Romance on newsstands: True Story Magazine | New
Let’s say it’s 1928 and you’re a young woman living in Athens who wants to relax with a good story while enjoying a sweet treat. So, to get both, you can go to a pharmacy in the courthouse square. Once there you found a soda fountain for the treat and for history there was the adjacent newsstand with different types of popular history magazines. There you could choose from mystery tales, detective tales, westerns, but since you were particularly fond of love stories / personal experiences, you remembered a recent advertisement in the Athens Weekly Review of the 7 June 1928 and it was for “True Story Magazine”.
So, you got your sundae and your magazine, and then opened it up to the main story you had seen depicted in the ad. It was called “Out of the Slums” and you remember how the ad described it: “Her Dreadful Past – the Amazing Story of a Girl Patricide”. The ad went on to tell the reader that they had probably seen Gretchen’s story in the press – and how she was accused of poisoning her father. Gretchen had remained silent throughout the trial and then in jail, and there, the ad writer said, the story apparently ended.
However, that all changed when new teacher Mary Howard became interested in “..the little girl from the slums”. At first Gretchen was suspicious of Mary, but soon things changed when “…with her head in the lap of the caring teacher, her body shaking with sobs, she told for the first time the horrible story which, if she had told it to the jury, would probably have resulted in his acquittal.
The announcement said that in the story, the reader would discover the “full story” of Gretchen’s “dreadful crime”, and ultimately her “glorious success”. There were also other stories with titles like “Things No Woman Can Bear”, “Three Loves”, “Men Are Like That”, “The Sin That Found Him”, “The Market marriage” and “I played with a boy’s love”. ” According to the advertisement, all this was for the price of a quarter in “True Story Magazine” which was available “in all the newsstands” – and probably in the drugstores of Athens!
At that time – the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s – it was the golden age of American popular literature when such story magazines were available on newsstands everywhere. One of the most popular of the romantic genre was “True Story Magazine”, first published in 1919 and derived from letters of personal experiences received by the equally popular “Popular Culture” magazine. Publisher and health guru/fitness enthusiast Benarr Macfadden realized that the letters he received, detailing the reader’s personal issues, dealt with issues of premarital sex, illegitimacy, unemployment and crime and could be another successful publication. This was at a time when social norms were slowly changing and once-taboo topics had become more socially acceptable or at least questionable.
Since it was the “Jazz Age” and drinking, dancing, and partying was done openly, with “True Story Magazine,” Mcfadden wanted to cover these aspects in his articles. The stories were sometimes sensational and even controversial and it was inevitable that they would become very popular and also very critical.
So popular in fact that in 1929 “True Story Magazine” had a circulation of several million. Then, in the 1940s, when Mcfadden was no longer tied to the publication, it had evolved into a “muted version”. At that time, he published less dramatic stories of sexual adventures of female characters – but all with an overriding moral message. However, by the 1920s, as one source put it, the magazine was “an innovative, raunchy working-class pulp that carried an eclectic range of stories designed to appeal to both male and female audiences.”
“True Story Magazine” and its sister publication “True Experience” were of course based on the concept that “sex sells”. It has often been criticized that stories purported to be “true stories” were not always someone’s actual experiences.
Over time, the topics of history magazines eventually moved beyond print with radio drama and later television. In fact, “True Story Hour” was a weekly radio show. Then, after several years, the company Proctor and Gamble began broadcasting what are now called “daytime dramas”. Previously, they were known as “television soap operas” because the sponsor made laundry detergents.
So, like many others who sought entertainment as well as “true story” in her readings, our Athens resident found both in a feature of popular culture at the time.