THE LAUGHING WALLFLOWER

A History of Breezy Stories

By Mark Lax

 


Part One: The Fifteen Year Overnight Success

Breezy Stories was one of the most successful fiction anthologies in the history of American Magazines, spanning more than three decades from 1915 until 1949. At its height in 1923, Breezy was published twice a month and may have had a circulation in excess of 700,000 copies. It is perhaps second in longevity and reach to Argosy, the much hailed science fiction magazine. During most of its existence Breezy outsold more heralded magazines such as Weird Tales, Amazing Stories and the American Mercury. Despite this, not much has been written about the history of what once was an institution in the reading life of millions.

There are several reasons for the oversight. During most of its history, Breezy was the blandly smutty sister publication to a fleet of much more racy magazines. Although it didn’t launch too many careers, some fairly famous authors wrote for it frequently. Also, it wasn’t a genre magazine. It had its own style of fiction, which it largely monopolized, but it was hardly ever considered cutting edge. The magazine spent its entire existence occupying a slightly left of the middle of the road niche that no one else seemed to want. Once it had hit upon its theme and style of presentation, it never strayed or much evolved. Moreover, Breezy is often dismissed because of its meaningless title and perceived audience. Even during its heyday, the magazine’s title was considered an afterthought. It was deliberately down market, low brow material: the impulse buy of shop girls and the subscription of working class mothers. Breezy spent most of its time on the night table, under the copy of Lady’s Home Journal.

“For several years Messrs. Nathan and Mencken have been conducting a magazine known as Smart Set, one of a group aimed more or less at the "uncivilized majority." Snappy Stories, Saucy Stories, Detective Tales, Breezy Stories, The Black Mask, Young's Magazine, have been among Smart Set's comrades in arms.”

H.L. Mencken, announcing the launch of American Mercury in the August 27, 1923 edition of Time Magazine.

Breezy occupied the same slot that Cosmopolitan does today. There are plenty of things that you might not want to try yourself, but you wouldn’t mind reading about. That said, Breezy had slightly less sex on the brain and what it presented was deliberately labeled as fiction. As for the fiction, it could be first rate and generally not the work of hacks. Unbeknownst to its readership, the laughing wallflower of the pulps was top of the food chain as far as writers were concerned. It paid better than most slicks. Only the paper was cheap. Unlike most women’s magazines, it wasn’t a shill for advertisers. It scarcely had illustrations, much less advertisements. This particular type of publisher believed that a magazine should owe its only allegiance to the people who buy it. Perhaps this is one of the distinctions which made Breezy so attractive.

For a pulp magazine, it wasn’t much of a pulp magazine. Unlike most pulps, its pages were not smeared with black and white drawings of fiends with knives or bug eyed monsters. In fact, for the most part, its interior presentation was two thick columns of type occasionally separated by a chapter title. What ads there were served as blocking spaces between stories or were crammed in a mass at the front of the magazine. And it wasn’t cheap. Breezy was always 50% more than other pulps. This money was spent on the page, on attracting writers. Each issue was jammed from cover to cover with words--and minimal white space. The only nicety the publisher splurged on was the cover, which at least initially was usually a nice painting or colored drawing. It had nothing to do with the contents, but it was nice.

Breezy had started its life as the fiction section of Young’s Magazine, which itself was the re-titled American Clubman. As American Clubman, launched in 1897, the magazine served as the chronicle for the comings and goings of New York City blue bloods—a sort of long play version of the society pages. Once it had changed its title to Young’s Magazine in 1898, the publication began soliciting submissions from the very blue bloods it had been covering. It was now a magazine about the well to do by the well to do. Perhaps because of its connections, Young’s Magazine soon enjoyed nationwide distribution. It was reviewed as a serious literary publication by all of the newspaper syndicate services.

Syndicated review of Young's Magazine from the San Antonio Daily Light February 3, 1907.


One need not be extra critical to deny admiration for the taste which prompted the cover illustration for the February Young's Magazine. As the magazine gives no pictures in the book, its readers seem entitled to something better on the outside.

"The Detrimental" Is a long "short story" by Julien Gordan—who is known in private life as Mrs. Van Ransellar Cruger, the azure of whose blood is almost navy blue. It is so, so deep! She is a brilliant, talented woman who really can write, so it is a pity she should content herself with giving us a diluted compromise between Ouida and "The Author of Dora Thorne."

It is telling that the reviewer is noting the author’s pedigree as opposed to her craftsmanship. Many of the reviews went along the lines of “Gosh, I am so glad that you are rich. If only you could write.” Young’s Magazine had a reputation for being something of a vanity press.

It was, however, a start. The ‘Breezy Stories’ fiction section gradually abandoned its haughty tone and slowly evolved a new editorial direction. Gothicism was banned outright. No fantastic tales. No witty turns of phrase. All fiction was to be contemporary, realistic and told in a plain manner. Finally and most importantly: no pretense. Get over yourselves. This list of thou shalt nots seems to have had the desired effect. The Breezy Stories section soon proved to be the most popular part of Young’s Magazine.

The publisher made one final alteration right before launching Breezy Stories out of Young’s: he kicked out the blue bloods. Breezy Stories, started in 1915, would be for the plebeians. It was to be about things which could possibly happen to normal people. Piggybacking upon Young’s Magazine, Breezy Stories enjoyed national distribution from the onset. Like Young’s Magazine, it was initially treated as a serious literary magazine. Unlike Young’s Magazine, it received fairly good reviews. In places it was lauded as a literary movement unto itself. It was an immediate hit.

Breezy’s publisher Courtland Hunter Young was born in 1876 in New Orleans, where he was also educated. Prior to embarking on a career in magazines, he had two novels published, both positively critically reviewed. He seems to have been the sole editorial voice of American Clubman, which he started at the age of 21 and may have also been the primary writer for the later Droll Magazine.

Courtland Hunter Young

Breezy was part of an evolution in Young’s line. Having spent ten years publishing a magazine for the elites by the elites, Young began to broaden the appeal of his titles to embrace the vast middle of the market. The second magazine that Young started after American Clubman was Yellow Book. Yellow Book was a thick publication whose cover resembled that of a standard women’s magazine. Despite this difference in presentation, its contents were exactly the same as Young’s Magazine. The apparent success of this simple re-branding is what seems to have been the impetus for the creation of Breezy, which was down market from the get go.

At first Yellow Book was physically made from coverless returned copies of Young’s Magazine—and later other magazines. It was always very thick, usually running in excess of 300 pages. Yellow Book was issued without a cover date and may have been one of the first stand alone series of anthologies to do this. It was Yellow Book, which started five years before Breezy Stories and ended in 1949, that was this publisher’s longest running title.

Young’s Magazine and Yellow Book were successful, but it was the release of the more broadly appealing Breezy that put the Courtland Young over the top. Like most overnight successes, it had taken him fifteen years. Young was soon quite wealthy and not just a tad famous. When the papers wanted to cast him in a good light, he was described as a capitalist. In the parlance of the time this meant that he was new money, a self made man. When the news turned against him, as it often did, he was simply denoted as the “wealthy publisher of Breezy Stories.” In fact, it was Breezy Stories that was the source of his fame. Without it, he was just another rich guy.

Breezy Stories was not the end of Courtland Young’s publishing ventures. By the time he started American Clubman, the New York men’s club world had been in steep decline for decades. It was a remnant of the long faded Gilded Age. Contemporary nightlife had become democratized. The average New Yorker was no longer spending time at class-based social clubs, but rather at the open to all music halls. By 1915 he had turned a portion of Young’s Magazine to covering the emerging jazz scene. Again, his senses were on target and in 1917 he launched Droll Stories.

Droll was no Breezy Stories, but it did fine. Young seems to have made a deliberate decision to have his publications be distinct from each other. Droll in no way resembled Breezy Stories or even Young’s Magazine, the publication from which it was liberated. Unfortunately it resembled Punch, which resembled Judge, which also resembled several other publications in an already crowded field. That it was specific to the jazz scene did make it distinct, but it was hardly the bible of the era. In truth, no magazine of the time was. The jazz age only became romanticized after it had faded away. Not that there is anything wrong with a pulp magazine that has a ten year run.

After having launched Droll, he turned his attention back to reinventing Young’s Magazine, which at this point had twice been the victim of having everything remotely interesting about it surgically removed. His next experiment did not stray far from the jazz scene. As opposed to reporting on events, his new section would focus on fiction about the people that populated this world. Specifically, as was his want, he focused on the women. Young became enamored by the cult of the flapper. His new section was called ‘Snappy Stories’. In this feature he intended to unleash the pens of these modern era inheritors of the suffragette movement.

The world would no doubt tremble at what this new crop of proto feminists threw down.

Sort of. As opposed to social manifestos of female empowerment, the flappers sex blogged. All funk! All the time! It was very popular, and within months, Snappy Stories sprung from Young’s Magazine’s loins—after which Young’s Magazine was again fumigated.

Snappy Stories did better than Breezy had. It became the rising tide which floated all pulp boats. Soon the entire pulpwood world was ablaze in girls smut. Much of it, it should be said, completely abandoned Young’s ideal of realism.The women’s sex fantasy magazine was born and soon subdivided into several genres.

Above we see the humor magazine Judge poking fun at the tide of girl-ploitation magazines it was no doubt sharing newsstand space with.Despite Judge’s judgment, many treated the movement quite seriously, as Elizabeth Ramos, Editor of Saucy Stories, writing in the The Bee of Danville on February 3, 1923 explains"Sex stories are not, as many people think, cheap and smutty. People will get over this idea in time. In literature people today are demanding directness, frankness, truth. They are crying—at least the younger generation is—for life, more life, life as it is."

"I presume that a psychoanalyst would say all love stories are sex stories. I am sorry to find that some think them objectionable.

Elizabeth Ramos

"As the editor of a so-called sex magazine, I think of the sex story as one that treats love from the realistic, rather than the romantic angle.

"Realism has vivified the arts and Crafts of today……This demand naturally enters the Fiction magazine field. The more [establishment] magazines do not dare jeopardize their circulation and advertising [with] dangerous experiments. They do not understand their public, and they take no sporting chances; they stick to the sturdy old themes.”

"It is the modern sex magazine that the writer with a novel and beautiful experiment will receive a warm welcome, and it is here only that he will get a public.”

Some people, specifically some women, were not so enamored of the trend. Canadian women, having just received the right to vote and stand for parliament, made an effort to curtail the importation of American pulp magazinesa feature of their first day’s business in elected office."These magazines," she said, "may he classified; publications such as Snappy Stories, Breezy Stories ect. They contain immoral or silly stories which do not give the safe and sane view of life necessary to good citizenship… We want them banned.” (Lethbridge Daily Herald June 17, 1921)

That this newly minted MP can only name Young’s magazines is not an oversight on her part. They were the big hitters. Not only were they popular in Canada, but by 1921 they had jumped the pond and were selling well in England. In fact, Breezy remained a staple on London bookstalls for the remainder of its run.

If Mr. Young was hanging his head in shame, he was doing so from his snazzy new eight story headquarters overlooking

New York’s Washington Square.

Of course, not all of the fantasy sex magazines were targeted at women. It was sort of a unisex movement. Its code words included Spicy, Saucy, Gay, Snappy and Confessions. Originally these words meant something specific. ‘Snappy’ meant the story was short, over the top and usually had a gag imbedded in it. It’s a long dirty joke. (This was not true of Young’s pulps.) ‘Spicy’ was a borderline rape fantasy, usually wrapped in an adventure genre trapping. ‘Saucy’ meant lots of groping. ‘Gay’, believe it or not, was supposed to denote a story with a sexually aggressive female. The confessions magazines were the most formalized, generally dealing with the trade of sexual favors for a material promise that turns out to be false. Eventually, the code words came to mean nothing whatsoever, inasmuch as most of them were randomly jammed on shop worn genre words such as Mystery, Horror, Detective or Western.

With the proliferation of Snappy, Spicy, Saucy, Pep and Peppy, it made Breezy seem as if it was the Sneezy of the seventy dwarfs of the girl-ploitation pulps, although it was actually considerably more staid. That is not to say that Breezy escaped being dragged down with the trend. Young had Breezy’s covers tarted up and, as time went on, allowed sexual content within its pages. It did not abandon its mandate of focusing on normal people--and not taking itself too seriously. Even it’s racier sister Snappy Stories was about arguably normal people, although they were normal goof balls. Eventually Snappy Stories dropped the damned serious tone in its sex blogging and essentially became Breezy’s slightly more funny and slutty twin.

Without budging too many inches, Breezy came to dominate a trend that it was not really participating in. It could  even be said that it differentiated itself by being deliberately less risqué—a wallflower laughing at the passing scene as opposed to a true tramp, like its sister Snappy Stories. Its sales doubled. As opposed to simply proliferating titles, as most publishers would, Young had the frequency of both Breezy and Snappy Stories increased to twice a month.

What seems to have happened is that the explosion of girl pulps had brought in a lot of new readers. Once women got used to buying pulp magazines in the first place, they gradually gravitated to the ones of better quality. In the end, most of the survivors of the trend did their best to clone Breezy.

Which is not to say that Young ignored the boom in the overall new readership of the pulps. He launched two other magazines which seem to have been attempts to use the girl fantasy trappings. One was Snappy, which is not to be confused with Snappy Stories--for a time both a separate magazine as well as the service mark for Young’s Magazine. My histories indicate that this is not Young’s, however it identifies itself as part of Member Newsstand Group, which is as close to an imprint as he ever allowed. Snappy seems to have been a re-branding of the former Droll and yet another swipe at the market dominated by Judge and Film Fun. (It even used Film Fun’s cover artist and on this cover seems to be taking a direct swipe at Judge.)

The other was Live, short for ‘Live Wire Fiction’, a Breezy Stories service mark. This was actually Young’s first and only attempt to launch a pure genre fiction magazine.

In the pulp world magazine titles and service marks were often ‘swapped’ between publishers. A certain set of these pulp producers seemed to live in a trademark-free and copyright-free universe. Courtland Young was not a part of that universe. He extensively registered and defended his trademarks and copyrights.Unlike other pulp publishers, he wasn’t operating on a shoe string. Any magazine using his band names or service marks are likely to be his.

And he was quite used to being in court.

CourtlandH. Young, one of the owners of Young's Magazine, Breezy Stories and The Yellow Book, published by the C. H. Young Publishing company of New York was this afternoon held on bail of $10OO for trial in the Court of Common Pleas on a serious charge preferred by Miss Ann J. Porter, an actress who alleges that Young is the cause of her condition. He denies responsibility.

The story brought out in the hearing was that Miss Porter and Young met at the Cafe Beaux Arts in New York on May 8 last and that, in jest, as she put it, she accepted his invitation to come to his place in Newfield Avenue here after they had made a round of New York cafes and restaurants…

…Miss Porter testified that she remained at Young's place here until August 16…

…She also testified that she met him by appointment at a New York hotel, after leaving him. Mrs. Conwell was with her, she said, and the meeting resulted in another round of cafes, the party finally (breaking) up at Mrs. Conwell's apartment where Young and Mrs. Conwell had a row.

Miss Porter says she engaged a taxi and took Young to Stamford in it. The charge was $18, she said, and Young refused to pay it. She gave a diamond braclet to the taxi driver as security for the money. She claims the braclet was never returned to her.

During the cross examination today it transpired that Miss Porter had been intimate with two other men whose names she refused to mention. One of them, referred to as "Harry," is a member of one of the "finest families in the country," her counsel, Mr. Phillips, told the court. "Harry" was in the naval reserves at PelhamBay, it appeared in the testimony, during part of Miss Porter's stay at the Young place here.(Bridgeport Telegram October 3, 1918)

Miss Ann Porter’s ‘condition’ is pregnancy. Back in the day, you could be thrown in jail on paternity charges. At the time, such cases were generally decided by circumstantial evidence. As a defendant, Courtland Young has several good strategies available to him.

This… is not one of them.

Testimony of a “breezy” nature was heard in Common Pleas courtside when Courtland H. Young publisher of Young’s Magazine and Breezy Stories took the witness stand to tell of his relations with Ann Porter, who is suing him for the support of her child.

The defendant, a man of 43 years said he first met the plaintiff in a New York café about a year ago while dining with a male friend. Miss Porter was dining at another table with Miss Conwell at the time and, after a flirtation Young said he made the acquaintance of the plaintiff and later she was a guest at his home in Stamford.

She remained so long at his home he said that he became impatient with her and a certain man known to the defendant as “Harry”. {This man) held telephone conversations regularly with {Miss Porter). She called Harry a dear child and said he was interested (only) in other men during the time he was in her company.

Young also told the court that on one occasion while on a taxi ride with Misses Porter and Conwell he was assaulted by his companions and so badly scratched about the face that he was ashamed to appear in public. He denied that he was intoxicated at the time.

Miss Porter denied Young’s statements in rebuttal. (Bridgeport Standard-Telegram April 9, 1919)

Courtland’s claim is that the fetching Miss Porter was a mere guest at his home from May 8th until August 16th. If someone got her pregnant it must have been this “Harry” fellow. Miss Porter claims that Harry is a homosexual. Although she did have sex with him. And maybe some other guy.

In the end, the judge seems to have sided with the law of averages.

Young should have learned something from this fiasco. He didn’t. This is the first of many newspaper appearances Young will make outside of the society section.Usually, however, coverage focused on his business dealings.

Courtland H. Young leased the entire five-story building at 430 Columbus avenue, on a lot 25 by 130. The lease is for a term of twenty-one years, at a total rental of $250,000. The lessee is the Wilder Development Company, Inc., which will make extensive alterations to the property. Heil Stern were the brokers in the transaction.

Young had diversified his businesses to include the ownership of commercial real estate. Diversification can be a fantastic way to go broke. Young had good timing and the assistance of hard working, talented and scrupulously honest siblings. By most accounts, Courtland Young was a generous and generally law-abiding man. He was the best of the lot as far pulp publishers were concerned: never cheating writers or business partners. His reputation as a business man was absolutely golden. Unlike other pulp publishers, his business was never in any financial jeopardy. He also seems to have been close to his family, whom he set up in various ventures. He was not, however, without vices. To put it mildly, he liked to drink. Young had a long record of alcohol related convictions. He also had a reputation for chasing chorus girls. These two bad habits would lead to his undoing.

While Breezy, Snappy Stories, Snappy, Live and his other publications were going great guns, Young again turned his attention to reinventing Young’s Magazine. His new mantra was ‘Realistic Stories’. At first, it seems a turn at Big Lie Newsfiction—to fictionalize news accounts. He also seems to be attempting to in some way romanticize the business world, sort of Art of the Deal meets Gone With the Wind. Mostly what it amounted to was banishing the sex, at least from Young’s.

As odd of a concept as romanticizing business dealings may seem, Mr. Young was the David Bowie of the pulp world and several other publishers followed him down this rabbit hole. Having counted the numerous unsold copies, most got out of it rather quickly. Young never gave up on the concept.

Beyond playing with the contents of Young’s Magazine, he also began futzing with the look of his entire line. He started experimenting with photographic covers. (He had been using paintings which were little more than painted over black and white photographs for years.) In fits and starts, he played with the idea of homogenizing the look of his entire line, something most pulp publishers did, but then abandoned it. In the end, he decided to just go with painted pin up art on the entire line. ‘Buy the best pin up girls you can’ seems to have been his new motto.

He was also allowing genre fiction to slowly seep into Breezy. What he seems to be doing is slotting the best stories, no matter what they were, into Breezy. It is my belief that he was anticipating a shake out in the sex trend and didn’t want his best seller so firmly wedded to it. If that was the case, he was right. Even his sex pulps came to have less sex in them. Eventually he appears to have viewed his line up as a pyramid, with Breezy at the top, Young’s and Snappy Stories occupying the second level and Live and Snappy/Droll taking up the bottom tier.

Not that things went exactly according to plan. The ‘Realistic Stories’ trend had succeeded in sinking the circulation of Young’s Magazine. As opposed to canceling it, he killed off his second best seller Snappy Stories and folded it back into Young’s Magazine. (My feeling is that he didn’t have the heart to kill Young’s.) For the remainder of its incongruous existence, it would bear the title ‘Snappy Stories Young’s Magazine Realistic Stories’. Live, which had started as the novel section of Breezy, and the always changing Snappy were now fairly much sex free. Oddly, his only sex magazine was now Young’s—a full circle reversal of editorial direction.

Perhaps he was distracted.

The good news is, you’re in Time Magazine. The bad news is:

Monday, Jul. 23, 1923 Time Magazine

Sued for separation. Courtland H. Young, 48, publisher of Young's Magazine, Breezy Stories, The Yellow Book, Droll Stories, by Mrs. Dorothea Rosabelle Young, 21. She charged cruelty and habitual intoxication.

Part Two: Beauty. Money, Marriage—Alimony, Trouble.