For this week and next week, I will be spotlighting the great era of American print journalism during World War II. I say “great” in part because of the outstanding quality of art, prose, and intellectualism that the magazines of this period flaunted. The rest of the greatness comes from the sheer volume of print media that the magazine publishers produced as part of the onslaught of home front propaganda. For every puff piece on Lana Turner’s silk pajamas, there’s a recipe for making your meatloaf as plain as possible to stretch your ration cards. There’s an ad for leg makeup so that you can fake your pantyhose and let the boys overseas have that nylon for parachutes instead. This week I’m going to review Liberty, a general interest magazine with a wide readership that consisted largely of middle class white people (who else?). The magazine was also, not surprisingly at all, popular with servicemen.
Liberty magazine ran from 1924 to 1950. While at its peak in the early 1940s it was only second to The Saturday Evening Post, the magazine took a lot of heat for a scandal in which the owner of the magazine hugely inflated circulation numbers to increase ad revenue.The magazine’s lasting legacy is that it threw itself wholeheartedly into the support of FDR, leading many to believe that the magazine’s breathless portrayals of the Roosevelt administration so influenced his image that they were indirectly responsible for his popularity.
The cover illustration, as cute as it is, is sadly not very reflective of the content for this month. There are almost no references to Halloween in the magazine itself, which does make some sense considering that it’s dated for the week after Halloween. Maybe she’s looking for inspiration for next year. “No one got my ‘Ballerina Clown’ costume! Was I too niche?”
I’m so sorry to say that this is the only time that you’ll see a black person in this entire magazine.
Something about these not-curtain-curtains screams “extraordinarily flammable” to me. Nowadays, Clopay is a major manufacturer of garage doors. The more you know!
And what are the readers up to in 1941? Complaining, complaining, complaining! I see that a Western Union office manager has decided to complain about William Saroyan wearing the wrong telegram service cap in the last issue’s profile feature. I love the obvious sarcasm in the heading – oh yes, I’m sure Saroyan is just mortified– because everyone knew that Saroyan was a total asshole.
What a fantastic illustration. I’m not much of a WWII or military historian, so there is a lot of history covered here that I don’t quickly glean much insight from. Not one word about the extermination of Jews, because while they had been increasingly oppressed, violated, and murdered under his command since 1933, the concentration camps wouldn’t be officially established until a few months after this article in early 1942. The article goes into “Hitler’s Supreme Peace Offensive”, mocking his spokesman’s statements about his dream to establish a new united European state of “Neuropa”, which thank god never really caught on as a catchphrase.
You’ve probably noticed that each article has a little byline that estimates how long it should take you to read it. This was a signature of Liberty’s style, and my own theory is that maybe it helped people gauge whether or not they had time to read while on a break from work.
Oh, and Fiorello LaGuardia says that we’re all going to die. So that’s…great.
Here’s the required punchline-deficient cartoon of the week.
The one tangentially Halloween-related thing in this issue. Funny how times have changed, and now we want the idea of “toughness” to sell whiskey. A big selling phrase in the mid century was “mild”. Mild cigarettes, mild spirits. Nowadays we want things to hurt, apparently. I guess back then everyone just took it for granted that they would always be a little uncomfortable as a fact of life, so if cigarettes and whiskey could be made more pleasant then it was all the more appealing.
Yet another sugar ad disguised as a PSA to reach mothers who were nervous about their children not getting enough nutrition during the food shortages. People like Dr. Dafoe here are the reason why your grandparents are diabetics today. The “Quints” mentioned here are a reference to the Dionne Quintuplets, a set of Canadian quintuplet girls who were a source of worldwide fascination at the time. They showed up in a lot of ads and media, including other Baby Ruth ads. Notice that this page is a strikingly different color than the rest of the pages. The necessary austerity, particularly for Liberty magazine, meant that pages were printed on rough substitutes of cheap, coarse paper and very little color printing.
Here’s some harrowing white-knuckle action from an RCAF pilot. Firefights, parachuting, gruesome injuries, Jerries, Mae West flotation vests, magically overcoming PTSD in the name of shooting down a whole squadron of Messerschmidts, this has it all!
I looked up Flight Lieutenant George Patterson Christie to see what became of him, and I wish I hadn’t. I wanted to see that Lieutenant Christie had retired after being decorated with the highest honors of the RCAF, and had gone on to live a long and peaceful life full of storytelling and adventures. Instead, Lieutenant Christie was killed during a routine instruction flight only eight months after this story was published. He was 25 years old.
Let’s lighten up with some salacious stories! When these dames get off work, they really get off work if you know what I mean! Beyond the propaganda of Rosie the Riveter and Princess Elizabeth the garage mechanic, young and single women were increasingly stepping up to fill a niche as office assistants, which was a worryingly not war-dependent temporary job. In fact, the women made such good secretaries and telephone operators, and other menial jobs that men didn’t want to do, that it looked like this job market might very well last beyond the war! This was terrifying! The national media was absolutely obsessed with the notion that young women were moving into cities on their own, living on their own, and making their own money. What did they eat? Who did they eat with? Who did they talk to? What did they buy? Where did they live? What did they DO? The mind reels!
More wacky ads. Lydia E. Pinkham’s PMS cure sounds a lot like I Love Lucy’s“Vitameatavegamin”, and was likely just as effective at getting you totally wasted. I also like the “rashes externally caused” ad, because if you read enough of these you become familiar with the parlance and when written that way it makes it sound like it’s advertising a service that makes you break out in hives.
Don’t you just hate it when someone already did the crossword puzzle over 75 years ago?
Here’s a section for our boys overseas to ask for advice and tell stories. I don’t know which one I like better, the poem or the “I’m bored and broke” letter. I hope these guys made it through ok.
Princess Alexandra Kropotkin was a real aristocrat born in London to an exiled anarchist Russian prince, and she is absolutely delightful to read. Note that the pork chops recipe sounds like a way to stretch out your grocery budget as much as possible (don’t waste celery leaves!).
The one full-color feature in the entire magazine, and it’s a Velveeta ad. Figures.
And lastly, an ad for an organization called Junior Achievement, which is still going today as an organization that teaches young people entrepreneurship and business skills. Very Republican. Which is all well and good, but the logic here seems to be “Germany doesn’t have Junior Achievement, and now it has Hitler Youth.” Slippery slope, you guys!
And that ends our journey through the average Joe’s reading experience on the home front in World War II. Next week we’re going to see how the Beautiful People coped with the war in Harper’s Bazaar from July 1942:
Answer: fvcking fabulously.