True Detectives

pulp magazine true detective illustration police line up

Vintage “True Detective” magazine April 1941

As HBO’s True Detective has proven, Americans love their Dicks.

The true crime and true detective genre is as American as apple pie.

Long before the much talked about, much tweeted about cable series lit up the internet with speculation worthy of a college course in forensics or metaphysics, armchair sleuths got their fill of  grisly crime scenes, hard-boiled detectives and loose dames through the pulpy pages of True Detective Magazine.

As True Detective true believers obsessively hash out the minutia of  the final outcome of the series, I pay homage to its pulpy whodunit predecessors.

Tomatoes, Palookas and Dicks

Vintage  magazine true detective cover illustration woman

Vintage “True Detective” Magazine 1941
The magazine even spawned a radio show called “True Detective Mysteries” a radio series based on True Detective Magazine each week they reenacted the cases from the magazine

For the  first half of the 20th century a boatload of American pulp magazines published real life stories of crime.It was a landscape littered with gin mills and gumshoes, flophouses and gun molls, Mickey Finns and fast talking floozies ready to drop a dime.

Most of all it was coppers and hoods packing heat.

In the midst of the roaring twenties a time of excess spawned by widespread disregard of national law, bootleggers and gangsters flourished along with fast cars and fast girls, and a  public hungry for sensationalism had an insatiable appetite for  crime stories  and scandal.

Cheez it the Cops!

Publisher Bernarr MacFadden took note, and in 1924 published True Detective Mysteries considered the first fact based crime magazine. ((The magazine was renamed True Detective in October 1939 )

The true  life crime stories- the more  lurid and ghastly the better- came  straight from the police blotters. Moonlighting police reporters along with magazine staff writers rewrote stories shared by local police detectives and sheriffs.

True Detective and other magazines that soon followed, gave the reader more than the newspapers or newsreels could give them. Inside they published gruesome murder scene photos that respectable newspapers did not have the stomach to run.

The public ate it up

The non fiction pulp magazines brought to life the real life  drama ripped from the headlines of the 1920s and 30s with sensational stories of notorious gangsters such as Al Capone, “Baby Face” Nelson, “Pretty Boy” Floyd, “Machine Gun” Kelly, and public enemy number one John Dillinger.

Crime Doesn’t Pay?

pulp true detective magazine WWII illustration interogation Nazi

Vintage” True Detective” Magazine January 1943
The crime stories took on wartime themes during WWII

In 1931 True Detective Mysteries started a regular feature called “Line Up” where police departments all across the country sent in mug shots and descriptions of fugitives on the run. Crime might not pay but for depression era readers who could get small cash rewards for information leading to arrest, it paid off handsomely.

The same could be said for  Bernarr MacFadden who at his peak was selling 2 million magazines a month.

Crime Spree

Vintage magazine cover Stratling Detective photo of "loose woman"

Vintage Magazine Cover “Startling Detective” 1942
“The truth from police records” Fawcett Publications

By the 1930s and ‘40’s  a true crime buff could choose between a hundred magazines at the newsstand. As long as the title contained Detective, it would sell.  .

pulp magazine cover 1940s daring detective illustration woman

Vintage “Daring Detective” Magazine 1940

pulp magazine cover headquarters detective illustration woman tied to tree

Vintage “Headquarters Detective” Magazine 1947
True cases from police blotters

vintage  magazine keyhole detective illustration woman smoking

Vintage magazine cover “Keyhole Detective” 1945
“Every Story True…Actual Photo’s”

Pulp Fiction

pulp detective story magazine SWScan01244

Street and Smiths publisher of dime novels and hard covered books began publishing pulps in October 1915 with Detective Story Magazine first detective pulp.fiction stories

Along with the real life detective stories were several pulp magazines specializing in crime fiction with stories written by Raymond Chandler wannabees. These pulp fiction magazines were small 7”x10” , their nicknames derived from the cheap pulp paper in which their black and white interiors were printed. ,

pulp fiction detective story magazine illustration cops with tommy gun gangster

Vintage “Detective Story Magazine” April 1930

pulp fiction magazine cover private detective illustration man fighting woman

Vintage magazine “Private Detective” 1942
These early 7″x10″ magazines derived their nickname from the cheap pulp paper in which their black and white interiors were printed.

pulp fiction magazine cover" variety detective" illustration cop chasing man with gun

Vintage pulp magazine “Variety Detective” December 1939
Twelve Stories for 10 cents Published bi-monthly by Ace Magazines Inc.

pulp magazine cover  super detective illustration  2 men fighting

Vintage pulp fiction magazine “Super Detective” August 1941

1940s pulp magazine cover private detective illustration

Vintage Pulp fiction magazine “Private Detective” June 1942
Covers were glossy, lushly painted in full color often featuring scenes of scantily clad dames in distress.

By the end of WWII the golden age of true detective magazines came to an end. True Detectives was sold in 1971 and ceased publication in 1995.

There was one thing all these magazines had in common, month after month year after year.It was that good prevails over evil,  True to form, 70 years later  True Detective showed us  that light always wins over darkness.

© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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  1. Pingback: True Fans of True Detective | Envisioning The American Dream

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