I can still remember “the talk.”
“The talk” usually meant I was in trouble. My father would always corner me while we rode in the car together. He and I both knew there was no escape as we rolled down the road. Just him and me. And “the talk.” I think I was 13 years old. The only good news about “the talk” was that I knew I wasn’t in the most dire of circumstances. It was still bad, mind you, but it wasn’t like a meeting with Mr. Belt.
On this particular occasion, alone in the car with my father, he asked me if there was anything I wanted to tell him. Can there be a more ominous, obvious hint that I was in trouble? This is when I would usually stiffen and force myself to look straight ahead. Tiny sweat beads suddenly appeared on my upper lip. There may have been an occasional glance toward my father, but it would have been of the darting kind, and the look would have been a quick, eye-balls only swivel to see what kind of look was on his face, if only to judge what kind of turbulence I was about to experience.
“So, your mother was cleaning house the other day,” he informed me. He casually looked over at me. He looked quite relaxed. And in control. Perhaps even calm. I think he smiled. These were not good signs.
“Had to clean your bedroom, of course.” Uh, oh.
“You probably didn’t even know that she flips the bed mattresses a couple of times a year, didja?”
There is was. I knew instantly. I also knew I wanted to get out of there right now, but all the squirming in the world wouldn’t allow me to escape my father and “the talk.” Could I have been more uncomfortable? No.
“Guess what she found?”
I closed my eyes with a mixture of disgust and fear, and hoped that my punishment would be swift and merciful
“You know your mother. Religious. Good Catholic girl. Can you imagine what went through her mind when she found that book?”
I was silent, but inside me I was screaming, “No! No! No! I’m a dead man.”
What she found was the cause of many a young man’s masturbatory fantasies, what some call a man’s magazine or what others call a girlie book. Lurid, salacious cover. Slick color photos of large-breasted women. Oh, the glory. Ooops! Forgot myself there for a moment. See how easily our thoughts can be controlled even by a 50-year-old memory?
The fact was that I had secreted a girlie book, a man’s magazine, between my mattress and the box springs. I thought it was the perfect hiding place. No one would ever look there, right? Why did my mother have to be so conscientious?
Fast forward a few years. Now, as a grown man, I had every right to indulge myself all I wanted, but there were other reasons to buy girlie books. A lot of them included articles by well-known writers. Why would a perfectly good writer want to be published in a girlie book? That’s easy. Money. Those magazines paid well. “Playboy” was especially remunerative. “Playboy” first published John Steinbeck in its January 1955 issue, Vol. 2, No. 2, the piece being one of his best-known short stories, The Ears of Johnny Bear. “Playboy” later published Open Season on Guests in its September 1957 issue and The Short-Short Story of Mankind in its November 1958 issue. Open Season on Guests was then reprinted in February 1964 in the Vol. 1, No.1 issue of Playboy’s “VIP The Playboy Club Magazine.”
Many years earlier, “Esquire” published The Lonesome Vigilante in its October 1936 issue. Then it published The Ears of Johnny Bear in its September 1937 issue, followed by A Snake of One’s Own in the February 1938 issue. However, most people might not call “Esquire” a girlie book. Even “Playboy” isn’t really a girlie book. Too middle of the road. Not enough pure prurient content. Not “dirty” enough.
This article will concentrate on the seamier side of girlie books, although we’ll start with one that is rather tame.
The August 1951 issue of “Beside Clubman” includes The Lonesome Vigilante. This appearance isn’t recorded by Goldstone & Payne or Morrow. This British publication appears to be a precursor to “Playboy.” It includes many articles, cartoons, pin-up drawings, and the like. The women are big-chested, of course, but nothing is in-your-face and skin is more of a suggestion than actual uncovering. In addition to Steinbeck there are appearances by Ernest Hemingway, W. Somerset Maugham, Damon Runyon, Groucho Marx, H.. Allen Smith, and George Bernard Shaw.
The very first issue of “Nugget,” Vol. 1, No. 1, was published in November 1955. Illustrated by Ray Houlihan, it includes Specialty of the House, reprinted from The Pastures of Heaven. Like nearly all of the girlie book appearances by Steinbeck, this isn’t recorded by Goldstone & Payne or Morrow. The issue is also a bit Playboy-like with pin-up art, illustrations, photo lay-outs, breasts and nipples. Oh, and it also includes James Joyce, Erskine Caldwell, James Thurber, Budd Schulberg, Shelby Foote, O. Henry, etc.
One of the more tame girlie book appearances by Steinbeck is his Beware of Self-Contempt in the August 1960 issue of “Eye,” a digest-sized magazine of “lively talk ‘n’ pictures” featuring scantily-clad women whose blouses might be unbuttoned and which might feature the outline of a breast or breasts, but there are no nipples. You probably see more skin in a surfing magazine than this one. His article, in which he mentions Ed Ricketts, is brief (page 35) and is illustrated with a photo of Steinbeck. It is not recorded by G&P or Morrow. Other contributors include Konrad Adenauer, Walt Disney, and Maurice Chevalier.
“Cavalcade” was a “Playboy” pretender, complete with center fold-out, although this was way before the air brush and the girls were a bit sleazier. Its February 1965 issue tried to dignify itself with a selection of rare prints from the Desmond Curtis-Bullock collection and with celebrity comments on the Warren Commission report, featuring comments by Sammy Davis, Jr., Steve Allen, Mark Lane, John Wayne, Duke Ellington, Jack Benny, Dick Gregory, and others. There is fiction by James Jones and a reflection titled “Popping Off” by our boy Steiny whose piece on life insurance would appear in another issue of this girlie book later. The text of his piece was originally published in “Saturday Review.” It includes an interesting illustration of JS. This appearance is not recorded by G&P or Morrow.
The cover of the January 1966 issue of “Man to Man” features an impressive photo of Mamie Van Doren. You have to be of a certain age to remember Mamie. Babe. It also features a Playboy-like center-fold. The girls were not so hot, and an air brush is in dire need here and there. Oh, and it also includes Steinbeck’s On Death and Insurance, also not recorded by G&P or Morrow.
Mamie Van Doren also graces the cover of the March 1966 issue of “Millionaire,” although this is an even better shot than in “Man to Man.” The issue has lots of cartoons, a nice spread on Ann-Margaret (with clothes on, so settle down, boys), a photo shoot of Mamie, with clothes off, a piece on bull fighting. None of the contributors has a memorable name, other than Steinbeck, who contributes The Easiest Way to Die, another title for his piece on life insurance. Like most of the others, this appearance isn’t recorded by G&P or Morrow. Interestingly, the article that precedes Steinbeck’s appearance is Steinbeck’s Cannery Row by Joyce Thompson which includes an excerpt from his 1945 novel. The piece is illustrated with photos, including one of Doc’s lab, Lee Chong’s grocery, one of the Monterey Canning Company, and others. It is interesting to see how Steinbeck’s piece on life insurance was used by so many different periodicals, often changing the title.
It is also interesting to see that many of these girlie books also use his piece titled The Short-Short Story of Mankind. In this, the June 1966 issue of “Broadside,” Steinbeck’s piece is prominently noted. Although G&P records this story, it doesn’t record this appearance in this publication. Neither does Morrow. Steinbeck’s photo graces the back cover. Although babes and breasts precede Steinbeck’s contribution, his is the lead fiction piece and it includes a photo of the grizzled author. No other “name” author is featured.
“Adam” wasn’t a “Playboy” pretender, but it was slick and perhaps of a higher class than the majority of girlie books. The August 1966 also includes the same piece as the above magazine, but in this case it is titled A Short Short Story of Mankind. This appearance isn’t recorded by G&P or Morrow. Harlan Ellison’s fiction also makes an appearance in the magazine which also sports terrific front and back cover photos of a very young and beautiful Raquel Welch.
We have already seen Steinbeck appear in “Cavalcade,” specifically the February 1965 issue, but he also appeared in the September 1966 issue. It includes the same Popping Off article on life insurance that appeared in the earlier issue. This issue includes a piece on actor Peter O’Toole and another, with photos (take note, boys) on Ursula Andress. There is also a profile on Norman Mailer and a piece on Eva Peron. Interestingly enough, this Steinbeck contribution is recorded as G&P C194, but only via a photo-copy from Preston Beyer.
The publisher of “Escapade” were not going for Playboy-like or even Playboy-lite. Although there are no crotch shots, this girlie book is an earlier precursor to “Hustler.” The cover is a bit…obvious. There is very little “class” involved, if any. Steinbeck contributes The Affair at 7, rue de M–. This contribution isn’t recorded by G&P or Morrow.
The latest true girlie book appearance by Steinbeck is in the October 1975 issue of “Affair,” and wouldn’t you know that the piece would be the same as above, The Affair at 7, rue de M–. As above, this specific contribution isn’t recorded by G&P or Morrow. The periodical doesn’t aim very high, and it reaches that goal.