Tuesday, February 2, 2010


One of the interesting things about revisiting the works of John D MacDonald is the education one receives about the history of the American magazine. So many of the familiar periodicals of my youth began life in dramatically different form than what I grew up with. I've already written about how Cosmopolitan originated as one of the more prestigious fiction magazines, so I guess it should not have surprised me to learn that Cavalier magazine had a similar genesis. Yes, Cavalier.

When I was growing up in the Sixties, Cavalier was a second-tier Playboy wannabe, a somewhat seedy men's magazine featuring naked women and tough-guy articles. The unclad girls it featured seemed like hardened, well-traveled types, and the advertisements were focused on a more blue collar audience than Playboy was. It was rarely seen on the newsstands of my suburban Washington hometown, and the few times I was actually able to look at an issue was when it was fished out of a neighborhood father's trash can. I certainly never thought of fiction being published there.

The first inkling I had that the magazine was something different was when author Stephen King published his first short story anthology in 1978. I was a huge King fan at the time, but would have purchased Night Shift even if I hadn't been, for it contained an Introduction by none other than John D MacDonald. I remember looking at the copyright page and seeing that several of King's stories had originally been published in Cavalier, including "Graveyard Shift," the best "rat" horror story written since George Toudouze's "Three Skeleton Key." Horror stories were one thing, I thought, but anything else? When I began searching the Library of Congress for "missing" JDM stories in 1981, Walter Shine asked me to check several years worth of Cavalier issues. I found nothing, but vividly recall that most of the LoC's issues of the magazine were ruined, as some pathetic pervert had taken scissors to most of the issues and cut out all of the nude pictorials.

I learned from Shine's Bibliography that JDM had published one story in Cavalier in 1966. "Triangle" had been included in his first short story anthology End of the Tiger, and was the only story there that hadn't been previously published. It later appeared in Cavalier's September issue, and since I already owned the story I never sought out a copy of the magazine.

But Cavalier wasn't always a men's magazine, just as Cosmopolitan wasn't always a woman's magazine. It began in 1952 as a Fawcett publication, the same publisher that issued the majority of JDM's paperbacks, and was designed to feature the works of the authors Fawcett had under book contract. It didn't evolve into a men's magazine until the early 1960's when it was sold to a different company, but continued to include fiction by such notable authors as Ray Bradbury and Bruce Jay Friedman. The biggest surprise I had was when I started perusing the listings of the JDM Collection at the University of Florida. Unbeknownst to Walter Shine in 1981, MacDonald had been published in Cavalier as far back as December 1953, when that month's issue featured the entire JDM novel The Damned, published in paperback a year and a half earlier. A year later in November they featured Judge Me Not, again complete and unabridged. And the biggest revelation of all? "A Good Judge of Men," one of the missing short stories, supposedly published in a "post July 1951" issue of Argosy, actually appeared in Cavalier's March 1953 issue.

End of the Tiger and Cavalier's September issue of 1966 probably hit the stands around the same time, so I have to believe that the story was published as a promotion for the anthology. Still, I can't imagine the readers of a men's magazine finding much else in Tiger to amuse them.

"Triangle" is a brief tale featuring a somewhat unreliable narrator, even though it's told in the third person. Johnny Powell, a traveling businessman, is having drinks with a client in a downtown bar. Tina is in tears and Johnny imagines that the scene looks like an "end of the affair" moment, but it is not what it seems. Tina and Johnny have acknowledged a growing awareness, a mutual attraction that very nearly led to an affair, but stopped well short. Tina, a twenty-nine year old single girl, has been pining after married-with-children Johnny ever since he landed the account that Tina represents. Tina imagines herself as old fashioned and does not want anything short of marriage, "with all the licenses and permits," and Johnny has never openly encouraged her attentions. But that "awareness" has resulted in someone informing Johnny's wife Frances that he was "with" another woman, and Johnny's indignation over his wife's accusations has only hardened her suspicions. Tina's tears are the natural result of Johnny openly admitting a mutual attraction while at the same time slamming the door on any possible expansion of it. Yet he has a request, one that Tina is only too happy to oblige. Could she meet with Frances and tell her that nothing ever happened between them?

The story ends with a wonderful, unanticipated twist, one that reveals Johnny to be a much different person than the reader was originally introduced to. It's a well paced and expertly plotted story that is a testimony to MacDonald's late-career skills. Read it twice, and you will be amazed at how well JDM sets up the final revelation.

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