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.
Delivering thrills all year round.
Stan Borack painted the cover of this issue of Male from January 1958, and the interior art comes from Samson Pollen, Bob Schultz, John Leone, James Bama, Bob Stanley, John Kuller, and Tom Ryan. Not a slouch in the bunch. The magazine contains a preview of Shane author Jack Schaefer’s novel Company of Cowards, the Civil War tale of a group of Union officers who have all been busted down to the rank of private, but who are formed into a special unit and given a chance to earn back their honor. That chance takes them into Comanche country where they face an assortment of deadly challenges.
Also in this issue you get famed model Diane Webber/Marguerite Empey—who we’ve been seeing a lot of recently—doing a nice photo feature and complaining that since being elected Queen of the Nudists by a national sunbathing association all anyone wants to talk about is her naked lifestyle. But we think that’s just the editors trying to come up with an angle for the text. Webber was an official advocate of nudist lifestyle and even promoted her special brand of spiritual nudism in television interviews, so we doubt she was fed up with it at this point. The photos were shot by Russ Meyer, and we’re pretty sure they’ve never been on the internet before, which is always a fun moment for us. Please enjoy. Twenty scans below.
It's ironic they call this place the O.K. Corral, because things have not gone well since I came in here.
Above, Stag magazine published December 1957, with an uncredited cover and interior art from James Bama, Emile C. Shurmacher, Jay Smith, Charles Copeland, Jim Bentley, Lou Marchetti, and Mel Crair. We checked the auction sites this morning and saw this issue going for twenty dollars minimum, so we're feeling pretty smart because we got ours for four bucks. Probably the most interesting story is Bill Wharton's “Brother Chalmers,” about a pompous white missionary in Papua New Guinea who has very little in the way of morals. But it has a happy ending—he gets his brains bashed out.
… 282-Page Global Escapism … 15 Stories … Flawless Fun …
One of the many treats we managed to procure over the holidays was the book above, entitled He-Men, Bag Men & Nymphos, which is a collection of writings by mid-century men’s magazine author Walter Kaylin, a regular contributor to Men, True Action, Man’s World, and a host of other publications. The collection was put together by Robert Deis, along with Wyatt Doyle of the publishing company New Texture, and the titles of the stories are men’s magazine gold that tell you everything you need to know about what's inside. Example: “The Nymph Who Leads an African Death Army.”
Deis had already been inspired enough by the old monthlies to launch the website menspulpmags.com, but teaming up with Doyle to publish the work of one of the form’s most fondly remembered writers bespeaks true devotion to the idea of literary preservation. Deis was actually kind enough to send us both this book and the 2012 book Weasels Ripped My Flesh!, but we’ll get to Weasels later.
He-Men is an incredibly entertaining collection consisting of both Wyatt’s globe-trotting fiction and his highly descriptive reporting. Sample title: “The Yank Who Survived the 3,000 Mile Death Trek from Stalingrad.” You get fifteen pieces total, all of them prime examples of the fast and furious men’s magazine style, each prefaced by covers and spreads from the issues in which they originally appeared, a nice touch that brings in art from the likes of Harry Schaare, James Bama and Mort Künstler.
While collecting vintage magazines offers the reward of discovering some good fiction, along with the highs inevitably come some serious lows. But with He-Men, Bag Men & Nymphos
Deis and Doyle have done the heavy lifting for everyone and pieced together a consistently engrossing slate of tales. Best title: “…108 Hour Mid-Ocean Ordeal … 500 Dead … 300 Still Afloat…” Highly recommended, and for more info check here
It’s a wall world after all.
Above are three covers by realist illustrator James Bama, featuring figures leaning against walls. Bama also loves the crossed leg pose you see on two of these pieces and used it on his famous cover for Midnight Cowboy. Bama was born and raised in Manhattan, and you can see his keen eye for urban detail in these pieces, but interestingly, he moved to Wyoming and became a leading painter of western-themed art. In fact, he was inducted into the Illustrator’s Hall of Fame because of his western art. But we prefer the citified Bama. The realism and immediacy of his early paintings is unmatchable. These are three of the best examples.
In search of a midnight kiss.
Midnight Cowboy was a very good book before it was a very good movie. It was written by James Leo Herlihy in 1966, and immediately hailed as a classic. Herlihy sort of faded from the writing scene over time, and died at age 66 after taking an overdose of sleeping pills, but Midnight Cowboy — shown here with art by the incomparable James Bama—stands as a major achievement in U.S. literature.
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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