Peter Carlson, "Magazine Reader" at The Washington Post, has written a funny column about the history of True Confessions, True Love, Black Confessions, and all those "true-life" magazines. Seems the whole sob-sister genre was invented by one Bernarr Macfadden, a health-food
nut enthusiast who found gold in overwrought "true stories." (Bernarr's biographical page is worth a read all by itself; he also created "true detective" magazines and a slew of Hollywood cheapies.)
Once, inspired by the great essayist Florence King (who had supported herself with sob-sister submissions while she worked on her "serious" books), I looked into the possibility of augmenting my income à la King. Boy, was that a disappointment. The true-life "he-man" magazines were all dead and gone. And the pay scale for making up sob-sister confessions was $0.03 per word, and the turnaround time for the editors to even reply to a query was a full year. A year.
So much for my dreams of getting rich by turning out "My Personal Trainer Saved My Life...Then Held Me Hostage!" and other giants of the literary form.
Carlson cites several current true-magazine headlines that are obviously works of the masters; I particularly liked "The Night Jesus Was Born...THEY MURDERED MY SON" and "RUNAWAY WIFE: I Found Love in an Amish Man's Arms."
But Miss King, one of the best and most honored essayists of the 20th century, still captures the gold for her immortal true confession: "I Committed Adultery...IN A DIABETIC COMA."