A Publishing Empire

physical culture magazine When Macfadden returned to New York City from Europe in 1915, he picked up where he had left off with his publishing business and health crusade. Physical Culture Magazine was doing quite well but not so well that Macfadden did not have to work very hard to keep everything going financially.

True Story magazine The Big Break
In 1919, something occurred which changed the whole picture. For quite some time readers of Physical Culture magazine had been sending letters which told their personal stories about overcoming difficulties. The decision was made to publish these stories (with the writers' permission, of course) in a new magazine. The first issue of the new magazine called "True Story" hit the newstands May, 1919 and attracted immediate attention because the articles in this magazine were all supposed to be true accounts of love and disappointment and were said to be written by real people, not by paid writers. Actually, because the average person lacked the writing skills, submitted stories had to be rewritten - a time-consuming task. In fact, most of the stories were fiction submitted by professional writers. (CLICK HERE to peek inside an early issue.) By 1923, "True Story" was the largest newsstand seller with 300,000 in sales. By 1926, the sales had skyrocketed to 2 million!

"True Story" spawned a number of other top-selling Macfadden magazines such as: True Romances, Dream World, True Ghost Stories, Midnight, Dance, True Detective, Photoplay, etc., etc.

Macfadden became the most successful publisher of magazines in history. He was the first magazine publisher to establish a large, loyal readership. His circulation numbers were the highest in the industry exceeding even the publications of William Randolph Hearst. He truly revolutionized the publishing industry. Virtually overnight Macfadden's net worth increased astronomically. By 1924 at age 56 he had become a multi-millionaire. With the amount of money coming in from publishing, Macfadden did not have to worry about contacting a Los Angeles bankruptcy attorney anytime soon. The magazine industry was extremely successful for him.

At first glance, the "confession" magazines that Macfadden published may seem to be out of character for a man who championed natural health methods. However, above all else, Macfadden was dedicated to presenting the truth - to stripping away all pretensions, artifices, and hypocracies. The goal of these magazines was to show people as they really were - to give people what they were really interested in - they reflected the topics that were part of the average person's everyday conversation and gossip.

One socially redeeming aspect of his publications was the effect of magazines such as "True Detective" and "Master Detective." These magazines (forerunners of TV's "America's Most Wanted") had a real impact on reducing vice and other criminal activities. Also because they are records of actual events, they have tremendous historical value today.

Important Business Associates
Macfadden applied old-fashion Scotch-Irish business sense to running his publishing business. He knew how to delegate responsibilty, and he was skillful at hiring just the right people to fill the key positions. One such person was Fulton Oursler (right) who was a master at writing copy and short "teaser" captions which appeared on the covers of the magazines. He was the Supervising Editor and oversaw nearly all the publications and was the chief editor of the highly-respected Liberty Magazine which Macfadden had purchased. Oursler, who later wrote the bestselling book, The Greatest Story Ever Told, following a religious conversion, was a writer and playwright - a very literate and cultured man. He was also an amateur magician and friends with a number of famous, professional magicians such as Houdini and Howard Thurston. It was Oursler's idea to publish the popular "Ghost Story" Magazine.

In contrast to Oursler, Macfadden, did not enjoy "high-brow" culture. Nevertheless, they were the closest of friends. In 1929 Oursler authored a biography of Macfadden, and in 1951, after he had moved on to become the editor of Reader's Digest, he wrote an article about Macfadden titled "The Most Unforgettable Character I've Met." Unfortunately, Oursler did not take care of his health and died that same year at age 59. Click here to see Oursler's article.

Macfadden's true "right-hand man" was Orr J. Elder who went to work for Macfadden in 1904 initially in the position of business manager. He remained with Macfadden Publications for forty years working under various titles including vice-president and eventually president. He was a genial man and highly respected. When Macfadden relinquished his holdings in Macfadden Publications in 1941, it was Elder who took the reins.

Another person that had played a significant role in Macfadden's success as a publisher was John Coryell, who had written hundreds of articles for Physical Culture under his own name and frequently under various pseudonyms. Coryell was the original author of the Nick Carter detective stories.

Milo Hastings, pictured here as he looked in 1929 (photo courtesy of his grandson, Roger Taft), was a prolific writer who held the title "Food Editor" for Physical Culture Magazine. He wrote regular articles on food and nutrition and was also the main writer of Macfadden's "Physical Culture Cookbook." Although Macfadden is credited as the author of the cookbook, it was Milo Hastings who actually wrote it.

Ways to prepare nutritious, natural foods were explained. One of the main themes was the importance of using whole wheat flour instead of refined, white flour. Hastings wrote stories for other Macfadden publications and is primarily recognized today for his work as a science fiction writer.

Innumerable other well-known writers and celebrities wrote articles which appeared in Macfadden magazines. The British playwright, George Bernard Shaw, was a close friend and had written articles for Physical Culture. Another devoted follower of Macfadden was the writer, Upton Sinclair.

macfadden magazines
Macfadden magazines

macfadden publications building
Macfadden Publications (the Goelet "garage" building) at 1926 Broadway, New York City
- still standing today. Some have proposed it be named an historical landmark.

macfadden at work
Bernarr Macfadden at work in his office
Notice how messy the desk is. At that time, this was considerd the mark of a busy man.

macfadden newspapers Newspapers
In addition to books and magazines, he also published several newspapers. These were mostly existing newspapers that he purchased in several cities. His most notable newspaper, one that he founded, was a tabloid titled "The New York Evening Graphic."

New York Evening Graphic newspaper

This newspaper is remembered today for its eye-catching headlines and the way it embellished the news to make more interesting stories. It was designed to appeal to the masses and often featured stories involving sex and sensationalism. Macfadden said that his goal was to break new ground and publish a newspaper that was not "high-brow" like most of the other newspapers but would speak the language of the average person. It was originally going to be titled "Truth." In many ways the style of this newspaper anticipated the Jerry Springer style of TV talk shows and the "National Enquirer" type of supermarket tabloid of today.

It was nicknamed the "Evening Pornographic" by its critics. It is studied in Journalism classes today because it was the first to perfect the use of what Macfadden called "composographs" which were photographs where the faces of famous people were superimposed on the bodies of actors posed in "re-enactment" scenes. By using "composographs," the "Graphic" was able to show events that other newspapers did not show. The critics branded this newspaper "trash journalism." Click here to see examples of this newspaper.

The "Graphic" was popular with impressive sales in the 100,000's. Macfadden was right - it did appeal to the average person. However, it always operated in the red, because it had difficulty attracting the kind of commercial advertising that is necessary to make a newspaper really profitable. The reason is clear; many traditional businesses were afraid that advertising in the "Graphic" might adversely effect their public images.

Inspite of the financial losses, Macfadden was convinced that the "Graphic" spoke the language of the common man, and it was worth the investment and effort to turn it into a financial success. He even hired some top newspaper people to work for him. These included the young Walter Winchell and Ed Sullivan. The "Graphic" lasted from 1924 to 1932. Macfadden had lost over $10 million trying to make it a success. The Graphic is an example of where Macfadden let his convictions overpower his business sense. In many ways, the demise of this newspaper was a harbinger of more troubles to come.

CONTINUE

INTRODUCTION || EARLY YEARS || WEAKNESS - A CRIME || PERFECT WOMAN - PERFECT FAMILY || HEALTH CRUSADER || FAME - FORTUNE - FOLLY - FAILURE || FINAL YEARS || RESOURCES-LINKS-MACFADDEN STUFF


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