Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The corruption of youth in the 1950s

Reading the review in the NY Times today about Frederick Wertham's 1950s crusade against violence in comic books---supposedly corrupting the youth of America---brought on a Proustian stream of memories of my youth in Marin County. I remember in particular that one of the places where I bought comic books, a drugstore in downtown Corte Madera, took Wertham's concerns to heart. One day the proprietor, the genial Bernie Kaplan, had a stack of comics with the covers torn off ready to send back to the distributor in response to the scandal. That seemed like a terrible waste to me. Kaplan was probably more concerned about the disapproval of people like my parents, who were more important customers than kids buying comic books. 

On the other side of Corte Madera plaza, Leo Enright seemed less concerned about corrupting us, and he always had a dizzying supply of comics on a large rack at the back of his soda fountain/grocery store. But I never liked the Tales From the Crypt-type comics. They just seemed creepy, and I still don't like today's zombie/vampire movies and TV shows. Creepy.
No, my favorites were Combat Kelly and Kid Colt---a proto-Clint Eastwood-type character. Both comics had a very high body count. Kid Colt dispatched the bad guys with his two pistols, but Kelly used a variety of means, including machine guns and the butt of his rifle.
But I was apparently incorruptible and have still never fired a gun or ever had any interest in doing so. And I've never killed anyone---not yet, anyhow. In any event, I soon moved from reading comic books to the sports page---the SF Chronicle, of course---and the ouvre of John R. Tunis.
I then graduated to Mad Magazine, which is when the real "corruption" began, as I discovered the joys of cultural/political subversion. More importantly, I learned that everything that grownups believed was likely bullshit.
My 12-year-old friends and I thought
this Mad cover was real clever
Surprising to learn that a smart guy like C.Wright Mills bought into Wertham's hysteria.



At 12:12 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Hi Rob -

Thanks for your personal reflections as they relate to my research on Wertham. If you're interested in talking about your comics reading as a kid, send me a note at this e-mail address, as I'm working on a project about kids as comics readers in the 40s and 50s.



Carol L. Tilley
Assistant Professor
The Graduate School of Library and Information Science
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

At 11:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Rob, Thanks for your post. I am curious to learn more about your memories of the corte madera storeowned by my grandfather Bernard Kaplan. And any more memories of him would be great. Thank you again for documenting history.

At 1:24 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

I first encountered your grandfather at his original store location on the hill-side of the Corte Madera plaza in the early 1950s. He later moved to the other side of the downtown in a larger location, where the old Pixley store was located, which was real old-style market, with a wood floor and barrels of stuff.

I would buy candy and comic books there. He seemed like a genuinely nice guy, always friendly and nice to us kids.

And though I of course don't know it for a fact, I assume that when he pulled some of the comics from the rack, he was responding to Wertham's campaign against comics.

I don't know when your grandfather gave up operating the drugstore, but it must have been later in the 1950s, because I remember as a 19-year-old in 1961, desperate for something interesting to read, having of course outgrown comic books, buying books off a revolving rack there when a young guy was running the drugstore.


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