"Peek-a-boo Bangs and Global War"
Bachelor Magazines, World Politics and Socialism
Peek-a-boo-bang: Glamour girl Veronica Lake became famous when she covered one eye and sent thousands of American girls to the hairdressers to have similar things done to their tresses. Then came the global war…
- Caption accompanying a pin-up photo of Veronica Lake
Inside front cover, Stag, November-December 1943
(Ellipsis in original)
Daring Publishing's Stag - The Man's Magazine debuted in the fall of 1941.
Its mascot -- an antlered stag with an enthusiastic grin and glazed, hyperthyroid eyes -- provided a covert pun on "horny." Stag's covers were adorned with cheesecake images of beautiful women and sweater girls, and promised "cartoons, humor, fiction, comment" -- all implicitly of an adult nature.
And it delivered, with racy cartoons, humorous stories, pin-ups of celebrities and articles on bachelor lifestyle issues such as "What to do About a Drunk." Its content was bolstered by advertisements for such essential reference guides as The Playboys' Handbook or A Guide to Faster Living by George (The Real) McCoy, Cities of Sin, the "true and astonishing story of the traffic in women of the Orient" and Bed Manners (How to Bring Sunshine Into Your Nights), which promised "many devilish illustrations."
Beyond the cheesecake and winking double entendres, however, Stag was tackling some far more serious issues. As the first issue's editorial put it:
Stag appears on the Canadian scene at a time when momentous, world shaking events are rushing history to a crisis from which mankind must emerge into a newer and better life…Canadians are carrying on as a people determined to do their part in crushing Nazism and Fascism. They look with hope to two new allies: The powerful Soviet Union which has been holding off Hitler's armies for more than nine weeks, and the United States with its, thus far, moral support" (Stag, Fall 1941).
The events of the Second World War cast a long shadow, and patriotism was the order of the day. But what is most interesting is Stag's editorial position -- a position that reveals a definite sympathy for left-wing and socialist principles. Stag's acclaim for the Soviet Union was not limited to admiration for its success against Hitler's armies. Nor was the magazine's criticism of the United States limited to the damning-with-faint-praise mention of the country's "thus far, moral support" for the cause of "crushing Nazism and Fascism.
The same issue that opened with the editorial above also contained an article entitled "Are You Insane?". The article was highly critical of American "lunacy laws" that allowed the easy incarceration of "almost anyone in a private madhouse" (Stag, Fall 1941, p. 31).
Stag's editorial stance was not blunted by the United States' entrance into the war following the attack on Pearl Harbor. The article "Is Charlie Chaplin an 'Undesirable'?" in the July-August 1945 issue blasted the "persecution" of the beloved film star by "the section of the United States press which is most favourable to the Nazis" because of his left-wing tendencies (Stag, July-August 1945, p. 13). The exhortation that appears immediately after the article picks up the article's tone, blending a socialist sentiment with a patriotic message. It reads: "Money is the root of all evil! Why not exchange yours for War Bonds?" (Stag, July-August 1945, p. 17).
Next to saucy drawings of lingerie-clad women were featured socialist-themed cartoons. One depicts an outraged member of the business community making an impassioned speech in front of a crowd, with a caption reading: "There must be no government interference in business…All we want from them is a monopoly and sufficient money to build and equip the factory… After that let them keep their hands off it!" (Stag, Fall 1941, p. 12). The left-wing position was a comfortable one for the magazine, which proclaimed on the contents page of every issue: "Stag is printed in Canada on Canadian paper by trade union workmen."
The magazine continued to express admiration for socialism and the Soviet Union in its December 1942 issue, going so far as to feature an editorial entitled "Timoshenko for Allied Chief" that supported the choice of Russian general Semyon Timoshenko for Supreme Military Commander of the United Nations.1 Praising Russia as the place "where Hitler first found all-out resistance," the editorial also comments on the Soviet ability to "speak the new military language of Germany, having learned it at a time when British and American military experts were still fumbling with its ABC's" (Stag, Winter 1942, p. 22).
Although Timoshenko never achieved the office Stag proposed, Canadian interest in the Soviet Union was keen during the war -- keen enough that Adam Publishing commissioned Red Ally: An Estimate of Soviet Life and Soviet Power by Major E. Cecil-Smith.
The book, with a cover that features the faces of Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin, is presented as a long-overdue appraisal of Canada's new military ally: "[t]he book should have been written in June. But like most people I expected to read all about our new ally in my favourite newspaper. I had thought that, with the great international news services at their disposal, they would soon bring forward the facts which might help a man in the street make up his mind as to whether Stalin was a bogey or a buddy" (Smith 1941, preface).
The book covers such topics as the Soviet Union's geography, recent military history, military might, politics and religion. Bringing it back in line with the interests of the bachelor magazine audience (both male and female), Red Ally also devotes significant space to the subject of the Soviet Union's "nationalized women": women working the same jobs as men, for the same pay. Women in the workplace were a familiar sight in Canada at the time, as a necessity of the war effort, but Major Smith's description focuses notably on the titillating:
The single standard between the sexes... goes to extremes which embarrass the visitor from abroad. For instance in a train compartment the vacant berth may be given to a person of the opposite sex, a thing which causes no concern among Russians, but which seems quite scandalous to most of us (Smith, 1941, p. 114).
Not just in the mainstream press, but also in popular culture forums such as the pulps, Canadians were beginning to assess their place in the world, looking critically at how other societies functioned. At the same time, Canadians were looking inward and addressing the question of national identity. It was a question that the pulps would take up as well.
1. While the United Nations was not formed until 1945, the name "United Nations" was coined by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and first used in the "Declaration by United Nations" as of January 1, 1942, when representatives of 26 nations pledged to fight together against the Axis powers.
"Are You Insane?" Stag. (Fall 1941).
"Is Charlie Chaplin an 'Undesirable'?" Stag. Vol 3, no. 15 (July-August 1945).
Smith, Cecil E. Red Ally: An Estimate of Soviet Life and Soviet Power. Toronto: Adam Publishing Co., 1941.
"Timoshenko for Allied Chief." Stag. (Winter 1942).
"With the Editor." Stag. (Fall 1941).