The Roaring Weeklies. The Magazines And I. Chapter Three. Part One.

August 6, 2020

Chapter Three, Part One

The Roaring Weeklies… is the third chapter from the book I am writing on the magazines of 1953, specifically March 1953, the month I was born.  This is chapter three, part one.  Feel free to back track for chapters one and two in previous blogs.  Enjoy.

The Ink On Paper Internet

In 1953, magazines played two essential roles in  the world of media: the distribution of information and the marketing of products and goods. In fact, they were the leading national media that collected information for people in the east, west, north and south and distributed it accordingly. They were basically the Internet of the era. And weekly magazines brought that aggregated content to readers on a more regular basis than the monthlies, be it politics, entertainment or any number of other topics of interest, weekly magazines were the go-to source for current information quick.

And just as we want instantaneous information today, the people of 1953 wanted it as well. Their instantaneous sources were the weekly magazines. While the need and desire of weekly titles has dissipated today, due entirely to the Internet, in 1953 the urgency for current content was palpable. And while television was on the rise and promised to give the weekly magazines a run for their money, the time wasn’t ripe yet for screens; the time still belonged to ink on paper.

Television’s Infancy

The year 1953 had some significant television moments, but as far as news broadcasts and news programs, that really wasn’t the case. On March 19, 1953, the 25th Academy Awards were broadcast by NBC, becoming the first Academy Awards ceremony to be televised. However, many people awaited their favorite weekly magazine to get all the juicy details about the stars’ fashion choices and the behind-the-scenes gossip.

Then on April 3 of that year, TV Guide was published for the first time in the United States, with 10 editions and a circulation of 1,562,000. But as television was just finding its footing, weekly magazines still delivered more information about niche subjects than the infant TV Guide did.

In 1953, television stations only provided local news programs one to two times each evening for 15 minutes and usually these programs aired as supplements to network-supplied evening news, before their primetime programming. So, where today we can get the story of a family facing down an angry bear in real time, in 1953 news was not so plentiful. The weekly magazine could put that story vividly in your hand to read, complete with powerful images.

Weekly magazines were without a doubt the ink on paper internet of the 1953. And by covering such diverse topics, they connected people in a way that newspapers and TV couldn’t: they put the stories of the week in the same hands of the farmer in Iowa and the celebrity in Hollywood.  They delivered captivating storytelling and hardcore news to one and all on a weekly basis.

The Time of the Season

The 1950s were a time of affluence in America as the United States became an economic leader on the global stage and the morality of the country became one that everyone admired. But underneath that shiny facade, things were changing as shifting gender roles challenged that picturesque image of dad smoking his pipe in his easy chair while mom brought him his slippers. The Feminist Movement was just around the corner. As was the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War.

And weekly magazines were coming into their own, educating and liberating people with new ideas and information that opened their minds to unique and larger possibilities.

Taking a Peek at the Internet of 1953

What information did people seek after in 1953? What stories held them captivated and what weekly magazines had them addicted? The weeklies of that era can be divided into three categories:

The Feel-Good weeklies led by The Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s.

The Heavy-Duty political weeklies led by Time, Life and Newsweek.

The High-Brow literary weeklies led by The New Yorker and Saturday Review.

These magazines were the heavy hitters of their time. And they proved it every week. As a sidebar, four of these seven titles are still being published today.

If you entered an American home in March 1953, chances are you would have probably found people who subscribed to some or all of these magazines. But what were these people getting? What was the conversations centered around?

The Feel-Good Weeklies

The Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s were two heavy hitters in 1953 that made the audience feel good. They showcased life in Postwar America with a positive and upbeat tenor, providing  stories of hope and goodwill. People who subscribed to these magazines were interested in being uplifted and refreshed.

The Saturday Evening Post’s covers mirrored those simpler times: sandlot baseball, kids watching black and white westerns, jungle gyms and little girls playing mommy. Some of the illustrators for The Post, people such as Norman Rockwell and George Hughes, were sticklers for details and accuracy when it came to their renditions of the covers, setting a precedent for collecting among fans of the magazine.

Collier’s also had illustrated covers and was known for the prolific talent that contributed to the entire magazine. Short fiction was one of Collier’s most prominent features and the illustrations that accompanied the stories were phenomenal. In both Collier’s and The Saturday Evening Post, the cover lines were kept away from the drawings so that cover collectors weren’t disappointed.

In Collier’s March 14, 1953 issue, space exploration was prominent in the magazine. The cover depicts how the crew of a fast-moving rocket ship might handle an alert situation in space, such as being prepared for any emergency that might crop up. Of course, this was before the first manned aircraft rocketed toward the great unknown, but people were already getting ready for that exciting day. And Collier’s content was anticipating it. While people were still talking about how to avoid nuclear war with Russia, space was the fascinating topic no one could ignore. And the race between countries, like America and Russia, to get there first was a watercooler moment waiting to happen.

The Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s depicted the American Dream with content and illustrations that were total Americana in print. Even when the magazines were covering something much darker, they did it with a positive spin. If it was war, the magazines brought in experts on how good could come out of bad; there was always light in the dark.

To be continued…

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