How Bernarr McFadden Changed America: Inventor of the Tabloids and Chief Physical Education Advocate in the USA

5:06 pm  |  20.10.2021

We continue the story of America’s premier physics education fan – Bernarre McFadden. The New York Evening Graphic was published by Bernarre McFadden, an evangelist for healthy lifestyles, exercise, healthy eating, and open sexuality, as well as the creator of the most successful publishing empire in US history.

True Story

In 1915, the family returned to the United States, where they were in for a real triumph. McFadden’s unpleasantness ended. After a few years, McFadden decided to publish another magazine. In May 1919, the first issue of the magazine “True Story” was published, and this is all ma-nee-nee for both McFadden and his business, as well as for the American Pres. 

Cover of True Story magazine. August 1935

The idea of the magazine had arisen from the fact that McFadden had long ago received letters from readers in which readers had told their personal stories – usually about overcoming themselves and how they had started a new life with McFadden’s example, articles, and books. The new jury published these stories without inventions, though soon began to subject them to a significant edit, and according to some information, the majority of «from-on» writes-whether professional-secular. As before, McFadden made extensive use of photography – many readers thought it depicted the stories themselves and the real characters of the stories.

Magazines Empire

By 1923, True Story had become the top-selling magazine in the United States, with a circulation of 300,000, and by 1926, circulation had reached an unprecedented two million. The McFadden publishing house became a real empire, and by 1924 he himself had become a multimillionaire.

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Over the years, he published dozens of magazines of various genres, sometimes buying existing ones; many of them have failed. Some were not only very successful but also pioneers in their genres: the popular weekly Liberty (1924–1950); the first true crime magazine, True Detective (1924–1995); one of the first film magazines Photoplay (1911-1980); the first popular sports magazine SPORT (1946–2000); several pulp magazines, including the first sci-fi Amazing Stories (1926–2005).

READ: How Bernarr McFadden Changed America: Telling the Story of the Founder of America’s Most Successful Media Empire

The New York Evening Graphic daily newspaper lasted only eight years, from 1924 to 1932, but became perhaps the most controversial publication of the McFadden empire. He created the genre of tabloid journalism.

New York Evening Graphic

The newspaper, which was originally planned to be called “Truth” (numerous critics soon became known as Evening Pornographic), published gossip from the life of celebrities. There one could find stories of crimes, sensational photographs, and collages, which McFadden called “composites”: the faces of real people were glued over the faces of the actors. One of the “compositions” depicted the meeting of Rudolph Valentino and Enrico Caruso in heaven (recreated, as the signature said, according to the description of the medium during a seance).

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Bernarr McFadden in his office. The 1930s

The publication and McFadden himself were constantly ridiculed in the press. The New York Public Library refused to keep copies of the newspaper. At its peak, the New York Evening Graphic came out with a circulation of one hundred thousand, but remained unprofitable: advertisers refused to cooperate with it.

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McFadden persisted in explaining that he wanted to speak to a common man in a language he could understand. He hired professionals – for example, Ed Sullivan, who later became the host of the famous show of the same name. But this did not help, and in 1932 McFadden was forced to close the newspaper, losing $ 10 million on it.

Further Activity

Bernarr McFadden at the celebration of his 84th birthday in Paris. 1952 

In the 1930s and 40s, McFadden’s vigorous activity continued. In addition to the publishing business, he was involved in charity work, education, real estate, and political activities. He ran unsuccessfully for mayor of New York, governor of Florida, and president of the United States.

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All this did not bring much profit. His authoritarian way of doing business reduced the profitability of Macfadden Publications, and in the early 1940s, shareholders ousted him as president of the company.

Then McFadden decided to found his own religion, which he called “cosmotarianism.” The religion was grounded in the Bible and the “physical health” that McFadden proclaimed was the surest way to go to heaven. But despite numerous public sermons, cosmotarianism failed.

In 1946, McFadden divorced Mary. At the age of 80, he married for the last, fourth time, 44-year-old Johnny Lee. McFadden was the first businessman to own a private jet (in 1929), and he subsequently received a flying license.

In 1955, McFadden developed a urological disease, which he tried to cure on his own with fasting. This did not help, and in October Bernard McFadden died in hospital. Almost nothing remained of his money. Johnny Lee claimed that he buried millions of dollars at various locations across the country in iron ammunition boxes. No one believed this, but in 1960 such a box with 89 thousand dollars was actually discovered on the land once owned by McFadden.

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