Sunday, July 15, 2012

"Dear Mrs. Browne"; Daisy's First Job at LOVE STORY

This is the beginning of a long essay written by Daisy Bacon in her first years at Street & Smith's LOVE STORY MAGAZINE. As far as I know it was never published. Entitled "Dear Mrs. Browne," it's about her days at her first job at LOVE STORY writing the advice column "A Friend in Need."

Probably for fear of getting into trouble should this essay ever be published, Daisy calls the magazine "Love Affairs Magazine" in this essay and says her pen name for the column was Mrs. Louise Winston Browne." In actuality the magazine was LOVE STORY, and the name used for the column was Louise Alston Brown.

Daisy started work for Street & Smith in 1926. In March of 1928 she was named editor of LOVE STORY, and the reins of "A Friend in Need" were handed over to someone else. It could very well have been her half-sister, Esther Joa Ford, who would later become assistant editor of LOVE STORY.

The essay is 24 pages long. This excerpt, the beginning of the essay, is quite colorful in its description of her offices and the sheer volume of letters she received.

"Dear Mrs. Browne" by Daisy Bacon

You ought to see my mail. You would think that I was a movie actress,a philanthropist, a millionaire, or at least a murderer. Every morning the mail trucks back right up my door and throw quantities of letters off. Most of them are addressed in longhand and the postmark from every state in the Union; all the large cities and every hick town west of the water tower.

My desk, which is a roll top model of the vintage of 1890, is always covered with disorderly piles of the country's worst and best examples in stationary. Carelessly open letters with bits of gold or gaily flowered linings hanging out of the envelopes greet me the first thing in the morning. One corner of the room in which I sit is taken up by a large wooden packing box piled halfway to the ceiling with letters. Envelopes of every size and color repose therein; red ones and orange ones which fairly cry aloud for attention, small pale blue ones, plain square white ones, yellow ones and occasionally one with a black border.

I first made the acquaintance of this pile of letters two years ago. It was in the summer time and the hot breeze coming in at the window stirred them restlessly. Every now and then a letter fluttered down from the pile and land in the center of the room with a light thud. That thud seemed to me like a cry from an anguished heart, for these for lovelorn letters and I was new at the game - of answering them. According to the name and address on the envelope, I was Mrs. Louise Winston Browne, in charge of the When You Need a Friend department of Love Affairs Magazine. Mrs. Browne was an entirely mythical person, whose name had been selected for its euphony. But she was a perfect oracle of worldly wisdom and her name went on forever – only the users of the name changed occasionally. I was the latest recruit to give up my true identity for that privilege and in return for it, I was getting $35 a week.

Later on I lost the feeling that the world would come to an end if I ceased to hand out advice, but how seriously I took my first few weeks as an adviser in affairs of the heart. I used to actually lie awake at night turning those weighty problems over in my mind and trying to think of helpful answers.

Love Affairs was a weekly magazine with a circulation of about 400,000. It was put out by one of the oldest firms of publishers in the business, who also had nine other magazines. Weeklies, semi monthlies, and monthlies, but all of the same caliber, printed on cheap paper – halftone or novel news – and with a gaudy colored cover. The policy of the magazine and the type of story we used I learned gradually. The first six months on the job, I had nothing to do with that part of the work. I was concerned only with the lovelorn letters.

We received about 75 letters a day. In the summer this number went down considerably but in the winter, when our rural readers – and they made up a good half of our circulation – couldn't get out in the fliver, it sometimes went up to 150. Every letter that came in was answered, either by mail or in the department which I conducted in the magazine. For the department we picked out the letters which had interesting problems, helpful experiences, or humorous incident. A great many people wanted an answer by mail and often the subjects were such that they couldn't be handled through the magazine anyway.

I was given no instructions by the editor as to how to answer these letters except I must never come right out and recommend divorce as a solution to a woman's problem. Further that if a person's question were very difficult or one that would take a long time to answer, it would be wise to say that the subject would be taken up in the magazine shortly. This meant that the person would probably never receive an answer, for no files were kept and as soon as you laid a letter down, it was snowed under. The editor and I belonged to different schools of lovelorn letter writers, I could see that, right from the start. She preferred to write a long chatty letter with lots of "my dears" and superlatives and expressions such as "I am sure that time will take care of your problem" sliding over a person's question and recommending stories coming in the magazine.

She said they would buy the magazine to get the stories. Perhaps so, but I had an idea and still have, that most people who wrote and asked questions were more likely to buy the magazine if they received an answer to that question. I tried to answer every question to the best of my ability and if that wasn't always the best solution, at least I never resorted to the purring, milk and water note. Although I came to the work with no special training, I think I did better than an older woman would have done on the job. For I was still young enough to have idealistic views about life, and considering the class of people we dealt with, this was a big help. Our readers had great respect for high ideals even if they didn't always understand them. And then, although we received letters from people of all ages, the majority of them came from women under 30. And being on the sunny side of 30 myself, I could better understand the hopes and despairs that feminine hearts feel with that age staring them in the face.


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Cap'n Bob said...

Good stuff, Laurie, and I anticipate more to come.

Deka Black said...

very good stuff. Always interesting to know how was the inner working of the pulps.

Walker Martin said...

Fascinating information Laurie. I hope to read the entire article someday. I notice that Daisy Bacon mentions the high circulation of LOVE STORY as being 400,000 per week.

At the Windy City Pulp convention a couple months ago, I obtained at auction a big stack of issues from the 1940's. Right now I'm reading a cartoon feature of 4 pages called, "Ann Drews, Girl Columnist".

Barry Traylor said...

This was quite fascinating Laurie. If Daisy really made $35.00 a week that was above the national average in 1926 so she was doing quite well. It also says a lot about her that only two years after starting Work at Love Story she was made the editor of the magazine. The way she described her office, etc. I could visualize it quite well.

Oscar said...

I wonder if "Mrs. Browne" and her editor ever had any big arguments about what to answer a letter writer.

Walker Martin said...

This "Dear Miss Browne" article reminds me of the series by Fred Davis in DIME DETECTIVE in the 1940's. There were 16 long novelets starring a reporter named Bill Brent. He screwed up one assignment and was reassigned by his editor to the lovelorn column where he became Lorna Lorne. His job now was to give advice to girls who had romance problems. Somehow he still managed to get involved in murder cases.

The series was written with wit and humor and has been reprinted by Battered Silicon Dispatch Box in an enormous book.

Barry Traylor said...

I asked my mother once if she read Love Story Magazine when she was young. Her reply was "no, I read a magazine called Weird Tales".
I really floored her when I told her what I was paying for them, this was in the late 1970's. She hung on to almost every thing else but not the WT's. Drat!

David Cranmer said...

Good work, Laurie. Can't wait to read more.