Recommended Reading: It Wasn't Pretty, Folks, but Didn't We Have Fun?

Review-ish blog post: "It Wasn't Pretty, Folks, but Didn't We Have Fun?" by Carol Polsgrove

Surely, this is most intense history of a magazine I have ever read. It Wasn't Pretty, folks recounts the tragedy, gossip, drama, invention, experimentation, drinks, drugs, and sex that lay behind the scenes of Esquire in the 1960s. From 1963 to 1973, Esquire was run by editor Harold Hayes. Polsgrove's treatment of Hayes's reign is a testament to how much a magazine is the manifestation of an editor's vision.

In the September Issue, we saw how Anna Wintour defines Vogue; the New Yorker still bears traces of Tina Brown's influence, etc. etc.

But no editor so irrevocably changed the landscape of American magazine publishing and so lucidly defined a voice of a periodical than Hayes (and possibly another Harold--Ross, that is). There are almost 350 pages in this book, all of which speak to the magnificent achievement that were the 120 issues of Esquire published under Hayes's watch, which include some of the most indelible writing and imagery in the 20th-century, American pop culture consciousness.

We give a lot of credit to George Lois, the famous ad man who created the covers by which we remember Esquire today (an interview with Lois about the famous Esquire covers was published just this week on the New York mag website) but the magic of the book lay in the writing and the emergence of the "New Journalism" genre, which Hayes shaped, tweaked, and defined. He made artists and writers into icons: Diane Arbus, Gay Talese, John Sack, Raymond Carver, Tom Wolfe, and others. Hayes also gave the magazine a voice that was heard even in the advertising; a look into the archives of the New York Public Library showed me how an attitude can permeate every page of a magazine's issue, down to the small print on the shopping directory for the fashion pages.

I can only say so much about the magazine because I learned so much from Polsgrove's thoroughly compelling account, supported by virtuosic research. For any person seeking to learn how a magazine earns respect, veneration, admiration, and greatness, It Wasn't Pretty, Folks is absolutely essential.

1 comment:

Deanne said...

This sounds great, I'm going to try and find it for myself.