Love Story Magazine
Author and longtime Street & Smith editor Daisy Bacon made Love Story Magazine one of the most successful of all pulps, but she was incorrect in one respect when she evaluated the long-running magazine. In her how-to book Love Story Writer (Hermitage 1955), Bacon writes: "During the many years that Love Story enjoyed its large circulation and weekly status it was never successfully imitated, as any circulation man can tell you…"
Bacon's statement is certainly true with regard to sheer volume. Love Story was published weekly for more than 20 years, starting September 1922, the only such long-running weekly romance pulp. The Adventure House Guide to the Pulps lists the magazine's overall run as 1,158 issues, published from August 1921 through February 1947, and that's no surprise -- only Street & Smith had the financial wherewithal to publish a romance pulp on a weekly basis, not to mention weekly western and detective pulps as well.
Even so, many romance pulps were published in the four decades between 1921 and 1960. There were more than 7,000 issues and dozens and dozens of titles. In 1960, Columbia's now-ironically titled Gay Love Stories closed out the genre, leaving only publisher Ned Pines's hybrid Ranch Romances, which struggled through 1971 as the last of the original pulps (unless you count long-since converted digest science fiction magazines). In other words, Bacon's ground-breaking romance title certainly faced heavy competition on the newsstands of the 1930s and 1940s. More than a dozen pulp romance titles -- from Thrilling Publications, Popular, Columbia and Ace -- were still thriving when Love Story Magazine ended its record run in 1947.
For three decades, in fact, Love Story was so successfully imitated that the only genre more commercially successful during that era was the genre of the Western pulps, which numbered nearly 10,000 issues total, including many western romance issues, until they gradually died out in the 1950s.
Street & Smith's financial muscle enabled Bacon, who took over as editor of Love Story in 1929, to keep the magazine going weekly during the Great Depression, which is no small feat. Quentin Reynolds's The Fiction Factory (Random House 1954) is often criticized for its inaccuracies, but it seems likely to present an accurate statistic that Love Story's circulation in the early 1930s reached 600,000 per issue.
Love Story Magazine became without a doubt the most valuable Street & Smith Depression-era publication, but in 1949 Street & Smith abandoned its long-running titles, except for Astounding Science Fiction. Astounding had been converted into a digest in 1943, and emerged as the unquestioned literary leader in its field. It says a lot that the post-war market for science fiction far surpassed the market for pulp romance.
Nor would I disagree with Reynolds's evaluation of Bacon's unquestionably deft touch. According to Reynolds: "Miss Bacon had an infallible instinct for choosing stories that would make the average woman forget either her unhappy financial state, her dreary husband or her aching heart. Daisy's own slim finger was never away from the feminine pulse of the nation; she knew just what girls of all ages wanted…"
It is intriguing that the vast majority of Love Story Magazine's contributors have long since been thoroughly forgotten. In an era when hundreds of pulp reprint volumes have sprouted, there are no anthologies of stories from Love Story Magazine (or any other romance pulp), in part because most pulp collectors eschew the romance pulps, other than for an occasional attractive cover. Romance pulps can be great fun to read, but not many pulp collectors would agree with that.
Major romance novelists of the day -- women like Emilie Loring and Faith Baldwin, whose numerous hardcover novels were frequently reprinted as paperbacks -- did not write for Love Story. Perhaps the magazine's best-known writers were Maysie Greig and Peggy Gaddis. Occasional works by the likes of William G. Bogart, C.S. Montanye, and Philip Wylie appeared also, and every table of contents in Love Story is worth a look for surprises.
The covers of the 1920s issues of Love Story primarily reflect the fashions of the era, but the ever-clean stories published certainly do not reflect lesser-known competitors' emphasis on a "Roaring Twenties" sensationalism. From the 1930s on, however, artists such as Modest Stein illustrated any number of attractive covers for Love Story, and used a variety of themes: aviation, sports, holidays, and so on. I have several dozen issues in my collection for their covers alone.
One of the drawbacks to collecting Love Story, however, was its extensive use of long serials, of the type that only a weekly publication could logically sustain. It is not difficult to amass a representative collection of Love Story Magazine, but I know of no collector who has ever come close to gathering a complete file. In fact, I know of only one collector, a pulp completist, who would ever want to. The entire run of 1,158 issues of Love Story Magazine would require about 40 "short boxes" to contain!
There is one mystery I'm still trying to solve. Reynolds's book says that Love Story Magazine began as a quarterly, with the May 1921 issue, but I have never seen or otherwise heard of that issue. The Adventure House Guide to the Pulps lists Vol. 1, No. 2 (August 1921). Galactic Central lists Vol. 1, No. 1 (July 10, 1921), and the website records that the magazine began as a twice-monthly publication. Has anyone ever seen a May 1921 issue of Love Story? If so, that would surely be among the scarcest of the pulps!
Michelle Nolan, author of Love on the Racks (2008)
Bacon, Daisy. Love Story Writer, New York: Hermitage House, 1954.
Ellis, Doug, John Locke and John Gunnison. The Adventure House Guide to the Pulps, Silver Spring, MD: Adventure House, 2000.
Reynolds, Quentin. The Fiction Factory; Or, From Pulp Row to Quality Street: The Story of 100 Years of Publishing at Street & Smith, New York: Random House, 1955.
Stephensen-Payne, Phil. Love Story Magazine, checklist and cover images. Accessed at http://www.philsp.com/mags/love_story.html