As some of you know, I'm interested in the life of Daisy Bacon, the editor of Street & Smith's LOVE STORY magazine. I recently purchased the August 28, 1937 issue of this enormously successful magazine and had a chance to start looking through it over the weekend.
What makes a successful romance story? Why would an editor like Daisy pick one story over another? In LOVE STORY WRITER, her book on writing for the romance pulps, Daisy says:
"To most writers, the love story appears to be the easiest and simplest of all story types to write. It revolves around an emotion which is so universally known and felt that even language is no barrier to it. Furthermore, it is a subject about which most people have some personal knowledge through their own experience in love affairs. Failing this, they can still see people all around them being attracted to each other and watch the smoothly running or stormy course of these attachments. it certainly seems that anyone who is so inclined shouldn't find it too difficult to sit down and turn out a love story. that is, provided he or she follows the routine which a writer is supposed to observe.
Yet, as is often the case with things which at first appear to be so easy on the surface, there seems to be some catch to it....Love is not a part of living that can be shut off from the rest of the world. You can't split up your life and say, "This is my love life, this is my business life, this is my social life," and so on. They are all too thoroughly bound up together and depend so much on each other.
A romantic situation and a glamorous setting, some scenes connected loosely by sentimental dialogue and constant mention of love-making do not constitute a love story; yet this is the belief held by most writers who start out to write love stories. I know, because I have read thousands of them during my editing years. I also know from the letters accompanying the manuscripts that most of these people were quite intelligent - perhaps I should say otherwise intelligent. If they went to the theatre and the playwright simply kept setting the stage with different scenes - no matter how amusing or how well acted - they would be able to see at once that he had no central theme for a play. Yet they have the fond delusion that by putting on the trimmings or dressing-up touches they have turned out a love story. The closer they are to the professional writing status, the more naive they are apt to seem about it."
That's just in the first five pages of LOVE STORY WRITER, a 167-page book on how to write romance stories. Daisy tells us quite frankly, right from the first page, that writing the romance isn't as easy as it may seem, and what constitutes a romance isn't as cut and dried as you'd think either.
"...I have given the matter a good deal of thought and I believe that these writers are not being contrary but that this is their honest conception which they have formed and which for some reason persists about writing a love story. More than any other story type, the love story is looked upon as a freak, which can be turned out without much thought or preparation. It is felt that any set of stock characters will answer the purpose as long as they fall in love and the heroine gets her ideal man or the hero wins the woman of his heart and that no matter how dull the story form, moonlight, white shoulders, and soft music will take care of that. As a matter of fact, the love story is all that any other story is - and a love story, too. The author must build up a story and create and carry on a love interest at the same time. Although the story will be motivated by the love angle, the writer can not be obvious about it and nothing will be gained by the mere repetition of love scenes if they have not already played their part in advancing the story. Here extra care must be exercised because while repetition is boring in any story, repetition of love scenes may become silly or downright ridiculous. It is not so much a question of the words of love but to what use they are put and some perfectly good love stories are written without using the word "love" at all."
So I looked at the August 28, 1937 issue of LOVE STORY with much interest.
First of all, in this issue there are two "continued novels," which are installments of serialized novels, one called "Beauty, a Novel in Six Parts, and "The Pretty One," in Eight Parts. There were no novelettes that were complete stories.
There were, however, six short stories. I read two of these over the weekend.
The first one, "Marriage of Convenience," by "Marie Hoyt," is about Chereen Andrews, who is furious that Frederick James has accused her of being a gold digger. Chereen and Freddy did date at one point. Before Freddy came along, Chereen was dating Don Andrews, a nice boy from a rich family who was hopelessly in love with Chereen. Chereen, although liking Don, never was in love with him and kept declining his many marriage proposals. So when Freddy came along, Chereen was swept off her feet. Chereen started seeing Freddy more and Don less. Don's heart was breaking, but he said nothing to Chereen.
And then Don was seriously burned in his father's foundry. Lying close to death in the hospital, Don asks Chereen in his final hours to marry him to make him happy, if only for the last few hours of his life. Chereen consents, much to the consternation of Freddy who found out later. Chereen also didn't know that Don had an enormous amount of money in his own name, which she inherited as the surviving spouse.
All this is told as backstory to Chereen's best friend Beth as Chereen tries to find a way to seek revenge on Freddy, who had exploded with rage when seeing Chereen at a party.
But Freddy James did not walk directly across the room and out through the other door. He came over and stood beside Chereen.
"Well," he said, "I see you're still able to fool some of Don's friends."
Chereen turned slowly and faced him. She wanted to keep her temper, but he said such horrible things, that it was hard.
"Don's friends all like me and understand, except you," she said.
"You mean none of them understand except me," he retorted. "None of them see through you. None of them realize that you're a cheap gold digger. I don't know how you fool them, but you do. Not one of them realizes that you're low, hard, selfish, shallow and -- "
Chereen swung her open hand to the side of his face with all the strength which anger could bring her. She didn't think of consequences; she only knew an overwhelming desire to hurt him, just as his words were hurting her.
Chereen then plans an elaborate plot to get back at Freddy. She has Beth's sweetheart Charlie come to her apartment. There, Beth takes photos of Charlie and Chereen in romantic poses, and some poses in which it appears that Charlie has tried to 'take advantage' of Chereen. Then, under false pretenses, Chereen lures Freddy to her apartment. While Freddy starts another verbal tirade against Chereen and her gold-digging ways, Beth hides behind a closet door and take photos of Freddy. Chereen, who is a photography enthusiast, then takes the photos and 'merges' them, so that Freddy's head is transposed onto Charlie's body.
Still with me?
Chereen then presents the photos to Freddy, who explodes with anger, thinking that Chereen is going to blackmail him. She has had other ideas all along, however.
"So I was right about you," he stormed. "You'd do anything for money. You'd sink to blackmail!"
They were both on their feet then.
"What do you want?" he shouted. "How much have I got to pay?"
"Frederick James," Chereen said, and she faced him, slim, straight and proud, "you've said a lot of things about me. They were all lies. I did this to show you that they were lies."
She paused, her breath coming very fast. "And I did it for this, too."
Deliberately, she took the negatives from her inside pocket, tore them once across, then threw them in Freddy's face.
Then she turned on her heel and walked out of the office.
But Chereen doesn't feel triumphant; she is just miserable. She knows, at that point, that as much as she hates Freddy, she loves him more. Later, when Freddy comes back to confess his true feelings, Chereen explains.
"You see, I was shameless. You see, I was desperate. I had to prove that I wasn't what - what you thought. My only chance seemed to be to get you where I could make you pay me money, and then let you off."
"Then - then," Freddy began incredulously, "you-you must have had some reason for wanting me to believe in you. Chereen, you don't - you can't love me?"
Chereen could only nod and whisper, "Oh, Freddy, for so very long!"
"Chereen! Dearest!" Then she was in his arms, and the sweetness of his kisses completely erased the misery of the past.
Another story, "Let's Talk It Over," by Lewis Salsburg, is a much more straightforward story, taking place in the workplace, in which the heroine, Gail, is hired over her fiance, Steve, for a management position. The fiance storms out and the heroine is forced to deal not only with a broken engagement but also a subordinate, Phillipa, who is now seeing Steve. Steve tests Gail later with a questionable errand that tests her ethical boundaries.
\Both of these stories deal with one person being tested, or being asked to 'prove' their love in various and sometimes elaborate schemes. I haven't read enough romance stories to know whether or not this is a standard or required part of a romance story.
I do know, however, that I'm going to go back and re-read LOVE STORY WRITER. Daisy's mysterious life may be only available in bits and pieces, but this book shows she was one smart cookie, no matter how simple or outlandish the stories in LOVE STORY are.
Reading these is a wonderful step back in time. I felt as if I was watching an early Joan Crawford or Claudette Colbert movie. And before we dismiss the romantic pulp, we should remember that many successful romance movies have pretty much the same skeleton for a story as the tales in LOVE STORY. The only difference is that one was produced on celluloid and one on pulp paper.
In my next post on this issue, I'll talk about one other short story, the poetry, and the regular columns.