Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Profound and the Profane












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Today's topic continues with a subject I've glanced over a few times but have yet to truly face head on, and that concerns the conflicting themes running through Bolles' work. Most people in the know are well familiar with his Film Fun covers, his racier fair from Spicy Stories, and perhaps this cover from Cupid's Capers, which Francis Smith described in his book Stolen Sweets as an erotic masterpiece, though some would describe it in very different terms. Back in the 1920s and 30s his work evoked even stronger feelings. Film Fun was banned for a time in municipalities such as Ann Arbor and Denver. Newsstands that carried it and other titles that often featured Bolles' art were raided by the authorities in Chicago and New York, where Mayor LaGuardia's Citizen's Committee on Civic Decency targeted newsstands and smoke shops that trafficked in the so-called smooshes. To avoid getting caught and the publishers went to extremes, creating false companies, and phony addresses. It was a constant shell game between them and the cops so when one got busted it would make the news. Harry Donenfeld, who published Gay Parisienne, Spicy Stories and other mags with Bolles covers--and who later upgraded to comic books--got hauled in several times. In one instance he had one of his staffers take the fall and do jail time and in another court case had the greater gumption to tell the judge his rags compared with "God's Little Acre" and "Ulysses." He went so far to claim that his magazines performed a vital public service: "A girl just out of school-she's the most easily ruined. But after she's read our magazines she knows sex. She knows life. She's better able to protect herself." The jury was unconvinced.

Film Fun generated enough heat, or at least outrage, that entire countries got into the censoring act and and for a time it was banned in Australia, Japan and Canada beginning back in 1925, one month after that problematic Valentine cover I recently featured. Coincidence? Even Bolles' most sedate work found ready foes. In 1938, Scribner's magazine wrote the following in regards to the Bolles image below: "Contrary to the belief of many who have not seen beyond the covers of Breezy Stories, its appeal is in no sense pornographic", which is a bit hard to swallow when you examine the image, especially compared to the girl featured in my last post. Lacking a decent scan of the magazine I've posted an album cover from the 1970s that it was used on. Exciting yes, but pornographic? But we must remind ourselves that this image was viewed through the lens of a different time. Even a decade earlier a report on reading habits sponsored by the Carnagie Corporation (that's what it was called back then) identified Film Fun as a magazine typically read by "those of low native intelligence" and another national study on reading indicated it was favored by "dull children." Well all I know is there must be a lot of dullards with spare change in their pockets because the competition for Film Fun on eBay has become fierce.
We'll continue exploring this topic from time to time over the coming months, particularly as it relates to the artist's model, which was sort of a cultural hot button from the very beginning of the Golden Age of Illustration. We'll find out what happened when a New York newspaper exposé on the exploitation of artists' models tried to entrap none other than C.D. Gibson with a fake model.

8 comments:

Li-An said...

This Golden Rain cover is really interesting. Very clean, figurative but not only that? The figure is so clean it becames something else...

duriandave said...

I just discovered your blog (and the work of Enoch Bolles) a few days ago and really appreciate your enthusiasm, dedicated research, and large scans!

I'm looking forward to exploring all your previous posts. :D

BTW, the Cupid's Capers cover is indeed a masterpiece. It reminds me of the hieroglyphic-like postures in Indian erotic art.

Thanks for sharing!

Jack R said...

Hi Dave,
I'm glad you're here and I hope you enjoy checking out the archives. I like your insight on the Cupid's Capers cover and I'll have to check around and see if I can find a hieroglyph that is a match.
Best,
Jack

Jack R said...

Hi Li-An,
Yea, I really love that cover too, and I can only hope he did more (I got a 1925 Bolles book cover in the mail yesterday!). I have a scan of a comprehensive sketch of the Golden Rain cover and will have it next to the final one of these days.

So, I'm wondering, though, what the cover reminds you of.
Jack

Li-An said...

Sorry, my english is too bad... It does not remind me anything. It's just that it has a non figurative quality. It's a beautiful women but it's something else too...

Jack R said...

No, your English is just fine. It's just that I've been writing about the hidden symbolism in a lot of Bolles work and thought that you may have found something in that image.

Li-An said...

No, I did not find any symbolist theme in this picture. I will take care next time :-)

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