where the writers are
Jimmy Stewart's Porn Mag

Jimmy Stewart's Porn Mag
Note the fine reading material on Jimmy Stewart's coffee table.

It’s around 4 a.m. I can’t get to sleep. Vertigo is on one of the Starz HD channels. It only takes a few minutes to draw me in.

Kim Novak is in the next room freshening up. Jimmy Stewart, looking so safe in his green V-neck sweater pulled over a starched, white shirt, leans over from his 50s couch to catch a glimpse of her. Ol’ Jimmy, ever the gracious host, has a fresh pot of coffee within easy reach right in the middle of his Danish Modern coffee table. To the right of his silver coffee pot, is a matching silver creamer, but to the left of it appears to be a copy of Swank….

SWANK!?!

Good Lord! Choke! Really!?!

To men of my generation, Swank was one of the raunchiest skin mags readily available on the Quik Stop porn rack. Its slick pages were probably the first place where several of my friends and I were introduced to the concepts of girl-on-girl and anal sex.

I can’t really believe that Hollywood nice guy Stewart has a copy of Swank just sitting on his coffee table, out in the open for his lady guest to see. I use my DVR’s search feature to run the scene again to see if my eyes were deceiving me. They weren’t. 1080 pixels on a 52-inch plasma TV reveal that Jimmy likes a little smut with his java, evidently. I wonder if Clarence the angel from It’s a Wonderful Life had his wings repossessed after that one.

Of course, Swank was a different periodical back in 1958 when Vertigo came out than it was in the 1980s when its covers lines promised “young, tight twat” in oversized typeface. According to Wikipedia, comic book industry pioneer Victor Fox started the magazine in the 1940s. Comic book historian Mark Evanier described Fox as “an old-time hustler/financier who’s spent years sprinting from one dubious enterprise to another.” Captain America co-creator Joe Simon called Fox a “very loud, menacing, and really a scary little guy.” He called himself “the King of the Comics” as he darted around his office, berating the likes of Jack Kirby and Bill Everett, the artists who’d go on to create most of the characters seen in today’s blockbuster superhero movies.

Somewhere along the line, Fox sold Swank to Martin Goodman, the future publisher of Marvel Comics and Stan Lee’s cousin by marriage. During this time, Swank featured stories penned by William Saroyan and Psycho author Robert Bloch, so Stewart’s disgraced cop in Vertigo could more easily claim that he only read it for the articles, and not all the girly pics that were likely snapped by Stewart’s photographer character from Rear Window—at least in the 50s of my imagination. The November 1957 issue featured a profile of Alfred Hitchcock just six months before the release of Vertigo. Maybe Hitch was repaying a favor when he allowed the mag to appear at the bottom of his frame in his 1958 masterpiece.

But the connection between Swank and Marvel Comics makes too much sense now that I think about it. In the 1970s, three random back issues of comics were bundled into these plastic packs and sold at places like Gemco and Ben Franklin Stores. I remember spending a lot of time trying to lift the visible top comic with my thumb to see what the middle book was, hoping against hope that it was an Avengers and not The Champions. I still ended up with nearly a complete set of The Champions anyway with most of them obtained through those three-packs.

Goodman’s porn overstock was packaged in the same way with printing on the plastic wrap hiding the magazine’s cover girls. I used to work at St. Mary’s Hospital in San Francisco some four miles away from Jimmy Stewart’s Lombard Street apartment in Vertigo. The corner store where I got my coffee and bagels in the morning had a rack with those packs of porn on it over by some dusty bottles of cheap wine. One morning, the Iranian café owner from across the street held up one of the three-packs. “This is just like woman in the Middle East,” he quipped, “you can only see her face.” Everybody in the store broke out laughing after that one.

Martin Goodman, who had been a driving force behind both the comic book and men’s mag industries, died in relative obscurity in 1992, having long-since been eclipsed by such more flamboyant figures as Stan Lee, Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynt. Marvel Comics marked his passing with just a short paragraph in their throwaway hype mag, Marvel Age.

“Nobody talks about Martin Goodman,” Irwin Linker, an art-director who worked for Goodman, says in Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: the Untold Story (Harper 2012). “It’s like he never lived, and he’s the guy who started the whole thing. It’s like he never existed.”

Goodman’s son, Charles “Chip” Goodman, sold Swank and what was left of the family’s smut empire to the Magna Publishing Group in 1993. By this time, Swank was hardly the kind of thing that men like Jimmy Stewart would just leave lying around his apartment.

Bob Calhoun is a former ring announcer, peep show barker and low-rent wrestler.   His upcoming pop-culture romp, Shattering Conventions: Chaos, Conflict and Cosplay at Comic Con and Beyond,  will be released by Obscuria Press in Summer 2013--just in time for Comic-Con. You can follow him on Twitter @bob_calhoun.