William "Bill" Moncrief Cotton was born on March 29, 1904 in College Grove, Tennessee. His father, John Eather Cotton, was born in 1881 in TN. His mother, Mary Alice Sweeney, was born in 1886 in TN. His parents married in 1903. He was their only child. The family lived at 1200 Buchanan Street in Nashville, TN. His father was a bookkeeper at a Tennessee paper mill.
In June of 1921 he graduated from high school in Nashville.
In September of 1921 he began to attend Cumberland College in Lebanon, TN.
By December 1923 he had completed his Freshman and Sophomore years, as well as the first semester of his Junior Year.
On January 14, 1924 he married Lucille Dies. She was born on March 25, 1905 in Lebanon, TN, and had graduated from high school the previous year.
After their marriage he left college and entered the work force as a salesman at the same Tennessee paper mill where his father was a trusted accountant.
In 1925 their daughter Barbara Alice Cotton was born.
By 1928 he had been hired to work as a production supervisor at Fawcett Publications in Robbinsdale, Minnesota. He and his wife and child moved to 4715 Ewing Avenue in Minneapolis.
In 1929 while living in Minnesota their second child was born, Wilhemina Lucille Cotton. Although "Wilhemina" is a feminine version of "William" the youngest daughter was simply known as "Billie."
Fawcett Publications was founded in 1919 by Wilford H. Fawcett (1885-1940) with the irreverent joke book, Capt. Billy's Whiz Bang, which was sensationally popular and profitable. Artists who worked for Fawcett in those early years include Norman Saunders, Allen Anderson, Ralph Carlson, Carl Buettner, F. R. Glass, Gerard Delano, Chet Sullivan, and George Rozen. Fawcett's success lead the company to branch out into other genres, where greater success was found with True Confessions and Hollywood fanzines Motion Picture and Movie Story.
By 1934 the Fawcett empire had grown too large for Minneapolis, so the company moved to the East Coast, with a printing plant was Connecticut and executive headquarters in New York City. William M. Cotton had been promoted to Production Manager, so he worked at the plant in Connecticut. He and his wife and two daughters lived on Brookside Avenue in Darien, CT.
On September 26, 1936 The New York Times reported that William M. Cotton had been promoted to Advertising Director at Fawcett's Executive Offices. He began to commute into New York City, where his skills as an experienced salesman were useful to negotiate contracts with powerful advertising agencies and distributors. The NYC industries of advertising and distribution were a hot bed of wheeler dealers. Many of them were full of baloney, but some of them, such as Bernarr Macfadden and George Delacorte, had cleverly earned a fortune in popular culture publishing. Macfadden, Dell and Fawcett were the top publishers of Hollywood fan magazines.
By 1937 William M. Cotton had resigned from Fawcett Publications to start the Ideal Publishing Corporation, located on the 12th floor of the Chanin Building at 122 East 42nd Street. His first two publications were Hollywood fanzines Movie Life and Modern Movies. These pre-existing titles had been published by Ultem Publications. Ultem was owned by Isaac Wise Ullman and Frank Zelig Temerson. Their magazines were distributed by PDC (Periodical Distribution Corporation), which was owned by Irving S. Manheimer. In addition to his distribution company, Manheimer was also President of Macfadden Publications. At that time Manheimer followed a risky but profitable business pattern of lending credit to new publishers in exchange for control of production, printing, personnel, advertising, distribution, accounting and most potential profit. This lop-sided arrangement only appealed to ambitious young publishers, who confidently believed they would soon make enough money to repay the loan. Irving S. Manheimer provided financial start-up credit to Ned Pines, Martin Goodman, and William M. Cotton.
William M. Cotton went on to establish a significant career in publishing. Although it remains unknown if he was ever able to pay off his debt, it is clear to see that every periodical he made over the next thirty years was distributed by Irving S. Manheimer and carried the logo of PDC.
Maxwell Leonard Ullman (1891-1955) was the nephew of Isaac Wise Ullman and had worked for Irving S. Manheimer as a Circulation Manager since 1924. When Cotton went into business with Manheimer's backing to start Ideal Publishing his Advertising and Distribution Manager was Maxwell L. Ullman.
On March 7, 1939 The New York Times reported that M. L. Ullman had been promoted to Eastern Advertising Manager of the Ideal Publishing Corp.
Eventually the company produced many popular fan magazines, such as Peek, Movies, Movie Stars Parade, Movie Life, as well as Intimate Romances, Personal Romances. The Ideal Publishing Corp. became a subsidiary of Grosset & Dunlop.
By 1940 phenomenal sales of comic books sent shockwaves through the publishing industry. William M. Cotton's two biggest competitors were Fawcett and Dell. They both produced successful comic books, so he also began to produce comics. In June of 1940 he released the first issue of Cyclone Comics, which featured Tornado Tom. He named the new company Bilbara Publishing after his two daughters Billie and Barbara. The editor was Worth Carnahan, whose wife, Elizabeth Mary Slayden, was also from Nashville, TN, and was a childhood friend of Mrs. Cotton. The cover of the second issue of Cyclone Comics was drawn by Worth Carnahan. It is signed in the lower-right corner with the artist's distinctive signature design composed of his interlocked initials "WC." The inside front covers of each issue of Cyclone Comics has the same full page advertisement for Movie Life Magazine from Ideal Publishing Co.
Prior to the first issue of Cyclone Comics, Worth Carnahan had been editing and publishing the first six issues of Champion Comics. Although the publisher was listed as Worth Publishing Company, the executive offices at 1 East 42nd Street were leased to Leo Greenwald, a PDC Circulation Manager employed by Irving S. Manheimer. The February 1941 issue of Champ Comics identified Leo Greenwald as the Publisher and Editor.
By 1941 Ideal Publishing leased additional space for their Women's Group Division at 295 Madison Avenue on 41st Street.
In 1942 William M. Cotton bought a seven-acre estate in Poundridge, NY.
In 1945 the family leased an eight room apartment at 1050 Park Avenue and East 87th Street.
After WWII Worth Carnahan and his family left the NYC publishing industry and returned to his wife's hometown, Nashville, TN, where the artist worked for the State Government and illustrated several official publications, including the fishing and hunting stamps that were annually issued to outdoor sportsmen.
During the post war period William M. Cotton oversaw sensational growth of the Ideal Publishing Corp. He produced Deb, Living Story, Young Marrieds, Intimate Lives of Movie Stars, Movie Pin-Ups, and Fiction Magazine.
In 1948 the government imposed a 20% sales tax on cosmetics, which was opposed by the make-up industry. Hollywood fanzines depended on advertising from cosmetic companies, so William M. Cotton staged a prolonged editorial campaign to incite a populist rebellion of women readers to demand a repeal of the cosmetic tax. The law was promptly repealed the following year.
In the 1950s the Ideal Publishing Corp. produced Rock 'n' Roll Rivals, The James Dean Album, The Arthur Godfrey Album, Liberace, TV Movie Men, and TV Star Annual.
On September 30, 1966 William M. Cotton became Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer of the Ideal Publishing Corp. At the same time he appointed John F. Noone President and Director, who assumed responsibilities for company operations.
William M. Cotton returned to Tennessee and accepted the position of Director of Cumberland College in Lebanon, TN.
William M. Cotton died after a long illness at home in College Grove, TN, at the age of sixty-seven on December 11, 1971.
© David Saunders 2014