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Super blog: The legacies of Henry Luce and Harold Ross

Posted by: | November 22, 2011 | No Comment |


Harold Ross and Henry Luce may not ring a bell but The New Yorker and Time magazine probably do. Ross and Luce were publishing rivals that shared one common goal: success.

The New Yorker article, “Untimely,” by Jill Lepore gives a great look back at the history of Luce and Ross. The in-depth story discovers the mutual respect and rivalry between the two publishers and their legacies. Lepore beings with a brief history and the magazines they left behind. Luce and Ross had very different beginnings.

Luce was born in China to missionaries and said at one point, ‘An American can always explain himself satisfactorily by citing where he comes from.” He went on to graduate from Yale and then Oxford and start Time with Briton Hadden, a classmate.




Ross on the other hand, was born in Aspen, CO. He dropped out of school at 13 and became a journalist, writing for a number of different publications. He started The New Yorker only two years after Luce, in 1925 and that is when the “rivalry” began.



I put rivalry in quotes because Alan Brinkley, author of “The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century”, wrote that feud between Luce and Ross was “short-lived and silly” but lasted still for 25 years.

The first third of Lepore’s covers the history of the two men, their enlistments in the army (neither of them ever fought) but Luce were inspired by their time to create magazines. Luce was surprised by the lack of information amongst the soldiers and decided he would create a magazine that informs the people. Ross wanted to create a magazine that reached to the metropolis of Manhattan.

Much of Lepore’s article is spent on Luce–his beginnings, his stint with the army, his relationship with Hadden (who was in fact the first editor of TIme), all of his other magazines and other endeavors. The biggest standout was Ross’s profile of Luce in The New Yorker.

McKelway interviewed Luce; a fleet of reporters interviewed dozens of people at Time Inc., and then they all handed their notes over to Gibbs, who wrote a brutal parody of Timestyle, called “Time . . . Fortune . . . Life . . . Luce”: “Backward ran sentences until reeled the mind.” He skewered the contents of Fortune (“branch banking, hogs, glassblowing, how to live in Chicago on $25,000 a year”) and of Life (“Russian peasants in the nude, the love life of the Black Widow spider”). He made Luce ridiculous (“ambitious, gimlet-eyed, Baby Tycoon Henry Robinson Luce”), not sparing his childhood (“Very unlike the novels of Pearl Buck were his early days”), his fabulous wealth (“Described too modestly by him to Newyorker reporter as ‘smallest apartment in River House,’ Luce duplex at 435 East 52nd Street contains 15 rooms, 5 baths, a lavatory”), or his self-regard: “Before some important body he makes now at least one speech a year.” He announced the net profits of Time Inc., purported to have calculated to five decimal places the “average weekly recompense for informing fellowman,” and took a swipe at Ingersoll, “former Fortune editor, now general manager of all Time enterprises . . . salary: $30,000; income from stock: $40,000.” In sum, “Sitting pretty are the boys.”

Luce then met Ross about the profile, he was not thrilled. Luce and Ross did in fact have a rivalry, but the shots taken at each other in their respective publications summed up its severity.

In the beginning, when it came to subscribers and success, Luce won. He had much larger readership and Time was not his only magazine. Fortune, Life, and Sports Illustrated (published first in 1954) were all of his doing. Luce’s goal was to inform everyone, including the average joes of the news of the world. But as a someone who felt passionately about politics, he used his magazine as a gateway to his views. He had Chinese Nationalist leaders on the cover 11 times from 1927-1955 and his publicity of them played a large role in American politics.

Another interesting tidbit that Lepore writes about is Luce and Ross’s fascination with language. For Time, this can be attributed to Hadden.

Hadden liked to coin words, compounds like “news-magazine.” He imported “tycoon,” “pundit,” and “kudos” into English. He filled a notebook with lists. Famed Phrases: “flabby-chinned.” Forbidden Phrases: “erstwhile” (use “onetime” instead). Unpardonable Offenses: failing to print someone’s nickname. He was fond of middle names, of inverted subject and predicate phrases, of occupations as titles: “famed poet William Shakespeare” and “Demagog Hitler.” (What next? one reader wanted to know. “Onetime evangelist Jesus Christ?”) Hadden was uncompromising and, not infrequently, explosive. His Timestyle manual listed his cardinal rules: “Be specific. Be impersonal. Appear to be fair. Be not redundant. Reduce to lowest terms. You cannot be too obvious.” Scowl-faced was Editor Hadden, forgotten mag-man, called by the boys “the Terrible-Tempered Mr. Bang.”

Ross, not nearly as specific, also had his own views.

A few years later, Ross wrote a staff memo: “I earnestly recommend that we abandon the word understandably, which has been a fad word with us for a good many months and creeps into all sorts of pieces. I saw it in Life the other day and when Life takes up a word it is time for us to unload, I think.”

But what really differentiates Luce and Ross from other publishers of the era, apart from language, is their success, or rather, legacy. Both Time and The New Yorker are still relevant magazines bring great news and coverage still in the new millenium and they haven’t changed much. Yes, they’ve change with the times but their target audiences remain the same. Time continues to deliver world news with memorable covers and excellent news coverage by revered writers and excellent writing. The New Yorker also continues to serve Manhattanites but also a younger, more urban crowd.

In their famed history, both magazines have had memorable covers. Here are some of the most famous ones:





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