Sinister Cinema: A Meta-Pulp on Broadway

Pulps in the Movies!

All Singing!

All Dancing!

On Sale Every Wednesday!

Today John Locke, our resident pulp expert and movie buff, strikes a new chord in the hallelujah chorus of pulp sightings.

Doctor, fix me up a new pulp, and pronto.

(Best of all this installment of his long-running series puts the spotlight on Buddy Ebsen. Check the latest Dashiell Hammett Tour book, pages 181-82, and you’ll find an anecdote from September 1, 1985 when the tour group shadowed our way up to Ebsen near Union Square and kind of spooked him. You sense something behind you, turn, and a group of thirty people are staring intensely at you to see if you’re Buddy Ebsen. . . . And you are Buddy Ebsen!)

Here’s John with his latest showcase:

This screenshot tells us that while the human universe contains fiction magazines, the Hollywood meta-human-universe contains fictional fiction magazines. In this case National Detective — which sounds more like the title of a true-crime mag — is a doctored copy of the March 1937 Popular Detective.

The doctoring was a common practice, as many pulp sightings are of partly or completely mocked-up magazines.

Why not just use the original magazine?

Our best guess is that permission to use the magazine was not obtained from the publisher and copyright holder, Beacon Magazines (i.e. Standard Magazines, or the Thrilling Group).

Note that the publisher’s imprint (and the story listings) were scrubbed from the cover art.

The studio, MGM, could be reasonably assured that the magazine would not be identified since it only lingered on-screen for a few seconds. Additionally, the odds of Standard pressing a legal claim against mighty MGM were slight.

The sighting is from Broadway Melody of 1938, a musical which started production in February 1937 and was released on August 20, 1937. The futuristic title expressed that the film would showcase tomorrow’s hot music and dance trends today.

The studious actor is Buddy Ebsen, best known on television as Jed Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies (1962-71) and as detective Barnaby Jones (1973-80).

Back then he was a nifty dancer who, memorably, hoofed a duet with seven-year-old superstar Shirley Temple in Captain January.

What so fascinates him in this issue of “National Detective”? Our patented photogrammetry software reveals that he’s just started Frank Gruber’s Samuel Deering yarn, “Murder on the Mat.”

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