In the early 50s, Hollywood came to comic books. Prior to that, we’d seen some movie adaptations and a few licensed properties, but things really exploded around 1950. I get the feeling that glancing at the Romance section of the local comic book stand would have been a lot like what we see at supermarket checkouts today.
Of course, Hollywood stars would appear on comic covers from the mid-50s right into the 70s as movie and television adaptations and licensed properties became increasingly popular. During the early 50s, however, it was wide open like the Old West and stars were everywhere. Comic book companies not only introduced titles with a Hollywood theme, but also used publicity stills from recent films as covers for their regular romance magazines. You see a lot of faces popping up over and over again (my unscientific survey has Glenn Ford in the lead), as well as people who must have been stars back in the day – but I certainly haven’t heard of them. Almost every publish got into the game, and these covers can be found across dozens of titles, so tracking them down can be quite a challenge, but it’s a lot of fun. Let’s take a look at some appearances by some very familiar faces.
Elizabeth Taylor appeared on quite a few comic book covers, as companies obviously thought she’d sell a few extra copies. She was even featured on an early cover of Timely’s Miss America Magazine. I’ve featured a couple of more obscure examples here. Ziff-Davis was much better known for its painted cover (many by Norm Saunders), but it stuck with photos for its Famous Stars titles. I’m not sure which of Taylor’s heartbreaks is covered in this issue. I love how Esther Williams is described as ‘Beautiful but Smart”. Welcome to the 50s, folks. Film Star Romances from Star Publications was an early entry into the Hollywood Romance genre, and features a still from the 1949 Cold War espionage film Conspirator. The film is actually pretty dull, and it’s tough to buy into the romance between the two Taylor, as Robert is more than 20 years older than the still teenaged Liz.
You want a big star? How about Marlon Brando? Magazine Enterprise’s Dream Book of Love is an example of a title using Hollywood stars as an enticement to pick up a standard romance book. Maybe it’s just me, but I find the ‘Stanley & Stella’ picture to be a bit of and odd choice, as Streetcar is not your middle of the road romance movie. I really like the shot of Brando and Jean Simmons used for the cover to Personal Love #31. It’s a publicity shot from the 1954 film Desirée. Again, not the world’s greatest movie, but if your trying to sell comics – why not go with Brando as Napoleon to do it?
If you’re like me, you are a big fan of Robert Mithchum. Now a tough guy like that would never appear on a romance cover, would he? Yup, he would. I love the irony of the Famous Stars #4 cover, as he states that he does not want to ‘Go Hollywood’. Quality’s Love Letters is a pretty decent romance title, and a really like the fact that they chose to go with Mitchum and Faith Domergue, his co-star from the awesome Where Danger Lies, one of my favourite Mitchum film noirs.
Now, I can certainly understand why publishers wanted to use Montgomery Clift on comic book covers. The man is just as handsome as they come. He was featured, along with From Here to Etnernity co-star Donna Reed, on the cover to the first issue of Dream Book of Love (later to become Dream Book of Romance). Standard comics was also a big believer in using Hollywood stars to selling romance books, and feature Clift along with his A Place in the Sun co-star Liz Taylor on the cover to New Romances #11.
I love Jane Russell, who doesn’t? I’m guessing that boys suddenly started buying romance books when Jane Russell appeared on the cover. Intimate Love #10 is a great example of how many companies were drawing water from the same well. It’s pretty much a mirror image of the Famous Stars cover above. Why not re-use it? It’s from an awesome movie His Kind of Woman, a fun film noir featuring one of Vincent Price’s greatest performances. Also, this issue has some Alex Toth art. Russell appeared solo on the cover to Love Letters #17. With the look in her eye, it probably should have been re-titled Lust Letters.
So you’re a big fan of Charlton Heston and Ronald Reagan, and you’re wondering if they ever appeared on the cover to a 50s Romance book. The answer is yes and yes. Does anyone know who Nicol Morey is/was? I can’t find anything on-line. Reagan shows up with his Hong Kong co-star Rhonda Fleming on the cover of Movie Love #13. A real collector’s item for Supply-Siders.
Finally, you sci-fi fans who want to know if Kahn or Klaatu made appearances on early 50s Romance cover, I’ve got good news. Ricardo Montalban is as handsome as ever on the cover to Movie Love #6. It’s crazy to think that he’d look even more macho and buff 32 years later. Michael Rennie from the Day the Earth Stood Still, appears on the cover to Thrilling Romances #19. He’s a very intense looking chap, and I’m surprised Standard didn’t go with Tyrone Power, Rennie’s co-star from The House on the Square.
So, that’s a quick look at the stars that came out to play in the Four Color world during the early 50s. Tracking these down is a lot of fun, so why not see if you’re favourite star is out there waiting for you. For more classic comic nonsense, stop by my blog Seduction of the Indifferent