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Teenage Confidential: An Illustrated History of the American Teen
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Teenage Confidential: An Illustrated History of the American Teen

by Michael Barson, Steve Heller
When did those awkward, tormented creatures known as teenagers first crawl out of the primordial ooze and into American culture? In the forties, fifties, and sixties a new breed of youth known as the juvenile delinquent evolved. In Teenage Confidential, the authors conduct a guided tour through three decades of teen angst, displayed in shocking Technicolor.


When did those awkward, tormented creatures known as teenagers first crawl out of the primordial ooze and into American culture? In the forties, fifties, and sixties a new breed of youth known as the juvenile delinquent evolved. In Teenage Confidential, the authors conduct a guided tour through three decades of teen angst, displayed in shocking Technicolor.

Editorial Reviews

If you thought that hand-wringing over the state of our youth began in the 1950s, well, think again. In Teenage Confidential, Michael Barson and Steven Heller remind us that folks feared their teenagers were going to hell in a handbasket as far back as the 1770s. This is an entertaining and informative history of teenagers, loaded with wonderful graphics.
VOYA - Susan H. Levine
Barson and Heller have created a popular culture tour of the evolution of the teenager from the 1930s through the 1960s. Looking at movies, books, magazines, comics, music, advertisements, television, and other artifacts, the authors describe the "KleenTeen"-the nice, gentle teen of the '30s and '40s (Andy Hardy movies, Seventeen magazine articles, Archie comics); the lack of supervision due to fathers fighting and mothers working during World War II and the growth in juvenile delinquency (James Dean, The Wild One); the increasing affluence and leisure time of teens (the music explosion of rock 'n' roll, the beach subculture); and the growing problems facing teens (advice columns in magazines, instructional films, romance comics). Throughout the book are eye-catching illustrations and photographs of the major entertainers, movie ads, and book and magazine covers. There are special sections about such major topics as Elvis Presley, the Beatles, dating, and teen slang. A two-page coda brings the information to the present. The authors' breezy style includes attitude and some overblown prose: "it was Dick Clark who rendered teen culture like so much chicken fat, skimming off the high cholesterol fun to leave behind a thin broth..." The whole effect is predominantly fun with information thrown in. Adults interested in the teenage years will probably enjoy this the most, reminiscing along the way. Teens will love the illustrations, probably dabble in the text (particularly the sections about Elvis, the Beatles, James Dean, and dating), and do a lot of snickering about some of the movies and books their parents and grandparents enjoyed. Illus. Photos. Biblio. Source Notes. VOYA Codes: 4Q 2P J S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses, For the YA reader with a special interest in the subject, Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9, Senior High-defined as grades 10 to 12 and adults).
From the Publisher

Reviews From:

The New York Times Book Review

USA Today


By Leslie Chess Feller

What? No Werewolves?
Americans 'twixt 12 and 20" have been driving their parents crazy since the days of George Washington -- in the 1770's, according to Michael Barson and Steven Heller, unmarried couples were criticized for "irregular night walking, frolicking and keeping bad company." With color images as in-your-face as the average adolescent. Teenage Confidential: An Illustrated History of the American Teen takes a multimedia look at the teen-age subculture since World War II. Examining advertising artwork, magazine articles, paperback book covers, movie posters and romance comics, this lively and well-researched retrospective suggests that "the more things change, the more they remain the same." For American teenagers, music (form Frank Sinatra to Elvis Presley and the Beatles) has always been a catalyst, the opposite sex an often heart-wrenching mystery, and parents there to rebel against. In "a masterful display of bifurcated vision, " the mass media promoted the "Kleen Tee," as embodied by the redheaded, bow-tied comic book hero Archie Andrews and immortalized on movie screens by Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland, even while sounding the alarm with dire warnings of juvenile delinquents on the rampage. Magazine expos s, dime novels and low-budget films fanned the flames of parental panic side by side with their coverage of saddle shoes, sock hops and slumber parties. Magazines like Teen Life addressed "Kissing...Petting...Going Steady" while instructional films tackled subjects like" What to do on a Date." Love comics flourished throughout the 50's and 60's, "Offering pithy lessons of dating behavior that teens cold ignore at their own peril." Teenage Confidential is a wryly nostalgic trip back to the future, a tribute to the way we were...when we weren't in detention, that is."

By Katy Kelly

Cool 'Teenage Confidential': One glorious, nostalgic hoot
Teenage confidential is a fine way to remind yourself that youth isn't everything.

This funny illustrated history of the American teen-ager, by Michael Barson and Steven Heller, is a study in the good ("KleenTeen" Mickey Rooney in Family Affair) and the delinquent (So Young, So Bad).

Teen life from the 1940s to the 1960s is remembered in glorious Technicolor movie posters (Live Fast, Die Young: "The Sin-Steeped Story of Today's 'Beat' Generation!"), Teen Life magazine covers ("Kissing, Petting, Going Steady") and Teen-Age Brides comic books ("If You were the Judge--or the Jury--Would You Brand this Girl Unfit to Marry?")

From Sandra Dee to the Beatles, this paperback is a real kick.

From: Option

The kitschy Teenage Confidential collects books, posters and memorabilia from post-war America through the '60s, the heyday of juvenile delinquency. Filled with lipstick-stained girls who can't say no and greasy-haired boys high on heavy petting, Confidential captures the underlying innocence of the golden era of youth gone wild.

Product Details

Sterling Publishing
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
8.84(w) x 11.24(h) x 0.42(d)

Read an Excerpt

For as long as there have been kids, there have been bad kids. But it took the emergence of a distinctly teen culture to enable the truly rotten fruit of youth to fall off the tree en masse, and in numbers there is danger. Even before the dawn of this century, gangs of teenagers had plagued New York City and other major metropolitan centers, committing violent crimes with all the single-minded viciousness of the adult hoodlums they emulated. These marauding adolescents were really just gangsters-in-training, biding their time until accepted into the adult society of criminals; they were kid criminals existing outside of a kid code and kid culture.

artReports of troubled kids making trouble had been a favorite subject for the media even before the Jazz Age debaucheries of the early twenties. In the 1944 Liberty magazine article "Youth Has Flamed Before," Edith M. Stern reassured her readers that the recent headlines about increases in juvenile delinquency were nothing new to America, citing complaints dating from 1770 about preventing unmarried couples from "irregular night walking, frolicking and keeping bad company," and from the 1870s about youths going on horseback rides unchaperoned.

In 1918, Cincinnati reported an increase in juvenile delinquency of twenty-one percent. "An ugly sinister wave of immorality is sweeping over the country," one clergyman complained. The sensational social critique The Revolt of Modern Youth by Judge Ben B. Lindsay was published in 1925; it complained of a youth culture "whose ways, customs, purposes, vision, and modes of thought were as unknown to her parents and teachers as the social customs of Mars." The Joan Crawford movie The Dancing Daughters (1928) was about children of privilege acting up and acting out, as were F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel This Side of Paradise, Percy Marks's The Plastic Age, and Warner Fabian's Flaming Youth.

But it took the Great Depression to bring the underage underclass to the forefront of America's consciousness. Headlines were echoed in William Wellman's 1933 film Wild Boys of the Road, the ur-movie about juvenile delinquency. In this gritty Warner Bros.' problem pic, teens Frankie Darrow and Edwin Phillips find themselves up against hard times when their dads lose their jobs. Unable to find work, they begin to ride the rails looking for employment; of course, there's none to be found. The fellows save comely hard-luck lasses Rochelle Hudson and Dorothy Coonan from a rapacious brakeman, and the girls then join them on their travels. The kids finally end up in court, arrested for petty larceny, and draw a pie-in-the-sky lecture from a judge who obviously voted for FDR.

artBut moviegoers of the thirties had enough bad news without spending their scheckels on tales about hard-luck kids, preferring to watch such KleenTeen avatars as Deanna Durbin (Three Smart Girls, First Love), Mickey Rooney, Judy Garland, and Jane Withers (High School, Youth Will Be Served). Then there was the comically criminal Dead End Kids (aka The East Side Kids, aka The Bowery Boys), who were introduced as supporting characters in the 1937 film of the Broadway play Dead End, and continued in quasi-social-problem vehicles like Crime School (1938) and Hell's Kitchen (1939) before earning their own interminable series of comedic B pictures. (They were still "Boys" well into the 1950s, when some of them could been grandads.)

Even after the end of the Depression, second- and third-tier studios like Columbia, PRC, and Monogram continued to plumb the tabloids for stories about wayward youth. Low-budget films like the 1938 quartet Girls On Probation, Delinquent Parents, Juvenile Court, and Rebellious Daughters were followed by "problem" pics like the 1940 Girls of the Road and Girls Under 21. Perhaps those darker visions of teen life were inspired, at least in part, by the book Designs in Scarlet by Courtney Ryley Cooper. First published in 1939, it carried the blurbs, "Written in cooperation with the F.B.I. and other law-enforcement agencies" and "A frank and challenging expose of the excesses of modern youth"; it went through five printings before the year was out. The New York Times described it as "Terrifying....Based on first-hand research, this book is disturbing to any reader, but to parents of children in their teens it is likely to carry terrifying implications."

Those implications began to be realized with the advent of World War II. The exodus of parents from the home -- dads to train and fight, moms to work in offices and factories to help the war effort and make ends meet -- had lit a low flame under the kettle of teen culture; underneath the lid, bubbling noises were now being heard. Click magazine, a low-budget version of Life and Look, ran an article in its March 1943 issue entitled "Parents Are on the Spot!" It warned, "Wartime delinquency must be stopped...Startling data recently released by the New York State Board of Social Welfare reveals the incredible increase in war problem children throughout the nation. Juvenile delinquency is up 22 per cent and...your youngsters, like these, may be hard-hit by a disrupted home life." The following month, Click ran a lengthy story promoted on the cover as "Face the Facts on Kid Criminals," which argued that a serious gap lay between the bobby-sox brigade's harmless consumption of Andy Hardy movies and Frank Sinatra records and what was actually taking place with unsupervised (or at least undersupervised) youth in wartime America.

Excerpted by permission of Chronicle Books. Copyright © 1998 by Michael Barson and Steven Heller.

Meet the Author

Michael Barson is the author of Better Dead Than Red!; Lost, Lonely and Vicious; and Born to Be Bad. He lives in New York.

Steven Heller is the art director of the New York Times Book Review. He is the author of over ninety books on graphic design, popular art, and satiric art. He lives in New York City.

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