Happy 125th George Delacorte!

Jun 20, 2018 by

PulpFest 2018 will honor the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended the First World War. The convention will focus on the so-called “war pulps” of the early twentieth century and the depiction of war in popular culture. The first of these pulps — WAR STORIES — was published by today’s birthday boy, George Thomas Delacorte. Born on June 20, 1893 in Brooklyn, New York, Delacorte was the founder of the Dell Publishing Company.

Following his dismissal from William Clayton’s SNAPPY STORIES MAGAZINE in 1920, Delacorte began his publishing company. His first periodical was I, CONFESS, a confession pulp modeled after Bernarr Macfadden’s TRUE STORY MAGAZINE. Debuting in early 1922, it has been called “the most prominent of the confession pulps.” It lasted for over 200 issues.

Seeking to duplicate the success of I CONFESS, Dell continued to issue love-themed confessional titles over the next three years: CUPID’S DIARY in 1923, MARRIAGE STORIES in 1924and SWEETHEART STORIES in 1925. WESTERN ROMANCES came a few years later, debuting in late 1929. Over half of Dell’s total pulp output was in the love and confessional field.

In 1926, Dell swung to the other side of the spectrum with WAR STORIES, the first of the “war pulps.” Featuring authors such as Larry Barretto, Robert Sidney Bowen, Harold F. Cruickshank, George Fielding Eliot, Steuart Emery, Arthur Guy Empey, Robert H. Leitfred, Ralph Oppenheim, Alexis Rossoff, and Raoul Whitfield, WAR STORIES demonstrated that tales about soldiers in battle could sell magazines.

Fawcett Publications was next to the trough when it launched BATTLE STORIES in the fall of 1927. Although Fiction House’s WINGS came next, it was a general aviation fiction magazine along the lines of AIR STORIES, the pulp that had introduced the air genre. In the spring of 1931, WINGS would gain a new subtitle: “Fighting Aces of War Skies.” Only then would it follow ACES — another Fiction House title, introduced in late 1928 — into the skies over the Western Front.

Dell copied itself in early 1928 with two new titles: WAR NOVELS and WAR BIRDS, the first magazine in the “air war pulps” field. It was soon joined by A. A. Wyn’s FLYING ACES — published by Ace — and the previously mentioned ACES. Street & Smith would join the fray with OVER THE TOP, while Harold Hersey came on board with UNDER FIRE MAGAZINE. The field became a bit more specialized in the early months of 1929 when Dell introduced NAVY STORIES, while Ramer issued ZEPPELIN STORIES. Later that same year, Dell began offering SUBMARINE STORIES. In the spring 0f 1930, Delacorte would debut the last of his war pulps, WAR ACES.

The new kids on the block — Popular Publications and Standard Magazines — would enter the battlefield in the early thirties. Popular’s BATTLE ACES — the forerunner of the hero pulp, G-8 AND HIS BATTLE ACES — was launched during the fall of 1930. It was followed by DARE-DEVIL ACES in early 1932 and BATTLE BIRDS at the end of the same year. The Thrilling Group took off in mid-1932 with SKY FIGHTERS. About a year later, it beat Popular to the first air war hero pulp when it debuted THE LONE EAGLE with its September 1933 issue.

Most of Dell’s war titles shut down during the early years of the Great Depression. Only WAR BIRDS lasted beyond 1932. Although one can blame the rise of fascism in Europe and the early glimpses of the coming war, their demise was largely due to the increasing success of Delacorte’s non-pulp titles — BALLYHOO, INSIDE DETECTIVE, MODERN ROMANCES, MODERN SCREEN, and SCREEN STORIES — and his puzzle and activity books such as DELL CROSSWORD PUZZLES. Delacorte was also experimenting with the new comics medium, publishing a tabloid called THE FUNNIES in 1929. In 1938, Dell formed a very successful partnership with Western Publishing to finance and distribute their comic books. “Best known for its licensed material, most notably the animated characters from Walt Disney Productions, Warner Bros., Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, and Walter Lantz Studio,” the Dell/Western partnership controlled about one-third of the total comic book market at its peak during the 1950s.

In early 1942, Dell and Western also launched a paperback line. Once again, Dell provided the financing and distribution and Western offered the paper and printing. Largely consisting of genre fiction — particularly mysteries — about 25 million Dell paperbacks were sold annually by the end of the forties. Its reprinting of PEYTON PLACE in September 1957, “put Dell on the map.” In 1963, Delacorte Press was created to assure a steady stream of material for Dell paperbacks. Robert B. Parker, Irwin Shaw, Danielle Steel, and Kurt Vonnegut were some of the authors who signed with the company.

In 1971, George Delacorte sold Dell Publishing to Doubleday and retired from publishing. He died in 1991 at the age of ninety-seven.

(George Delacorte, founder of the Dell Publishing Company, was the first to demonstrate that tales of soldiers and battle could sell magazines. His WAR STORIES — introduced in 1926 — was the first of the war pulps. The magazine used some of the pulp field’s leading writers for its fiction and some of its best artists — including Julius “Jules” Erbit, who painted the cover for the March 1, 1928 issue — for its cover art. PulpFest will explore the war pulps and the depiction of war in popular culture at this year’s convention.

Although never a major player in the pulp industry, Dell would become a leading force in publishing. Its humor, crime, and movie magazines, puzzle and activity books, and comic books and paperbacks — such as Philip Ketchum’s DEATH IN THE LIBRARY (Dell Book #1) with cover art by William Strohmer — would turn Dell into a powerhouse in publishing. In later years, it became the publisher of bestselling authors Robert B. Parker, Irwin Shaw, Danielle Steel, and Kurt Vonnegut, among others.)