From: Michael Robison ( miker_zspider@yahoo.com)
Date: 28 Sep 2006

Pulp magazines had their heyday in the time between the two World Wars. Instead of suffering, they were one of the few businesses that prospered during the Depression. In The Dime Detectives, Ron Goulart presents a general history of the pulps, stretching back to the first one in 1891, through their quick demise in the early fifties. He also presents a more specific focus on the career of the hardboiled detective in the pulps. Goulart is obviously an expert in the field, and his encyclopedic knowledge is supplemented with personal interviews with people directly involved in the pulps, including editor Henry Steeger and pulp writers Frederick Davis and Cornell Woolrich.

Although the hardboiled detective's career in the pulps did not start until 1923, the pulp magazines began several years before. Goulart gives credit for the first pulp magazine to Frank Munsey. Munsey first published a general interest magazine called The Golden Argosy in 1882. Interest in the magazine lagged until he hit upon a magic combination. In 1891 he shortened the name to Argosy, converted it into an all-fiction magazine with no pictures, and switched to the cheap wood-pulp paper that the magazines became famous for. By the early 1900s the magazine's circulation was a half million copies monthly. Publishers Street & Smith followed suit with Popular Magazine in 1903. It sported a generic theme like Argosy, but Street & Smith experimented successfully with special interest magazines that became the foundation for the prototypical pulp.

By the time the hardboiled detective made his appearance in the pulps in 1923, detective characters had been around for over 80 years. Poe began the genre in 1841, Allan Pinkerton started a series in 1875 based on his experience in his famous Pinkerton Agency. Many other less well known detectives made a showing in the 1880s, including several different nationalities and races. A few women detectives even showed up. One of the more notable ones was Nick Carter, who made his debut in 1886. Goulart states that Nick Carter's appeal laid mostly with young readers, and he quotes J. Randolph Cox comment that Nick Carter "has been referred to as one of the blandest heroes in detective fiction." The tremendous popularity of Sherlock Holmes spawned many imitations, and detective stories became even more popular in the 1890s. Goulart notes that although the hardboiled detective's history began in the pulps, earlier detectives, notably Sherlock Holmes, appeared in the higher class magazines such as Colliers, alternately known as the "slicks."

A thorough discussion of the hardboiled detective in the pulp magazines would not be complete without a mention of Black Mask. Like many hardboiled aficionados, Goulart cites Carroll John Daly's Terry Mack and Race Williams stories in Black Mask in 1923 as the first hardboiled detective pulp stories. There were earlier detectives who were tough, but Goulart says they were not hardboiled because tough is simply not enough, and they lacked an essential ingredient. According to him, the hardboiled stories "were linked with reality, with the real crimes of the urban world and the real smell and feel of the mean streets." Goulart also identifies a cynical yet romanticized attitude borne of the Lost Generation in the shadow of death and destruction of World War I. He mentions several interesting anecdotes about the Black Mask days, such as how Carroll John Daly managed to sneak his first two stories slipped past editor George Sutton while he was on vacation.

Although the hardboiled detective was born in the twenties, it was the thirties that saw him flourish, or as Goulart puts it, "The Depression and the hard-boiled private eye grew up together." From the stock market crash until the United States entered World War II, more than 160 new detective pulps came on the market. Goulart appears to specialize in the thirties, or else maybe they are just the most prolific years. He describes many of the magazines that came out during the period, with interesting stories and details about them. Black Aces, Thrilling Detective, Undercover Detective, Phantom Detective, and Illustrated Detective are only a few that are mentioned. He notes that Nick Carter returned to the pulps during this time with a more hardboiled attitude. Some of the magazines lasted only a few issues, while at least one, Detective Tales, survived until 1953.

Los Angeles, and more specifically Hollywood, became a favorite setting for the pulp detective early on. Los Angeles has a reputation for big-time corruption and crime in the twenties and thirties, reaching all the way up to local political office. Bribes to public officials bought protection for gambling rackets and prostitution operations. Real life gangsters such as Jack Dragna and Bugsy Siegel rubbed elbows with real life movie stars such as Jean Harlow, Jimmy Durante, and George Raft. Published for the first time as a three part serial in Black Mask in 1930, Goulart identifies Raoul Whitfield's Death in a Bowl as the first Hollywood hardboiled detective novel. The bowl referred to is the Hollywood Bowl built the year before. Norbert Davis allowed detective Mark Hull to make a one-time appearance in Kansas City Flash
(1933). The gambling ships sitting outside the three-mile international limit are featured in stories by Paul Cain and Raymond Chandler. Beautiful actresses, both the needy and the dangerous type, often play a big part, and the detectives are never impressed with Hollywood's tinny facade and immoral characters. Goulart gives an almost too-detailed accounting of other writers in the subgenre, including W.T. Ballard, Erle Stanley Gardner, John Butler, Frank Gruber, Steve Fisher, and Roger Torrey. Robert Leslie Bellem's Dan Turner gets his own chapter.

Hardboiled women detectives were late arriving on the pulp scene. Known as a chauvinist, a fascist, and a racist, it is wonderfully ironic that Cleve Adams had the privilege of introducing the first two female detectives to the pulps in 1935 in Clues magazine. Violet McDade, a 350 pound former circus fat lady, was the lead detective and the stories are told in the voice of her beautiful Mexican accomplice Nevada Alvarado. Violet is wild and rambunctious and often at odds with her assistant, and not below kidding Nevada with a low key racism, calling her Mex. Adam's character Nevada doesn't humbly accept this, though, replying, "You - you lout! My family dates back beyond the conquistadors and the Spanish grants. Where did you come from? A circus tent! One more slurring remark out of you and I'll..."

The next female detective on the pulp scene was Sarah Watson, the creation of D. B. McCandless. Starting in 1936 and continuing through the following year, she appeared several times in Detective Fiction Weekly. Sarah was heavyset and middle aged. In 1937 Theodore Tinsley created the most successful female pulp detective, Carrie Cashin. She was sleek and beautiful and appeared in over 36 stories in Crime Busters through 1942. The stories were voyeuristic in nature, with her managing to lose a considerable amount of clothing in almost every story. Will Murray wrote of her, "The single most popular and promising character to appear in Crime Busters." In regular polls for story popularity in the magazine, Cashin stories always finished in the top three.

Although there were difficulties for the pulps in the forties, such as paper shortages and delays in the postal system due to World War II, it was the fifties that saw the death of the pulps. He notes that in 1950, Dime Detective, Black Mask, Detective Tales, Hollywood Detective, and Popular Detective were all available at newsstands, but three years later they were all gone. Goulart states, "Essentially the history of the popular arts can be seen as a history of one format supplanting another: pulps taking over from the dime novels and fiction weeklies..." The two media that replaced the pulps were paperbacks and television. Pocket Books began the paperback boon in 1939, and by the end of 1945, Avon, Bantam, and Dell had joined in. At the end of World War II, 1% of American households had a television. At the beginning of the fifties, fifty percent had a television, and by the end of the fifties ninety percent had one. The pulp publishers either moved on to more promising ground or else they closed their doors. The pulps were dead.


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