Today we will start to look at the career of Worth B. Carnahan. Worth was an artist, illustrator, magazine editor and publisher. He participated in the origins of two pop culture mainstays, girlie pulps and comic books, whose images today invoke two very different connotations.
We shall see how the development of both industries was directly linked and, in so doing, reveal the remarkable background of an artist who would later design some of the most popular stamps in the fish and game hobby.
Early Life and Career
Worth Blanchard Carnahan was born in Downers Grove, Illinois on January 31, 1896. He was the first child of John Worth Carnahan and the former Mabel Newton Blanchard. John and Mabel were married in 1895 and then moved to Washington, D.C. However, Mabel chose to give birth to her son at her parents house, in Illinois.
Some time after the birth, Mabel and young Worth moved back to live with John in Washington. Along with three siblings, Mayda (1899), Mayworth (1905) and Audra Belle (1912), the family made their home at 336 C Street North West. John Carnahan was a businessman who was involved in many diverse companies, primarily in and around Washington.
While growing up in Washington, Worth was an avid stamp collector and frequently visited the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to observe the production process. He was interested in art from an early age, liked to draw and envisioned a career as a commercial artist, a technical draftsman or an engraver.
Deeper down, below these practical aspirations, Worth yearned to design stamps and would revisit this desire many times throughout his life.
After graduating from high school in 1914, his first job was as a designer for one of his father’s companies, the Wishbone Auto Steel Wheel Company in Baltimore, Maryland. Worth quickly rose through the ranks of the company to become a department manager. However, on November 30, 1918 (just 19 days after armistice with Germany), he was drafted into the army and sent to France.
Draft records noted Worth was “tall and slender with gray eyes and light brown hair” (see Figure 1). He was honorably discharged on July 19, 1919. Worth then went to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, to work as a draftsman for another of his father’s companies, the American West Indian Company.
After only six months, Worth returned to live with his family in Washington, D.C. where he worked as a commercial illustrator. He soon moved to New York where he worked as a freelance commercial artist during the day and a piano player in a bar at night.
It was at the bar that he met Genevieve Walton Hart. They were married in 1924 and Genevieve gave birth to their first daughter, Patricia, in 1926.
It was during the mid 1920s that Worth first ventured into the burgeoning pulp magazine business, as both an artist and an editor. This included designing risque covers for Burten’s Follies magazine (see Figures 2 and 3) and, according to some accounts, he was responsible for the interior layouts as well. The magazine was a pseudo-girlie pulp published by Joe Burten of Burten Publications.
In 1925, one of the most popular shows on Broadway in New York was Artists and Models at the Shubert Theater. It was a topless burlesque revue based on the Artists Ball, produced annually by the New York Society of Illustrators which included James Montgomery Flagg and Rube Goldberg.
The Broadway show ran for several years and was made into a movie starring Jack Benny and a remake starring Jerry Lewis. The show also served as the inspiration for two notable pulp magazines that have often been confused with each other, then and now.
On March 4, 1925, The New York Times reported in their Business Section on a new incorporation of booksellers, Ramer Reviews. One of the principles was Frank Armer, who previously published a movie magazine, Screenland, from 1922 to 1925. Their first publication was the Spring 1925 issue of Artists and Models Magazine, loosely based on the show of the same name.
The publisher was listed as Frank Armer and the Secretary as John F. Edwards. Edwards was also the publisher of Burten’s Follies. This is interesting as Artists and Models Magazine was published in direct competition to Artists and Models – a separate publication with a similar title that just beat it into publication.
Artists and Models was co-edited by Worth B. Carnahan and Mrs. Merle Hersey. After Armer began publication of his magazine, Worth and Hersey added “Original” to their title. This could not have bothered Worth too much, as he continued to design covers for Burten’s Follies (see Figure 3) which was published by Armer’s secretary, Edwards.
The reason I have attempted to clarify this situation is because Worth’s cover for the Fall issue of the Original Artists and Models is now considered to be a prime example of pioneer girlie pulp art (see Figure 4). Armer’s Artists and Models Magazine, on the other hand, would soon make a big splash of their own with the February 1926 issue, featuring a lingerie-clad Joan Crawford.
While 1926 saw a marked increase in the proliferation of pulps featuring pinup art on their covers (see Figure 5), it was also a time of great demand for talented mainstream commercial artists such as Worth B. Carnahan.
After WWI, general circulation magazines picked up on the culture of commercialism. Magazines such as The Ladies Home Journal and Saturday Evening Post became fixtures in middle class homes around the country. Henry Luce began publishing Time in 1923. Advertisers, now reaching millions of consumers on a daily or weekly basis, hired movie stars and sports figures to persuade Americans to buy all types of products.
Midtown Manhattan was literally rebuilt for business in the 1920s and New York City, along with Chicago, became the center for the nation’s new advertising industry.
The Carnahan’s lived in Manhattan, where their second daughter, Sally, was born in 1929. On February 2, 1930, Genevieve died as a result of a complicated pregnancy. This left a grief-stricken Worth to struggle to support and care for their two young daughters during the Great Depression.
On Valentines Day of 1931, Worth was remarried to Elizabeth Mary Slayden. Elizabeth was a clerk for the telephone company in Manhattan and was originally from Tennessee.
Girlie Pulp Illustrators
By the late 1920s, Worth accepted a position as an illustrator for an advertising agency operated by Adolphe Barreaux. Adolphe was born in New Jersey in 1899. His family moved to NYC in 1915 where he attended DeWitt Clinton High School, the largest and one of the most prestigious high schools in the country.
Adolphe was the editor of the school newspaper and Student-Director of the Drama Department. He also worked as an illustrator at the J. Walter Thompson Advertising Company during the summers. After graduating DeWitt Clinton, he attended the Yale University School of Fine Arts.
When he first entered Yale, Adolphe worked at a local drug store making advertising posters and signs. He soon found a better job as an illustrator at the Hopkins Advertising Agency in New Haven and eventually became their Art Director.
In July 1920, after his freshman year, Adolphe submitted a short story to the spicy pulp magazine, Breezy Stories. It was accepted and published in the February, 1921 issue. After three years at Yale, Adolphe left to pursue a career as an advertising artist in Manhattan.
He studied at the Grand Central School of Art in 1923 and then opened an art studio on 5th Avenue in 1924. He painted portraits of celebrities, including the famous Ziegfeld Girl, Marilyn Miller. After moving twice more to larger studios, Adolphe became a partner in an advertising agency with Raymond L. Thayer, a successful 43 year old commercial artist whose illustrations regularly appeared in some of the leading periodicals of the day, including Judge and Life.
It was this successful advertising agency that Worth B. Carnahan joined in early 1929. In a way, his timing was auspicious. Soon came the fall in stock prices that began around September 4 and the crash on October 29, 1929 (Black Tuesday). While the Great Depression created hard times for the once-lucrative magazine advertising industry – the pulp magazine industry flourished.
This despite the fact they were being banned in many cities and often had to be sold “under the counter”. Sometimes their provocative covers had to be torn off. They were otherwise sold at nearly every news stand, cigar shop and burlesque show (see Figure 6), while their publishers continuously changed names in an attempt to stay ahead of the censors and, often, their creditors.
Some of the pulp publishers became very wealthy and in the case of Harry Donenefeld, profits derived from the sale of millions of racy pulps helped provide the means to establish one of the greatest pop culture media empires.
The industry’s artists, writers, printers and virtually everyone else involved in production and delivery found steady work as opposed to the bread lines, soup kitchens and apartment evictions that were the norm during this time.
Pulps were printed on the cheapest paper – thus the name – manufactured for about two cents apiece, sold to wholesalers for a nickel and retailed for a dime or a quarter. Pulps, especially those featuring illustrations of scantily-clad women, offered cheap thrills and did not depend on subscriptions or advertisers for income during these hard times.
The pulp magazine covers offered fantasy-fueled escapism to the otherwise “defeated army” of unemployed men moving about the big cities looking for work. This created a tremendous demand for talented artists capable of rendering a comely – if not suggestive – female form. Capitalizing on increasingly better opportunities, Adolphe moved his studio around midtown and Worth followed him.
Armer began to sometimes partner with Donenfeld and it was Adolphe’s studio that provided the art for their pulp stable. Donenfeld, through his printing company (The Donny Press) printed the covers that would do battle on the newsstands for two bits.
During the 1930s, Donenfeld dominated the girlie pulp market. Worth’s illustrations were published in numerous sexy pulp magazines and he designed the covers for many of Donenfeld’s earliest girlie pulps, including Hot Stories, Joy Stories, Follies and La Paree (see Figures 7, 8 and 9). All of these were published by Donenfeld with art provided by Adolphe Barreaux’s studios.
In 1933 Adolphe became involved with Donenfeld in an attempt to revive the Police Gazette. The new Police Gazette was to feature a comic strip by Adolphe about “The saucy misadventures of a Broadway chorus girl named Flossie Flip”.
While the new Gazette never got off the ground, Adolphe became a regular illustrator for Donenfeld’s other publications – including what are today some of the most sought after pulps by advanced collectors: Spicy Adventure, Spicy Detective and Spicy Mystery. Many of the other illustrators used by Donenfeld, aside from Worth, worked for Adolphe’s art agency and they would go on to become legends in the world of comic book art.
Also in 1933, Worth decided to cash in on the insatiable demand for girlie pulps – many of which were sold solely on the basis of his cover art. He went out on his own and established Publications Service Syndicate, Inc. Worth’s first publishing venture was short lived, however, likely due to his lack of business experience.
He did publish one of the more famous girlie pulps of the 1930s heyday, Wild Cherries. The pulp featured his own fabulous cover art but, nevertheless, lasted for only four issues (see Figure 10).
The publication of Spicy Detective Stories by Armer and Donenfeld in April of 1934 was a game changer. It revolutionized the pulp industry as, with it, “Sex blew through the traditional pulp doors with a bang”.
According to Douglas Ellis, in UNCOVERED, The Hidden Art of the Girlie Pulps, “The risque covers, nude interior illustrations and racy text of the girlie pulps [were now combined with] hard hitting detective tales…By blending the previously separate worlds of of the girlie pulps and traditional genre pulps… Donenfeld and Armer had found a formula for [tremendous] success.”
Unfortunately, not all the increased attention was wanted and included intense heat and pressure from watchdog organizations such as the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. Police raids became more common and, in one famous incident, over 12,000 magazines were burned.
As the money started to pour in in ever increasing amounts, men like Harry Donenfeld and Worth Carnahan were already thinking about getting out.
The First Comic Book
In 1934 pulp writer Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson founded National Allied Publications. In February of the following year, the company published New Fun. This was the first comic book to publish all new material – as opposed to running reprints of old newspaper strips (see Figure 11).
Later in 1935 a second title was released, New Comics. The size and length of New Comics #1 became the standard for comics in what is now referred to as the “Golden Age” and it became the longest running comic series of all time.
In the beginning (despite strong sales) Wheeler-Nicholson struggled and needed cash. He went to Denenfeld, who, along with pulp distributer Jack Liebowitz, provided an influx of capital in exchange for a partnership in the fledgling business. In 1937 Wheeler-Nicholson, Denenfeld and Liebowitz founded Detective Comics, a subsidiary of National Allied Publications.
A New Direction
By 1935 Donenfeld’s pulp publications started to tone things down. Bared breasts were no longer featured on the covers and the stories inside were not as provocative. The photo sections became less explicit as well.
In 1937, Armer and Donenfeld launched a new line of pulps, including Private Detective Stories, Romantic Detective, Romantic Western and The Lone Ranger. All of the covers, with the exception of The Lone Ranger, still featured risque artwork.
By this time, Worth had rejoined Adolphe’s Studio and started contributing articles and illustrations to The Lone Ranger. This marked a significant departure for Worth – away from girlie pulps.
In September of 1937, Worth wrote and illustrated a four page feature about stamp collecting for The Lone Ranger Magazine, which actively promoted the hobby with “colorful descriptions of new issues and topical trends”. Readers were invited to write into the The Lone Ranger Stamp Editor (Worth) with any questions they might have about collecting (see Figures 12 and 13).
In 1938 the National Organization for Decent Literature (NODL) was formed under the auspices of the Catholic Church. Unlike previous censorship groups, the NODL was focussed on books and magazines. The writing was on the wall for all to see.
Interest in comic books also took off in 1938 and every magazine and book publisher was getting into the business. In an effort to secure market share, Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz first took over Detective Comics from Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, who had fallen deeper into debt and could not repay what he owed the men. Donenfeld also bought the parent National Allied in bankruptcy.
Donenfeld then moved Adolphe’s Barreaux Studios to his company headquarters at 480 Lexington Avenue in NYC – and this soon became what is known today as DC Comics. In June of 1938, National Allied released Action Comics #1.
The cover featured a character who would soon become known to all – Superman (see Figure 14). Superman was created by artist Joe Shuster and writer Jerry Siegel, high school buddies who started their comic careers working on New Fun.
Within a year, Superman comics were selling 1,000,000 copies per issue. It should come as no surprise to learn that Donenfeld not only got out of the girlie pulp business very quickly, he made every attempt to distance himself from it as well.
In May of 1939, Detective Comics (#27) introduced Batman and the popularity of comic books exploded (see Figure 15).
For the artists and illustrators working for Adolphe Barreaux, including Worth B. Carnahan, their future was now in comic books.