Newsstand: 1925: Ranch Romances

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a virtual newsstand from the summer of 1925

 

Overview

             When “Western Love Stories” was rejected as a title for Harold Hersey’s romance-Western hybrid pulp in 1924, it wasn’t a good sign for the magazine. When Ranch Romances was chosen instead, it marked the beginning of one of the longest-lasting, exceptionally popular pulp magazines. Ranch Romances ran from 1924 to 1971 (1) , and, though it fell strictly to reprints in the 1960s, it became one of the most successful pulps of the era, publishing nearly nine hundred issues in its forty-seven year run. (2)

 

History

 

           Harold Hersey created Ranch Romances in 1924 as an attempted foray into the love story pulp. It was a hopeful blending of romance and Western themes, geared towards women--and with an original emphasis on the female heroine. For Hersey, it was a “home run,” catching on quickly and becoming a smash success under the first editorship of Bina Flynn. (3) The magazine initially published monthly (1924-26) but turned to bi-monthly publication in 1927, and remained so for the majority of its popular existence. It was one of many very popular hybrid pulps created in the early 1920s: Ranch Romances stemmed from the sudden ultra-specialization of genre pulps in the 1920s, and it was one of the most successful and among the only to survive beyond a few issues. (4)

           Just because it was among the first Western romance pulps does not make it particularly unique. In fact, Ranch Romances was only one of more than 180 western pulp magazines created between 1920 and 1950 (5), and only a small part of the nearly 10,000 issues published in the entire Western genre. (6) Still, its place among other Western pulps was apparent — it was one of the most popular, and that popularity was not limited to its main genre (romance). Ranch Romances was popular across the board, even attracting readers it did not specifically cater to (specifically: men). (7) It was this versatility that kept it afloat when it was purchased for $30,000 (just over half a million dollars in today’s money) by Warner Publications after Clayton Magazines went belly-up in 1933. (8) According to H.L. Mencken, it was the only profitable magazine Clayton had to offer; and that was all thanks to its female editor Fanny Ellsworth. She was the driving force behind the success of both Ranch Romances and Black Mask (the extremely popular hard-boiled detective magazine created by Mencken in 1920). She was editor for Ranch Romances from 1929 to 1953--just about half of the magazine’s entire run. She later went on to work as editor of a number of science fiction pulp magazines as well. According to Western pulp writer Elmer Kelton, she was known for “tolerating more variation to the [writing] formula than other editors. She never insisted every story have a hero, a villain, or a gunfight. She liked humor and different characters and accepted contemporary settings, whereas most of her fellow editors insisted that stories be set in the Old West.” (9) Oddly enough, five out of Ranch Romances’s six editors were women. (10)

           Ranch Romances’ many publishers illustrates the often tumultuous world of pulp publishing. The first, Western Stories Publishing Corp., lasted from 1924-1931, and Clayton Magazines took over from 1931-1933. Warner Publications purchased the magazine and published it from 1933-1950. After that, there was Best Books, Inc. (1950-1955), Library Enterprises (1955-1959), and finally Popular Library, Inc. (1959-1971). (11) When Popular Library took over publishing, it changed the format to a quarterly publication, reflecting its ultimate downturn in popularity – though the fact that it lasted that long says a lot about its staying power.

           Ranch Romances was far from a sensational pulp. In fact, the cover art — though fantastic in its own right — was generally tame compared to some of the more risqué titles. Artists included H.D. Bugbee, Samuel Cherry, Ed Delavy, John Drew, Everett Raymond Kinstler, Gerald McCann, Margery Stocking Hart, Charles Wrenn, and Kirk Wilson. (12) Covers rarely made violence the most prominent aspect; even if the scene showed people in danger, it was never a life-or-death situation(Figures 1 and 2). Instead, most covers seemed to favor attractive women in some kind of position of power — whether roping cattle or fighting bandits, the ladies on the covers looked empowered in some form or another (Figure 3). Another popular cover choice was a very toned-down romantic scene (Figure 4). (13)

           One thing that can be said about Ranch Romances is that it had a lot of regular writers. Some of these writers seemed to have written only for Ranch Romances, while others wrote for any number of Western pulps, and others still wrote for pulps across all genres--some even writing for “higher class” publications like Cosmopolitan, Harper’s, and even Saturday Evening Post. Among the most popular are Johnston McCulley (creator of Zorro), Toddhunter Ballard, Marie de Nervaud (who created Scarum--one of only two recurring characters of Ranch Romances), Lela Cole Kitson (pseudonym: Lupe Loya), Lulita Crawford Pritchett (who created Puck--the other recurring character) Reginald C. Barker (creator of Grizzly Gallagher for Western Story Magazine), Victor Rousseau, and J. Edward Leithead.

S. Omar Barker was among Ranch Romances’ most prolific writers; throughout his enormous career he wrote nearly 1500 short stories, 1200 articles, and 2000 poems (the most famous being “The Cowboy’s Christmas Prayer”). (14) Most recurring female writers published under a pseudonym, and these women were much more likely to write outside of just one publication. For instance, Lilian Bennet-Thompson has nearly forty separate published stories in various Western pulps, yet she used the pseudonym Amos Moore. That wasn’t always the case, as plenty of female writers used their real names throughout all pulp genres.

           The story formula for Ranch Romances was relatively similar to both the Western pulps and the romance pulps. The character tropes were easily identifiable and the stories often had predictable endings. The heroine (or main female character) was always inherently good. As W.H. Hutchinson put it:  “If the girl wore calico or gingham, even hoopskirts, had hair to her waist when the braids accidentally came unwound, possessed a clear complexion and lustrous eyes, she was Good . . . and the hero would get his just rewards in the end by claiming her hand.” (15) It’s easy to predict who plays the villain and who will ultimately become the hero assistant to the heroine, and he is most definitely the one who marries her (or agrees to marry her) in the end. The predictability of the fiction of the magazine does not make it any less enjoyable; it’s simply the formula the magazine’s editors chose to pursue when it became successful.

           As with most pulp magazines, the end of World War II and the rise of comic books began to effect the popularity of Ranch Romances. Granted, it remained in publication long after most other titles, but its age certainly started to show. Unlike some other pulps that survived into the Fifties and Sixties, Ranch Romances never became a digest magazine, but it did become strictly a reprint magazine in 1966 (though it had already been reprinting some stories for a few years prior). In its final three years the publication got its first and only name change: it became Ranch Romances and Adventures (see Figure 5). The last issue of Ranch Romances hit the shelves in November of 1971, catering to a much smaller audience in a much different era than its heyday. Even today, it remains one of the most commonly found pulps magazines. Little wonder, given its longevity and popularity as the magazine of “Love Stories of the Real West.” 

 

 

                                                                                                   —Contextualization by Chelsea Anderson

 

Notes

 

(1) All information regarding dates of publication, editors, and publishers attained from the Fiction Mags Index at: http://www.philsp.com/homeville/fmi/b134.htm#A2652 unless otherwise specified.

(2) Booker, M. Keith. Encyclopedia of Comic Books and Graphic Novels. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2010. Print.

(3) Hersey, Harold. Pulpwood Editor. A. Stokes Press, 1965. Print.

(4) Lovecraft, H.P. and David E. Schulz. An Epicure in the Terrible: A Centennial Anthology of Essays in Honor of H.P. Lovecraft. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1991. Print.

(5) Manns, William. “Sagebrush Sagas: Hot Lead, High Drama, and Heroism.” American Cowboy 9.1 (2002): 46-49. Print.

(6) Booker, M. Keith, 518.

(7) While there aren’t any findable records concerning audience, it’s apparent that a lot of men were subscribers, using information found in the magazine’s “Our Air Mail” and the “Trail’s End Roll Call.”

(8) Mencken, H.L. My Life as Author and Editor. New York: Random House Digital, Inc., 2011. Web.

(9) Alter, Judy. Elmer Kelton and West Texas. Denton: Unversity of North Texas Press, 1989. Print.

(10) All editors: Bina Flynn (1924-1929); Fanny Ellsworth (1929-1953); Helen Tono (nee Davidge,1953-1958, 1967-1969); Jim Hendryx, Jr. (1958-1967); Sharon Moore (1970-1971); and Anne Keffer (1971).

(11) Best Books, Library Enterprises, and Popular Library were all subsidiaries of Pines Publications.

(12) Retrieved from http://pulpartists.com/

(13) Cover art retrieved from and can be found at: http://www.philsp.com/mags/ranch_romances.html

(14) Dinan, John A. The Pulp Western: A Popular History of the Western Fiction Magazine in America. San Bernardino: The Borgo Press, 1983. Print.

(15) Hutchinson, W.H. “Virgins, Villains, and Varmints.” Huntington Library Quarterly 16.4 (1953): 383. Print.

 

          

Works Cited

 

Alter, Judy. Elmer Kelton and West Texas. Denton: Unversity of North Texas Press, 1989. Print.

Booker, M. Keith. Encyclopedia of Comic Books and Graphic Novels. Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 2010.        Print.

Dinan, John A. The Pulp Western: A Popular History of the Western Fiction Magazine in

            America. San Bernardino: The Borgo Press, 1983. Print.

Fiction Mags Index. http://www.philsp.com/homeville/fmi/b135.htm#A2653

Galactic Central (magazine cover art). http://www.philsp.com/mags/ranch_romances.html

Hersey, Harold. Pulpwood Editor. A. Stokes Press, 1965. Print.

Hutchinson, W.H. “Virgins, Villains, and Varmints.” Huntington Library Quarterly 16.4 (1953):

            383. Print.

Lovecraft, H.P. and David E. Schulz. An Epicure in the Terrible: A Centennial Anthology of

            Essays in Honor of H.P. Lovecraft. Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1991. Print.

Manns, William. “Sagebrush Sagas: Hot Lead, High Drama, and Heroism.” American Cowboy

            9.1 (2002): 46-49. Print.

Mencken, H.L. My Life as Author and Editor. New York: Random House Digital, Inc., 2011.

            Web. Saunders, David. “Pulp Artists.” http://pulpartists.com/

click cover for magazine

July 1925

Genre

Pulp, Western and Romance

Publisher:

Harold Hersey

Place of Publication:

New York, NY

Years of Run:

1924-1971

Frequency of Publication:

Weekly

Circulation in 1925: