Newsstand: 1925: I Confess

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a virtual newsstand from the summer of 1925

 

Overview

           The covers appealed to women in particular with the promise to deliver true-to-life experience and life-lessons. The price—merely ten cents per copy—increased that appeal by beating out other “true” magazines, which sold for double the price. The cover models were beautiful, fashionable, young, and white. The magazine was “I Confess.”

 

History

 

           George T. Delacorte, founder of Dell Publishing Co. Inc., was known as “the man who understood what the general public wanted” (McKnight-Trontz 13). Upon graduating from the University of Columbia, Delacorte began his career in the magazine business by handing out cigars for New Fiction Publishing Company to newsstand owners (Slide 113). He eventually became the president of the company, which published the all-fiction pulp magazines Snappy Stories and Live Stories. Upon resigning from his position as general manager in 1922, Delacorte formed Dell Publishing Co., Inc. The company followed Bernarr MacFadden, creator of True Story magazine, in the confessional magazine trend by launching “I Confess” in February 1922 (Printer’s Ink 189). The magazine was Delacorte’s pulpwood version of True Story magazine, which first appeared in 1919.

           The idea for the confessional magazine sprouted from Bernarr MacFadden's first magazine Physical Culture (first published in 1899) which contained a write-in section called “Questions from Health-Seekers” (Marchand 53, 54). MacFadden's wife, Mary, noticed the true and first-hand confessions written by women in the letters to the editor. She presented the idea of a whole magazine of true experience confessions written by the readers of the magazine. Upon hearing of the idea, one staff member exclaimed, "Everybody will want to read that one. All the working girls go through the same love troubles. This one will be about themselves and written by themselves" (Macfadden 29). True Story magazine was shockingly successful, gaining a circulation of almost two million by 1926 (Sivulka 140).

           Elizabeth Sharp, the magazine’s editor, strongly dictated the personality and contents of “I Confess.” In the August 1922 issue of The Editor, Greenfield claims that “[Sharp] does not want ‘confessions’ in which the plot is lacking in episode, and drama and character too unsympathetic. She tells me her readers desire plenty of action” (Fillery 74). The March 1922 issue of The Writer, a monthly magazine for literary workers, featured an advertisement asking for stories for “I Confess” magazine. Sharp wrote: “A magazine of personal experiences using short stories of from [sic] 3,500 words to 5,000 words, and serials from 20,000 words to 30,000 words, printing about 5,000 words per part. Stories should read as if they were personal experiences [and] be told in words of one or two syllables . . .” (2). Another ad for the magazine reads: “I Confess (New York), a new bi-weekly magazine, especially needs short stories, of about 3,500 words, told in the first person. Characters, incidents, and settings should be such as have come within the range of the writer’s actual experience” (40). The ad suggests that stories have a “love-motive,” but must be toned down if sexuality is a main theme. Elizabeth Sharp strictly maintained the clean, yet gripping content for the magazine.

           The stories were exactly that—morally clean, yet emotionally gripping. A strongly sympathetic (though ordinary) character is caught in self-imposed hardship. Though the stories were more realistic than those of the preceding Victorian novel, they typically ended happily with love and marriage. The cover story of the October 1922 issue of “I Confess” titled “Dancing into Danger, A Chorus Girl’s Love Story” features a seventeen-year-old girl from New York. The girl lies about her age in order to marry a man and run away to Paris with him. She finds herself not knowing whether to commit to the illegal marriage and stay with a man she may not love, or return to the stage. As a serial, the story leaves the reader on edge, anxious to find out her life-shaping choice. “The Queen of Wheats,” the cover story of the January 1923 issue, centers on a restaurant waitress who falls in love with a farm boy disguised as a city gentlemen. The girl also pretends to be of a wealthy family. The two eventually reveal their far-from-wealthy backgrounds and accept each other regardless of social class. Both stories feature ordinary working girls, ultimately motivated by love.

           Though several stories seem to have been copied directly from an adolescent girl’s diary, the same writers that the Saturday Evening Post would call “MacFadden’s anonymous amateur  illiterates” reveal a strong political voice (MacFadden 224). “Hearts That I Harnessed,” a serial appearing in the October 1922 issue, contains the following passage:

           This may seem all wrong, but my observation has been that virtue that is not based on a sound

           foundation of sense and utilitarianism is an artificial and pretty frail sort of thing. Things are

           much more sane and peaceable in those countries where a woman’s virtue is given a real value,

           as something useful to the social body—or useless, as the case may be. (“I Confess” 55-59).

           Stories in “I Confess” did allow lower middle-class women a political voice in the literary realm.

Stories were occasionally written in response to other stories. One story from the October 1922 issue titled “The Mother-in-law Hits Back,” contains short blurb that reads, “Here’s a reply to ‘Why I hate Mother-in-laws.’ Published some time ago on the hard lot of a son-in-law—there are two sides to this question” (13). This sort of “read and respond” type story created a community among readers of the magazine.

            “I Confess” magazine ran as a bi-weekly, “on every news stand on every other Friday” (“I Confess”). In order to avoid risking a horde of unsold copies, Delacorte numbered his magazines instead of dating them. He printed them on pulpwood paper in order to be able to sell them for merely ten cents per copy. He then put them for sale east of the Rocky Mountains and south of Canada. He trimmed the edges of the unsold copies and attempted to re-sell them, this time west of the Rocky Mountains and in Canada (Peterson, 271).

           In 1926 the circulation of “I Confess” totaled at about 160,041 for the year. Just one year later, however, the magazine shows a decline in sales with the circulation totaling at 144,393. In 1928, the magazine went from a bi-weekly to a monthly magazine perhaps due to the decrease in sales (Audit Bureau of Circulation).

           The magazine was first offered for only ten cents per copy. At the magazine’s start, however, the readers continually requested, “wonderful pictures . . . more stories . . . [and] more departments and features” through letters to the editor (“I Confess” 4). In the eighteenth issue dated October 6, 1922, Delacorte announced the beginning of “’I CONFESS in gala attire.” In this letter from the editor, Delacorte informed his readers that “I Confess” magazine would not only increase from 64 pages to 80 pages, but would also include precisely what the audience requested: more stories, beautiful covers, dozens of illustrations, and additional departments. The letter announced the price increase from 10 cents per copy to 15 cents per copy, which would compensate for the changes made to the magazine. By 1931, “I Confess” dropped back to 10 cents per copy.

           Early issues of “I Confess” were marketed as containing completely factual stories; cover blurbs stated “every word true.” Issues twenty and twenty-one both contain the phrase, however, by issue twenty-five the phrase was removed from the cover. Instead the magazine began to advertise stories with the “throb of real life.” Not all confessionals changed from true stories to realistic stories. Some confessional magazines, including True Story magazine, required writers to sign an affidavit swearing all information contained in the story was true (Woodford 126). In his book titled Trial and Error, Jack Woodford tells a story that reveals the fictive nature of the so-called true experiences written in “I Confess”:

           A writer friend of mine . . . dropped in to see the lady editor of I Confess Magazine . . . They got            along together splendidly from the start, and were chatting enjoyable when an office girl entered to            announce that a certain writer (male) who specializes in confession stories had arrived for a

           consultation with the editor. The editor of I Confess Magazine . . . exclaimed in annoyance and

           petulance at thus being disturbed: ‘Christ! There’s that darned unwed mother come to see me again.

           I’m sorry. We’ll have to cut our chat short.’ (Woodford 126-127).

Though the story is second hand and may not be completely accurate, it does reveal the misguided authorship in the pulps. Several pulp authors used pseudonyms to disguise authorship. By doing so, women could both partake in male-dominated magazine circles as well provide a feminine voice through masculine disguise. By writing so-called true stories that were not necessarily true, writers could perhaps manipulate the readers into thinking a certain way.

           Authors of confession magazines are not disclosed. The stories are said to have been written by the readers of the magazine. The stories will occasionally give a description of teller of the story, such as “told by the other girl,” “A husband’s unhappy story,” and “a chorus girl’s love story” from the October 1922 issue, or “a girl stowaway’s daring on the high seas,” “a mother’s love story,” and “told by a down-and-out” from the January 1923 issue. Jack Woodford confessed to have “written confession stories for . . . I Confess Magazine, and several other confession story magazines” (126). The writers of the stories were paid one half cent a word and sometimes awarded cash prizes for certain writing contests run by the magazine.

           Pulp covers, according to Lesser, were “born of the need to attract attention at the newsstand” (9). Because of the numerous magazine titles, the cover must catch the eye of the readers. In Lesser’s words, the covers “presold the magazines visually, often with flesh-creeping, brain-haunting pictures” (6). The early cover art of “I Confess” resembled this description, though not quite so gruesome. The October 1922 issue pictures a finely dressed woman creeping into a bedroom holding her coin purse out in front of her. However, somewhere between this issue and the January 1923 issue, the magazine covers transitioned into the cover-girl style used in other confessional magazines. The covers then featured Caucasian woman pictured from the shoulders up. The women were sometimes adorned with jewelry, make-up was applied heavily, and their hair was bobbed short, typical of the flapper style. Occasionally the cover would picture a man and woman sitting together, the woman turned away and the man reaching toward her. The early covers were roughly sketched and hardly realistic, lacking vivid coloration. The later covers were vibrant in color. Some known illustrators include: Hernon MacPhail, A. W. Sperry, Jay Victor, George A. Fish, Constance Benson (Fiction Magazine Index). Many of the illustrators also did work for the magazine Cupids Diary, a sister magazine to “I Confess,” which had the same publisher.

           The advertisements, like the covers, were certainly directed toward working-class women. Advertisements for female jobs, jewelry (particularly diamond-imitation rings), sex information books, and fortune-tellers dominated the advertisement sections. The magazine does, however, contain a small selection of advertisements directed toward men, mainly including job postings.

           In his article “Social Role of the Confession Magazine,” George Gerbner analyzes the audience of the confession magazine. He notes that the women of confessional magazines are not and never will be avid readers of textbook material. They do not read much that is not written in a conversational tone (31). Gerbner suggests that the audience for the confessional genre is working-class women who do not necessarily find their primary, life-fulfilling role as the maker of the home. The readers are not extremely well-educated, as the magazines are to “be told in words of one or two syllables” (The Writer 2).

           A write-in section titled “The Trouble Doctor’s Department” allows the readers to write to the Trouble Doctor about their personal problems, the responses being published later in the same department. A short description is provided with each problem, usually including age, which gives a general idea of the readership of the magazine. Eleven out of fourteen letters published in the October 1922 issue were written by women, half of which claim to be under the age of 18. The remaining writers do not state their age. All seven letters published in the January 1923 issue are written by women under the age of nineteen.

           In February 1932, “I Confess” magazine died. Although the magazine ran for only 10 years, it is exemplary of the active participation of readers within the world of pulp magazines. “I Confess” and the confessional genre of pulp fiction in general indicate the role of readers within pulp magazines. Through letters to the editor, reader written stories, and prize-winning contests, this was a magazine for the reader and of the reader—a grand portrait of America’s mass literary audience.

 

          

 --Contextualization by Lauren Gibson

 

 

Works Cited

 

Berger, Merilyn. “G. T. Delacorte, Philanthropist, 97, Dies.” New York Times.  05-05-
       1991. http://www.nytimes.com/1991/05/05/obituaries/g-t-delacorte-     
         philanthropist-97-dies.html. 18-10-2012.

 

Fillery, William Edmund, Greenfield, Will H.. “The Experience Exchange.” The Editor.
           58. Library of Princeton University, 1922.

 

“G.T. Delacorte, Jr., Forms Dell Publishing Co.” Printers’ Ink. Vol. 118. University of
        Michigan. 01-05-1922: 189. Print.

 

I Confess.” NY: Dell Publishing Co., Inc., 1922. Print.

 

Macfadden and Emile Gauvreau, Dumbells and Carrot Strips (new York1953) pp. 218-
       19; George Gerbner, "The Social Role of the Confession Magazine,"' social problems
        6 (1958): 29. Print.

 

Marchand, Roland. Advertising the American Dream. CA: University of California Press,
         1985).  53-54. Print.

 

McKnight-Trontz, Jennifer. The Look of Love. New York: Princeton Architectural Press,
          2002. 13. Print.

 

Peterson, Theodore. Magazines in the Twentieth Century. Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1956. Web.

 

Sivulka, Juliann. Soap, Sex, and Cigarettes: A Cultural History of American Advertising.
          MA: Wadsworth Cenage Learning,1998. 140. Print.

 

Slide, Anthony. Inside the Hollywood Fan Magazine. MI: The University Press of
         Mississippi, 2010. 213. Print.

“The Writer’s Directory of Periodicals.” The Writer. Ed. James Knapp Reeve. MA. 1922.
          Print.

 

Woodford, Jack. Trial and Error, a Key to the Secret of Writing and Selling. New York:
       Perma Giants, 1949. 126. Print.

 

 

click cover for magazine

February 2, 1925

Genre

Pulp, Romance and Confessional

Publisher:

Dell Publishing Co, Inc.

Place of Publication:

New York, NY

Years of Run:

1922-1932

Frequency of Publication:

Bi-Weekly

Circulation in 1925: