This surprisingly revealing cover was for a nineteen thirties pulp US magazine. Painted by pulp art supremo Norman Saunders (1907-1989), it appeared as the cover for the December 1936 issue of Saucy Movie Tales. The other covers here are all from 1936 and 1937.
So called because of the cheap wood pulp paper on which they were printed, pulp magazines flourished in the United States from the end of the nineteenth century until the late fifties. Typically, as the case with Saucy Movie Tales, they were 128 pages long and were in a 7" by 10" format.
Some of the magazines focussed on different genres, such as adventure, westerns, detective, science fiction and romance but many included a mixture of genres. In theory, Saucy Movie Tales was supposed to concentrate on tales of starlets, directors and the movie industry, although they quite often included other subjects too.
The saucy/spicy sub-genre offered (mild, by today's standards) erotic stories and cartoons which meant that they were sold "under the counter". There were thrusting breasts, slim legs, firm buttocks and states of undress but no actual sex.
The interior illustrations included bare bottoms and bare breasts but no pubic hair, of course, as that would have been classed as obscene, rather than saucy. In Saucy Movie Tales stories there were, of course, the perils of the casting couch, innocent ingenues and even rape. Some were comic and some merged with detective or even supernatural type stories.
Romanian born publisher Harry Donenfield was the man behind Saucy Movie Tales, Pep Stories, Saucy Stories and others, Norman Saunders had been working for another publisher, Fawcett, in Chicago, before moving to New York and Donenfield's magazines.
Not wanting to upset his previous publisher, in case he needed to go back there, he used the pseudonym Carl Blaine (an artist friend's first name and Saunders' middle name) to use on the Donenfeld Publishing covers, hence the Blaine signature visible on these paintings.
Saunder's publisher, Harry Donenfeld, had just avoided a prison sentence having been charged by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice with producing obscene periodicals, including Spicy Stories and Pep Stories. These, unlike Saucy Movie Tales, included tasteful photographic topless, artistic nudes but the court decided that one image in particular, from January 1934's Pep Stories (below) wasn't tasteful but obscene, as the model's pubic hair was visible.
Too naughty for 1934!
This was the case that got the publishers of Playboy and Penthouse so worried nearly forty years later. Donenfeld only avoided jail because one of his Romanian employees took the rap and said that his boss didn't know that he had inserted the picture into the magazine. A grateful Donenfeld gave the man a job for life with no requirement to actually do anything, when he emerged from prison.
Although, Norman Sunders would go on to paint many pulp covers, these ones were some of his earliest and were his most racy. Born in rural Minnesota, at the age of three his eye was badly injured and he needed multiple operations to restore the sight in his eye. After he recovered his sight he took to drawing. He turned down a scholarship to the Chicago Art Institute when he was offered the job at Fawcett Publishing, In the early thirties he did some splendid pulp technology covers for Popular Mechanics, featuring seaplanes, flying tanks and such like. I need to post some on my Pulp blog!
He was starting, as a freelance, to sell paintings to other publishers and by 1940 he had painted more than 400 pulp covers. By this time, Saunders was working in the conventional magazine (slicks) market but the war brought an end to this part of his life. He was drafted into the army and after some time in the military police was trained to paint military facilities with camouflage paint!
After the war he married one of his models, Ellena Politis, and having struggled with working with the slicks went back to pulp magazines, producing over 400 more cover paintings. His total of 867 pulp covers made him the most prolific pulp cover artist of all time.
After 1960, and his last pulp cover, he worked for trading card companies (he painted the original Mars Attacks cards), men's adventure magazines, and did comic book and paperback cover work. In the mid-sixties he did a lot of illustrations which featured dastardly Nazis, their female captives and the odd Nazi vixen, which I will look at another time.