‘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???

Stories for a 1930s audience.

Last week I took a look at the kind of advertising you might have found if browsing through an issue of Betty’s Paper, a popular magazine from the 1920s through to (I think) about the 1940s. It’s hard to find out much about the mag without doing some hardcore research (it might come to that), but I know it was at its peak in the 30s, and there are still quite a few issues left to be snapped up if you’re of a mind to buy this kind of memorabilia.

Betty’s Paper wasn’t the only one around. There was also Peg’s Paper (1919 to 40) English Woman’s Journal (1850s to 1910), The Gentlewoman (1890 to 1926), The Freewoman (1911 to 1912), The Lady’s Realm (1890s to 1914), Time and Tide (1920s to 1970s), Woman’s Journal (1920 to 2001) to name the most well known. There were others, often with a more targeted purpose, for example, campaigning women’s suffrage and letting women know what was happening in various groups. Mostly magazines were aimed at middle and upper class women, but Peg’s Paper, and Betty’s Paper were aimed at working class women, and had less educational and more purely entertaining content than other magazines.

Betty’s – and Peg’s – contained short fiction, sometimes as serials, that thrilled the imagination, and owed a great deal to the cinema. There were fashion and style tips, using actresses of the era as role models, and holding them up as examples of the right look to emulate, very much as all the media do today. We looked at the ads last week, and I concluded that, again just as now, many were fixated upon appearance: looking slim, budget fashion that stood up to scrutiny, easy health fixes for people who lived busy lives, working hard and with little time or money to spend on themselves. Perfect for the factory and domestic girls of the 1920s and 1930s.

But what were the stories like that were every week there to tantalise our girls as they took a quick tea break or read for ten minutes before going to sleep?

Firstly, I noticed that the stories were illustrated, a bit like a children’s comic. I know that still happens today, but these struck me as being more dramatic. The men often seem to loom over the women in a authoritative almost aggressive manner. The men also look very old compared to the younger-looking women. Pretty sure all these heroines are about 20 and all the heroes are about 48.

The headlines and taglines too were melodramatic and leaning towards the scandalous. I presume this was a good way to draw in readers and get them to spend their cash – Betty’s Paper was tuppence ‘Every Friday’. When wages were paid weekly in cash, I imagine this was one of the first ‘treats’ a girl would get herself before going home and giving most of her money to her parents.

Anyway – on to the stories. I’ve only got two issues (at the moment hahaha) but between these two issues of 36 pages each, there are eight stories, and seem to be serialised in two or three parts. Some of them masquerade as ‘real life stories’ (see me next week for more…) but the rest are presented as written by ‘well-known’ lady authors. The sensational headings are guaranteed to pique the interest of any normal woman: ‘One Hour of Love Then Tears’, ‘The Sin That Came Between Them’, ‘When Men Are Dangerous’, ‘But She Was Blamed’, and my particular favourite, ‘Back Street Blonde’, tagline ‘she was born to be a man’s girl’.

They read a bit like cautionary tales – be careful, be cautious, be modest, they seem to say. Keep away from MEN. And like Mary Bennett in Pride and Prejudice, they seem to hint vaguely at the dreadful fate that awaits a woman without virtue. This was probably useful information for a young woman with a little bit of her own money able to go out with her friends in the evening in the wicked city and not come home until – ooh – ten? eleven o’clock? The stories are about trying very hard to make a marriage work, about being honest, and morally upright, about protecting your home and family. So they are aspirational, inspirational and improving. But they can be a bit juicy, as this picture seems to show: ‘Guy held her close in his arms. ”I don’t care about anything else–I want you, Dawn,’ he whispered.” Oh Dawn, get out girl, while you can!

Mostly I’m in awe of the writers. Week after week they turned out 5000 words or maybe more, and (I assume) got paid for it. I’ve tried Googling some of the authors whose work features in these magazines: Denise Egerton (Secret Bride), Louise Randall (One Hour of Love – Then Tears), Stella Deans (The Sin That Came Between Them), Cynthia Loring (But She Was Blamed), Jasmine Day (Back Street Blonde). Of these, I’ve found a number of books from the 50s and 60s by a Denise Egerton, and they appear to be romance genre, so maybe it’s the same woman? I haven’t been able to find out anything about the others–who knows–maybe they were all Denise? Or possibly all these ‘lady writers’ were simply the pen names of a grizzled editor with pages to fill and a talent for writing totes emosh romance? I can picture him, tapping away at his typewriter until all hours, cigar ash spilling all down his shirt. I bet his real name was something like Isaac Peabody.

I think these stories offer an intriguing insight into the values and aspirations of working women in the 1920s and 1930s. They’ve actually been the subject of study in a number of British and American dissertations and publications, for example, Peg’s Paper was looked at in Class and Gender: The ‘Girls’weeklies’ by Billie Melman,  a section in ‘Women and The Popular Imagination in the Twenties.’  And in this article in The Guardian by Kathryn Hughes. 

But lest we forget, what they really were was an escape from the drudgery of everyday life for women with little opportunity to do anything other than dream.

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