapidly establishing his reputation in Britain with his Fu-Manchu books, he had yet to visit the United States, and his days of fame were yet to come. Parker’s career, on the other hand, had peaked some years earlier. Born in Canada but now resident in England, where he was an M.P. and had just been created a baronet, Parker was declared by Blue Book as “one of the three or four really great living writers of fiction.” Long had managed to secure the only short stories Parker was to write in 1916. The first of these, “Blood Will Tell”, was typical of the highly romanticized work of Palmer redolent of an era fading rapidly because of the Great War.
Before Burroughs’ Tarzan series was finished Long began serialization of Zane Grey’s “The Roaring U.P. Trail” (June 1917-January 1918). Westerns had appeared in Blue Book before now – indeed the very first contribution by H. Bedford-Jones, “The Wilderness Trail” (February 1915) was a story about Daniel Boone -- but they had not figured prominently. Grey’s novel about a young girl, the only survivor following a Sioux raid upon her family, gave the western a greater status in Blue Book and before long it would start to colour the image of the magazine. No sooner had Grey’s story drawn to a close than Blue Book began a new western serial, “Firebrand Trevison” by Argosy regular Charles Alden Seltzer (January-May 1918) and this was followed immediately by Clarence E. Mulford’s short novel “The Man from Bar-20” (May 1918). The image of the western also influenced the magazine’s cover. For the last thirteen years the magazine had always featured covers with attractive but decent ladies in the day’s fashion, and these had remained constant even if, over the last few years, the ladies had taken on more of a come-hither look. With the February 1919 issue all that changed. This displayed a western scene portraying the young heroine of Elizabeth Dejeans’s new serial, “If a Woman Will” (February-April 1919), looking distraught over the body of a cowboy. From here on Blue Book’s covers always depicted dramatic scenes from the lead story.
That same February 1919 issue was the first to see the return of Karl Harriman as editor. Long had signed off with the January issue and headed off to the Hearst empire and fame and fortune. The period of Long’s editorship had seen Blue Book shift from a semi-sophisticated magazine that ran a wide variety of stories to a more pulp-orientated magazine with a stronger emphasis on action stories. Since Harriman had also been moving in this direction when he first held the editorial reins, he slipped back into the rôle with scarcely a twitch. Just where he had been for the intervening seven years I do not know. It is likely he had returned to freelance writing but was happy to return to Blue Book when the opportunity presented itself.
So it was under Harriman that the demure covers gave way to the action scenes and that Blue Book continued to shift its markets. The lack of any letters in the magazine or editorial feedback makes it difficult to know just who the readers of Blue Book were. The impression from the contents was that Blue Book sought to satisfy the whole family and a range of classes. But under Harriman the magazine seemed to aim primarily at the working man or the man of action. It kept some of its humorous society stories, but these were less evident in the twenties (far less than in other contemporary magazines) and placed emphasis on mysteries, western and frontier stories, exotic adventures, plus some sports and war stories. The degree of science fiction was limited, certainly the lowest it would be during the magazine’s lifetime, though the occasional weird fantasy or occult story would appear.
The change is also evidenced by the number of writers who were new to the magazine and whose reputation was built primarily on adventure stories. For instance, Achmed Abdullah made his first appearance in the March 1919 issue with “The Hatchetman”, a story of Oriental life. His “The Incubus” (April 1920) is a compelling story of a man alone in the African jungle. Edison Marshall had appeared first in the August 1918 issue with “The Conquerin’ Hero” and soon after contributed his popular series, “From a Frontiersman’s Diary” (started July 1919). These stories of strange encounters in the wildernesses and backwoods of North America were highly atmospheric and very original. H. Bedford-Jones began to appear on a more regular basis showing his diverse skills for adventures across the globe and throughout history. “Pure Business” (July 1919) pits two men against the perils of a remote Chinese desert. “Irregular Brethren” (August 1919) features the workings of an Oriental masonic lodge and its influence in the wilds of Borneo. Lemuel Lawrence De Bra made his first appearance in Blue Book with “Tears of the Poppy” (August 1919), one of his many authentic stories set in San Francisco’s Chinatown based on De Bra’s own experiences as a secret service agent investigating the opium trade.
For a while at the start of Harriman’s tenure the western took a bit of a back seat to the mystery, secret service and crime adventure. In addition to De Bra’s Chinatown stories there was “The White Moll” series by Frank L. Packard about a young girl forced to be part of a gang of desperate crooks. There were mystery serials by British writers Edgar Jepson, J.S. Fletcher and E. Phillips Oppenheim, the ever-present Diplomatic Free Lance stories by Clarence New, stories about master crook Chester Fay by Henry Leverage, about psychologist-detective John Hudson by William Almon Wolff, a Raffles-like series about “The Profiteer Plunderers” by British writer W. Douglas Newton and clever theatrical crimes in “Adventures in Vaudevillainy” by I.K. Friedman. Supporting these were the frontier stories by Edison Marshall and Clem Yore, exotic adventures by H. Bedford-Jones, humorous stories by Holman Day, sea stories by Clarence New (writing as Culpeper Zandtt), J. Allan Dunn and A.R. Wetjen, a series of “Leatherneck Tales” by Barney Furey about the US marines, and sports stories by Albert Payson Terhune, Anthony M. Rud, Ray Wynn and Harold de Polo amongst others. There were the occasional quirky stories such as Elmer Brown Mason’s golfing series, which included teaching golf to the Esquimaux in “Red Eggs” (January 1923) and an orang-utang that played golf in “The Anthropoid Caddy” (June 1923). There was even a caveman series by Prosper Buranelli featuring Ak, the “slayer of dwarves” starting with “The Last Neanderthal” (May 1920). It was a strong, entertaining, action package.
The magazine also introduced illustrations for the first time. These took the form of brief sketches at the head of each story – there were no others throughout the story. These were initially credited to Quin Hall, who had a sharp but quaint style. He was later joined by Herbert Morton Stoops, Laurence Herndon and others. Herndon also provided many of the covers though there were occasional appearances by J. Allen St. John with uncharacteristically sedate paintings. From November 1922 for a little under a year Blue Book returned to having covers depicting demure young ladies, most of these painted by Haskell Coffin. These once again gave the magazine a deceptively sophisticated appearance.
Perhaps this deceptive appearance led to one of Harriman’s greatest coups. Even though the covers had changed back to action scenes by September 1923 that issue ran the first of Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot stories, “The Affair at the Victory Ball.” Christie’s first three books had already been published in Britain and America to considerable acclaim and she was on a rising tide of success. These were her first forays into short fiction and in Britain had been published in the weekly society paper The Sketch, starting in March 1923. It may seem strange to think of stories from an upper-middle class British paper appearing in an American pulp, but in fact during 1924/25 Christie also contributed to the British all-fiction pulp magazines The Grand and The Novel, neither of which were seen as beyond the pale. During the early twenties most of the better quality pulp magazines were seen as near equals to the slicks, though it was a divide that would separate rapidly in the late twenties and beyond.
It’s interesting to check the contents of that September 1923 Blue Book and see the stablemates for Poirot’s first outing. There were thirteen complete stories and two serials. The magazine opened with the first part of Courtney Ryley Cooper’s novel of the Old West, “The Last Frontier” made all the more authentic by Cooper’s personal memories of Buffalo Bill. George F. Wort’s Oriental adventure, “South of Shanghai” came to a conclusion. There was just one other mystery story, “The Bronson Bonds”, featuring Ellis Parker Butler’s detective with the “automatic brain”, Grayson Greene. There was a sports story, “The Alibi King” by Robert W. Edgren and a story set in the world of big business, “Strategy Hawkins, Wizard” by Edward Mott Woolley. Otherwise all of the stories could be classified as action stories or unusual adventures. These included another of Lemuel De Bra’s stories of smugglers, “Jewels of the Dragon”; one of Albert R. Wetjen’s whaling stories, “Fortune”; a couple of explorers’ tales, “Elephant Talk” by Warren Hastings Miller and “Harbor of Pearls” by Robert S. Lemmon. There was one of Clarence New’s Free Lance stories and the start of a new series of similar ilk, “The Buried Alive Club” by Frank Parker Stockbridge. H. Bedford-Jones had another of his exotic adventures, “One Night in Tarakan” and James French Dorrance rounded out the issue with his contemporary western “Trouble on the Hoof.” Poirot feels strangely out of place in this issue, even though the stories were much in the tradition of Blue Book’s early years. In fact it is perhaps the most striking example of Blue Book in transition. Harriman was continuing to move the magazine towards the action adventure market but without losing the more sophisticated reader who had supported the magazine through its first two decades.
There are plenty of other authors who contributed to Blue Book during this period, almost too many to mention. The British writer Betram Atkey became a regular, initially with his light-hearted series about two street-wise characters known as the “Easy Street Experts” who survive by their wits on the borderline of the law. Beatrice Grimshaw somewhat belatedly stepped into the shoes of James Francis Dwyer (who still appeared occasionally in the magazine) with her romantic stories of the South Seas. Raoul Whitfield stepped over from Black Mask for his stories about a daring air circus.
One new writer who debuted at this time was none other than Paul Gallico, though thereby hangs a question. In Confessions of a Story-Teller (1961), Gallico wrote:
When I was twenty-one I sold my first story to a pulp magazine. I think it was Blue Book. I haven’t the faintest recollection what it was about, but I got ninety dollars for it, which is probably more than Mozart got for his first opera.
Gallico tends to dismiss his early pulp sales since he set his sights early on selling to the slicks and doesn’t really count his career starting until he sold to the Saturday Evening Post in 1933. Gallico was 21 in July 1918 but his first appearance in Blue Book was with “Kayo Kid Launcelot”, a boxing story, in the April 1925 issue. Over six years is rather a long gap and it’s hard to believe Gallico would forget his first fiction sale quite so thoroughly, so possibly he had other stories in other magazines.
Another oddity appeared in the July 1926 issue. This was the story “Seven Anderton” by Laban Reynolds. This is really a fictionalized account of Reynolds’s first encounter with Anderton, who was a real life rogue and adventurer who soon turned to writing stories for the pulps himself starting with “The Ghost of Dan the Fox” (December 1928). (There’s a picture of Anderton in the May 1929 Blue Book.)
H. Bedford-Jones was now appearing with relentless regularity. In addition to his oriental adventures, with which he first established himself in the magazine, he also wrote westerns and detective stories – including a series about American detective Peter Clancy in Paris. His output meant that for Blue Book he needed to employ one of his stock of pen names, and the old reliable Allan Hawkwood was dusted down for “The Bar E Bar Bandit”, described as “a thrill-crammed tale of wild ways and wild days on a remote New Mexico cattle range.”
Agatha Christie had appeared in almost every issue to the end of 1925, including the serialization of “The Man in the Brown Suit” (October-November 1924) and returned with a further series of Poirot stories during 1927.
Harriman must have been doing something right. The recorded average circulation for 1923 was 223,577, the highest the magazine would achieve until the early fifties. However, the fact that over the next four years the circulation steadily dropped by over fifty thousand, suggests that Christie was not a sufficient factor to garner high sales. In fact it is difficult to see why the magazine’s circulation would decline over the next few years because Harriman instituted a series of changes which enhanced the magazine and which, according to editorial comment at least, was appreciated by the readers. These changes were announced in the August 1925 issue. The cover boldly pronounced $500 in cash prizes / $100 each for the five best fact stories of true experiences.
In an extended editorial Harriman, or more probably Kennicott, noted that “probably every reader of this magazine has had at least one remarkable experience”, and he encouraged readers to send in these true stories. From here on five stories would be selected each month from readers who would be awarded $100 per story (equal to about $1000 today). Harriman also announced that it would be a bigger magazine (in effect it increased by only four pages from 192 to 196) and that there would be no more serials, but all stories would be complete – that promise only lasted for a year. This change was accompanied by a price rise from 20¢ to 25¢. Whether that price increase was the main factor that caused circulation to plummet from 202,373 in 1925 to 169,260 in 1926, is not evident, but it must be one factor.
This was also the period when the western began to dominate the magazine, certainly visually if not by wordage. The magazine had already sported several western covers, proclaiming “4 Great Stories of the West” on its April 1925 cover. The March 1926 cover, against the background of a forest fire, announced “Through the Red Dusk: A ‘Western’ Aflame with Exciting Adventure”. May’s cover depicted “A Thrilling ‘Western’, The Chimney of Gold by Roy Norton” and June reminded readers that Blue Book always had “the best stories of the Open West.” Thereafter, for the rest of the year the covers pronounced, in sequence, “Two Great Novels of the West”, “Stories of the West where it’s wild – ”, “The Best Stories of the Open West”, “Thrilling Stories of the West”, “Virile Western Tales” (my favourite), “Stirring Western Stories” and “Vivid Western Tales”. All of these proclamations were accompanied by western paintings. It was a time when the western story was dominating all of the pulps, including Argosy and, for that matter, Black Mask, which ran lots of westerns during the mid-twenties and sported several western covers.
The magazine also started to increase the number of internal illustrations, even for a brief while featuring a photographic frontispiece. From the July 1926 issue it called itself “The Illustrated Blue Book Magazine” on the cover, a logo which lasted into 1929. It’s great days as an illustrated magazine were not until the 1930s and 40s, but it was a sign of the various changes in hand.
Early in 1927 Karl Harriman retired as editor of both Blue Book and Red Book. His position was taken by Edwin Balmer, but his tenure at Blue Book would be short as significant changes were afoot and Blue Book was about to enter its Golden Age.
3. The Golden Age, 1928-1940.
I do not know whether Harriman’s departure was related to falling sales. From the peak in 1923, sales had dropped by nearly 80,000 by 1927. It’s possible that by becoming a more traditional pulp magazine Blue Book had lost many of its early standard readers. It may also be that the growth in the number of pulps on the stands, in particular the specialist pulps, caused readers to become more selective and the emphasis on westerns over the last year had been part of that rivalry.
Whatever the circumstances, when Balmer took over the circulation once again began to rise, by ten thousand in 1928 and up to 180,000 by 1929. This rise is almost certainly due to one simple fact – the return of Tarzan. And for that credit must go, not to Balmer, but to Donald Kennicott. Burroughs used to employ the technique of multiple submissions with each new story. In his biography of Burroughs, Irwin Porges notes that Burroughs sent “Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle” (in bookform as Tarzan the Invincible) simultaneously to Liberty, Collier’s, Youth’s Companion, The Elk’s Magazine and Redbook but it was rejected by all. It was then accepted by Donald Kennicott at Blue Book for $5,000. Since Balmer was nominally editor of both Red Book and Blue Book, you might think that though he would reject it as a Red Book submission he might accept it for Blue Book. Kennicott and Balmer had separate offices on either side of a corridor at Consolidated Magazines in South State Street, Chicago, and it seems that at that stage (it changed in later years) there was not too much interplay between them.
Burroughs dominated Blue Book for the next ten years and there were seldom many issues in which he did not appear – in fact he had a serial episode in every issue from October 1928 to March 1932, from “Tarzan and the Lost Empire”, through “Tanar of Pellucidar”, “Tarzan at the Earth’s Core”, “A Fighting Man of Mars”, “Tarzan, Guard of the Jungle” and “The Land of Hidden Men” to “The Triumph of Tarzan”. Tarzan or Tanar do not appear on all of the covers but one or the other is on a lot of them, depicted mostly by Frank J. Hoban or Laurence Herndon. There can be no doubt that his presence was the prime reason for Blue Book’s resurgence in circulation. The fees he was paid for these serials were significantly ahead of other writers, reaching $8,000 (about 10¢ a word and now equal to about $85,000) with “Tarzan at the Earth’s Core”. These seven serials earned Burroughs $51,500 from Blue Book alone ($1,100 per issue) and no magazine was going to pay these sums unless they resulted in increased sales. They also make these Blue Books amongst the most collectible and expensive today, and it’s where I still have some gaps in my collection – I just can’t afford them all!
During this period Blue Book made no pretence to being anything other than a men’s adventure magazine. It was full of explorers’ tales to the remote parts of the Earth, jungle adventures, Foreign Legion stories, westerns, sea stories and crime stories. Apart from Tarzan, the main fantasy element was provided by Bertram Atkey, firstly with his light-hearted series about moon-man Merlin O’Moore, then his account of the further adventures of Hercules, and later the revival of his hero Hobart Honey, whose soul transmigrates its way through history. The occasional romance or sports story crept in, as a token gesture to still being a family magazine, but it was in all other shape and form a men’s adventure magazine.
During 1929 Louis Eckstein, now approaching sixty-five, decided to sell both Red Book and Blue Book. I haven’t checked for details of the sale, which I imagine would have been lucrative. Both titles were purchased by the McCall Company, the publisher of McCall’s Magazine. Eckstein remained a major shareholder for the rest of his life. It was part of the condition of sale that Balmer and Kennicott remain as editors, but they also had to move to New York, where McCall’s editorial offices were situated. Now it was formalized and Kennicott became the named editor of Blue Book from December 1929. With the McCall take over (wich happened in July 1929 and was effective from the October 1929 issue), the logo “Illustrated” was dropped from the title, but the big change was yet to come.
Both McCall’s and Red Book were already published as large format flat slicks and Blue Book was an anomaly, so it too was converted to the same size. The change was announced in the September 1930 issue, proclaiming that the magazine would be 20% larger, with more wordage and more readable type. Since the change also ushered in a new Tarzan serial, “Tarzan, Guard of the Jungle”, there was a guaranteed continuity of readership. The new “enlarged” Blue Book was certainly attractive. The October issue sported a Tarzan cover by Laurence Herndon and the size allowed for more illustrations. There was a red-wash frontispiece to the Tarzan serial, by Frank Hoban. Throughout the magazine there was an illustration on every page, mostly small spot sketches but some were larger. Artists included Joseph Maturo, Allen Moir Dean, Everett Lowry, Lee Townsend and W.O. Kling. The magazine was still on pulp paper, only the front and back inner pages being of slightly better quality to take adverts and photographs. Otherwise the contents were exactly the same as before. The five true real-life experiences, eleven short stories, all by regulars and most forming part of a series, two serials and a short novel. The mix of contents was also the same. In addition to Tarzan, there was another underworld drama by Lemuel De Bra, a South Sea romance by Beatrice Grimshaw, a Hobart Honey story by Bertram Atkey, a Free Lance story by Clarence New, a mystery story by Frederick Bechdolt, an air-war story by Mark Seven and a foreign legion serial by Warren Hastings Miller. One of the downspots of Blue Book during this period, though it probably seemed harmless at the time, were the humorous “darkey” stories by Arthur B. Akers, set in Alabama. Though not racist, these stories present such a stereotypical image of African Americans as to make you wince today, even though the individual stories were themselves quite clever.
The large format restored that aura of sophistication to Blue Book, despite the action covers and the evident pulp-style orientation of the stories. For a while it evidently sustained the circulation, which had peaked at just under 190,000 in 1930. But apparently the cost of the large format was too expensive. Blue Book did not run the extensive advertisements used in Red Book and McCall’s, and had to be financed almost entirely from sales. These were evidently not sufficient and, from September 1932, Blue Book reverted to the standard pulp size. Balmer noted that the new size was more convenient to read and, bizarrely, “more economical to print”, even though the same argument had been applied to switching to the large format. What is more likely is that as the Depression started to bite, McCall’s found a new printing deal which allowed Blue Book to be printed more cheaply in the old format. Moreover it is possible that because the large format placed Blue Book elsewhere in the stacks, that it was starting to be overlooked by the majority of pulp magazine readers. The number of these magazines was mushrooming throughout the early thirties, and with less money around, all magazines were vying for top spot.
Many pulps would have yearned for Blue Book’s circulation figures, but by 1932 these had also dropped, by over thirty thousand. Were readers overlooking the magazine, which was now neither slick nor pulp? Or were they tiring of a diet of Edgar Rice Burroughs? Popular though he was, his continued to presence in issue after issue may have palled on those who had previously enjoyed the variety that Blue Book had offered.
Nevertheless, the twenty-three large format issues were all very attractive and contained some excellent material. Amongst the highlights was a fine series set during the Great War, “A Soldier of France”, written and illustrated by Armand Brigaud; a highly realistic and semi-autobiographical cowboy serial, “Big-Enough” (began August 1931) by former cowhand Will James; the Clubfoot secret service series by Valentine Williams; a surprisingly advanced and yet short-sighted story about atomic energy, “The Shattered Atom” (February 1932) by F. Britten Austin; Albert R. Wetjen’s atmospheric variation on the Marie Celeste mystery, “The Ship of Silence” (July 1932); the rediscovery of the lost Carthaginians in the serial “The Moon Gods” (began July 1932) by Edgar Jepson and Sidney Gowing; and several clever humorous fantasies by Bertram Atkey including “Fintale the Merman” (January 1932) and “The Last of the Dinosaurs” (April 1932). Most of these issues are beautifully illustrated in black and white with a color wash and with striking action covers, mostly by Lawrence Herndon.
The September 1932 Blue Book may have brought a diminution in size, but it also brought with it a reduction in price, from 25¢ to 15¢. There were 160 pages compared to the 136 of the large size issues (though these had dropped to 120 in the final months) but the previous standard size issues had carried 196 pages so, despite Kennicott’s editorial claim that “we are able to offer you more reading matter” (chiefly by squeezing the size of the illustrations) seems rather false. However there was no comparative decrease in quality. The new Burroughs serial, “Tarzan and the Leopard Men” continued and there was a new blockbuster serial to warm the hearts of the science-fiction fans who stayed by the magazine. This was “When Worlds Collide” by Edwin Balmer and Philip Wylie. One may wonder how Balmer found time to collaborate on this serial of Earth threatened by an errant new planet, but in practice the writing was done almost wholly by Wylie based on an outline by Balmer. This serial would go down as one of the classics of the early thirties and was certainly a cut above most of the serials then appearing in the sf magazines themselves, which were at this time all seriously threatened by the Depression.
The magazine had another story of interest to sf enthusiasts, “The Damned Thing” by Seven Anderton, about an inventor who creates a special electrified suit to allow him to take revenge upon a gang of racketeers. Kennicott would later admit to being fascinated by science fiction, seeing it as the new form of frontier exploration where man was continually pushing back the barriers, which he believed all fiction should do. This same attitude was probably what encouraged Kennicott to continue running the true-life experiences and other occasional non-fiction features such as the series “Lives of the Daring” by David Newell, which began in this issue. It was also that outlook that caused him to publish such stories as the deep-sea adventure “Owner’s Interest” by Captain Dingle and the wilderness drama “Timber Wolf” by Bigelow Pain in this issue. Kennicott devoted his editorial in the October 1932 issue to “This World of Change”, stating how the constant change in the world allows for new views and new slants on stories, whilst his June 1933 editorial, “Writer and Inventor”, revelled in the potential of science and how it was fiction’s task to be ahead of fact. From here on there was seldom an issue of Blue Book that did not contain either a science fiction story or a story that revolved around some original novelty. 1933 offered, for example, in addition to “When Worlds Collide” and its sequel “After Worlds Collide” (began November 1933), a serial of telepathy and psychic powers, “There’s Murder in the Air” (June-October) by Roy Chanslor. Chanslor had already contributed a couple of interesting stories to Blue Book, both of which questioned the value of life, “The Game of Death” and “The Eternal Light”. He would go on to be a major screenwriter, including writing the screenplay for Tarzan Triumphs (1943) and was the author of Johnny Guitar (1953) and The Ballad of Cat Ballou (1956). Also published in 1933 was a strange immortal’s memories of caveman days, “The Man Who Was 63,000 Years Old” (July) by Jay Lucas, better known for his westerns, and Michael Arlen’s fantasy about a native African’s power of flight, “The Black Archangel” (September).
The November 1932 issue introduced a writer new to Blue Book who would become one of its most popular contributors of the thirties. This was the British soldier and adventurer William J. Makin and “The Woman of Antioch” introduced his character Paul Rodgers, known as the Red Wolf, a mysterious Lawrence of Arabia like character who was a member of the British Intelligence Service but who had “gone native” amongst the Arabs and was now seen as a “Robin Hood of the Desert”. The Red Wolf series would be a regular feature over the next ten years as well as Makin’s other series, both detective stories. The one featured Jonathan Lowe who sees the beast in everyone, starting with “Man Killer” (July 1933), the other featured Isaac Heron, the Gypsy Detective, starting in “Who Killed Cock Robin?” (August 1935).
A new regular contributor of rousing British Intelligence stories was just what Kennicott needed. Clarence New, who had been contributing his Free Lances in Diplomacy series non-stop for over twenty years, had died on January 8th 1933, aged 70. Kennicott presented an obituary in the April 1934 issue, which revealed what an adventurous life New had lived, having been shipwrecked off Australia in 1880, and having travelled around the world in 1891 visiting as many countries as he could reach. It also revealed that New’s arm had been badly mauled by a bear that he used to feed in Prospect Park Zoo in 1916 and had to be amputated, meaning that he typed all the remainder of his stories with just one hand.
Throughout 1933 Blue Book was its usual mix of mystery, action and adventure. There were crime stories by Robert R. Mill and T.S. Stribling (the Poggioli story, “Private Jungle”), sea stories by Arthur D. Howden Smith, Richard Howells Watkins and Frederick Bechdolt, westerns by Roy Norton, Bechdolt again and Jay Lucas, wilderness and animal stories by Bigelow Neal, Sewell Peaslee Wright and Burt McConnell, air stories by Leland Jamieson and Sidney Bowen, Jr., exotic adventures by H. Bedford-Jones, Beatrice Grimshaw and James F. Dwyer, foreign-legion stories by Warren Hastings Miller and P.C. Wren, explorer tales by H. Channing Wire and even stories of the Napoleonic wars by Georges D’Esparbes. There were the reminiscences by Chief Joseph White Bull starting with “The Battle of the Little Bighorn” (September 1933) and all of this was wrapped up in a series of striking, colorful covers by Joseph Chenoweth.
It was an excellent package, high enjoyable and certainly on a par with the large size issues, and yet circulation plummeted. From the high of 189,386 in 1930 circulation dipped at 102,294 during 1934. Since the cover price had also dropped by ten cents this means that the retail income had slumped by two thirds from around $47,000 to a little over $15,000. Little wonder that when Burroughs sold Kennicott “Swords of Mars” in August 1934, Kennicott pleaded poverty though eventually “robbed the till” to pay $5,500 purely to get Burroughs back into the magazine. This was still a drop from his peak of $8,000 a serial just four years earlier. Burroughs’s presence did seem to raise circulation a little, to 116,000 in 1934, but it dropped again and averaged 107,000 for the rest of the thirties compared to 146,000 for the first half of the thirties. These were still good figures for a pulp magazine, but not sufficiently rewarding with Blue Book’s reduced cover price. The Depression and the profusion of pulps on the stands had its effect for the rest of the thirties.
And yet the period 1935-1939 saw some of the best stories in Blue Book. The following is a summary of just some of them, and these are in addition to William J. Makin’s continuing series, many of the regular series already mentioned, and two more Tarzan serials, “Tarzan and the Immortal Men (October 1935-March 1936), for which Kennicott could only find $3,000, and “Tarzan and the Elephant Men” (November 1937-January 1938), which cost $1,500!
“Blood Brothers” (March 1934) by George Allan England tells of a search for lost Mayan treasure in the Yucatan. “The Man from Medora” (May 1934) is the moving story of the only white survivor of the Battle of Little Bighorn by Bigelow Neal and stands out from Ray Cummings’s “The Robot Rebellion” in the same issue. “The Day of the Dragon” (June 1934) is Guy Endore’s apocalyptic tale of mankind menaced by a resurgence of dragons. “The Trouble With my Double” (June-September 1934) was an amusing Thorne Smith style fantasy by Horatio Winslow about a man bedevilled by his alter ego. “Jungle House” (September 1934) by James Francis Dwyer tells of a girl kidnapped by apes in Java. Jacland Marmur, the famed writer of sea stories, became an occasional contributor with the February 1935 issue, starting with a drama in the North Pacific, “The Final Splendor”.
By 1935 it was evident that Blue Book was in some financial difficulties and Kennicott could certainly not pay Burroughs his high rates. Kennicott took a couple of cost cutting measures which, in fact, enhanced the magazine. Hitherto various artists had been commissioned to paint covers, usually based on individual stories. Most recently the mainstay artist had been Joseph Chenoweth, though there had been a few wonderfully exotic covers by Henry J. Soulen, whose works captured at least one aspect of Blue Book’s contents. However in 1935 Kennicott entered into a contract with Herbert Morton Stoops to provide all of the covers and to have his pick of the interior artwork. Stoops (1888-1948) had been born and raised in Idaho and grew up in what was still the pioneering west. He later served as a First Lieutenant in the Sixth Field Artillery during the First World War. He had provided art for a variety of magazines and newspapers, including Blue Book, from before the War, but he now settled down to work almost exclusively for Blue Book. His covers, though not as vibrant as Chenoweth’s or Soulen’s, captured as much action as Hoban’s and Herndon’s and provided the pictures with a homely, human atmosphere. The people looked real, poised for just a moment in time as they were about to embark on a heroic episode. Stoops’s internal black-and-white art was equally sharp and focused. Much of this was presented under the alias of Jeremy Cannon. Stoops would remain the primary artist for the next thirteen years, providing all of the covers, which gave Blue Book a continuity and a visual respectability.
Kennicott retained a variety of illustrators for internal work, all of them capable of highly artistic work, of which the best was Australian artist John R. Flanagan, who illustrated many of the strange and exotic stories with remarkable detail and a flourish of action. In Flanagan’s work you could hear, smell and feel the locale. Austin Briggs was another regular whose work was detailed yet fluid. Then there was Charles Chickering, whose stippled and shadowed work was ideal for the more “sophisticated” stories. John Clymer was a regular for the action stories. He illustrated most of Makin’s Red Wolf stories. L.R. Gustavson was especially talented on sea and air stories whilst Peter Kuhlhoff had a flair for animals. Throughout the late thirties and especially in the forties Blue Book was one of the most beautifully illustrated of all pulp magazines.
Kennicott was fortunate in that just as Burroughs’s work was beyond his reach along came another writer who produced work in a similar idiom. This was William L. Chester, a writer about whom little is known, even now. Chester was the creator of Kioga, a name that means Snow-Hawk. The series, which began with the seven-part serial “Hawk of the Wilderness” (April-October 1935), is set in a previously unknown land in the Arctic where marine currents and a ring of volcanoes keep the territory warm. Kioga was Daniel, the son of explorers Lincoln Rand and his wife who, along with an American Indian friend, Mokuyi, are drawn by a current into this lost land. This land is apparently where all the American Indians originated, and Mokuyi is able to converse with them. The Rands stay, but when they are killed during a raid, their child is raised by Mokuyi. When he is six, Daniel, called Kioga because he is white, is driven from the tribe but he befriends a bear and is raised by the bear’s clan. He develops an animal cunning and remarkable physical strength. The comparison with Tarzan is obvious but the locale is refreshingly different and the serial was well received. Chester provided three sequels, “Kioga of the Wilderness” (April-October 1936), “One Against the Wilderness” (March-August 1937) and “Kioga of the Unknown Land” (March-August 1938), the last really being a series of related episodes.
The third significant development at this time was the emergence of H. Bedford-Jones as Blue Book’s second most prolific contributor, and certainly its most prodigious in terms of wordage. We have already seen that B.-J. as he was known was already a regular contributor but from 1935 on he became a fixture, appearing in every issue, sometimes as many as four times. He did this by contributing a number of long running series. The first, starting in the February 1935 issue, was “Arms and the Man”, which explored man’s discovery of weapons over the centuries. The first story, “The Spear of Gleaming Willows”, was set in the Stone Age and explored the discovery of the advantage of flint. Two years later came “Ships and Men” (began January 1937), ostensibly written with Captain L.B. Williams for technical advice. This followed mankind’s naval exploration and development of boats. In July 1938, under the alias Michael Gallister, he began his stories about fireboats with “Harbor Hazard” and (from July 1939) his series about man’s conquest of the air with “The Bag of Smoke” (July 1939). The November 1938 issue saw the first of the “Trumpets from Oblivion” series under his real name. This was a wonderful mixture of science fiction and fantasy. The frame device was a time viewer created by Norman Fletcher of the Inventors Club, which allowed scientists to look back at the origins of various myths and legends. The first, “The Stagnant Death”, explored the mystery of the Sargasso Sea and later episodes included the legend of Prester John (February 1939), the Amazons (March 1939) and werewolves with “The Wolf Woman” (August 1939), which provided Stoops with a scene for one of his most effective covers. Bedford-Jones utilized other pen names, particularly Gordon Keyne, which was used on a diverse range of stories, mostly serials and short novels. These included the murder mystery “The Star Sapphire Murders” (April 1935), an action adventure fighting Mongols in an uncharted oasis in the Gobi Desert, “The Face of Buddha"”(October 1935), a western serial about Kit Carson, “Life’s a Fight, Kit” (December 1936-March 1937), and “They Lived by the Sword"”(began December 1939) a serial about Hannibal’s war against Rome. He also used the Keyne name on further series of historical stories such as one about amazing prison escapes starting with “The Hand Invisible” (February 1938) and one about the US Army, starting with “A Man Can Do What He Must” (April 1939). By the time of Bedford-Jones’s death in 1949, Kennicott reported that Blue Book had published 360 of his stories, 7 serials and 6 complete novels.
Kennicott clearly had a good working relationship with Bedford-Jones, and that arrangement of an assured wordage per month must have saved Kennicott plenty of concerns. When he contributed notes to the anthology Best Sea Stories from Bluebook, edited by Horace Vondys (1954), Kennicott wrote the following:
[Bedford-Jones] was so careful with his research that I very seldom found an error in any of his stories. For a time I received an occasional letter from a fellow named Twinells, bitterly criticizing some minuscule mistake in one or another of Bedford-Jones’s stories. These virulent attacks puzzled me until a postmark awakened me to the fact that Twinells was a figment of B.-J.’s own wry humor and fertile imagination; he would re-read his story after publication and then disarm me utterly by these absurd letters.
January 1936 introduced another future mainstay writer to Blue Book, Fulton T. Grant. His early stories were mysteries involving various ex-pat Americans in Paris, starting with “Cyrano to You, Gentlemen!” Grant was a versatile writer and was not averse to the occasional fantasy, such as “The Devil Came to Our Valley” (March 1937), but his best known story was the year-long serial “A Million for John Destiny” (began December 1938). Bentley Dewart takes on a commission from writer and entrepreneur Ephraim Brood who has unravelled the “Personal mystery” technique for becoming rich and famous. Dewart assumes the identity of John Destiny and the serial charts a month at a time in his life as he tries to become a millionaire.
James Francis Dwyer was looking for treasure as well. First there was “Caravan Treasure” (began March 1936) where his adventurers join a caravan going deep into the African interior. Soon afterwards the explorers are seeking riches in Cambodia near Angkor Wat in “The Treasure of Vanished Men” (began February 1937). Dwyer also contributed a highly atmospheric weird story, “Cave of the Invisible” (April 1939).
Throughout this period Leland Jamieson was present with many air adventures, most of them about the air mail service. Jamieson had been an instructor in combat flying and remained a pilot after he left the Army. Unfortunately he was to die after a long illness at the age of only thirty-seven in July 1941. In August 1938, that other great prolific pulpster Frederick Faust, writing as Max Brand, began his own occasional series about pilots under the generic title “Knights of the Sky” and noted First World War air ace Arch Whitehouse also became a regular contributor. There were detective stories by Richard Wormser and Ellery Queen (both revolving around the sporting world). There was weird science fiction by Arthur Howden Smith (“The Island Monster”, August 1937) and Antony M. Rud (“Visitors from Venus”, October 1937). There was a story of the French Revolution, “The Pistol” (February 1939), by Rafael Sabatini, Foreign Legion stories by Armand Brigaud (“A Captain of the Legion”, August 1936), Georges Surdez (“Legionnaire Pro Tem”, May 1939) and a whole series of them by H. Bedford-Jones (“Warriors in Exile”, began June 1937). There was a particularly interesting war story, “Our War of 1939” by Robert R. Mill (March 1939) where Mill conjectures what would happen had a certain European dictator attacked the Panama Canal. There were westerns a-plenty by Frederick Bechdolt, south sea stories by Beatrice Grimshaw (including the sinister “Moon of Evil”, June 1939) and the occasional strange fantasy, such as “Why the Fitzaldens are Web-Toed” (February 1940) by noted journalist Hugh Fullerton.
This period also saw a development in the true-experiences feature. Although Kennicott still encouraged readers to send in their potentially prize-winning adventures, this non-fiction feature was broadened to allow longer articles. So we find the autobiography of frontiersman John Abernethy, “A Son of the Frontier” (began June 1935); Matthew Henson writing about his memories of the expedition to the North Pole (January 1936); William J. Makin with a series of occasional articles about his recent experiences in Ethiopia (began March 1936); Stefan Zweig with a serialized article about Magellan’s trip round the world (began January 1938) plus reminiscences by Bill Adams (began October 1936) and J. Francis Dwyer (began September 1937).
And that barely scratches the surface of what Blue Book was offering in the second half of the 1930s. Yet circulation refused to rise.
In the belief that the sudden rise in the number and popularity of the paperback novel was a further challenge, in September 1939 Blue Book increased in size from 144 to 192 pages and gave the extra pages over to a complete book-length novel of 50,000 words. The first of these was “Murder in the Sahara” by Galbraith Welch, the wife of James Francis Dwyer. The magazine took on a silver cover, with the title and frame still in blue, but during this period it suddenly looked tired and lacklustre. It was one of these issues that was the first that I acquired, which was just my bad luck. In fact having now looked through these issues in context they are not as bad as I first thought. They haven’t, in fact, changed that much from the preceding ten years and the addition of the complete novel provides a substantial package. These novels include Nelson Bond’s first appearance in Blue Book with “Exiles of Time” (May 1940), where the Earth is threatened by a comet; an excellent story of the pioneer days, “North to the Promised Land” (January 1940) by H. Channing Wire, and Donald Barr Chidsey’s rousing historical novel, “Blade of the Buccaneers” (October 1939). Richard Wormser provided a story about an attempt to thwart the outbreak of War, “Under the Crooked Cross” (August 1940); Dornford Yates’s thriller “When the Devil Drives” was serialized (July-October 1940) and there were fine stories by Jacland Marmur, Fulton Grant, Georges Surdez, Chandler Whipple (the recently retired editor of Argosy) and Samuel Hopkins Adams. There was even one last Tarzan story, “Tarzan and the Champion” (April 1940). Kennicott finally started a Readers’ Forum (March 1941) publishing readers’ letters for the first time, though this never took on the homely atmosphere of the letter column in Adventure or in the science fiction pulps.
The magazine’s price rose from 15¢ to 25¢ to cover the increase in size, and that probably countered any extra interest in the magazine as circulation continued to drop. Another change was inevitable.
4. The Mature Years,1941-1951.
In the August 1941 issue Kennicott announced that from the next issue Blue Book would once again increase in size and be printed on better quality paper. There would also be a change in the cover – Kennicott’s defense of the “silver trimming” suggests there had been a major objection to it. All of this was apparently enabled by the new high-speed double five-color printing presses that had been installed at McCall’s plant in Dayton, Ohio during 1939.
The next issue saw a reversion to the large flat “bedhseet” format from 1930 though this time the new printing processes must have made it more economically viable. Moreover there was a move generally amongst publishers to the large flat size, though always a gamble because, in the case of the pulps, these were not supported by advertising. Argosy, for instance, had already adopted the large format with its 18 January 1941 issue. Astounding would also shift to that size in January 1942. In both cases these proved short-term changes lasting a year or two. Argosy went through a number of changes in the early forties, eventually emerging in 1945 as a “men’s” magazine. Argosy is usually given the credit of establishing the vogue for “men’s” magazines, but Blue Book was also in the vanguard. With the change to the new flat format it adopted the cover slogan “Stories of adventure for MEN, by MEN” and further promoted that macho image of rugged and heroic action stories that had always formed a part of the magazine.
In fact Blue Book took to the change to large format better than its rivals. Despite the abortive attempt at the same change twelve years earlier, Blue Book always had this more sophisticated feel and the new look suited it. Especially attractive were the wraparound covers allowing Herbert Morton Stoops a full canvas for his striking paintings. It also seemed to be a hit with the readers. Most of the letters Kennicott published were positive, and there’s no way of telling how representative they were, but one letter from Bob Shelton in De Quincy, Louisiana, perhaps summed it up best. He was a delivery man and had been conducting a survey to find out how the average soldier’s reading compared with his:
I have talked to hundreds of soldiers – from buck privates to top-ranking officers – and have gotten the lowdown on their preference in reading material. Blue Book ranks pretty close to the top …
Unfortunately the ellipses probably hide some useful information. Shelton also commented that the soldiers liked the new format.
It was a gamble because, although it followed the trend towards large format magazines, it countered the trend in book publishing towards pocketsize paperbacks. And certainly once the United States entered the War, the large size magazine was inconvenient for the troops. And yet letters continued to be published, many from the troops in the theatre of war, who regularly welcomed their monthly Blue Book.
Initially the change in format seems to have had a deleterious affect on circulation as it dropped to 66,700 in 1942, the lowest ever. Unfortunately Blue Book’s figures weren’t published for the next few years and we do not know them again until 1948, when it had leaped to 180,000 and would continue rising. It’s probable that the circulation remained low during the War years, perhaps steadily increasing, and then took on a leap after the War. It is quite possible that Blue Book must have been close to folding at the start of the War, as so many magazines did, and it is to McCall’s credit that they kept it going.
Two changes were evident in Blue Book apart from the size and the covers. Kennicott now included a “Who’s Who in This Issue” feature inside the front (and sometimes back) cover. He had done this on occasions before, but never in any consistent form, but now it became a regular feature and the new size allowed for interesting photos and anecdotes about the authors. Kennicott also expanded the non-fiction features. There were still the prize-winning true stories but he now featured regular articles and reminiscences by writers and travellers, starting with an excerpt from the autobiography “All in a Lifetime” by Frank “Bring-‘Em-Back-Alive” Buck, who spent years travelling to far climes to bring back exotic animals for zoos and circuses.
Otherwise the content of Blue Book remained very familiar. The book-length novel remained – in this first large-format issue it was the western, “Arizona Feud” by Frank R. Adams. There were two serials and nine complete stories, including a desert war story by Georges Surdez, “The Free Shall Live”, another of the delightful Tiny David of the State Police stories by Robert R. Mill, “Call for Dr. David”, and one of H. Bedford-Jones’s continuing series, this one “He Who Turned Back”, one of his “The World Was Their Stage” stories, which had followed the history of the theatre (though this one was mostly about a plot to kidnap George Washington). Kennicott also started a reprint series (always a sign of financial problems), “Twice-told Tales”. With its thirty-five year history, Blue Book had a lot of jewels in its archives and Kennicott began the series by reprinting one of Clarence Herbert New’s earliest stories, “An Agent of the Government” (August 1909).
Finally the new size allowed for greater exposure of artwork and illustrations would often be a full half-page or even a half-column spread across two pages. Although most illustrations were monotone, Blue Book took advantage of McCall’s new multicolor presses by having some illustrations in different colors or with a color wash background.
The overall package was very attractive and, to my mind, although the thirties contained the more exciting fiction, the forties feature the most impressive looking issues which are a joy to hold and explore. And the quality of fiction was still high.
The War, of course, dominated all of the issues. Stoops’s first war-related cover appeared on the November 1941 issue and missed only two issues between then and December 1945. A special edition was made of the patriotic cover to the August 1942 issue which portrayed the various American flags since the War of Independence, and which illustrated the start of H. Bedford-Jones’s highly jingoistic series, “Flags of Our Fathers.”
Just about all of the regular contributors produced war stories. Even before America entered the War, Day Keene told the story of a young American pilot who flew with the RAF in “Your Adversary, the Devil” (November 1941). Richard Sale was inspired by Pearl Harbor to write “No Time for Glory” (April 1942). Most authors played to their strengths. Joel Reeve, who wrote mostly boxing stories, tells the experiences of a boxer in the army in “Come Out Fighting” (January 1942), a gung-ho patriotic piece fairly typical of the early stories. Georges Surdez, known for his Foreign Legion stories, set his stories amongst the campaign in North Africa, starting with “Combat Group” (March 1942) and including the powerful short novel “France in Their Hearts” (December 1943). Occasionally he picked other locales, such as Norway in “Wild Hunt” (April 1942). Air ace Arch Whitehouse wrote about the aerial war over the Pacific, starting with “The Knightly Blade” (May 1942). Frederick C. Painton wrote a series about Jason Wyatt, a US Intelligence Officer starting with “The Secret War” (April 1942). Richard Sale wrote about the Signal Corps in “Special Mission” (August 1943). Charles L. Clifford wrote a hard-hitting novel of the war in the Philippines in “Typhoon Dawn” (began July 1942) and a detailed novel about the fortunes of the US Army in “The Stars Shine Bright” (began October 1943). New writer William Brandon wrote about counter espionage in the US in “Secret No. Y-23” (October 1942).
Needless to say H. Bedford-Jones continued to dominate the magazine during the War years, often with three stories per issue. His war stories were not confined to any one pen name. Under his Michael Gallister alias he produced an interesting story of London during the Blitz in “The Clock Strikes Seven” (October 1941). Writing as Gordon Keyne he wrote a strange quasi-fantasy, “Red Moon on the Flores Sea”, where one of the character’s quirky ancestors appears to come back from the dead and help him in a difficult situation. As Keyne he also produced an unusual series called “Quest, Inc.” about the work of the Bureau of Missing Persons looking for people after the War. The first story was “The Affair of the Drifting Face” (July 1943). Under his own name he produced a variety of war stories, such as the naval episode in “King of the Macassar Strait” (June 1942) but mostly he preferred to produce morale-boosting stories which looked back on glories of the past. I have already mentioned his long-running “Flags of Our Fathers” series. He later wrote a series named after the first story, “Counterclockwise” (November 1943), set aboard a Signal Corps ship in the Mediterranean testing a new form of radar. Instead what happens is they pick up signals from the past and the device becomes another means of relating a historical series about past military campaigns. He also wrote the “Impossible Challenge” series, also known after its first story “Some Call it Luck” (October 1941). Although not related to the Second World War it is a war-inspired story, based on the Japanese invasion of China. During that invasion the headquarters of the vast Chosan Corporation were destroyed. The widow of the owner, Miss Negli comes to the USA as a refugee and needs someone to help her track down the remaining far-flung assets of the organisation. Those are the eight impossible tasks that fall to Jim Hardesty.
In most issues between 1942 and 1945 about half of the contents, and the majority of the true experiences, were war related, but Kennicott tried to keep a reasonable balance in the rest of the issue. There were westerns with some fine stories by Raymond S. Spears (“Wild Music”, February 1942), Ray Nafziger (such as “Ride and Tide”, May 1942), Jay Lucas (“Apache Ranger”, June 1944), or John J. McIntyre’s wagon train story, “Hauling West” (December 1942). There were crime stories and mysteries. Kerry O’Neil had an excellent series about the unusual cases of Detective Mooney, including the short novel “Green Ice” (April 1944). Donald Barr Chidsey, who turned his hand to most fields at this time, produced the clever detective story “Something to Shoot At” (February 1942). Philip Wylie’s excellent “The Murder at Recluse House” was the feature story in the July 1943 issue.
There was nearly always a light-hearted fantasy in each issue to keep spirits up, and these were either by Bertram Atkey (who resurrected Hobart Honey again and again) or Nelson Bond. Bond delivered several of his wonderfully quirky humorous stories, many of which fell into one of two series. There were those that featured Pat Pending who would come up with all kinds of bizarre inventions starting with “The Bacular Clock” (July 1942), a clock that tells time backwards! Pat Pending is another of Bond’s innocent, well meaning but screwy characters who talks in an almost invented language. At the start Pending calls his clock “the most brainaceous invetulation ever to be conseivularized by man!" Although some of the Pat Pending stories made it into Bond’s later collections, most of them remain uncollected. The other series features Squaredeal Sam McGhee. McGhee is something of a conman and bunko artist who tells tall tales for the price of a drink. He’s in the long line of characters such as Dunsany’s Joseph Jorkens, and his adventures are just as unbelievable and enjoyable. Again, most of these stories remain uncollected. But Bond also produced wonderfully mind expanding fantasies. Perhaps his best is “The Bookshop” (October 1941), about a shop that authors can access on certain days only and which contains all those books that had never been written. In like mood is “The Magic Staircase” (February 1942) about a staircase that leads into another world. Possibly his strangest was the Adam-and-Eve-like “Another World Begins” (November 1942).
Other examples of straight science fiction include Edgar Rice Burroughs’s final appearance, “Beyond the Farthest Star” (January 1942), a story that had even been rejected by Raymond Palmer at Amazing Stories! Much better was the three-part serial “Two Thousand Miles Up” (began March 1942) by Peter Fredericks, beautifully illustrated by Leydenfrost. This was set in 1962 and used the future to explore parallels with the present War in Europe and an attempt to save the world.
But if there was a preponderance of any one type of story it was those with historical settings. Past episodes were used to show how history has a habit of repeating itself and how we learn lessons for the War. I have already mentioned several of H. Bedford-Jones’s ones, and he tended to lead the way. Jacland Marmur also wrote a powerful action story of a sea confrontation off Hawaii in 1813, “Gunfire Off Makapuu” (April 1942) whilst Jay Lucas used a rather unreal Saxon-Norman setting in “The Bowman” (June 1942) to show an England previously menaced by the Hun! Thomas Raddall’s “The Return of Malachi” was a story of the privateers of Nova Scotia in 1802, whilst Frank Bonham’s “River Magic” (July 1944) breathed life into the story of the riverboats on the Mississippi. Rupert Hughes wrote a wonderfully exotic historical fantasy set in the land of the Maya in 1241, “The Man With Nine Souls”, but perhaps the most exuberant was a series by Achmed Abdullah about two rival swordsmen, Omar the Black and Omar the Red. These wonderful stories, which were flamboyantly illustrated by John R. Flanagan in Arabian Nights style, began with “Two Swordsmen of High Tartary” (September 1942).
Despite these diversions the constant diet of war stories month after month began to pall. To lighten the load, during 1944, Kennicott introduced a new non-fiction feature, “My Most Amusing Experience”, but a few months later we find at least one letter writer, himself a First Lieutenant, saying that he was “fed-up” with war stories and had lived through enough hell. He wanted something to entertain him. By the time that letter was published, in May 1945, the war was nearly over and that same issue featured a story of a soldier’s homecoming, “Home Place” by William Brandon.
Kennicott had published as many real wartime experiences as he could and as censorship allowed. These included a long letter from artist Hamilton Greene about his wartime flights (October 1944), though a few months later Kennicott was reporting that Greene had been injured. Thankfully he survived and, when censorship was lifted, Kennicott was able to reproduce many of Greene’s illustrations of his war experiences and, in the January 1946 issue, put together a special section of non-fiction features about the war. The relaxing of censorship also allowed Kennicott to publish one story that had almost got the author killed. This was “Paradise Crater” (October 1945) by Philip Wylie, about the development of the nuclear bomb by the Nazis. Wylie had completed this story some months before the first atomic bomb was detonated. When he submitted it, Kennicott thought he should clear it with the authorities and suddenly CIA agents descended on Wylie and placed him under house arrest, even threatening to shoot him if necessary. After a few checks Wylie was cleared but Kennicott felt it wise to keep the story under wraps until after the War.
The end of the War allowed Blue Book to breathe again, and allowed Stoops to produce even more patriotic covers, starting a new series, “This is Our Land” (January 1946) followed by an instructive series, “These United States” (January 1947), which worked its way through each State, with a suitably representative picture about the founding of that state together with an inside cover article on its history. Sadly Stoops did not live to complete that series. He died on 19 May 1948, just eight days before his sixty-first birthday. He had painted 160 consecutive covers as well as illustrated countless stories. Work on the series and on future covers was taken over by three artists, John Fulton, Maurice Bower and Benton Clark, of whom Bower was the closest to Stoops in style.
War stories did continue in Blue Book, but usually only one or two an issue. Many now took the form of true experiences or detailed accounts of individual campaigns. Lieutenant Commander Richard M. Kelly produced many of these dealing with secret service agents, starting with “Operation Aztec” (May 1946). Some authors back from the war converted their experiences into fiction, such as Fulton T. Grant with “The Man Who Went to Rome” (July 1946), about what he discovered in the catacombs. Others considered the aftermath of the war, such as Georges Surdez in “Time Fuse”, which looked at retribution in France over Nazi collaborators. In “The Middle of Midnight” (January 1947) William Gilmore Beymer considers the rôle of the US forces in Germany after the War, while in “The Man Who Was Afraid” (December 1947) William Brandon looks at the investigations into War Crimes.
It was not long, though, before authors were considering the nuclear threat. In “The Way of Darkness” (June 1947), George Armin Shaftel has a group checking out a huge cave system as a possible bomb shelter only to discover a murder mystery. Franklin M. Davis, Jr. looked at the growing East-West divide, the threat of the Iron Curtain and the position of East Germany in “Special Mission” (February 1949). H. Verner Dixon considered a world governed by the great powers who dominated through the use of space ships in “Is This To Be Our Tomorrow?” (April 1946) – perhaps an early vision of the SDI. Nelson Bond, who continued to lighten the mix with his amusing fantasies also produced several serious stories such as “The Last Outpost” (October 1948), which looked at a future military government whilst, in “To People a New World” (November 1950) he explored a post-nuclear Eden. Robert Moore Williams depicted a depleted post-nuclear America in “Refuge for Tonight” (March 1949) and the fight for survival. And there were the inevitable stories about future warfare such as Alec Hudson’s “Attack With All Weapons” (June 1950) and Michael Lauler’s “Undersea Armada” (September 1950). Kennicott also set readers a contest to send in “My Most Unforgettable War Experience” (March 1948).
Yet, despite the continuing concern about the nuclear threat and the aftermath of the War, these stories no longer dominated the issues. There was still a good mix of crime and mystery stories, westerns, sea stories (mostly by Bill Adams), sport stories (mostly a boxing series by Joel Reeve), fantasies and science fiction, but if anything dominated the issues, as much as during the wartime issues, it was the historical story. Perhaps writers and readers felt a need to look to the past to avoid the horrors of the present and future. Most issues had at least a couple of historical stories, in addition to the westerns which in themselves were serious historical chronicles. “Murder in Old Manhattan” (January 1946) by Frank Bonham was an early example of the historical detective story, set in New York in 1887. “The Gold-Laced Hat” (February 1946) by William R. Bird explored the plight of settlers in Nova Scotia in 1774. DeWitt Newbury took as way back to the time of the Vikings. He produced several Viking adventure stories starting with “The Warlock Swordsmith” (April 1946). Wilbur S. Peacock, fresh from his days as an editor at Fiction House, became a regular contributor including a series about the minstrel rogue François Villon, set in fifteenth century France, starting with “Rogue’s Gambit” (May 1946).
Theodore Goodridge Roberts, who was hitherto known mostly for his animal stories (and he still contributed a few, such as “Locked Horns”, August 1946), and for stories set in his native Nova Scotia, expanded his repertoire to include “The Caribbean Corsair” (March 1946), and then a series of mock-historical stories set in Dark Age Britain. These began with “Young Wings Unfurling” (October 1947) but soon developed into an Arthurian series starting with “Strike Hard! Bite Deep” (December 1947). In fact Dark Age Britain became quite a popular location for authors, serving as a mirror for the dark days of the Blitz. In “The Homeless Company” (October 1946), for instance, Anthony Eisen depicts a Viking raid on Britain. Dark Age scholar, Paul Johnstone, wrote several stories of the Britons struggle for survival, starting with “The Rusted Blade” (May 1948) leading to another Arthurian story, “Up Red Dragon!” (March 1950).
Stories of the American past were also popular. In “High Iron” (March 1946), Frank Bonham gave a vivid picture of the early railroad builders across the West. “The Race is to the Daring” (April 1946) by J. Hyatt Downing and Daniel Moore showed the struggle for victory amongst steamboat operatives on the Missouri. “The Colonel and the Lady” (October 1947) by Wilbur S. Peacock is a sharp portrayal of a Mississippi gambler. “The Trail of the Crosses” (July 1946) by Allan R. Bosworth told of the harsh reality of trying to build a railroad across the isthmus at Panama. “Shiloh” (June 1949) is Shelby Foote’s brilliant reconstruction of the Civil War battle. “Serenade in Leadville” (July 1949) by Lynn Montross retells the story of Oscar Wilde’s visit to the Wild West. In “Rendezvous” (October 1949), by Robert Carse, a Scottish laird seeks his fortune amongst the Mountain Men of the West. Harold Lamb, a name more closely associated with Adventure than Blue Book appeared with a few historical stories including “The Drub-Devil March” (December 1949), which told the story of America’s first foreign campaign in 1805 – an expedition to rescue Captain Bainbridge from the Corsairs. While in “Hell-Bent for Election” (June 1951), Edward S. Fox tells of Davy Crockett’s efforts to become a senator.
Stories were set in just about every historical locale. David Cheney produced a fine series set around the ancient Greek world starting with “The Treasure of Tyron” (January 1945). Kenneth Cassens also wrote several stories about the Greeks, starting with “The Bull Dance” (July 1948), which reworks the Minotaur legend. Anthony Eisen’s “The Road to Granada” (May 1950) considered the plight of the gypsies in twelfth-century Spain whilst in “Moa” (October 1948) Desmond W. Hall, perhaps best known as an early assistant editor on Astounding Stories and later editor of Mademoiselle, depicts the first modern explorers of New Zealand and their encounter with the giant bird.
The king of the historical story remained H. Bedford-Jones who, in his final years, continued to be awesomely prolific. Once again he created several series as devices for exploring events through history. “The Sphinx Emerald” (June 1946), gave its name to a long-running series which traced the influence of a jewel from ancient Egypt down through the centuries, whilst “The Golden Cup” (December 1947) launched a series about the clipper ships during the nineteenth century. Bedford-Jones also had two non-historical post-war related series. “The Pledge of Honor” (January 1946) started the Treasure Seekers series. This concerned a unit that develops a new mine detector that also discovers treasure and this takes them off around the world. “The Thunderbolt of Indra” (December 1946), under the Gordon Keyne alias, was a sequence of four novelettes about a vengeful Indian Rajah who marks four powerful men for murder. In each of the first three stories the victims are killed and its down to the fourth to stop the vendetta.
H. Bedford-Jones’s last appearance in Blue Book was in the March 1949 issue with “The Enemy of Sergeant Darlen”, a story of the American invasion of Mexico in 1846 . He died on 6 May 1949, aged 62. Although he did not contribute as many stories as Clarence New, in total wordage he must have far exceeded New’s and also in versatility, since Bedford-Jones turned his hand to most subjects. He would occasionally rework old plots into new stories and he was not always the world’s best stylist, being more of a story-teller than a writer, but his ideas were always clever and his stories always a pleasure. With his passing it certainly was the end of an era.
The relief of the end of the War combined with the fear of the nuclear threat clearly left people uncertain and wary and this may well account for the number of quirky fantasies that appeared, a yearning for a little magic to assuage the ills. Once again Nelson Bond and Bertram Atkey led the way, but there were others. In “Crisis in Hell” (March 1947) Gilbert Wright satires the post-war world when the devils in Hell go on strike and Beelzebub is forced to visit Earth. By contrast “Far Away, in Eden” (January 1950) by Ben Steedly Moore is a Biblical fantasy. John Harbaugh releases a real dragon in Hollywood in “Richard the Dragon-Hearted” (August 1947) whilst in “High Djinnks” (January 1949, and sequels) by Kenneth Cassens, a Maine Lobsterman discovers a magic lamp. Robert Moore Williams goes in search of the fountain of youth in “The Turtles of Ponce de Leon” (June 1948). Perhaps the strangest fantasy was “High Pasture” (June 1949) by Sandy Stuart, which reveals the paradise occupied by all those horses killed in battle.
The post-war development of rocket power and jet planes led to several stories. In “The Last Landing” (July 1947) William E. Barrett looks at the lives of the test pilots whilst in “Doughnut Jockey” (May 1948) Erik Fennel considers the future of air flight. In “The Seat of the Mighty” (August 1949) Arch Whitehouse tells what might happen if a test pilot has to eject over hostile territory, in this case a remote mountain in Alaska. The same thought must have occurred to Ross de Lue and George Kintera. In “Beyond the World’s Rim” (August 1947) they also consider a plane crash in Alaska though, in this case, the survivors discover a lost world inhabited by one of the lost tribes of Israel. In “Perlaguna” (March 1948) Durand Kiefer has sailors discover an uncharted paradise island in the Pacific.
“Journey Beyond Light” (October 1947) by Walter de Steiguer considered the idea that you might be able to restore the image of people through electricity – in effect a form of virtual reality. In the serial “Star of Doom” (July-August 1949) Lewis Sowden repeats the formula of “When Worlds Collide” by having Earth threatened by a comet. Robert Spencer Carr’s “The Laughter of the Stars” (August 1950) was a more positive story about the conquest of space. It was also good to see Robert A. Heinlein surface in Blue Book with several stories starting with “Delilah and the Space Rigger” (December 1949). The most original sf story was William Brandon’s “Moon Flight” (August 1951) which was told entirely in blank verse.
One of the many collectable authors in Blue Book is John D. MacDonald. MacDonald is today remembered for his mystery novels, including his Travis McGee series, but when he started he was a pulpster contributing to anything that was going. Much of his early work was science fiction. One of his earliest for Blue Book combined his two favourite fields. In “Nicky and the Tin Finger” (September 1948) we find a humorous account of a robot detective.
There was plenty of crime and mystery fiction in Blue Book, along with some interesting names. Georges Simenon contributed a non-Maigret mystery in “Under Penalty of Death” (October 1947). “The Kicking Mare” (May 1949) is an excellent murder mystery by MacKinlay Kantor. William P. McGivern debuted in Blue Book with a series of murders in “Very Cold for May” (April 1950) whilst in “Violence is the Job” (November 1949) William Lindsay Gresham pits a professor against a crook. Sax Rohmer also turned up with a few of his Chinatown mysteries starting with “A Date at Shepheards” (October 1950). David Alexander, who would go on to be one of the more idiosyncratic writers of the fifties, produced a private eye story in “Coffee and – ” (January 1952) whilst the Australian writer Jon Cleary, who established an enviable reputation as his country’s best writer of crime fiction, contributed a story set in the Australian outback in “The Outsider” (June 1951). Hugh B. Cave made his first sale to Blue Book (after over twenty years as a pulpster) with “New Guinea Manhunt” (October 1951).
However, there were not as many mystery series at this time as there were historical series or even fantasy series. There were, though, a fine selection of western stories. Judging from the letters one of the more respected writers was Owen Cameron, with such stories as “The Lost Trail” about an outlaw and a young boy who idolizes him. Wilbur S. Peacock wrote a series about Snake River Jim, a medicine showman and there were many excellent stories by Norman Fox, Frank Bonham and Wayne D. Overholser.
Out of the ordinary during this period was a long series by Robert Barbour Johnson, perhaps better known for his occasional strange stories in Weird Tales, which drew upon his experiences in a circus. These circus stories began with “The Big Hitch” (February 1948).
Once again as memories of the war settled and life tried to return to normal, so variety and originality returned to Blue Book. But the years march on. If the passing of H. Bedford-Jones was an end of an era then all the more so was the retirement of Donald Kennicott. There had been much activity behind the scenes at the McCall Corporation in these post war years. Red Book, which during the twenties and thirties had been highly lucrative and, for much of the time had surely subsidized Blue Book was itself now in financial difficulties. Blue Book’s circulation, on the other hand, was increasing rapidly, passing through 200,000 in 1949 and exceeding 250,000 in 1951. The long-time President of McCall’s, William B. Warner, died in 1946. His successor Marvin Pierce wanted to see changes and he appointed Phillips Wyman as the publisher to see the changes through. Wyman replaced Edwin Balmer as editor of Red Book with Wade Nichols and Nichols completely revamped Redbook (as it became) to appeal to the new bride and young married mother. Nichols realized the market potential of the young woman and he turned round the fortunes of Redbook in the space of four years.
Blue Book was next. Wyman wanted this magazine to be aimed at the young man and that its fiction and features should reflect the new post-war world. Kennicott was now seventy years old and though still astute and perceptive, his world was not the world of the young. His last issue was that for January 1952. He had been associated with the magazine for almost all of its life and had edited it directly or as assistant for over forty years. He was elevated to the post of Associate Publisher, but this was an honorary title to see through the transition. Kennicott’s name vanished from the masthead after July 1952. He remained active, living in retirement in Sherman, Connecticut, and died in 1965, just short of his eighty-fourth birthday.
5. The Final Years,1952-1956.
The new editor was Maxwell Hamilton who introduced himself in an almost apologetic way, saying how difficult it was to take Kennicott’s place. “We are,” he wrote, “sitting here trembling and shivering in wonderment as to whether we can live up to the pattern set by Don.” I doubt that he was, though he may have been trembling as to whether he could fulfil the expectations placed upon him by Phillips Wyman.
There was, in fact, a longer than normal gap between issues of Blue Book. The January issue had appeared, as always, in 1 December 1951, but the February issue came out on a new scheduled date, 27 January 1952, so it no longer appeared a full month before the cover date. Those extra four weeks gave Hamilton and art editor Len Romagna the time to completely revamp the magazine – now titled Bluebook. It remained the same size and format (though the page count dropped from 144 to 128) and still had pulp paper but the new slick cover – a young man enjoying himself on skis – and the profusely illustrated contents by a whole new team of artists all shouted a new image with a slick, hip feel, in keeping with its time, and aimed at the young and adventurous. Hamilton confirmed this in his editorial saying that he felt “there are a lot of other men in this country who haven’t been steady Bluebook readers, and who have been shopping around desperately for a magazine that will fill their particular needs. What these needs are we feel can be summed up pretty generally in the simple phrase, ‘good adventure reading’.”
This meant features as well as fiction. Even under Kennicott the degree of non-fiction had increased significantly and it would continue to do so under Hamilton. For his first issue, though, the fiction still held sway – eleven stories plus a complete “book-length” novel, as against seven articles plus an enhanced letter column and review feature. The line-up of names was almost wholly new – I only recognize William R. Cox as a contributor from the past, though a few other names would return. Hamilton had clearly gone out of his way to secure stories for his first issue that reflected the direction the magazine should take.
It started with a story that would appeal to the hard-graft working man. It’s about a man who works in the steel industry, disillusioned by the war and by the support for industry, who risks the life of a girl to prove a point. “Not Even Hell” by Graham Doar was a ghost story, something which had rarely appeared in Blue Book, but Hamilton confessed to a liking for them. “Fate and the 1st Lieutenant” by John Campbell Smith was a war story, but one laced with irony, comparing the real heroes with those on the silver screen. “Helpmeet” by Drayton Farnham was a brief squib of a murder story not unlike the type of story later favoured by Alfred Hitchcock in his TV series. “Captain Laffey’s Luck” by Fred Lane is a sea story about how a seasoned sea captain takes a gamble in order to survive a typhoon. “Middles are the Cream” was a boxing story by William R. Cox. There were two westerns: “The Pride of a Man” by William Roberts about a gunslinger and “Mountain Fever” by Mark Boesch about conflict on a wagon train. “Sweet Talk” by V. Henry reads like an editorially imposed item. It’s a very brief story about how a man is prepared by a psychologist to give a speech in public. “The Juice Man” by Bob Patterson is a meatier item about an investigative reporter’s dangerous assignment to track down a racketeer who bribes the police. “New Moon’s Call” by John Clagett was about a sea monster. Finally the complete “novel” was “The Man Who Was Bait” by Lyle Robertson, where a man returning from abroad becomes entangled in a crime and agrees to help the police solve it.
Perhaps about half of these stories would have been run by Kennicott. The others were fairly brief, inconsequential items that may have set a mood but scarcely told a story. But they felt modern. So did the articles. The only hold over from Kennicott’s day was the final episode of “The Autobiography of a Kamikaze Pilot” by Yukihisa Suzuki. Otherwise “Why Not a Foreign Legion for America?” by Henry J. Reilly proposed an external army for the US, “The Beast That fights Back” was about hunting rats, and “Gold!” was an interesting piece about locations for buried treasure across America. The other articles were little more than overlong fillers, such as “Stand-in for a Corpse” by Harold Helfer, which suggested that Napoleon did not die on St Helena, as a double stood in for him.
Reaction to this first issue was mixed and, to be fair to Hamilton, he printed both the brickbats and the praises. Comments ranged from “I am outraged” and “You have stabbed Bluebook in the back” to “It is improved 100%” and “Let’s have more like it.” Perhaps one of the most telling letters in praise said “It’s about time somebody in your office wised up enough to give readers what they want. Human-interest yarns, down-to-earth stories; and not the tripe about days of long ago, space ships and other bologna that was hard to believe and very boring to read.”
Clearly Kennicott’s predilection for historical fiction and science fiction did not please everyone and though both would continue to appear in Bluebook, they were far from frequent and were more tailored to current events. For instance, “Midnight Ride” by Graham Doar, in the same issue (May 1952) as all the letters were published, is a humorous spoof about a planned alien invasion of Earth and the idea that the aliens have no idea what they’re letting themselves in for.
The magazine’s appeal is best portrayed in the covers themselves. Although generally depicting a scene from a story, they also showed daring exploits and adventure for the individual who is game. The April cover has two men canoeing down the rapids. May depicts a mountain climber in a dangerous predicament. June has two men struggling to keep a yacht upright. July has a baseball pitcher. August has men competing in a horse-trotting race. October depicts a lumberjack clearing a log-jam. January 1953 shows explorers facing a giant snake. And so on. Hunting, shooting, fishing, fast living, adventure and derring-do for the action man. That was the image and that was what much of the non-fiction features portrayed. The fiction, though, was broader and though the majority of items also headed down the action-man road, others were more reserved. On the one hand we have stories like “Too Eager a Beaver” (March 1952) by Phil Magee, in which a young rookie cop discovers how tough the job really is, and “The Hill” (May 1952) by Jack R. Griffin, about the campaign to capture a hill in the Korean conflict, both of which show man’s guts and determination against difficult odds. On the other hand we have “The Davidian Report” (April 1952) by Dorothy B. Hughes, which is a good, solid suspense novel in a modern setting but in a traditional style, and “The Ragged Rebellion” (May 1952) by Harry Edward Neal, about one man’s rôle in Shay’s Rebellion of 1787. Although a historical story, it was highly pertinent in portraying the dilemma of a man who had fought in the War of Independence for peace and freedom and is reluctant to be involved in any further conflict, and couching it in terms that would allow the reader to make the connection with the Second World War and the Korean War.
Hamilton was doing his job. The articles may have been sexed up, what with “Girl of the Gestapo” (May 1952) by Thomas M. Johnson about how the top female Nazi spy used sex as her weapon, and “Beware of Sex Racketeers” (as billed on the cover – the title was “Paternity Racketeers Can Sue You! by George Cullin, December 1952) about how women can bring paternity suits. But the fiction was, on the whole, good fiction, much of it hard-boiled, but still good.
The public must have thought so too. Despite the objections from the old guard, many stayed with the magazine and many more came along. By the end of his second year Hamilton had raised the circulation to around 280,000 and before he had done it broke through 300,000.
Hamilton welcomed as many of the former writers as could follow his lead. Nelson Bond continued to appear though from now on his fantasies faded away and he produced hard-hitting stories about the perils of space travel. One curious item is that Bond adapted Charles Eric Maine’s radio play “Spaceways” (August 1953) to tie in with the release of the film. Maine, though, had already adapted his play as a novel which was published that year. Hamilton continued to publish science fiction, such as Joseph G. Edrich’s “Escape from Utopia” (January 1953), and he even squeezed in the occasional fantasy, such as Alan Nelson’s “The City Where No One Dies” (December 1952).
Wilbur S. Peacock also kept up appearances in Bluebook and he even provided a new Snake River Jim story in “The Swindle” (February 1953), one of the few series to survive the change. Donald Barr Chidsey, John D. MacDonald, Wayne D. Overholser and others all continued to appear but their fiction became darker and more violent. From his humorous sf stories in the Kennicott issues MacDonald, for instance, turned to stories of tension and suspense as in “A Day in the Sun” where danger develops on a deep-sea fishing trip.
Alongside them came new writers. Robert Bloch’s short novel about Hollywood and bogus psychologists, “Once a Sucker” marked his debut in the August 1952 issue. It was the initial draft of his novel Spiderweb (1954). Brett Halliday brought his popular character Mike Shayne into the February 1953 issue with “The Naked Frame”. Evan Hunter, better known today as Ed McBain, appeared with “Two” (February 1953) in which two men in an open boat fight each other for their own survival. Kendall Foster Crossen, writing mostly as M.E. Chaber, produced a number of crime stories such as “Murder on the Inside” (January 1954) about a killing in a prison. Westerns figured strongly, especially Wayne Overholser’s “Matt Seery’s Town” (June 1953) and Will Henry’s fine short novel about Wyatt Earp, “This Was Wyatt” (April 1954). There is an interesting comparison in the April 1953 issue between Tom Roan’s traditional cowboy story, “Killer Comes to Canyon” and Louis Kaye’s story of the Australian frontier, “Boomerang”. Perhaps there can be no better contrast, though, of the old with the new than in the highly prized May 1954 issue. This saw the first publication of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novel, “Live and Let Die” and in the same issue was P.G. Wodehouse’s “The Ordeal of Bingo Little”. Hamilton certainly knew when not to throw the baby out with the bath water!
A few of the non-fiction features are also worth noting. Will Oursler contributed a collectible item about the phenomenon of Sherlock Holmes in “Sherlock Hilmes – Dead or Alive?” (May 1953), whilst in “The Great North Pole Lie”, John Euller analyses the facts proving that Admiral Peary did not make it to the North Pole. The August 1953 issue features the famous dance band conductor Guy Lombardo and his passion for speedboats in “I Race With Death”, a typical “confessions” style piece. Donald H. Menzel gave his views on UFOs in “Flying Saucers are the Bunk!” (February 1954).
The ratio of non-fiction to fiction was increasing and it was evident that Wyman wished to push it further. Maybe he pushed Hamilton too far, or Hamilton had other commitments, but from the June 1954 issue Andre Fontaine took over as editor. Fontaine (1910-94) had been a journalist and editor all of his working life, and had recently been Associate Editor of Collier’s, so he had the background of the newspaperman and of the slicks. He brought this to Bluebook and increased the quota of non-fiction. Although the fiction did not exactly take the back seat it certainly no longer held prominence. It still featured worthy names —Evan Hunter with “Dead Nurse” (December 1954), a story of murder in the navy, drawing upon his naval background; Donald Hamilton with the crime story “Too Soon Dead” and John D. MacDonald with a mixture of stories, including a science fiction thriller, “Virus H” (June 1955). Even C.S. Forester contributed though not with anything you might expect but instead a lightweight humorous fantasy, “Macnamara’s Exhilarating Elixir.” By 1955 Robert Sheckley had made the grade with “Lone Survivor” (November 1955) and “Disposal Service” (January 1956).
But by now the magazine was changing almost beyond recognition. Most of the articles were related to how men could earn more money, improve themselves and develop do-it-yourself skills. From October 1954 it became a side-stapled magazine with no spine and though for a short while it featured full wrap cover paintings (most of which were no longer related to stories) from May 1955 these mostly gave way to photographs. In February 1956 the format of the contents page changed to place the emphasis on the articles and features and now fiction did take the back seat. The magazine still published westerns, mysteries, adventure and science fiction, but little of it is memorable. The growing interest in space exploration and the burgeoning space race in 1955 clearly interested Fontaine. The November 1955 issue carried a piece on whether it is important to build a space ship and the March 1956 issue discussed how a space station could make Earth safer. That same issue carried Frank M. Robinson’s story of ESP “The Power”.
But the end was nigh. Phillips Wyman died in May 1955 and Wade Nichols, the former editor of Redbook was raised to the rôle of Publisher. What I’d give to know the discussions that went on in the boardroom and behind closed doors. Redbook was now a thriving magazine and though Bluebook’s circulation was high it must still have been proving a liability. Maybe they considered the viability of converting it into a slick, but though that worked in the woman’s market it was not the way men’s magazines had gone. Argosy now had a circulation of 1,271,000, four times that of Bluebook. Maybe that had been Wyman and Nichols’s target so that even though Bluebook’s circulation was the highest in its whole fifty-year existence it fell short of aspirations. Bluebook had become a men’s “service” magazine in its tone and appearance but not always in its content and somehow, despite its rise in circulation, it was now hovering between two markets.
Whatever the discussions in early 1956, McCall’s decided to suspend publication. The last issue was dated May and carried, amongst other things, Victor Canning’s story “The White Spell”. The fact that it was “suspended” and not killed outright suggests that McCall’s were considering resurrecting it if the time were right, and maybe there were still plans to convert it to a slick. With a little investment Bluebook would probably have matched Redbook in sales, but doubtless the publishers saw little merit in having two such magazines when one was sufficient. In the end they sold the title to H.S. Publications the publisher of men’s magazines. H.S. stood for Hy Steinman. It was revived in October 1960 as Bluebook for Men. The editor, somewhat surprisingly, was once again Maxwell Hamilton. This magazine really has no relationship to the original other than by title. It even changed the volume numbering. The last McCall issue was issue 1 of volume 103, but the new series began as volume 100. It was bi-monthly and seems to have sustained that schedule, apart from a few monthly issues in 1962, until its final issue, which I believe was in January 1975. It changed editors several times in the first few years and changed publisher twice – to the Hanro Corporation in March 1966 (when the title reverted to Bluebook) and to the QMG Magazine Corporation soon after. The editor by now was B.R. Ampolsk and I believe he stayed the editor to the end. During these fourteen years Bluebook degenerated into a macho magazine with the emphasis on sex and violence and bears no part in the history of its venerable forebear.
As for that original Blue Book, its 613 issues are a wonderful chronicle of the first half of the twentieth century, perhaps more than any other pulp magazine. Its covers and features move from the demure ladies of the stage to the dawn of the Space Age. Its stories were many and varied but if it had one consistent factor it was the desire to push the limits and see what tested man’s mettle. This seemed to be the desire of Harriman, Long, Kennicott and Hamilton, to explore how mankind survived in the world. In so doing it published some of the most interesting and yet, quite often, some of the most overlooked fiction in the pulp world.