The Washington Post's magazine columnist delves into the true confession genre and provides a bit of Arkansas history new to me.
The genre of confessions magazines was invented in 1919 by Bernarr Macfadden, the looniest American nut job ever to become a millionaire magazine publisher. A health faddist from Arkansas, Macfadden believed in the therapeutic powers of walking barefoot, standing on your head and "exercising" your hair by pulling on it twice a day. He founded his first magazine, Physical Culture, in 1899. A crackpot health mag, it once published an article titled "Why I Adopted Grass as a Diet" and illustrated it with a picture of the author wearing a tuxedo and grazing in a pasture.
Naturally, it was a huge success, selling 500,000 copies an issue by 1919, when Macfadden founded True Stories, a magazine devoted to first-person pieces, usually tales of star-crossed love, with such titles as "I Was a Child Wife." The mag offered $1,000 for true stories from readers. That offer inspired readers to send in true stories, some of them quite good. It also inspired cynical professional writers to send in fake true stories, some of them even better.
Within a decade, True Story was selling 2 million copies an issue, and its success had spawned many copycats: True Confessions, True Romance, True Experience. After World War II, these mags began to fade in popularity, but they never died.