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Sunday, May 20, 2012

Fake Women Crime Magazines by Real Male Gangsters

A History of the “Detective Stories Publishing Company”

Tracking down the actual publisher of an old magazine can be a matter of guess work, even for an educated historian. Sometimes, as is the case with Centaur Publications, the publisher is part of an affinity group—people playing musical publisher, systematically serially ruining their credit with printers until something finally clicks. Other times, publishers will sprout new imprints to reflect various partnerships with investors. Both Lev Gleason and Harold Hersey did this. Marvel’s publisher Martin Goodman, of course, led the league, changing the name of his firm with nearly every title. Whether the Double Action and Red Circle imprints belong to Goodman or to Archie Comics is a dispute the publishers themselves could not resolve. And the reasons for parading around under several names —at times peddling the exact same material directed at the exact same market through the exact same distributor—is often lost to history. Harry Steeger never gave a coherent reason. And Ned Pines, who wrote extensively about his business, never spent a verb’s worth of explanation on why his firm, known to everyone as the Thrilling Group, called itself Nedor, Better, Best and Standard Publications. Even Alex Hillman, who had nothing to hide and no real knowledge of how to work paper shortages, managed to publish under a half a dozen imprints. You need a pretty good scorecard to figure out who is what. Even with that knowledge, it sometimes seems as if these guys are mobsters with fronts.

On at least one occasion, they were mobsters with fronts. Or at least mobster. It’s a big occasion. It’s a lot of fronts. But it was just one guy. And our topic tonight only covers part of his fairly sizable pulp magazine empire.

On paper Detective Stories Publishing Company produced four magazines, starting in late 1935. The firm operated out of the Printer’s Row district of Chicago and is primarily notable for being early adopters of Photo Offset printing technology.  This technology had a lot of advantages, especially to the merchant of sleazy magazines. First, it gave you pretty good and very cheap registry on photographs. Until relatively recently printing photographs on newsprint was a smudgy affair. Even the nice grade of pulp paper (the type used in today’s crossword books) didn’t reproduce photos that well.  Second, the Photo Offset press has a cheap set up for plates. It’s perfect for short runs. (Conversely, it’s expensive for long runs, since the plates are flimsy and wear out. On a long run you would have to make several duplicate plates.) All in all, it seems to be specifically invented for the girlie magazine trade. No one had really used these presses before. Unfortunately the war put an end to their development and the technology didn’t spread until much later. That said, our guys at Detective Stories came up with a number of tricks with this press that would be emulated by other shlock operators in the 1950s. If they weren’t the first to ply these tricks, they were close to being first.

There actually isn’t a Detective Stories Publishing Company. Per their indictment, the firm is known as  Consensus Publishing Company. Its primary line of business is publishing the racing form, a gambling publication. Detective Stories Publishing Company is just something they slap on magazines produced by that nice photo offset press Moses Annenberg gave them. I don’t know if they were printing up girlie magazines also. If they did, they wouldn’t have put their name on them. The magazines produced by Detective Stories Publishing Company are typical non smut pulp fare. Their first known effort was Official Detective, a True Crime pulp, shown here in its first issue rehashing the then three year old Lindbergh Baby Murder. An inauspicious start for a magazine which would last until 1997 and spawn a radio series and a syndicated television program produced at the Desilu studios.

Moses Annenberg was the actual mobster behind Detective Stories Publishing Company. His name is nowhere on the masthead, but it’s on the indictment.  Moses is sort of the Johnny Appleseed of sleazy magazine publishers. (He also owned the Philadelphia Inquirer.) He went about the country buying people presses and providing publishers operating capital. It was then incumbent upon the person who had been gifted the press to use it to make money and give some of that money  to Moses on a more or less regular basis. This is not a typical publisher/subsidiary/imprint relationship. His various companies are not technically related to one and other. In the best light, his various firms are independent investment vehicles. Although his entities are financially unencumbered by each other, Moses isn’t entirely a reptilian parent. If you are having problems with distribution—magazine distributors also being crooks—Moses will send actual guys with actual guns to help you out. And as we will see, Moses is not afraid to deploy employees of one firm to help out with another of his firms. The divisions are legal dressing. Moses knows what he owns and who he employs.

At the time Detective Stories set up, most pulps were using painted covers run off litho presses. Because it is seemingly a mad scientist lab, Detective Stories was both using photos for cover illustrations and the photo offset press for color printing. Actual photo color registry, however, was difficult. It wasn’t a real color photographic process, but rather a stencil-like overlay. Most times, this didn’t look all that good. The people at Detective either had a lot of practice (from printing smut) or were just particularly adept at it. They do the best job with this process that I’ve seen.

Early on, they latch onto the cover theme of telling an entire story with just the cover picture. That  became their trademark. This was often coupled with a babes behaving badly motif. Most True Crime magazines weren’t this well thought out. Combined with the nice color registry, it made an attractive package. Its gimmick works and it’s well executed. By 1935 True Crime was a shop worn genre. A twice a month frequency is fabulous. Detective Stories Publishing Company had a hit. Moses will be pleased.

More in keeping with the photo offset True Crime magazines that would emerge in the 1950s was the firm’s second effort, Actual Detective--or Actual Detective Cases of Women In Crime, as it was known in its earliest issues. Perhaps borrowing from sheet music publishers of the time, the covers of this magazine featured  a black and white photo surrounded by a field of bright color. Actual Detective had two gimmicks to distinguish itself from the other True Crime magazines. First, it’s obviously taking the babes behaving badly motif to an extreme. This was something of a fad in the genre at the time.  At the time that this was released, there already were two magazines called Women In Crime. (Not that pulp publishers cared that much about swiping each other’s active trademarks.) The second was the magazine’s 11X14 size. It was a bedsheet, typical of the size many Sunday newspaper magazines used to be. Unlike its stable mate, Actual Detective was a fairly cheaply produced affair. Like Official Detective, it outlasted Detective Stories Publishing Company itself.

The listed brain trust at Detective Stories Publishing Company didn’t have a lot of pulp magazine industry experience. Its President Arnold Kruse held the same position at Consensus Publishing Company and, per the indictment, was an executive in several other Annenberg companies. To put it in business terms, he reports directly to Moses. His history in publishing begins and ends with Moses Annenberg. I don’t know if this makes him a mobster, but Arnold is the guy entrusted with the press and the bag of money. His son Leslie “Killer Kane” Kruse also works for Consensus Publishing. Per newspaper accounts of the time, the wide bodied 6 foot 2 Leslie has a day job acting as the body guard for Al Capone’s chief bagman Jake Guzik. All I can safely say about Arnold Kruse is that he was not the master of US tax law. At the time the authorities had hit upon taking mobsters down through the filing of tax evasion charges. A wide ranging investigation of Moses Annenberg’s operation was launched. Arnold’s little domain turned out to be Christmas for the authorities.

Arnold is the figure on the far left. Next to him is Moses Annenberg. Arnold, Leslie, Moses and a few others wound up indicted. Eventually Moses was convicted and had to pay millions in back taxes and serve two years in jail. That pretty much was the end of Arnold Kruse’s career in publishing, such as it was. It was also probably the end of Detective Stories Publishing Company.

Listed on Detective Stories Publishing Company’s masthead as General Manager was George D’Utassy. Born George von Utassy, he was the American aristocrat from central casting, complete with a Harvard education. George had changed his name from ‘von’ to D’Utassy in the run up to WWI. (Better to be mistaken for French than German.) He rubbed shoulders with Hemmingway when they were both involved with the ambulance service. Even at that time, D’Utassy was a well known publishing big wig. He served as the chief magazine editor for William Randolph Hearst. In the 1920s D’Utassy was operating his own theatrical publishing company. What he’s doing at a pulp press owned by a mobster circa 1937 is anyone’s guess. He may have fallen on hard times. He does seem to have dropped off the publishing scene in 1927 or so. By 1937 he was a little long in the tooth and we have no evidence that D’Utassy ever left New York, much less operated out of a plant on Printer’s Row in Chicago. My thinking is that he was here for deodorization. Or he may have been responsible for what little national advertising the line carried.

H.A. Keller was listed as the line’s Editor. Keller was a novelist who worked in several pulp genres. Harry A Keller had previously been the editor of the pulp  Ghost Stories in the 1920s. He had published both articles and short stories in a variety of pulp and slick publications. Concurrent with his involvement with Detective Stories, Keller has a number of novels published, including a science fiction novel speculating on the problems of surrogate motherhood. Although he dabbles in science fiction, detective, western and all of the pulp genres, he is primarily a sex writer. This would have suited a producer of girlie magazines well. It is my thinking that Keller was responsible for quite a bit of Detective Stories Publishing’s rather limited editorial output. He’s not so much editing as he is writing the whole thing, as well as serving as composition help. Post his involvement with Detective Stories, his career as an editor seems to have come to an end.

 (Despite what several sources are reporting, I am not entirely convinced that H.A. Keller was a man.)

Ed Zoty, Detective Stories Publication Company’s Circulation Manager, is the only top notch pulp veteran involved with the firm. He started with Hugo Gernsback, moved on to  MacFadden and had been at Clayton before landing with Detective Stories. If these cards sent to newsstand operators are any example, he’s something of a hot touch operator.

Note: in this card he is also hawking Screen Guide. Detective Stories Publishing does not produce this magazine, although it is also owned by Annenberg. Annenberg’s strongest concentration in pulp magazines was in the movie fan genre and Screen Guide was his flagship. If Zoty was also handling Screen Guide, it means he was moving up in the organization. It appears Moses was willing to leverage talent wherever he found it.

This card is hawking the introduction of Detective Stories Publishing’s third magazine, Click Photo-Parade. Despite what Ed is peddling here, Time Magazine’s write up was actually less than flattering. Time reported “During the past 13 months new pictorial magazines have paraded onto the nation's newsstands at the rate of one every seven weeks—LIFE, Look, Photo-History, Foto, Pic, Picture Crimes, See, Picture. A ninth, called Click, sidled sleazily into the parade last week with an initial printing of 1,500,000 copies which contain no advertising. Noiselessly back of Click is Moses Louis Annenberg, owner of the Philadelphia Inquirer, the sporting New York Morning Telegraph, the profitable pulp Radio Guide, Screen Guide and Official Detective Stories. Son Walter Annenberg is Click's director."

At about the same time they launched Click, the firm also launched Living Romances (from actual life). It seems to have done so poorly that they didn’t bother with a second issue. Or it may have been a one issue rename for Actual Detective. Whatever it was, it doesn’t seem to be in Detective Stories Publishing Company’s wheelhouse.

For a company specializing in True Crime magazines, it didn’t have too many mobsters in them. Mobsters? What are mobsters? Instead the focus was on babes behaving badly, almost to the exclusion of all other human activity, criminal or otherwise. This is plying a rather rare True Crime niche. As such the magazines are serving as near porn for adolescent boys as well as escape vehicles for shop girls. That fairly much was the True Crime audience, but few publishers addressed it quite so directly. If you have a working gimmick, who needs mobsters?

Besides that, mobsters don’t exist. That was the official mobster party line. In any case, it’s somewhat tacky to exploit the exploits of mobsters when you are mobsters. That’s like being a rat.

Whatever Click was supposed to be, it turned out being more of the same. As Time said, it was largely sleazy. It was a monthly photo depiction of average  scantily clad women engaging in increasingly depraved behavior. The primary themes were drug use and wanton sexual activity. It was couched as warnings or education. But how many times do you need to warn people about the same things? Every issue, it seems. Click enabled Detective Stories to expand their offerings from mere female petty criminality to covering the entire spectrum female debauchery.

If Click was noteworthy for anything, it was as Walter Annenberg’s first turn at running a magazine. With his father’s jailing, Walter would soon be running the whole show. The younger Annenberg  embarked on a program to rationalize his father’s holdings, which spelled the end of the quasi indy entities like Detective Stories Publishing Company. Official Detective, Actual Detective and Click were folded into a new group  called Triangle Publications.

Walter went on to become the most successful magazine publisher of his time. He continued publishing Official Detective through the 1970s.  Building off the success his father had with Radio Guide, Walter established and built up TV Guide, which became the flagship of Triangle Publications. Walter kept Official Detective in his portfolio even after shedding his movie magazines and other pulps. (At one point he even acquired more True Crime magazines.)  Besides having what I assume were strong sales, Official Detective also garnered the firm licensing revenues from radio and television adaptations.

Official Detective did change quite a bit over the years. As the True Crime magazine herd started to thin out over the decades, Official Detective became more and more of an average example of the genre. While the other True Crime magazines of the 1950s were doing spot color photo offset, as Actual Detective had in the 1930s, Official Detective switched to full color. (This was the same tactic that Dell and MacFadden used.) Like its better backed brothers, Official Detective was occupying a middle ground presentation with high production standards. The spot color magazines did eventually leave the field, but by that time the market for pulp magazines in general had shrunk. By the 1970s the market for pulps became “go porn or give up.” Annenberg sold it out at this point.

Just as Dorchester Media hoovered up all of the remaining Love pulps, the Globe tabloid systematically came to own all of the existing True Crime magazines. Besides Official Detective, R.G.H. Publishing/Reese Communications acquired Front Page Detective (launched by MacFadden, purchased from Dell), Inside Detective (launched by MacFadden, purchased from Dell), Master Detective (launched by MacFadden, purchased from Triangle) and True Detective (purchased from Triangle). Once in the Reese stable Official Detective went splatter porn, became another violent rape fantasy magazine. It remained that way until 1994 when the Globe merged with National Enquirer, which resulted in the cancellation of all the True Crime pulps then in existence.

I am not about to mourn the passing of the True Crime pulps. As genres of Fiction go, True Crime is fairly much the dregs of the dregs. And the  eventual evolution of the genre into torture porn is more a statement on the state of pulp magazines than it is  a reflection of modern society. If anything, the gross pulp torture porn level may have been higher in the 1930s than it was in the 1970s. It always was a part of the True Crime presentation. Official Detective may not have used this presentation until the end, but that doesn’t make its 'hot babes gone depraved' take on the genre any less degenerate. It was degenerate in a different way for a different audience. Much of what Official Detective had been offering as True Crime had been migrating into the Confessions style Love books for decades. In the end, what was True Crime and what was True Love was more a matter of marketing than content. With True Love haven taken away a lot of what was once True Crime, it left True Crime shading more toward True Horror.

If there was one thing that made Official Detective somewhat distinct, it was its lack of linkage with reality. Beyond the first few issues, it didn’t rehash or retell old crime stories. Rather, it blatantly made things up. It was fiction told in a newsy way with a distinct theme. All of the B List models used in the staged photographs were actually paid and no real person’s tragedy was exploited. In a way it was somewhat similar to the TV show Law & Order. When it had a schtick it did it over and over. After that, it became another Crime Thing, becoming whatever Crime Things became.

In the end, all of the True Crime pulps became photo offset color magazines. Official Detective and Actual Detective were the first, but in their first runs they abandoned the technology rather early on. First, once they became hits, they outgrew whatever advantage the photo offset press afforded. Second, the technology was so dependent on specialty materials that their supplies dried up during the run up to WWII. Like television, it took ten years after the war’s conclusion to build up the infrastructure of photo offset technology. When it finally did spread, it led to a revival in True Crime which retraced Official Detective’s evolution twenty years before.

Despite its lack of success, Annenberg revived Click several times. It was always as a poor man’s version of something, at one stage LIFE and at another stage PLAYBOY. Some people just don’t admit failure.

If I can get the scanner running right, next time I’ll show you an entire issue of Actual Detective in all its lurid splendor. 

By the way, this is very much a first draft. WE DON'T KNOW EVERYTHING! Plese contact me if there are any glaring errors with this. 


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