Saturday, 25 January 2014

Profile of Arthur S. Hoffman, Adventure magazine editor, from 1920

We now recognize Arthur S. Hoffman’s work in making Adventure one of the foremost pulp magazines. What did contemporaries think of him? To find out, read this article that originally appeared in Advertising and Selling magazine, April 3, 1920.

 


The Men and Women Who Make Our Mediums
ARTHUR SULLIVANT HOFFMAN

 

One of a Series of Informal Visits with the Leading American Editors and Publishers with the Object of Interpreting What They Mean to Advertisers

By
RUSSELL E. SMITH

 

WHEN a magazine editor gets so close to his readers that he opens more mail daily per circulation total than any other in America; when he is “called in” on the human problems of his readers, ranging from betrothals to burials; when the fiction he chooses is used by a New York City educator to supplement text books for his life class in geography—the man who for ten years has held his office and his medium up to that point is well worth telling about. He is the subject of this article: Arthur Sullivant Hoffman.

He started life as a teacher—that is, after he had gotten through such trifling matters as being born, raised and educated—and he probably will finish as one. He discovered early that he could teach more people and to a better purpose, perhaps, in some other way than within the circumscribed four walls of a school room, and became a Chautauquan; assisted in editing their magazine, The Chautauquan, for a year and rapidly progressed by stages through the sacred sanctums of the Smart Set, Watson’s, Transatlantic Tales and The Delineator. He also halted by the way to own partly and run a newspaper in Troy, Ohio.

In 1910, however, he set sail as skipper of the good ship, Adventure, and, the owners having given him a free hand at the helm, he has steadily voyaged on, with his loads of good things in fiction. The ports he has entered and cleared have been many and varied.

Hoffman has made Adventure what it is mainly by—to shift the metaphor a bit—being a good tailor. He cut it to fit. He had learned that there was a pretty well defined audience for real adventure stories, written by men who had “been there” and knew whereof they wrote, and he supplied the goods to the measure of his readers.

 

HIS READERS ALL FRIENDS

 

But what has contributed more than anything else to the success of Adventure and Hoffman has been his intense “humanness,” that sacred something that shines out from his letters and his person, urging friends, acquaintances and correspondents to trust him implicitly with all sorts of personal affairs, which they call on him to settle. And they do not call in vain.

The things Hoffman knows about his readers and writers would fill a book many times the size of the bound volumes of Adventure, these ten years old. He gets closer to his readers and authors than many other editors today and to be able to do that, especially with the varied classes of readers of his publication, is to do something considerably worthwhile. When it is known that his readers range from cowboys to teachers, from sailors to soldiers, from hoboes to highbrows, it is saying a “mouthful” when we declare that Hoffman is “with them.”

A man must be many kinds of a man; a square man and a sympathetic man, to be able to do all that; to give his time to it and never to “lay down” on a request or a favor or a good turn to his large and ever-growing family.

A reader in Florida wants to know what the chances are of employment or Adventure or hunting in a far off outpost of the Malay Peninsula. Hoffman’s “Ask Adventure” department tells him all about it. Another in China wants to settle in Maine or shoot ducks in Texas. Again he takes his troubles to Adventure and they are settled for him. From all the world across come requests, pleas, questions; all for the man behind the desk in the Butterick Building to sift and reply to, to advise and help. Get that “help”? The helping hand is Hoffman’s only one, when it comes to these far-wandering friends of Adventure.

Hoffman just gathered up his personality and plumped it right down on the clean white pages of his magazine. Not half-heartedly but wholly did he do this; frankly and openly he told his readers what was what and told them to come to HIM. People like people; they would much rather pick up a magazine that had a “human” in it and back of it—that was human all the way through— than just a batch of paper with black marks on it. Results in circulation, circulation that is a profit whether there is any advertising or not—seem to tell whether Hoffman was the right sort or not.

He is not the sort of person the average outsider thinks an editor is. He lets down the bars and refuses to allow the idea to gain credence that an editor is a sort of superior being behind carefully shuttered windows and barred doors, with secretaries who guard him from contact with rude human beings. Anybody can get to this editor regardless; he won’t stay long if he hasn’t anything to say, but he gets in, anyhow. Hoffman shows his readers about behind the scenes and tells them what makes the wheels go around. He not only does that; he gets their advice and FOLLOWS it. His magazine is founded on what his readers want. Supplying the demand is his rule of editing. “Our magazine” is what the readers call it.

 

SOME ORIGINAL IDEAS

 

As to the humanness that Hoffman puts into the magazine; that is an easy thing to do, although so many editors miss it somehow. Hoffman is able to because he REALLY LIKES his readers; and they like him. That’s the whole secret. By his personality he has made Adventure much more than a fiction magazine; it has become a trade journal, a real magazine of service to the readers of the world and the unofficial organ of an unorganized organization with a membership running into the hundreds of thousands. The original American Legion was founded by Hoffman through the Camp Fire department of the magazine, where adventurers and likers of their adventures meet informally twice a month, rise up and say “howdy” to their friends and tell of their lives and experiences. It was later turned over to the government and reorganized into its present state. Hoffman picked its name.

Hoffman had his struggles, as do all of us with a new proposition, but so far as getting and holding its clientele was concerned it “went” from the start. His first struggle was to get across his idea of using covers for the magazine that were not like the sort used on most of the magazines seen on the stands; he wanted to “scrap” the pretty girls and use plenty of white space, clean of type. It was objected that not to use the covers was waste of good advertising space. Finally the editor won his battle and the covers of Adventure since have been free of summer girls and focused to strong figures on a clean background where the eye could get the one thing wanted put over and nothing else.

Arthur S. Hoffman, Editor, Adventure Magazine c. 1920
Arthur S. Hoffman, Editor, Adventure Magazine c. 1920


Another cover ambition of his was to use a black background—a black cover, in fact, with a figure superimposed. Of course that almost busted up the party! Glooms were prognosticated, but Hoffman got his black covers and, as before, they made a hit and have been much used since. Magazine readers, I am sure, owe Hoffman a vote of thanks for saving them from the old time girl covers—on HIS magazines, at any rate.

Hoffman insists that being allowed to make the editing of Adventure a one man job is what has made it a conspicuous success and in a class by itself. Of course, he says, it would have been just as much of a success if that one man had been someone else, but then, it happened to be Hoffman, and that is all that concerns us.

Hoffman is a great hand at listening and taking advice. He knows that such a course is necessary to success. But he also believes and insists upon making the final decisions and shaping his course on the chart of life himself; he recognizes that this may result in mistakes but that the final results will be better than if several had a hand in it, with no one man able to make good on it because of the others.

 

GIVEN A FREE HAND

 

It was because Mr. Gannon, when he became president of the firm publishing Adventure, gave Hoffman a free rein, that its standing of today was made possible. A skipper can do little unless given more or less leeway—the more the better the sailings.

Since getting Adventure well on its way Hoffman has been given another and somewhat similar job to do. He has started a new magazine—Romance, on its way. Romance is to be to lovers and livers of romance what Adventure has been to lovers and livers of adventure, if Hoffman has his way—and in the light of his career the public may hold high hope.

On its covers Hoffman is at his old trick of getting something new in the color line; he is using a panel or picture at the side of the cover and all the rest left plain space except for authors’ names.

Another reason for Hoffman’s success is his uprearing Americanism. This quality is perhaps best gleaned from his own words to his writers during America’s participation in the European war.

“Whenever you find a real chance in a story for Adventure put patriotism in it. Don’t preach, teach or sermonize. Don’t sacrifice a story in order to get patriotism into it. But when you see a real opportunity to plant the germ of it in a story or, better still, to write a story around it, please seize that opportunity.

“I don’t mean Fourth of July patriotism, the wild waving of the Flag, the claim that we are the noblest, etc., because we are the noblest, etc. Nor only the kind of patriotism that war brings forth. Least of all do I mean the lying, distorted bunk we get out of our school histories.

“I mean the patriotism that is obligation, service, duty, loyalty, that is found in both peace and war, that puts country before self and serves without reward. By “country” I mean less a geographical division than the principles the country embodies and stands for, perhaps less the nation as a unit than the people who compose that unit. I mean the even-eyed, relentless patriotism that sees only a Benedict Arnold in the Congressman whose vote on his country’s affairs is swayed by personal or political reasons, in the Army officer whose personal interests or personal likes and dislikes determine which war-tool he recommends; in the city or county official who, even in minor matters, serves any interest or cause whatsoever other than the public welfare. The name of Benedict Arnold has been accursed for more than a century, yet the money he received for betraying his country was fully as honorable as is the “pork” grabbed by a present-day Congressman for himself or his constituents; or the fifty-cent piece grafted by a deputy county clerk. Of the two, Benedict Arnold is the better man, for at least he had courage, thought he had a grievance and risked his life on the event. 'I believe this with my whole heart and have no choice.’ ”

No further words of mine are necessary. He is not content with feeling these things himself he must pass them on to the rest of us who need them sorely. To the youth, aged and elders, of America he has been striving to inculcate in us a great knowledge, and thorough knowledge: love of America.

Hear what he told his writer friends on this subject some time ago.

 

ANTIPATHY TO HISTORICAL “SOP”

 

“Don’t you think that, in these formative years, it would help a little if the American people had their interest revived in America’s past—in the men and deeds that have built up the nation now entrusted to our hands? Would this not help build up the nation’s morale? Native-born Americans have reacted against the sugar-coated school histories. Yet even the most sophisticated of us can get inspiration from America’s past if rightly presented. And our foreign-born, God knows, are too little familiar with our country’s history and traditions.

“We know the years following the war will be a critical stage in our country’s development. Won’t there be need of every possible factor working toward good ?

“How much educative and propaganda power do you credit to fiction stories? They seem to me a tremendous force for good or evil, and one that is too much overlooked. If you try to preach to a man—well, most people don’t like to be preached to. But tell him a story. He likes stories. And he listens in a non-argumentative frame of mind. You can tell him lots of things in a story that he wouldn’t listen to in any other way.

“There is the whole case. Don’t you see decided value and service in writing fiction stories that make readers more familiar with the past that is part of our future; that give them good traditions and good examples to live up to; that show how our civilization has been hewn out of the wilderness and that a thing worth such blood and sweat is worth maintaining and bettering?

“Recently a writer wrote me he liked Adventure because it was the only magazine with the policy of presenting in its stories the development of America. For years I’d particularly sought stories of America’s past, as you know, but it took that letter to make me see the full possibilities.

Adventure is not going to change its character and it will keep on buying all the kinds of stories it has been buying, but from now on it will do its best to set forth, in fiction, the development of America. It wants the “making of America” stories. And America has been making for at least 400 years and in many thousands of ways.

“Not fiction made dull with history, but history made interesting, alive and inspiring through fiction. Not history decimated to mere color, but, so far as it is used at all, accurate and illuminating.”

“By their deeds shall ye know them”—so by Arthur S. Hoffman's intense Americanism, by his ability to get close to people, he has built up a medium that has done its very great “bit” in welding many people together all over the world.

If a man may be said to be known by the company he keeps, then Arthur Hoffman is a many-sided person, and just so much as he imbibes the good qualities of those he knows so intimately by reason of his editorial position, just so much more he is enabled to give of himself to those people the good that is in him.

For the rest, he lives in White Plains, N. Y., and when he can steal a moment from his multitudinous duties he loses himself in the great romance and adventure that is found on his little farm, in digging into Mother Earth and making things grow out of her.

3 comments:

  1. As this profile points out, Hoffman had a close relationship with many of the readers. The Campfire letter column is still very readable even today almost a hundred years later. It usually took up several pages of each issue and was full of letters from real life cowboys, soldiers, sailors, and adventurers.

    Concerning the pretty girl covers, at one time for a couple years in the teens, even ADVENTURE ran these covers. Just about all the general fiction pulps ran pretty girl covers. BLUEBOOK, POPULAR MAGAZINE, PEOPLES, ARGOSY, ALL STORY, etc, all used them because they figured it helped to sell the magazine. But Hoffman was successful in getting rid of them and for many years girls did not appear on the covers at all. Hoffman was also against what he called too much "woman interest". Many of the slicks and pulps filled their adventure and mystery stories with woman characters doing all sorts of unbelievable things. Westerns were full of girls flirting with the cowhands and treasure hunt yarns often had some silly girl wandering along in the desert, etc.

    But not ADVENTURE. Hoffman made sure his writers wrote in a realistic manner and lets face it, there are not too many women running around the jungle. Concerning ROMANCE, it only lasted about a year with maybe 12 issues. It was a victim of a paper shortage and printer's strike around 1920. It would have been interesting to see what Hoffman would have done with it had the title lived longer. It was revived later toward the end of the 1920's but by then Hoffman was no longer editor of ADVENTURE.

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    1. Whenever I get an issue of Adventure in my hands, I first open it to the table of contents page and then I turn to the Campfire section. Especially in the 20s, it really felt like a campfire with Hoffman as the scout master and people sitting around warming their hands at the fire and talking.
      Adventure always seemed to be aimed at an adult male market, moving from midmarket to lower middle class from the 20s to the 40s.
      Argosy on the other hand felt a little more juvenile.
      I don't know what audience Blue Book was aimed at, perhaps middle class male.
      And Short Stories seemed aimed at Adventure's audience, in direct competition.
      What a wonderful time for readers and authors it must have been.

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    2. I have the same opinion about ARGOSY. An interesting general fiction magazine but definitely more juvenile than ADVENTURE, BLUEBOOK, and SHORT STORIES. The POPULAR MAGAZINE, which was published by Street & Smith for over 30 years died in 1931 but was considered the "training ground for the SATURDAY EVENING POST". Much of the fiction had a very slick magazine slant and the quality was higher than the typical pulp. But they still used the old romance formula of the girl and boy falling in love, etc. This formula ruined more westerns, adventure, and mystery yarns but it was evidently what the readership wanted. ADVENTURE was one of the few exceptions.

      Your last sentence is so true. Now TV has replaced the fiction magazines. Here in the US we have the 5 digest fiction magazines but they are only available at Barnes & Noble. You can subscribe but the postal system is very rough on magazines, not to mention the address sticker ruining the cover.

      By collecting the back issues of these great general fiction pulps, we can recreate the past in a way. Right now I'm reading an ALL STORY issue from 1909 with a very well done sea serial by George Allan England. Bleiler and Moskowitz both say it has some SF elements and I'm looking forward to see the evidence.

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