MOVIE PALACES, TRAINS, CLASSIC CARS, SPORTS, DEPARTMENT STORES
Just the names conjure up memories:
Life, Look, Grit, Photoplay, Peyton Place, Gazette, World Telegram
1959 - A Transitional Year for Books, Magazines, and Newspapers
In 1959, many Americans spent their new-found leisure time reading. A quarter of adults bought books; magazines reached two-thirds of the population; and more than 62 million copies of 1,750 daily papers were sold.
Sales of serious novels and scholarly nonfiction books, especially in the new paperback format, soared during the fifties. Writers became interested in individual introspection. Affluence, alienation, and anxiety became central themes. Authors began to rebel against organization and bristled against becoming victims of authority, conformity, and technology.
Magazines flourished in the fifties and some, like Readers Digest and Time, are still being published today, but Life, Look, andThe Saturday Evening Post did not survive. After a half-century of growth, the general-interest magazine began to decline. Television arrived as the primary source of information for the mass audience, while a variety of ‘special-interest’ magazines aimed at specific markets focused on leisure and recreational subjects.
Daily newspaper circulation in the U.S. increased steadily for two hundred years, and in 1959, rose to its highest plateau—nearly 60 million. It peaked there and remained constant for the next thirty years. A decline began in 1990 and by 2010, circulation had fallen 35% to 40 million.
Print media from the fifties provides rare insight into the 50s American life style. Magazine and newspaper stories, and even the products advertised in them, chronicle the 1950s and help round-out a sense of the decade.
Popular Novels in the 1950s
The Cardinal by Henry Morton Robinson 1950
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury 1950
From Here to Eternity by James Jones 1951
The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk 1951
Return to Paradise by James A. Michener 1951
East of Eden by John Steinbeck 1952
My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier 1952
Giant by Edna Ferber 1952
Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway 1952
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger 1952
Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett 1952
Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White 1952
Kiss Me Deadly by Mickey Spillane 1953
Battle Cry by Leon M. Uris 1953
From Here to Eternity by James Jones 1953
Casino Royale by Ian Fleming 1953 (1st James Bond)
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury 1953
The Mandarins* by Simone de Beauvoir 1954
Mary Anne by Daphne du Maurier 1954
Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck 1954
Boon Island* by Kenneth Roberts 1955
Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk 1955
The Return of the King by J. R. Tolkien 1955
Auntie Mame* by Patrick Dennis 1955
Andersonville* by MacKinlay Kantor 1955
Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan 1955
Man in the Gray Flannel Suit by Sloan Wilson 1955
Ten North Frederick by John O'Hara 1955
Eloise* by Kay Thompson 1955
Long Day’s Journey into Night by Eugene O’Neill 1956
Don't Go Near the Water* by William Brinkley 1956
The Last Hurrah* by Edwin O'Connor 1956
Peyton Place* by Grace Metalious 1956
A Certain Smile* by Francoise Sagan 1956
The Tribe That Lost its Head* by Nicholas Monsarrat 1956
On the Beach by Nevil Shute 1957
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand 1957
Anatomy of a Murder by Robert Traver 1958
Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak 1958
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov 1958
Exodus by Leon Uris 1959
Hawaii by James A. Michener 1959
Advise and Consent by Allen Drury 1959
Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence 1959
The Ugly American by Eugene L. Burdick 1959
* One of the 10 best-selling novels in the United States in the 1950s as determined by Publishers Weekly
Popular Works of Non-Fiction in the 1950s
Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl 1950
Look Younger, Live Longer by Gayelord Hauser 1950
The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson 1951
A Man Called Peterby Catherine Marshall 1952
Annapurna by Maurice Herzog 1953
Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale 1953
The Search for Bridey Murphy by Morey Bernstein 1956
The Nun's Story by Kathryn Hulme 1956
The Hidden Persuaders by Vance Packard 1957
On The Road by Jack Kerouac 1957
Please Don't Eat the Daisies by Jean Kerr 1958
The Status Seekers by Vance Packard 1959
For 2¢ Plain by Harry Golden 1959
Act One by Moss Hart 1959
Novels Americans were Reading in 1959
Exodus by Leon Uris (1959)
The most dramatic geopolitical event of the twentieth century, the birth of the nation of Israel and the earthshaking struggle for power in the midst of enemies, is the setting for this towering novel. The story of an American nurse caught up in a glorious, heartbreaking, triumphant era.
Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak (1958 - 1959)
The sweeping epic story of a Russian physician and poet whose love and life is affected by the Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent Russian Civil War. In spite of censorship by the Soviet government, for showing more concern for the welfare of the individual rather than the welfare of society, it won the 1958 Noble Prize for Literature.
Hawaii by James A. Michener (1959)
It is the history of the Hawaiian Islands from their creation to statehood. Written in episodic format, like may of his works, it is the story of the original Hawaiians who sailed from Bora Bora, then the early American missionaries and merchants, and then the Chinese and Japanese immigrants who travel to work and seek their fortunes in Hawaii.
Advise and Consent by Allen Drury (1959)
This political novel explores the United States Senate confirmation of a controversial Secretary of State nominee who is a former member of the Communist Party. A gripping and compelling story of political intrigue. The novel won the 1960 Pulitzer Prize for Literature.
Lady Chatterley's Lover by D. H. Lawrence (1959)
The story of an aristocratic married woman, whose upper-class husband is paralyzed and impotent, as she develops a physical relationship with a working- class man. Her sexual frustration leads her into an affair with her gamekeeper. The book was notorious for its explicit descriptions of sex, and its use of (at the time) unprintable words. Originally written in 1928, but not published until 1959.
The Ugly American by Eugene L. Burdick (1959)
This political novel is the fictionalized experience of pretentious, loud, and ostentatious American government employees losing a struggle against Communism for the hearts and minds of the people of Southeast Asia because of their innate arrogance and failure to understand the local culture.
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1958 - 1959)
A controversial novel about a middle-aged literature professor who is obsessed with young girls. He marries a widow just to be near her 12-year-old daughter with whom he becomes sexually involved. His nickname for his stepdaughter is Lolita.
Non-Fiction Americans were Reading in 1959
The Status Seekers by Vance Packard (1959)
Following his 1957 non-fiction book, The Hidden Persuaders, exploring motivational research and subliminal tactics, this time pop sociologist and social critic, Vance Packard, tackles class behavior in America and the hidden barriers that affect individuals.
For 2¢ Plain by Harry Golden (1959)
This is an autobiographical chronicle of a family and a city in crises. The son of Holocaust survivors reflects on his childhood growing up in the back of his family’s candy store in Brooklyn during the 1950s and 1960s. Stirring narrative and richly rendered black-and-white drawings create a unique memoir.
Act One by Moss Hart (1959)
Playwright’s autobiography of his impoverished childhood in the Bronx and his determined struggle to his first theatrical Broadway success. It is filled with the wonder, drama, and heartbreak that surrounded Broadway in the years before World War II.
Paperback Books Changed the Publishing Business in the 1950s
Books in a soft-cover paperback form had been around for decades. Printing advances and broader distribution during the early twentieth century made paperback book production ever more appealing to publishers. Activity was slowed by the paper shortage during World War II, but post-war sales soared in the 1950s.
Hard cover books were bound in the traditional method by sewing the pages together; mass-produced paperbacks were bound with new, inexpensive adhesives. To take advantage of new high-speed presses, type was reset to accommodate this less expensive printing process.
Most titles in paperback were originally published in hardbound form and contracted for reprint. The substantially lower prices of paperbacks brought popular titles to a new, much wider, middle class audience. New customers were introduced to reading mystery stories, romance novels, and formula fiction in paperbacks.
In addition to distribution through traditional bookstores, paperbacks also racked-up increasing sales in supermarkets, college stores, drug stores, and other non-traditional outlets. Sales of paperbacks rose from a few million in 1940 to more than 300 million in 1960.
In 1959, daily newspaper sales peaked above fifty million. More than 80% were published in late afternoon. The 1,456 afternoon / evening papers had a circulation of 35 million copies each day. The 307 morning publications added millions more. But with the arrival of evening newscasts on television reading habits reversed. Americans began to prefer morning newspapers and the circulation of evening newspapers declined after the fifties.
Best Selling General Circulation Magazines in the United States in 1959
#1 Reader’s Digest (1922 – Present) This general interest family magazine is a fusion of original material with excerpts from articles on family, health, finance, and food condensed from other magazines and books. It was the best-selling consumer magazine in the United States until 2009, and with 50 editions in 21 languages continues to be the largest paid circulation magazine in the world.
#2 TV Guide(1953 – Present) This national digest-sized publication with local listings, priced at 15¢, was an instant success. In addition to TV listings, it featured television-related news, celebrity interviews, gossip, film reviews, and crossword puzzles. First based in Philadelphia, it moved to Radnor, Pennsylvania in the late 1950s.
#3 Life (1936 – 1972) Before cable TV and the Internet, there was Life. Publishing giant Henry Luce helped fuel Americans’ natural curiosity by turning a general-interest magazine into a glossy weekly with 50 pages of pictures (by photographers such as Alfred Eisenstaedt and Margaret Bourke-White) in every issue. For 36 years, Life showed middle class Americans the world—for just pennies a week.
#4 Saturday Evening Post (1897 – 1971) Each week The Saturday Evening Post published current event articles, editorials, human interest pieces, humor, illustrations, a letter column, poetry, single-panel gag cartoons, and stories by leading writers. Known for commissioning original works of fiction and lavish illustrations. Some of their illustrations continue to be reproduced as posters or prints, especially those by American painter and illustrator Norman Rockwell.
#5 Ladies’ Home Journal (1883 – Present) Ladies’ Home Journal first appeared on February 16, 1883, and eventually became one of the leading women's magazines of the 20th century in the United States. It is currently published by the Meredith Corporation. Ladies’ Home Journal is one of the ‘Seven Sisters,’ a group of women’s magazines.
#6 Look (1937 – 1971) This large-size (11 by 14 inch), bi-weekly, general-interest magazine with an emphasis on photographs, was generally considered the also-ran to Life magazine. Of the leading general interest large-format magazines, Look had a circulation just behind Life and The Saturday Evening Post but ahead of Collier's. It became a victim of a slack economy, a loss of advertising revenue to television, and increased postal rates.
#7 McCall’s (1897 – 2002) This large, glossy, monthly women’s magazine enjoyed great popularity throughout the 20th century. It featured articles on current affairs, fiction, fashion, and picture spreads. Publication ceased in 2002 after an ill-fated attempt to rebrand itself (under the name Rosie) by teaming up with talk-show host Rosie O’Donnell.
#8 Everywoman’s Family Circle (1932 – Present) An American woman’s magazine originally distributed at Piggly Wiggly and Safeway supermarkets. Its low 10¢ price made it very affordable in 1959.
#9 Better Homes and Gardens (1922 – Present) A monthly magazine focused on interests regarding home ideas and improvement projects, cooking, gardening, crafts, healthy living, decorating, and entertaining. It remains one of the five largest circulation magazines in the United States.
#10 Good Housekeeping (1885 – Present) A monthly magazine for homemakers owned by the Hearst Corporation. It features literary articles, recipes and diet information, as well as product testing, and the ‘Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval’ awarded by the Good Housekeeping Institute.
#11 Farm Journal (1877 – Present) This monthly magazine, the largest national U.S. farm magazine, is a prime source of practical information on crops and livestock for farm families and business. It emphasizes agricultural production, technology, and policy.
#12 The American Home (1928 – 1977) A monthly magazine focusing on domestic architecture, interior design, landscape design, and gardening. Merged with Redbook in 1978.
#13 Coronet (1936 – 1971) A monthly magazine with articles on culture and the arts, adventure stories, star stories, and social advice, plus a condensed book section. Owned by Esquire Inc.
#14 Woman’s Day (1931 – Present) Aimed at a female readership, covering such subjects as food, nutrition, fitness, beauty, and fashion. Originated as a free A&P grocery store recipe planner.
#15 Redbook (1903 – Present) A monthly women’s interest and lifestyle magazine features authors like child expert Dr. Benjamin Spock and anthropologist Margaret Mead. Owned by Hearst Corp.
#16 True Story (1919 – Present) Trend-setting monthly magazine with the subtitle 'Truth is Stranger Than Fiction" offered anecdotal experiences and 'sin-suffer-and-repent' articles, purportedly true.
#17 National Geographic (1888 – Present) Created nine months after the National Geographic Society was founded in 1888, the magazine, framed in its instantly recognizable yellow cover, initially charted and photographed unknown civilizations, a visual catalog of civilizations in decline. National Geographic magazine is still the benchmark for global photojournalism.
#18 Time (1923 – Present) A weekly news magazine with a distinctive writing style in feature stories and opinion pieces. It is still recognized by its signature red border. Today, with European and Asian editions, it is the world’s largest weekly news magazine.
#19 Parents Magazine (1926 – Present) The oldest parenting publication in the U.S. is a glossy monthly, focused on women’s health, nutrition, pregnancy, and child health, safety, discipline, and education.
#20 Argosy (1882 – 1978) Began as the first American pulp magazine. It changed in 1943 to a slick men’s magazine featuring original short-stories and adventure features.
#21 Popular Mechanics (1902 – Present) Popular Mechanics was a perfect monthly magazine created at the perfect time with “written-so-you-can-understand-it” sections on automotive, home, outdoors, science, and technology topics.
#22 Photoplay(1911 – 1980) One of the first American fan magazines, it was influential in the motion picture industry and was credited with inventing celebrity media. Writers included Hedda Hopper, Walter Winchell, Sheilah Graham, Dorothy Kilgallen, and Louella Parsons. The annual Photoplay Gold Medal Award was given to the most popular film and to the most popular stars of the year as determined by a Gallup Poll.
#23 Western Family(1940s – 1959) A general interest magazine with recipes, tips, decorating ideas, and more. It targeted women in the new west and southwest.
#24 True (1937 – 1974) True, The Man’s Magazine, featured high adventure, sports profiles, and dramatic conflicts highlighted in articles, pictorials, and humor pieces.
#25 Newsweek (1933 – 2012) A weekly news magazine published in New York City with a broad spectrum of material from breaking stories and analysis to reviews and commentary. Merged with news and opinion website The Daily Beast in 2010 and published its last edition two years later.
#26 Modern Screen (1930 – 1985) A bi-monthly magazine focused on articles, pictorials, and interviews with movie and TV stars and music personalities. Covers featured full-face photos of current stars.
#27 Popular Science Monthly(1872 – Present) This magazine, with articles for the general reader on science and technology news, celebrated its 125th anniversary in 1997. PopSci continues to report on space, new inventions, science, gadgets, cars, computers, electronics, and green technology.
#28 Mechanics Illustrated (1928 – 2001) Billed as “The How-To-Do-It Magazine,” it aimed to guide readers through various home improvement, repair, and ‘build-your-own’ projects. Tom McCahill delivered monthly automobile tests.
#29 Modern Romances (1931 – 2006) A monthly magazine with articles on love and lust included novelettes and short stories as well as features about home and family.
#30 US News and World Report (1933 – 2010) A weekly news magazine published in Washington, DC with political, economic, health, and education stories.
#31 Sports Afield(1887 – Present) Founded as a hunting and fishing magazine, it is the oldest continuous outdoor publication in North America. This monthly magazine, together with Outdoor Life and Field & Stream, was one of the Big Three in American outdoor magazines. In 2003 the focus was changed to appeal to big-game hunters and adventurers.
#32 Seventeen (1944 – Present) A monthly magazine for teenagers with a positive tone and a light feel. It has beauty advice, lifestyle stories, advice columns, and nutrition columns.
#33 Playboy (1953 – Present) Photographs of nude women, especially the Playmate-of-the-Month in the centerfold, identified Hugh Hefner’s magazine that also included articles, interviews, and fiction.
#34 Holiday (1946 – 1977) One of the first American travel magazines with a million subscribers at its height.
#35 Sports Illustrated (1951 – Present) Time-Life magazine patriarch Henry Luce featured color photographs in this sports magazine. The annual swimsuit issue, begun in 1964, became a publishing event.
#36 Cosmopolitan (1886 – Present) William Randolph Hearst’s Cosmopolitan magazine had a million-plus circulation by the 1930s. But it was Helen Gurley Brown, who in 1965 single-handedly reinvented Cosmo by giving ladies something to talk about other than pot roast: sex.
#37 Esquire (1933 – Present) An illustrated men’s magazine before becoming a respected literary publication.