Men’s Lifestyle Magazines 1953. The Magazines And I. Chapter Five. Part Two

September 25, 2020

Chapter Five, Part Two

Men’s Lifestyle Magazines … is the fifth chapter from the serialized book I am writing on the magazines of 1953, specifically March 1953, the month I was born.  This is chapter five, part two.  Feel free to back track for chapters one, two, and three in previous blogs.  Enjoy.



Esquire was founded in 1933 by David A. Smart, Henry L. Jackson and Arnold Gingrich. The magazine was supposed to have a quarterly press run of a hundred thousand copies, but the demand was so high that by its second issue (January 1934) it revamped itself into a more sophisticated periodical and focused on men’s fashion and written contributions by people like Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

If you ever read the editorial statement for the first issue of Esquire you could immediately tell that it was a rebel magazine. It was a magazine that was founded in rebellion of what was going on in the marketing and advertising world as it relates to the magazine publishing field. Here are a few comments from the editorial in the first issue of the magazine (keep in mind, the year is 1933):

It is our belief, in offering Esquire to the American male, that we are only getting around at last to a job that should have been done a long time ago – that of giving the masculine reader a break. The general magazines, in the mad scramble to increase the woman readership that seems to be so highly prized by national advertisers, have bent over backward in catering to the special interests and tastes of the feminine audience. This has reached a point, in some of the more extreme instances, where the male reader, in looking through what purports to be a general magazine, is made to feel like an intruder upon gynaecic mysteries. Occasionally, features are included for his special attention, but somewhat after the manner in which scraps are tossed to the patient dog beneath the table.

Controversy had a way of touching the early magazine as in the 1940s charges were brought against the magazine on behalf of the administration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, alleging that Esquire had used the U.S. Postal Service to promote “lewd images.” In the end, Esquire was redeemed and the magazine continued to use the post office.

As a men’s magazine, Esquire was and still is an upscale brand that personifies distinctiveness and good taste. Since 1986, the magazine has been published by the Hearst Corporation and also has over 20 international editions. It’s published eight times per year and remains a vibrant part of the world of men’s magazines.

The March 1953 issue is oversized and coffee table perfect. The cover is a weather vane with beautiful models resting seductively on each arrow of the directions, with the blond, pop-eyed, mustachioed character named “Esky” (created by cartoonists E. Simms Campbell and Sam Berman), sitting on the very top. The character appeared on almost every Esquire front page for over a quarter of a century, depicting the refined character of the magazine and its readership. From the articles to the fiction; the pictorials to the travel and personalities, the March 1953 issue was synonymous with the title’s then-tagline: The Magazine for Men.


As we talked about in the introduction to this chapter, Gentry was a brilliant 1950s men’s magazine, founded by William C. Sega. It reflected the wide interests of the contemporary gentleman of that time. It was beautifully illustrated and lasted seven years during the 1950s.

William C. Segal was not just a magazine art director and designer, he was also the founder and managing director of Reporter Publications in New York City. Gentry ran from 1951 to 1957 and was an image of its founder whose goal was “to allow people to see the esthetic element that was a factor in choosing clothing.” He believed that the importance of Gentry was to make the clothing part of the fine art of living. It was upscale and incorporated surprises in each issue: booklets, limited prints, die-cuts, half-sheets, fabrics–even a flattened bag of oats to accompany a story about horses. Innovation at a time when it wasn’t necessarily vital to a magazine’s existence.

The March 1953 issue was no exception. It was beautiful, unique and a visual masterpiece. Of all the men’s magazines of March 1953, Gentry was definitely a standout. The cover was colorful and represented springtime, with flowers and a single sailboat on the cover. It was an issue that had content such as articles about spring gardening, a fashion portfolio and an interesting piece by Burl Ives on folksongs.

To say Gentry was special would be an understatement. To think it only lasted seven years is unbelievable.


True was known as “The Man’s Magazine” and was touted as the “Largest Selling Man’s Magazine” of its time. The magazine was published by Fawcett Publications from 1937 until 1974. It featured high adventure, sports profiles and articles that depicted many dramatic conflicts, in addition to pictorials and humorous pieces.

In the early 1950s, Ken Purdy was True’s editor. At that time Newsweek described it as “a man’s magazine with a class all its own, and the largest circulation of the bunch.” The magazine inspired many books, such as “True, A Treasury of True: The Best from 20 Years of the Man’s Magazine.”  The magazine was a real stepping stone for authors like Donald E. Keyhoe, who wrote an article in the January 1950 issue that sold-out, suggesting that extraterrestrials could be piloting flying saucers. The story was redone by Keyhoe into a best-selling paperback book, “The Flying Saucers Are Real.”

The March 1953 issue cover was a colorful painting of a trio of very knowledgeable and wise looking giraffes that beckoned the reader to open the magazine’s pages and discover that manly wisdom for themselves. Inside were stories on science, sports, an “in the news” section, and true adventure stories. The magazine described itself as “The Fact Story Magazine for Men.” It was definitely a compelling read for its audience.


From Men to Man to Man; Mr. to Modern Man; March 1953 presented a host of men’s magazines designed to show the male of that generation adventure and excitement. After World War II, magazines for men took on a new direction, one of rugged heroes and bold adventures with males who could take out a Nazi in one swipe of their bowie knife or handle a vicious animal encounter with one hand tied behind their back. Men’s true adventure magazines became all the rage.

The cover art on these titles were oftentimes lurid and could be gratuitously violent or harrowing. For example on the cover of the March 1953 issue of Men, published by Zenith Publishing, the cover depicts a sinking military ship that apparently hit an iceberg, with men jumping overboard and some drowning. The cover lines were: “I Escaped from Little Alcatraz” and “Wichita – Wide-Open and Wicked.”

Real – the exciting magazine for men – the March 1953 cover art featured a big game hunter, rifle pointed, treeing a huge leopard, obviously going in for the kill. In today’s world, that kind of implication would do many things, but selling a magazine would not be one of them. The times were different, the magazines designed for men and their “true” adventures were many times based on what readers feared, but always conquered in the pages of these magazines.

Then there were magazines like Mr.  – Mister…To You, published by Mr. Magazines Inc. The cover of the March 1953 issue was a cartoon caricature of a soldier and a ticket girl, who was wearing a very revealing swimsuit that promoted her ample bosom, with the soldier’s hand placed carefully on her tiny waist. This ran column-like on one side of the cover, while the other side featured a smaller image of Rocky Marciano  and writer Charley Goldman, and an image of fashion model, Barbara Barkin, exotically decked out.

Between the humorous caricatures and the wildly perilous covers and content of the adventure titles, many of the March 1953 men’s magazines consisted of busty females, dangerous adventure, heroic feats and downright over-the-top stories. But one thing they all had in common was they were never boring.


The pioneers of bodybuilding were featured in magazines like Iron Man, Tomorrow’s Man, and Muscle Power. Iron Manwas founded in 1936 by two Nebraska natives, Peary Rader and his wife, Mabel Rader. In the early 1950s, Iron Man was the first weight-training publication to show women working out with weights as part of their overall fitness regimen. The magazine  even presented a pregnant woman training with weights, thus educating readers on the benefits of exercise during pregnancy; thoroughly modern concepts certainly decades ahead of their time.

Many of the bodybuilding titles also served another audience that they may or may not have been aware of. At a time when being gay was not something talked about openly, magazines were still exploring their parameters. Some men’s health or fitness magazines, titles such as Muscle Power and Muscle Man were magnets for a gay audience . Many of the readers were primarily gay men who enjoyed looking at the physiques of other men, but because of the times, publishers offered these consumers what they wanted in the form of bodybuilding.

The covers of these magazines were of very handsome men, physiques perfectly attuned with the tights they wore. Often, the men on the cover were champions, such as the April 1953 cover of Iron Man which featured Clarence Ross, Mr. America, Mr. U.S.A. and holder of several other titles. They were eye candy for some and goals for others.

As usual magazines were reflectors of society, even in March 1953. Whether many of them knew it or not. The wisdom we can learn from these earlier titles is crucial when looking to the future of the magazine industry. As they say: you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been.

Speaking of wisdom, in the next chapter we’ll get a little “Wee Wisdom” from some magazines that educated and enlightened the children and teens of March 1953. Let’s read on and see…

To be continued…

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