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Pulp magazines were enormously popular from the early 1900s to the 1950s. The name "pulp" came from their coarse, tan paper, which was much cheaper to use than the smooth white pages of the "glossies" (as more expensive magazines were called). The "glossies" tended to be general interest: news, politics, home and family—like many magazines today. Pulp magazines, on the other hand, featured sensational fiction stories. At their peak, hundreds of different pulp magazines specializing in different kinds of fiction—detective, adventure, Western, science fiction, horror, romance—were published every month.

A 1938 magazine stand displaying dozens of pulps.
Photo by John Vachon, courtesy of The

Pulp Romance

In Ruby's day, girls who read romance were just as likely to pick up a magazine as a book. Love Fiction Monthly, which Angie reads in Ten Cents a Dance, was a real pulp magazine. So were Love Story, Love Book, Sweetheart Stories, Smart Love Stories, Modern Romances, True Confessions, Best Love Magazine, Romantic Love Stories, Ten-Story Love Magazine, and dozens of others.

With titles like "Her Past Pursued Her," "The Taming of Kits Van Wyck," "Lips Don't Lie," and "Shanghaied Bride," the typical story was a romance novel in miniature: girl meets boy, girl and boy fight obstacles, each other, and/or their own feelings (striking sparks all the while, of course), until—eight or ten pages later—boy proposes marriage and seals the deal with a smoldering kiss. Some of the heroines were goody-two-shoes, but others had plenty of sass and were quick with the snappy comebacks (the kind I only think of three days after I need them):

   "Do you know what happens to people who throw bricks through plate glass windows?" the tall young man in the top hat demanded sternly.
   "Naturally!" she said testily, brushing brick dust from her tan gloves. "What do you think I'm trying to do—practice my discus throw?"

—from "Love Not Intended," by Helen Hibbard Dau, Love Fiction Monthly, Sept. 1939

Romance pulp magazines from the 1930s and 1940s

It Wasn't All Fiction...

In the days before MySpace and Facebook, pen pal columns were a popular feature of many romance magazines:

If there's anything I enjoy, it's writing long letters. So come on, all you lonesome fifteen-year-old girls, let's get together. I'm also fifteen, a girl fond of swimming, dancing, and collecting novelty table napkins. I'll exchange photos, and hope to hear from everyone.
   —Love Story, December 27, 1941

I work in a Defense Plant on the night shift seven nights a week, but I would like to have some Pen Pals. I love good books to read, good shows, dancing, if it is not too fancy, and a nice program on the radio. I love my work which I would like to write about, but cannot. Pen Pals, please write to me.
   —Love Book Magazine, December 1943

Then there were the advice columns—like the one Angie reads to Ruby—dispensing wisdom on subjects such as how to deal with boys and how to be popular. And of course, there were beauty and fashion columns:
This is turning out to be one of the "dressiest" winters that we have lived through in a long time. Hard times, depressions, war, seem, on the surface, to have become mere words to most of the women one sees around town; they actually seem to be defying the "Four Horsemen," they're wearing their courage like a gay coat of armor against these war scavengers...
   —Love Story, December 13, 1941

Other Pulps

Western, Adventure, Detective, Romance...
No matter which, the more lurid the cover, the better it sold!

Everyone Still Likes a Good Story...

With the rise of television, pulp magazines lost popularity and eventually disappeared. But new generations of fans still collect and trade these sensational old stories. I scoured eBay for my little stash of 1930s-40s romance mags. And then I read them all, cover to cover. (Hey—nobody said researching a novel was easy!)

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