United States: Broadway Brevities (1930-1935)


In 1930, five years after the original Broadway Brevities had ceased publication, its editor, Stephen G. Clow, now out of prison, launched a new publication, The New Broadway BrevitiesTime magazine hinted that the new BB was backed by “Wall Street Money.”   The first issue was magazine size, printed on glossy paper (see scan of its follow-up issue, below).  Clow seemed to remain as editor through mid-1930, when he was replaced by Tom Davin, who himself did not remain long at Brevities.  A succession of editors followed until the magazine disappeared, in 1935.

By 1931, the New Broadway Brevities had assumed the format of a tabloid newspaper, and its name was changed to Brevities:  America’s First National Tabloid Weekly.  This version of Brevities was the most lurid and sensational of all of the title’s incarnations.  The scandal of Brevities had less to do with its slandering of specific individuals – there was very little of this – than with its seemingly endless exposés of vice, sexual habits, queer life around the world, prostitution and, very occasionally, political corruption.  The articles announced on each issue’s front page were low on actual detail, but clever in their use of  slang and inventive turns of phrase.   The magazine’s cartoons, particularly those on the front and back covers, were as smutty as any to be found in the print culture of the early 1930s.

While its front pages promised sweeping coverage of every form of depravity, the interior of the magazine settled down into columns which did  their business quietly.  “Strictly personal,” a unsigned page 2 column, was full of brief bits of news about New York show business.  Other columns looked at nightlife on Broadway, Harlem and, occasionally, Hollywood.  The back of the book was more and more taken up with horse race tipster features, evidence of the close working relationship between Brevities’ publishers and marketers of sports information.

In choosing to post dozens of covers (both back and front) from Brevities, we have grappled with the fact that most of them will offend – not because their coverage of sin is so explicit, but because their misogyny, racism and homophobia are so blatant.  We have omitted a great many covers whose racism – particularly in the cartoons – is no longer acceptable in any public medium.

The tabloid Brevities has become almost legendary, featured in the exhibition which opened New York’s Museum of Sex, and quoted regularly in on-line calendars devoted to gay history.  Despite all of the ways in which Brevities is offensively retrograde, it was progressive in a variety of ways.  Like many of New York’s lowest tabloids, Brevities noted with alarm the rise of Hitler, Nazism and anti-semitism in Germany, while more mainstream periodicals were still sitting on the fence.  In its coverage of sexual commerce, Brevities noted the increasingly precarious economic  straits of women in depression-era New York, even as it regularly portrayed women as active, sexually-desiring beings.

[Note on scans:  The images here vary greatly in quality.  The magazines themselves are sometimes faded, worn or dirty.  Some scans will benefit from better resolution and will be re-done over time.  The images here are of both front and back covers.  Those pages with no dates are back covers.]



Return to home