Thursday, December 22, 2016

Friday's Forgotten Book: John Dinan: Sports in the Pulp Magazines

As I wrote in my earlier post, I have a new book out. It's a collection of articles and essays on different kinds of genre and pulp fiction, and there's also one on sports fiction. This essay I wrote specifically for the book, since I ordered John Dinan's book on the subject years ago, called Sports in the Pulp Magazines, thinking I could compile a small fictionmag around some pulp short stories, but to this day I haven't been able to come up with anything. I read the book and wrote the article, and now it's in the book. Since the book is in Finnish, here are some words on it in English. I'll try to keep this short, but we'll see how that comes about.

The first pulp magazines were of the general variety, but in the 1920's they started to specialize in certain genres. Sports were also beginning to get more professional at the same time, and the first sports celebrities, such as Jack Johnson, emerged. So some pulp magazine publishers started to publish magazines publishing only sports material, not only fiction, but also columns, interviews, biographies, stuff that resembles more sports journalism than what we usually associate with pulp magazines. The first sports pulp magazine was Sport Story Magazine, published by Street & Smith, one of the biggest pulp publishers. The first issue came out in 1923. The second sports pulp was Fight Stories, that started appearing in 1928. It specialized in boxing stories.

In the 1930's and especially after the Berlin Olympics there started to be more sports pulps, as the American readers were enthusiastic about the American athletes winning the games. In 1936 three more magazines were born: Ace Sports, Thrilling Sports, and Star Sports Magazine, and the next year saw eleven more. Some more came later in 1938 and 1939. The Second World War caused difficulties for the pulp mags and their publishers, but after the war there were more new magazines, but not so many as before the war. John Dinan points out interestingly that some of the pulp publishers also had a hand in organizing the sports leagues, such as Gerald Smith of Street & Smith. He was one of the founders of the All-American Football Conference that was supposed to compete with NFL.

Some of the sports pulps survived till the fifties, and the last ones were published as late as 1957. Some of the later mags include Ten Story Sports and Super Sports.

John Dinan has counted the number of different sports in Street & Smith's Sport Story Magazine. The results are not very surprising: the most popular sports were football, fighting and baseball, with basketball probably the fourth. Tennis, golf, track & field and ice hockey were also popular, but none of them had their own titles like the more popular disciplines, though the basketball titles weren't successful.

Dinan lists some of the better known sports authors, such as Robert Sidney Bowen and William Campbell Gault.  He lists also some authors known for their work in other genres who also dabbled in sports fiction, such as Max Brand, Johnston McCulley and Stephen Marlowe. He also writes quite widely about Robert E. Howard's Dennis Dorgan stories. There were also sports writers who wrote non-fiction for the pulps, such as Jack Kofoed. Dinan seems to have read some of the stories of these writers, but on some others he relies on other sources.

Dinan's book on the subject has lots of fascinating information, but it's not organized very well. I don't know why Dinan has decided to list some of the best known sports novels that have nothing to do with the pulp magazines, and he also claims Paul Gallico was a pulp writer, though most of his stuff came out in the slicks, such as Saturday Evening Post. Dinan's earlier work on the history of the pulp magazines, The Pulp Western, was riddled with errors and an assumption that the pulp mags were aimed for young readers, but Sports in the Pulp Magazines seems more solid in that regard. I didn't check all the details, but you can check some of the facts yourself here at the sports pulp magazine section of the Galactic Central/Fictionmags Index site.

I said at the beginning of this post that I've been thinking about compiling and publishing a sports fiction mag myself. I once had a permission to use one of Stephen Marlowe's sports stories (there weren't many to begin with), but I couldn't get my hand on them. (And then Marlowe died.) Now I have a permission to use a Robert Silverberg story (he wrote a handful in the late fifties, mainly on baseball), but I don't have any! If someone sees this and can send me a xerox or a scan or even a digital photo of a Silverbob sport story, I'd be a happy man! Interim, I've decided to compile an anthology of old Finnish sports stories, as I've come across quite a many while doing some other research on Finnish fictionmags.

More Forgotten Books at Patti Abbott's blog here. Happy Holidays to each and everyone!

3 comments:

Todd Mason said...

A pity if Dinan didn't do too thorough a job...I suspect he has almost as much virgin territory here as Laurie Powers has been faced with in researching Daisy Bacon and the romance-fiction pulps. Perhaps with the same sorts of hurdles, that you are now facing n a small way! I'll see what I see in online sources...as I don't have any sports pulps, either...

Elgin Bleecker said...

Juri - Happy Holidays!

Juri Nummelin said...

Thanks, Elgin, the same to you! Todd: the book would've been improved a lot if Dinan had written more about the writers and their stories, now it's sketchy at best. I know that can happen with a book one wants to get made...