During World War II, a small Navy newspaper found itself in the center of a censorship storm. The SeaBeecon, a four-page tabloid, was published at Pearl Harbor by the U.S. Navy’s 3rd Naval Construction Regiment, known as the Seabees. Officers supervised these military papers, but enlisted personnel—usually professional journalists in civilian life—produced them.
There was total censorship of the civilian and military media. Yet the military papers were an important morale booster for the half million or so military stationed here. Thus they printed lots of “pinups” of pretty girls. The problem? The U.S. postmaster general, with sweeping powers to exclude “offensive” material from the mails, in 1943 charged Esquire magazine with “obscenity” for printing allegedly harmful material that was not fulfilling a public service. The material in question? A drawing by the famous Varga of a blond, voluptuous, scantily clad female. The Post Office attempted to rescind Esquire’s second-class mailing privileges: it would have to pay a half million dollars a year in additional postal charges.
While the magazine fought the case through the courts, Varga donated an inscribed copy of his drawing “To the Seabeecon.” With the approval of the Navy chaplain who oversaw the paper, and to the delight of the Seabees, the Seabeecon reprinted it. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Esquire’s mailing privileges in February of 1946. The Seabeecon edition became a collector’s item.
By Helen G. Chapin