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‘Features’ of the 1930s.

That’s an A5 notebook for comparison – Betty’s Paper was so much smaller than I expected.

I’m back to Betty’s Paper again. I wanted to have a look at the features that are inside the magazine.  Tell me what you think – do they seem very ‘now’ to you? I was a little surprised by how similar these mags were to the ones we read today. I’m not sure if I expected something different, and if I did, what exactly? Seems like they nailed the art of selling and entertaining even then.

The first thing that caught my eye with these and with some of the others I’ve seen, is that alluring offer of a ‘Free Gift’ emblazoned on the front. That sent me straight back to the 70s and my copies of Jackie and other magazines designed for teenage girls. There was often a free eye-shadow, or a lip gloss or something. They still do that, dont’ they? That was usually the only reason you bought the mag – that and the pin-ups inside! Can I confess right here and now that I had a massive poster of Ben Murphy from Alias Smith and Jones on my bedroom wall?

So an offer of a ‘platinette ring’ with a ‘sparkling stone of sapphire blue’ is going to lure us in with our hard-earned cash, isn’t it? I love the creativity displayed just in that little offer – platinette – sounds a teeny bit like platinum – so it’s bound to be good! I wonder how many girls were told, ‘Marge, it’s just gilt, love.’ And Marge, faithful to Betty’s Paper unto her dying breath would immediately retort, ‘It’s not gilt, it’s platinette!’ And not just any old platinette, either, it’s got a sparkling stone of sapphire blue in it. (Blue glass to you and me.) Free gifts always had a massive appeal, and would undoubtedly have sold loads more copies of the magazine, at small cost to the publisher. Another ‘free gift’ of note from another issue: A butterfly-shaped dress ornament. I bet that was taken out and admired repeatedly, but never worn – because how many opportunities does a hard-working girl get to go out dolled up with a butterfly on her frock?

But apart from the free gift, what features did Betty’s Paper offer? A few weeks ago I touched on the ads which offered all manner of fortune-telling and astrology. But just like today, for the readers of 1930s Betty’s Papers, the combination of both astrology and celebrities were a heady mix.

There is a double page spread on exactly this topic: ‘Confessions of a Hollywood Fortune Teller’. It’s quite clearly a gossip column under another name, and yet again, I take my metaphorical hat off to the cunning and crafty imagineers who created the content for Betty’s. They knew how to get people’s attention. If I could only bottle that stuff…

We start with a section about a girl called Ruby. You’ve never heard of her, right? Me either. Her name was Ruby Keeler. The article goes on to say ‘It’s hard to imagine a lovely talented girl accepting stardom reluctantly and being doubtful about it, isn’t it?’ (as if we’d know) and then, ‘She had come to Hollywood not as a star but as a star’s wife. That was all Ruby wanted to be. She was completely happy just to be Mrs Al Jolson.’ Oh ok, now I’m interested. But I’m a bit of a cynic and I couldn’t help laughing when I read: ‘She had never quite got over the thrill of realising that anyone so famous and splendid as Al could have wanted her–a night-club and vaudeville dancer. ‘I think you’re marvellous,’ he told her.’

Aww bless. Lifestyles of the rich and famous.

Are you a lonely, single night-club and vaudeville dancer? You too could meet someone famous and splendid who will admire you and call you marvellous for no reason other than that you’re young, blonde, beautiful, and can dance and sing. Just write in to Betty’s Paper and you might win a lovely undie set. We promise not to use your real name and address unless you win. Or are featured in our loveliest readers competition.

Seriously, I hope they were happy.

The bit about Ruby ends with, ‘Ruby became a star–rather reluctantly–and although she’s a bigger star than Al these days, I’m thankful to say that it hasn’t spoilt her married happiness in the least.’

(naughty snigger: a comment later on: ‘I sometimes think that Dick is out of place in Hollywood.’)

Another feature in very much the same vein is ‘Untold Love Stories of The Stars’ – the byline says, ‘Intimate Gossip About Hollywood’s secret romances’. Not any more. Secret, that is. they talk about Joan Crawford, June Clyde, and of course, Ginger Rogers, Hollywood’s sweetheart.

”When I marry Lew, I’ll have to learn how to cook,’ Ginger said seriously.’ (Lew Ayres – yes I’ve never heard of him either. Soz Lew.) The caption to the photos of them (two separate ones – obviously Betty’s Paper’s Authority on Hollywood didn’t get close enough for a pic of them together) says ‘Ginger Rogers and Lew Ayres are married now, but kept the gossipers guessing for nearly eighteen months!’ They should have called in the person who did the Fortune Teller of Hollywood article.

I was thrilled to discover Betty’s did a problem page! None of that Ask Auntie stuff. the page is called ‘It Helps To Tell’ then adds, ‘write to Betty about that problem that simply won’t come right.’ The bait? Another freebie of course! this time a cute camisole and french knickers or something like that. ‘This Lovely Undie Set For A Reader’s Problem’. It doesn’t say one each, so I imagine this is for the most exciting, I mean, the most unfortunate problem of the week. All names and addresses will be strictly in confidence, we’re told, but send in your name and address, just in case you win the prize!

What kind of problems do the worried readers of 1935 have? Well, it’s boys, obviously. A worried 18-year-old from Manchester writes, ‘I’m in love with a boy who doesn’t notice me.’ Reading between the lines, it’s clear that said boy, having only recently discovered girls, is now walking out with that fast piece from number 26. ‘On no account,’ Betty cautions, ‘dear, must you do anything to steal this boy away from this girl he has chosen.’ Find someone new, is Betty’s wise advice. Other problems – ‘My friend and I are both unhappy in our home lives and want to go into service in London. We are both eighteen.’ Oh dear. That immediately triggers my maternal WTF response. Two young girls going off to London all alone…????? Take a deep breath, concerned mums, and read on:

What does Betty say in response? ‘First, dear, yes, you are quite old enough to go into service. As a matter of fact, there is a great demand for girls of your age (I bet there is!) But you will find it easier to obtain a position if you first obtain some experience int he province. Your local employment exchange will help you to do this.’

Phew. Looks like Worried of Bradford will stay out of trouble a wee bit longer, then!

Thanks Betty’s Paper for all the fun of yesterday, which seems so remarkably like the fun of today. My conclusion: we haven’t changed a bit. I hope you enjoyed this trip into the 30s. I loved it.

Ben Murphy — because – why not???

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