War is hell, but being a prisoner of war can be worse.
This January 1959 copy of Stag is an example of the joys of collecting old magazines. We bought it for three dollars, but it's being auctioned on Ebay right now for $100. Mort Kunstler handles the cover chores, illustrating Edward Newman's story “The P.O.W.s Who Broke Out of Rat Hell Stockade,” which deals with a group of Union soldiers during the U.S. Civil War who tunneled their way out of Richmond's Libby Prison. The story is true. The escape was one of the most successful breakouts of the war. The escapees were highly motivated due to the fact that Libby Prison was a hellhole that generated high mortality rates due to abuse, starvation, exposure to severe weather, and terrible overcrowding.
A contemporary newspaper had this to say: “They are huddled up and jammed into every nook and corner; at the bathing troughs, around the cooking stoves, everywhere there is a wrangling, jostling crowd; at night the floor of every room they occupy in the building is covered, every square inch of it, by uneasy slumberers, lying side by side, and heel to head, as tightly packed as if the prison were a huge, improbable box of nocturnal sardines.” Inside Stag is art from James Bama, Kunstler again, Joe Little, Al Rossi, and Bruce Minney. You also get model/actress Irène Tunc, who was Miss France of 1954 and appeared in about thirty films during a three-decade film career. All this and more below, in twenty-three scans.
Update: we got the following e-mail from James N:
The cover of Stag, January 1959 was painted by James Bama. The credit to Mort Kunstler as printed in the magazine was an editorial error. Bama has confirmed this. For the sake of historical accuracy it would be nice if you changed your Jan. 9, 2017 post to reflect Jim Bama's true credit.
We've talked a lot about how official credits can be wrong, so we're inclined to believe the cover was mistakenly attributed by editors because we already know they were human and made these types of goofs. But the process of collecting and curating vintage art offers the chance to get things right. So we're calling this cover a Bama, and thanks to James N. for taking the effort to write us.
Southeast Asia escape epic features murder, sex and everything between.
This issue of Male magazine published this month in 1958 features James Bama cover art illustrating Richard Farrington's story “The Incredible 'Blood and Bamboo' Escape,” which is the true tale of Dutchman Klaus van Tronk's flight from a Japanese internment camp in Malaysia during World War II. The story is a book-length special, and one of the more harrowing and interesting details involves one of the prisoners being tied spread-eagled on a bamboo mat elevated six inches above the ground. Beneath the mat were living bamboo shoots. As Farrington tells it (via van Tronk's account), “The shoots are tough, the tips as sharp as honed steel, and they can push through a plank floor [two inches thick]. They grow rapidly in the Pacific sun, about six inches on a good hot day. It had been a hot day.” When van Tronk's work detail came back that evening from a long grind of slave labor in the jungle the bound man already had bamboo shoots growing through his chest, and was still alive, screaming.
We did a verification check on this arcane torture and found that no cases confirmed to scholarly standards exist, but that it is well known in Asia, and experiments on substances approximating the density of human flesh have shown that it would work. As little as forty-eight hours would be needed to penetrate an entire body. Fascinating stuff, but what you really want to know in terms of veracity is whether scantily clad women helped the escapees paddle to freedom like in Bama's cover art, right? Well, this depiction is actually a completely accurate representation of what van Tronk described, or at least what biographer Farrington claims van Tronk described. The women were the daughters of a sympathetic Malay farmer, and indeed they wore virtually nothing, and were considered quite beautiful by the prisoners, save for the minor detail of having red teeth from the local tradition of chewing betel nuts.
The risk taken by these women was extraordinary. Other women who had helped van Tronk and his companions during their months-long odyssey were tortured and raped, and at one point a village was machine-gunned. Why would these Malays take up the foreigners' cause if the risks were so high? Van Tronk attributes it to a cultural requirement to help strangers in need, but we'd note that people have taken these sorts of risks everywhere, cultural norms or no. Often the suffering of others simply brings out the best in people. A historical check on Klaus van Tronk turned up nothing, though, so maybe the entire true story is a piece of fiction. If so, it's a very good one. We have some scans below with art by John Kuller, Joe Little, Al Rossi, Mort Kunstler, and Bruce Minney, and more issues of Male magazine at the keywords.
The Male capacity for violence.
Above is a Mort Kunstler cover for Male painted for the January 1965 issue. Kunstler was famed for his war panoramas, as we’ve discussed before, and if you click his keywords below you’ll see several more martial covers from him that we’ve shared. Inside Male you also get art from Charles Copeland, Samson Pollen, and Gil Cohen. The model feature is Susan Radford, who is described as a starlet but who we’d never heard of. Turns out it wasn’t just us. We checked the usual databases and found no mention of Radford anywhere, so it seems Male editors were premature in dubbing her a major riser.
Male focused on all kinds of violent adventures, but especially those dealing with warfare. This issue has four war stories dealing with the Soviet Union, China, and the Nazis, but the most notable entry is South African author Anthony Trew’s gripping Two Hours to Darkness, published here as booklength fiction. The tale is described in the contents as “the nightmarish spine-tingler that will be the movie blockbuster of 1965,” but it looks like Male was wide of the mark again, because no film based on the book was ever released. So Trew had to settle for selling a measly 3.5 million copies of the novel in sixteen languages, the hack. We have a dozen scans below.
We haven’t been there but we’re pretty sure it’s nothing like this.
Today we have a Stag magazine from October 1967 with cover art by Mort Kunstler illustrating Emile C. Schurmacher’s exotic yarn about sex crazed women in Kashgai, Iran. Apparently free love was flowing like crude oil in the Fertile Crescent—or maybe it was just flowing in Schurmacher’s fertile imagination. That’s un-retouched color, by the way. Somehow, the magazine took some wear and tear over the years but did not fade. Content-wise, it follows the time-honored men’s magazine form, with tales of loose women, righteous violence, and international adventure, all while hitting the political hot buttons of the moment—Vietnam, hippies, and drugs. Fifteen years earlier it would have been Korea, commies, and the Mafia. The semi-gloss, two-color interior illustrations have a wonderful impact, including Charles Copland’s nice spread for W. J. Saber’s centerpiece story “The Big Frame.”
Also of interest is an exposé on Wallace Groves, a Wall Street exec/felon who, after serving a prison term for mail fraud, jetted down to the Bahamas, bought 214 square miles of wilderness and turned it into the resort and gambling haven known today as Freetown. Apparently crime really does pay, especially on Wall Street, but we digress. We love how the Bahamian wilderness is described in the text as useless. One day not too very far in the future, everyone—not just scientists and environmentalists—will think of resorts and gambling havens as useless and pristine swaths of trees and wetlands as indispensable. When that day inevitably comes, stories like these will seem like profiles in civilizational lunacy, but we digress again.
You also get an interesting story on Milton Helpern, an NYC pathologist who by 1967 had conducted 80,000 autopsies and been called as an expert witness in innumerable trials, typically by prosecutors on behalf of murder victims. The footer on the article pits Helpern against F. Lee Bailey, the famous Boston defense attorney, with inset text telling readers that Helpern’s experience “beats any lawyer’s grandstand play any day.” We have a feeling Bailey won a few battles too. All in all, you get more than your money’s worth with Stag—great art, diverting stories, and pervasive fantasies that women the world over hang around naked waiting for a Western stud to happen along. Highly recommended publication. Scans below.
The headlines that mattered yesteryear.
1950—Althea Gibson Breaks the Color Barrier
Althea Gibson becomes the first African-American woman to compete on the World Tennis Tour, and the first to earn a Grand Slam title when she wins the French Open in 1956. Later she becomes the first African-American woman to compete in the Ladies Professional Golf Association.
1952—Devil's Island Closed
Devil's Island, the penal colony located off the coast of French Guiana, is permanently closed. The prison is later made world famous by Henri Charrière's bestselling novel Papillon, and the subsequent film starring Steve McQueen and Dustin Hoffman.
1962—De Gaulle Survives Assassination Attempt
Jean Bastien-Thiry, a French air weaponry engineer, attempts to assassinate French President Charles de Gaulle to prevent Algerian independence. Bastien-Thiry and others attack de Gaulle's armored limousine with machine guns, but after expending hundreds of rounds, they succeed only in puncturing two tires.
1911—Mona Lisa Disappears
Leonardo da Vinci's masterpiece, the Mona Lisa, aka La Gioconda, is stolen from the Louvre. After many wild theories and false leads, it turns out the painting was snatched by museum employee Vincenzo Peruggia.
1940—Trotsky Iced in Mexico
In Mexico City exiled Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky is fatally wounded with an ice axe
(not an ice pick) by Soviet agent Ramon Mercader. Trotsky dies the next day.
1968—Prague Spring Ends
200,000 Warsaw Pact troops backed by 5,000 tanks invade Czechoslovakia to end the Prague Spring political liberalization movement.
1986—Sherrill Goes Postal
In Edmond, Oklahoma, United States postal employee Patrick Sherrill shoots and kills fourteen of his co-workers and then commits suicide.
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