If you read Wired magazine, The New Yorker, or Vanity Fair, you’re reading material produced by a company named Advance Publications. And if you read Parade, the largest circulation Sunday supplement magazine in the U.S., or Golf Digest, or Glamour, these magazines are also published by Advance – as are Vogue, The Sporting News, Architectural Digest, and several others.Advance owns newspapers as well, found in more than twenty-five American cities, including Newark, New Jersey; Cleveland, Ohio; Portland, Oregon; and Syracuse, New York. Another 40 weekly titles are published by Advance through its American City Business Journals. Cable television outlets owned by Advance serve 2.4 million customers in Florida, California, Michigan, Indiana and Alabama. On the web, Advance Internet operates more than 100 websites, most of which serve and extend the company’s print and cable operations. Reddit.com, the popular user-generated “social news” website, is one of Advance Internet’s properties.
Advance Publications was formed and is owned by the Newhouse family of Long Island, New York. In recent years the Newhouse /Advance empire has ranked among the 50 largest private companies in the U.S. The company dates to the early 1920s, and grew to fame in the heyday of the newspaper business when its founder, Samuel I. Newhouse – “Sam” – steadily went about acquiring all manner of America newspapers during the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Today, as of September 2012, Advance Publications is run at the corporate level by Sam’s two sons — S.I. Newhouse, Jr. (84), known as “Si,” and brother Donald Newhouse (81). Assorted other Newhouse family members assist in the management of various divisions and subsidiaries. Si and Donald will soon turn over control of the company to the next generation of Newhouse executives.
Yet, some say the Newhouse empire is “yesterday’s media company,” and will succumb to the albatross and high-cost of print in a digital age. Others believe the Newhouse empire will not only survive, but will thrive, continuing to be a dominant cultural force and contemporary story teller, setting trends in fashion, literature, and style as it goes. Whatever the outcome, there is 90 years of rich history here – a publishing and cultural time capsule of sorts, reflecting changes in publishing and media generally over that period. What follows is a narrative and visual look at some of that Newhouse history, and by extension, media and publishing history as well. First, Sam Newhouse, the founding father, circa 1920s.
Life magazine photo of Sam Newhouse, 1963.
Having left school at about the age of 13 due to his family’s poverty, Samuel I. Newhouse landed a job with a local judge in Bayonne, New Jersey. There, he was given the task of minding a local newspaper named the Bayonne Times which his employer had acquired in payment for a bad debt. Newhouse succeeded in making the paper profitable, and along the way, attended evening classes at the New Jersey Law School at Newark, receiving a degree in 1916. Newhouse was 21 by this time, and his boss, Judge Lazarus, paid him $30,000 a year, and gave him a 25 percent share the Bayonne Times. In 1922, with Judge Lazarus, Newhouse purchased the Staten Island Advance, one of the first newspapers he acquired – the property from which “Advance Publications” got its name. When Judge Lazarus died in 1924, Newhouse acquired the rest of the Staten Island Advance. He then focused on the idea of expanding newsstands in the region as a way to grow his newspaper – newsstands at the St. George Ferry Terminal on Staten Island and others throughout Manhattan, at LaGuardia and Newark airports, and at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York city, which became the world’s largest and most lucrative newsstand. Then came other newspaper acquisitions: the Long Island Press in 1932; the Newark Star Ledger in 1933, the long Island Star Journal in 1938; the Syracuse Journal in 1939; the Syracuse Herald-Standard in 1941; the Jersey Journal in 1945; and the Harrisburg Patriot of Pennsylvania in 1948.
Dec 1955: Newhouse makes Alabama deal.
Newhouse soon moved beyond the Northeast in prospecting for additional newspapers to buy. In 1950, he purchased The Oregonian for $5.6 million, then the largest newspaper sale ever. Five years later, in 1955, Newhouse purchased St. Louis Globe-Democrat for $6.5 million, another record. In the same year in Alabama he acquired the Birmingham News and Huntsville Times, along with one TV property and 2 radio stations for a combined $18.7 million. This deal set another record, surpassing Cyrus McCormick’s $18 million purchase of The Philadelphia Inquirer in 1930.
In buying up newspapers, Newhouse adopted a low-key, non-threatening approach with the companies acquired. He usually kept the existing management and editors and was reluctant to upset the status quo, believing the papers should remain local institutions run by people in those communities.
March 1958: “Glamour” shortly before the Newhouse acquisition.
But Newhouse also expanded his growing publishing business with new magazine properties. By 1959, he acquired the Condé Nastmagazine group, which then included seven magazines – Vogue, Glamour, Bride, and House & Garden among them. At the time, these magazines had sales in the neighborhood of $20 million a year. Added to this group in August 1959 were more magazines through another Newhouse acquisition – this time, buying up Street & Smith Publications which held titles such as Mademoiselle magazine and several sports annuals, including: College Football, Pro Football, Baseball, Pro Basketball, and College/Prep Basketball. In some cases, Newhouse took the less viable magazines in one company and rolled them into the better version in another company, often helping his bottom line. The Condé Nast group had been losing money when Newhouse acquired it, but within one year under his management it turned a $1.6 million profit. Within the Newhouse family, meanwhile, Sam’s sons were chosen to help run the business – S. I., Jr. ran the Condé Nast group, while younger brother Donald managed the newspapers and broadcasting in Newark, NJ.
The wealth of the Newhouse family at this point approached $200 million. Some began wondering exactly how Newhouse was generating the funds for his deals. A few even speculated that he was laundering money, using his newspapers as a front for a local mob organization’s illegal booze operations during prohibition. But it wasn’t that at all. Newhouse had just hired smart attorneys and accountants who figured out ways to pay the absolute least amount of corporate taxes while costing every expense they could and depreciating assets to the limit. They also structured each newspaper as its own operation, each attributed its own separate profits, avoiding a much higher commulative total under one, single-owned Newhouse entity. There was also a Newhouse Foundation created early on as an additional tax dodge, which some believe was also used to help finance the $18 million deal for the Alabama newspapers in 1955.
1962: Newhouse buys Louisiana newspapers.
In the 1960s, Sam Newhouse continued building his newspaper empire, but he didn’t appear to use his growing publication power in the political arena. The Newhouse newspapers appeared to follow their own political inclinations, and were not told to endorse specific candidates. Newhouse himself was a registered Democrat, and he voted for John F. Kennedy in the 1960 presidential race. Eight of the Newhouse newspapers, however, endorsed Nixon. In New York, Mr. Newhouse favored Republican Nelson Rockefeller for governor.
Back on the newspaper acquisition trail, Newhouse acquired the Oregon Journal in 1961 for $8 million. By then he owned 16 newspapers. But in 1962, having failed to buy the Houston Post after he had made a generous offer to that paper’s owner — Ms. Hobby, who refused to sell — Newhouse was still itching to buy a paper, any paper. So he telephoned a newspaper broker named Allen Kander in Washington, D.C. Newhouse, then continuing his travels in the South, asked Kander where he might buy a newspaper in the region. Try New Orleans, Kander suggested. Newhouse did. Two weeks later, he set another record, paying $42 million for both of New Orleans’ newspapers: the morning Times-Picayune and its evening companion, the States-Item. The larger of these two, the Times Picayune, then had a daily circulation in excess of 195,000, with more than 300,000 sold on Sundays. The States-Item was an evening paper with a circulation of about 163,000.
S.I. “Sam” Newhouse on the cover of Time magazine, July 27th, 1962.
The Louisiana deals that Newhouse had made, not only set a record, but also sent his company into the upper echelons of the newspaper industry. Newhouse by then had collected 19 newspapers with a combined daily and Sunday circulation of 5.7 million. He now owned, in whole or part, more newspapers than anyone else in the U.S. The Scripps Howard organization was right behind him with 18, followed by Hearst newspapers with 13. However, Scripps-Howard and Hearst both had bigger total circulation numbers than did Newhouse. But Newhouse was growing in size, even as Scripps-Howard, Hearst, and most of the U.S. newspaper industry was contracting. And Sam Newhouse appeared to be the better businessman of the bunch, having a special knack for making newspapers profitable. By late July 1962, Sam Newhouse appeared on the cover of Time magazine, depicted with a stream of acquired newspapers behind him, shown generating a flow of cash.
In the fall that year, Newhouse set out again to bag another newspaper. On October 12, 1962, The Wall Street Journal reported that Newhouse was planing to buy The World-Herald newspaper in Omaha, Nebraska. And a few weeks later Newhouse made a $40 million bid for the paper, which appeared to be accepted.
1967: Sam Newhouse acquired ‘The Cleveland Plain Dealer’ newspaper.
However, a local Omaha construction magnate, Peter Kiewit, bid higher at $40.5 million, which the World-Herald board accepted, preferring to keep the paper in local hands. Back in New York, meanwhile, in 1964 Newhouse made the largest gift to Syracuse University by a living donor as the university dedicated its new School of Communications Center, which was named for Samuel Newhouse.
In 1966, Newhouse acquired three newspapers in Springfield, Massachusetts – The Springfield Morning News, The Republican, and The Morning Union – followed by three more in the south; TheMobile Register, The Mobile Press and The Mississippi Press-Register. The following year he set another industry record when he paid $54.2 million for the Cleveland Plain-Dealer.
As he went about his business, Newhouse gained a reputation as a tight-fisted owner and manager known for cost cutting. He also resisted unions and did not pay high salaries to his reporters. Nor did he impose any particular ideology or editorial line on his managers and editors, and for the most past, he maintained political neutrality. Said he in 1968: “My papers have different philosophies, and they’re about as wide apart as they can get. Some are Democratic, some are Republican. I am not going to try to shape their thought.” Many others in the business followed his “hands off” example.
By the mid-1970s, Sam Newhouse, then 80 years old, was still looking for more newspaper properties. In February 1975 he had acquired 25 percent of the stock in the Booth Newspaper group, a chain of eight small newspapers all within 200 miles of Detroit, Michigan. Booth also owned Parade magazine, a popular Sunday supplement. Local newspapers with monopoly positions like those in the Booth chain, were described by one 1975 analyst as offering “practically a licence to print money.” The eight papers – The Grand Rapids Press, The Flint Journal, The Kalamazoo Gazette, The Saginaw News, The Muskegon Chronicle, The Bay City Times, The Ann Arbor News and The Jackson Citizen Press – then had a combined circulation of about 506,000. But Newhouse wasn’t the only party interested in this newspaper group. The Times Mirror Company – then owner of the Los Angeles Times, Newsday, The Dallas Times Herald, and The Orange Coast Daily Pilot – was also interested. In the fall of 1976, Times Mirror made an offer to buy the Booth chain at $40 a share, which was more than double Booth’s stock price at the time. But Newhouse made a counter offer of $47 a share, which the Booth group accepted. In the end, Newhouse gained total ownership of the eight Booth newspapers and Parade magazinefor $305 million.
The look of Parade magazine in August 1977, not long after being acquired by Newhouse.
The deal was seen in the industry as an investor’s dream, as the eight Booth newspapers were the sole papers in their respective communities, each offering a monopoly source for local advertising. Observed one newspaper analyst at the time: “It has developed over the years that small-to-medium sized newspapers with a monopoly are the Cadillacs of newspaper stocks. These are steady, reliable, profitable businesses and that is practically a licence to print money.”
But in addition to the eight local newspapers, there was also something else. No small part of the deal was Parade magazine.Parade, in fact, gave Newhouse a window into many other newspapers, as it was then one of the leading Sunday supplement inserts – used by some 111 newspapers with a combined circulation of more than 19 million. And under the Newhouse umbrella, Parade would only grow in the years ahead. Elsewhere in the magazine business, in February1979, Newhouse also purchased Gentlemen’s Quarterly from Esquire and rolled it into the Condé Nast magazine group, later renaming it GQ.
1974: Sam Newhouse.
The Newhouse empire, however, was about to change. In August 1979, at the age of 84, Sam Newhouse passed away. He died of complications following a stroke. At the time of his death, what had begun as a single Long Island newspaper 50 years earlier, had become a nationwide communications empire that included not only newspapers but magazines, radio and television stations, printing companies and delivery services.
By1979, the Newhouse operation held 31 daily newspapers with a total readership of more than 3 million, then the third largest U.S. newspaper chain behind Gannett and Knight-Ridder. With Sam’s passing, his two sons began running the company – S.I., Jr., known as “Si,” would head up the company’s magazine operations, and Donald Newhouse would run the newspapers.
The banners of the two main newspapers in New Orleans ran together for a time after Newhouse consolidated the them. But in 1986, The States-Item name was dropped.
In the 1980s, although no newspapers were acquired, some were consolidated, especially in cities where Newhouse owned both the morning and afternoon papers. In New Orleans, The Times-Picayune was combined with The States-Item. Newhouse had bought both papers in 1962. On June 2, 1980, The States-Item was gone but the surviving paper shared a joint banner using both names. Six years later, The States-Item name was dropped altogether, and the newspaper of New Orleans became The Times-Picayune.
In Portland, Oregon, The Oregon Journal was merged with the Oregonian in 1982. That same year, the Cleveland Press ceased operation. The Newhouse-owned Cleveland Plain-Dealer then became the city’s only daily newspaper. Allegations were made that Newhouse management had paid The Press’ owner to go out of business, and in 1985, a grand jury began an anti-trust investigation into the Newhouse role, but charges were never filed. In other newspaper business, Newhouse also sold the St. Louis Globe-Democrat in 1984.
The Random House logo.
In other ventures, Newhouse scored big when he acquired Random House in 1980, then one of the world’s top book publishers. He bought the premier publisher from RCA for $70 million. Two years later Fawcett Books was acquired from CBS and placed in the Ballantine Books division of Random House. In that deal, Newhouse inherited Fawcett’s mass market paperback list with established authors such as: William Bernhardt, Amanda Cross, Stephen Frey, P. D. James, William X. Kienzle, Anne Perry, Daniel Silva, Peter Straub and Margaret Truman. Fawcett also became the official home of Ballantine’s mass market mystery books program. Later in the 1980s, Fodor’s Travel Guides (1986) and the Crown Publishing Group (1988) would be acquired and rolled into Random House as well.
In 1980 Newhouse also sold five television stations to the Times Mirror Company for $82 million. He sold the stations primarily because his company then held newspapers in those same cities and he feared the government would eventually order the sale on anti-trust grounds. Newhouse used part of the money from that sale to buy up other cable TV systems, and by 1981 or so had over 500,000 cable television subscribers. Forbes magazine around this time observed: “By the most conservative standards, the Newhouse properties are worth well over $1 billion. They are unencumbered by a penny of debt and except for a 49% interest in a paper mill, are 100% owned by the Newhouse family or by trusts they control.”
In the magazine business, meanwhile, the early 1980s at Newhouse were a time of revamping and relaunching some of the company’s acquired properties. Among these was Gentleman’s Quarterly, or GQ, a men’s fashion magazine dating to 1931. At the time Newhouse acquired it, GQ had become known as a gay men’s magazine. But at the Newhouse Condé Nast shop during the early 1980s, the decision was made to give GQ a more masculine focus, as the company wanted to reach a broader market and become a competitor to Esquire. The covers in the early 1980s began featuring male movie stars and athletes, among them, actors such as Jack Nicholson, Mel Gibson, and Harrison Ford and athletes such as Washington Redskins quarterback, Joe Theismann. Advertising pages in the magazine featured male models with admiring females.
In early 1983, Newhouse also made a major move with the re-launch of Vanity Fair as a glossy celebrity magazine focused on literature, the arts, politics and popular culture. Some $10 million was invested in strengthening the magazine editorially. It was also redesinged to give it a new look and a new start, hoping to restore it as the central publication within the Condé Nast group. The first new issue included some 290 pages with a short novel by Gabriel Garcia Márquez, winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize for literature, and also articles by writer Gore Vidal and paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould. Photographer Irving Penn, described as “one of the greatest portrait photographers of the 20th century”, was enlisted in the Vanity Fair re-launch during 1983. Penn, who began shooting for Vogue magazine in 1943, did six successive covers for Vanity Fair in 1983, August through December 1983. Four of those cover shots, which featured celebrity authors and actors, are shown here at right – from top left: novelist Philip Roth, September 1983; writer and playwright Susan Sontag, October 1983; European writer, Francine du Plessix Gray, November 1983; and comedian-in-disguise, Woody Allen, December 1983. A round of reviews followed the Vanity Fair makeover, including some that were sharply negative, as those that came from Time and The New Republic. ”We never believed we were producing a perfect magazine when we relaunched Vanity Fair,” said Si Newhouse at the time. He acknowledged there was much work ahead — “before we get the wonderful, seamless quality a mature magazine has.”
One step to getting Vanity Fair on the right track, Newhouse hoped, was the January 1984 hiring of Tina Brown, the former editor of The Tatler, societymagazine in London. Brown, an Oxford University graduate, had given The Tatler a more modern and satirical edge, and it appeared that’s what Newhouse had in mind for Vanity Fair as well. Time would tell.
The New Yorker, Feb 25, 1985, featuring famous mascot, Eustace Tilley, about the time S. I. Newhouse acquired it.
Then in November 1984, Newhouse took another big bite in the magazine industry, spending $25 million to acquire a 17 percent ownership position in the The New Yorker magazine, one of the nation’s most venerable magazines of style and literary excellence, published for some 60 years. By February 1985, Newhouse had acquired the whole company, which then also included a few other magazines.
The acquisition of The New Yorker stunned the publishing world. At the time, many worried for the fate of the magazine’s vaunted literary quality, which showcased some of the finest writers in America, might suffer under the Newhouse cost-conscious management style. An unsigned article published in the magazine during the management change questioned whether the new ownership would result in erosion of The New Yorker’s long tradition of editorial independence. Fears escalated when the long standing editor of some 32 years, William Shawn, was fired by Newhouse. Depsite the concerns, things at The New Yorker continued pretty much as they had, as the magazine’s integrity and quality were not compromised.
In the business world, however, there were those who believed that buying up The New Yorker made no economic sense, as the magazine was seen as “old media” and on the way out – especially as television’s “quick take” and “sound bite” stylistic tendencies began encroaching on the print world. But Si Newhouse was a careful student of the magazine business. In September 1988 he told Geraldine Fabrikant of the New York Times that The New Yorker was then “one of the greatest things in journalism and the most interesting thing I am involved in.” He added: ”People have been convinced that no one is reading any more, so that bringing The New Yorker back is a fascinating challenge,” he said. ”When I study the health of magazines, I study renewal rates,” he explained. ”That tells you whether a magazine is right for its readers. Once you have a good reader base, advertisers invariably follow.” The New Yorker at the time had a renewal rate of 72 percent, which was then 2 points above the industry average.
Vanity Fair, meanwhile, under Tina Brown, faced a make-or-break situation, with 1984 circulation of 200,000 and very little advertising. Rumors circulated that Si Newhouse might decide to take the barely-surviving magazine and fold it into The New Yorker. But under Brown’s direction, Vanity Fair began to show itself in a new way, offering a range of new cover subjects, stories and photography.
Three Vanity Fair cover stories during 1985 are sometimes credited as the turning point. First was the Vanity Fair cover of Ronald and Nancy Reagan dancing in the White House by photographer Harry Benson for the June 1985 issue. Then came the August 1985 cover story of accused murderer Claus von Bulow with his mistress Andrea Reynolds on the cover and in other photos by Helmut Newton of von Bülow and Reynolds in matching leather jackets that made them look, as Reynolds put it, like “S&M people.” And finally, there was Tina Brown’s own cover story on Princess Diana of October 1985 titled “The Mouse that Roared,” which examined how marriage and a public life had changed young Diana, a former preschool teacher. Princess Di was photographed in full House of Windsor regalia for the issue. But perhaps more notably, the Princess Diana story also broke news of the royal couple’s fractured marriage. The issue boosted Vanity Fair newsstand sales by 100,000 copies.
Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown with Si Newhouse, 1990.
The von Bülow and Princess Diana issues set Vanity Fair sales records and helped convince Newhouse to stick with the venture. Vanity Fair’s fortunes generally rose thereafter, as sales began rising, especially on the newsstands, a very good bellweater of consumer acceptance and magazine success. By 1988, Tina Brown was named Magazine Editor of the Year by Advertising Age and Vanity Fair’s advertising pages were on the rise as well. Tina Brown’s Vanity Fair cover subjects continued to reflect leading edge culture, with figures such as Madonna and Michael Jackson featured on issues in the second half of the 1980s. The magazine also used current events to its advantage. “I brought in the news gene,” Tina Brown would later explain to writer Steve Fishman in a 2009 New York magazine interview. “Newhouse came to understand that news was a key to connection to the culture.” News meant buzz, politics, and culture. As New York’s Steve Fishman, would put it: “Brown had an instinct, and an unrestrained affection, for power, and she set about glamorizing it, whether in politics, Hollywood, business, or crime. The notion that a magazine could borrow celebrity power to increase its own, such a truism now, was revelatory at the time.”
2010 edition of “Condé Nast Traveler,” launched in 1987.
“Details” magazine in 1992 after a Newhouse overhaul.
Si Newhouse, meanwhile was also adding other magazines during the late 1980s. Among these was a magazine that would later become the CondéNast Traveler, a monthly magazine for affluent readers and travelers that was acquired from American Express as Signature magazine, but was vastly upgraded and relaunched by Newhouse in the fall of 1987 with an infusion of about $40 million. In early 1988, Details magazine was acquired, which was originally a somewhat quirky chronicle of Manhattan’s downtown art and club scene when Newhouse acquired it for $2 million, but was transformed into a young men’s fashion and lifestyle magazine. Later the same year, Woman magazine was acquired, an eight-year-old magazine with a circulation of 525,000. Somewhat less sophisticated than others in the Newhouse / Condé Nast group, Woman would target a newer market segment. Meanwhile, an older but reliable magazine on the newspaper side, Parade, was enjoying a growing readership base. By 1989 the Sunday supplement was included in some 330 newspapers with a circulation of more than 35 million readers. A full-page color ad in Parade at this time would cost its sponsor about $420,000.
Elsewhere in the late-1980s Newhouse empire, Random House in 1988 added Crown Publishing to its growing group of imprints. The IRS about this time filed charges against the Newhouse family, claiming taxes due on the estate of Sam Newhouse. The family had filed an estimated amount of $48 million. The IRS, however, said the amount due was more in the neighborhood of $600 million, plus $300 million more in penalties. However, the courts later found in favor of the Newhouse family. By 1989, Forbes magazine, in its annual listing of the richest Americans, found the Newhouse empire to be worth some $5.2 billion. Fortune magazine estimated Newhouse wealth a bit higher, at $7.7 billion. In any case, by the close of the decade, Newhouse was the nation’s the No. 1 publisher of general books, the third largest magazine publisher, the fourth largest newspaper chain, and one of the top 15 cable TV providers.
Vanity Fair continued to be a pop culture trend-setter in the early 1990s, featuring cutting-edge stories, Hollywood celebrities, and sometimes controversial covers, not the least of which was a nude and very pregnant Demi Moore on the cover of the August 1991 issue. “More Demi Moore,” read the cover tag line, with the featured subject photographed by Annie Leibovitz, as Moore was then seven months pregnant with her daughter. The cover was intended to be “anti- Hollywood” and “anti-glitz,” according to some accounts, and it succeeded in sparking intense controversy and debate, receiving wide media coverage in the process. Other Vanity Fair covers through 1992 featured Hollywood celebrities, rock stars, and enticing cover stories, among them: Jessica Lange in October 1991, Goldie Hawn in March 1992, and Mick Jagger in April 1992.
Vanity Fair’s circulation had jumped to 1.2 million by 1991. Advertising pages were also up in 1991, to about 1,440 pages. Revenues from circulation rose, especially from profitable single-copy sales at $20 million. Vanity Fair was then selling some 55 percent of its copies on the newsstand, well above the industry average of 42 percent. Tina Brown had done so well at Vanity Fair that Si Newhouse decided in July 1992 to make her editor of The New Yorker, hoping to give that magazine a bit of Vanity Fair’s sharper edge. Graydon Carter was hired by Newhouse to replace Brown at Vanity Fair, which continued with engaging cover art, such as the August 1993 issue with Cindy Crawford and k. d. Lang, photographed by Herb Ritts. Vanity Fair stories had cultural and current affairs impact, too. In 1996, journalist Marie Brenner wrote a Vanity Fair exposé on the tobacco industry entitled “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” an article later adapted for the 1999 film, The Insider, with Al Pacino and Russell Crowe.
1996: “Allure,” Sharon Stone.
October 1995: “Bon Appétit.”
Beyond Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, the Newhouse enterprise continued to extend its reach in the magazine business. In 1991, it added Allure and others through the 1993 acquisition of Knapp Publications including, Architectural Digest and Bon Appétit. The following year, Newhouse acquired a 25 percent share of Wired, a San Francisco based monthly magazine focusing on new technology and how it affects culture, the economy, and politics. Newhouse had also offered some $500 million in backing to QVC, then in a 1993 bid for Paramount film studios, which QVC later lost to Viacom. On the newspaper side, the American City Business Journals were acquired by Newhouse in 1995 for about $270 million, adding business newspapers in some 40 cities with names such as the Atlanta Business Chronicle, the Cincinnati Business Courier, the Denver Business Journal, and others. Still, newspapers continued to be the cash cow for Newhouse, generating the largest revenue stream for the company through the mid-1990s, usually north of $1.5 billion annually. In cable TV, meanwhile, Newhouse and Time-Warner Cable combined cable systems in a joint venture. That deal brought Newhouse Broadcasting’s 1.4 million subscribers together with Time-Warner systems in New York, North Carolina and Florida at a time when the cable industry was undergoing consolidation in preparation for the battle-to-come with phone companies. Newhouse was also then a part owner of the Discovery cable TV channel.
October 12, 1962 issue of The New Yorker with Malcolm X portrait.
Over at the The New Yorker, meanwhile, Tina Brown broke tradition with her second issue of the magazine – for its October 12, 1992 edition – running a portrait of Malcolm X on the cover, as well as a full-page photograph of the slain black leader inside the magazine. It was the first time in the magazine’s 67-year history that an article had received such treatment. The cover painting was by artist Josh Gosfield, which also featured a background collage of other smaller drawings and photos around the Malcolm portrait, including imagery related to the Los Angeles beating of Rodney King and a smaller photo by Richard Avedon of Malcolm X with Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963. Inside the magazine, there was a related story by Marshall Frady entitled, “The Children of Malcolm.” It was also the first time the cover subject had been related to an article inside the magazine. A New York Daily news story, noting the change, observed: “this is not your father’s New Yorker.”
Inside the magazine, Brown also made changes. She introduced color and photography giving the magazine a more modern layout with less type on each page. There was also more coverage of current events and hot topics, featuring more celebrities and business tycoons. The “Goings on About Town” section included short pieces throughout and a column about Manhattan nightlife. A new letters-to-the-editor page and the addition of authors’ bylines to the “Talk of the Town” section had the effect of making the magazine more personal.
Two Newhouse Books
1994 & 1998
1997 paperback edition of Thomas Maier’s book on the Newhouse family.
The Newhouse family and its rising media holdings had long been of interest to enterprising journalists. And in October 1994, one of the first books examining the Newhouse empire appeared, titled: Newhouse: All the Glitter, Power & Glory of America’s Richest Media Empire & The Secretive Man Behind It. The 446-page book was written by Thomas Maier, a reporter for Newsday, the New York newspaper. The unauthorized investigative volume is centered mostly on Si Newhouse, who Maier calls at one point, “the most powerful private citizen in America.” The book examines the internecine warfare among owner and editors and some of the lavish partying, expense accounts, and excesses. Maier makes clear that he is no fan of the Newhouse empire, which he charges with promoting celebrity and gossip over social responsibility. The book also featured a few long-standing family friends, such as Roy Cohn, and the magic he worked for some politicians in selected Newhouse publications (including JFK and Ronald Reagan). Cohn also helped Newhouse land literary stars like Norman Mailer and aided the family in their battle with the IRS. Maier’s book raised warnings about a media monopoly in America, and how powers like Newhouse were changing journalism. The book won the Frank Luther Mott Award as best media book of the year in 1995 and excerpts appeared in the Columbia Journalism Review, Worth, and The London Telegraph. An updated paperback was published in 1997.
Carol Felsenthal’s 1998 book, “Citizen Newhouse.”
In December 1998, a second unauthorized biography appeared – Citizen Newhouse: Portrait of a Media Merchant. It was written by Carol Felsenthal who had written an earlier controversial volume on Washington Post owner, Katharine Graham. Citizen Newhouse covers the Newhouse story mostly by way of Si Newhouse. However, this book’s publication became something of a story in its own right when Newhouse worries gripped the book’s editor at Viking Press, causing her to cancell Felsenthal’s book contract. The book was finally published with Seven Stories Press.
Felsenthal worked for five years on the Newhouse book, conducting some 430 interviews and producing a volume that offers a vast compendium of facts, quotes, and anecdotes. Her book includes great detail on Si Newhouse’s editorial proclivities and the lavish perks he bestowed on his editorial elite, with former editors and publishers talking candidly about their dealings with Newhouse, who is cast as cold and uncaring by several long-time editors. Still, Felsenthal portrays Newhouse as a businessman who made few mistakes, taking his father’s newspaper company to new heights with successful expansions in book and magazine publishing.
By March 1998, the Newhouse family appeared to be streamlining its operation, and cutting away properties which had underperformed. One of these was the Random House publishing group, which by then included many well known and well respected imprints including: Alfred A. Knopf, Crown Publishing, Ballantine Books, Fawcett Books, Fodor’s, Modern Library, Pantheon Books, Orion, Vintage Books, and others. During its 18 years of ownership, the Newhouse family had expanded Random House from a $200 million-a-year publishing house with no properties overseas to world’s largest English language trade publisher with ports in England and Australia. But like others in the industry, Random House had struggled with heavy returns of unsold titles and marginal profitability. In 1996 it’s profits were generously estimated at $1 million on $1 billion in sales. However, as part of the privately-held Advance Publications empire, and not having to worry about quarter-to-quarter pressures of a publicly-held company, the Newhouse family could and did take the long view with Random House.Some believe Newhouse played a key role in pushing Random to bring on celebrity authors and blockbuster books that would do well in a more entertainment-driven marketplace. Random also went after celebrity authors, and paid them well to write their books with big advances – $2.5 million to former Clinton presidential adviser, Dick Morris; $5 million for Marlon Brando’s autobiography, and more than $6 million for Colin Powell’s autobiography.
Still, in Random House, the Newhouse organization did not find the cross-business opportunities – or “synergies” as some described them – that might have moved between the magazine and book businesses. One Newhouse editor at The New Yorker told the The New York Observer in March 1998: “The idea that The New Yorker has drawn any intellectual sustenance from Random House is ludicrous. There has never been an exchange of ideas and, even in business matters, like first serial rights. Random House has always been as firmly self-interested as the next publisher.” During the 18-year Newhouse tenure, Random House and the book business had changed, and with the web and new retailing patterns, more change was ahead. Si Newhouse and family, some believed, were just more comfortable in the magazine and newspaper business. “Si loves the media business and he loves it for the right reasons,” one publishing source told The Observer. “He genuinely loves owning things that make a contribution to a high level of intellectual discussion. But he is at core a businessman….” By 1997, Si and family had decided to sell Random, but they would not sell it to just anybody; there would have to be a genuine interest in the book business. When German bookseller Bertelsmann approached Newhouse with an interest in the company, negotiations began. Bertelsmann wanted a foothold in the American publishing business, and in the end paid more than $1 billion for Random House – $1.3 billion by one estimate.
“I think Si deserves a lot of credit,” said Thomas Maier, author of the 1994 book, Newhouse, summing up the Newhouse ownership of Random House to New York Times reporter Doreen Carvajal. “He…grew the business through acquisitions and by hiring some terrifically talented people. I think it’s very debatable whether they improved the quality or not. In some ways they did, and in other ways they ended a genteel, writer-oriented era in publishing in favor of a celebrity, media-driven realm. Was that a tide that could be bucked? Probably not.” Newhouse, in Maier’s view, played a key role in pushing Random to bring on more celebrity authors and blockbuster-type books that would do well in a more entertainment-driven marketplace. And that change helped draw in even bigger players like Disney and Murdoch.
Sept 2001: Gwyneth Paltrow.
April 2011: Liv Tyler.
In the magazine business, meanwhile, the Newhouse enterprise was still buying. In May 1998, the company acquired full control of Wired magazine, the San Francisco based technology/life style magazine. In 1999, additional magazines were bought from Disney through Fairchild Publications, a company Disney had acquired when it bought Cap Cities /ABC in 1995. Newhouse acquired three magazines in the Disney deal – W, Jane, and Women’s Wear Daily. W and Women’s Wear were fashion magazines, while Jane was oriented to the 18-to-34 year old market. Newhouse reportedly offered $650 million in the Disney/Fairchild magazine deal, outbidding the Hearst Corporation, a big rival in the magazine business. With the three mostly fashion additions, Newhouse now had control of more fashion advertising revenue than any of its rivals — worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Covers in these magazines during 1999, for example, featured celebrities such as: Lisa Kudrow, Natalie Portman, Courtney Love, Minnie Driver, Mariah Carey, Claire Danes — with others in that vein continuing through the early 2000s, such as the Gwyneth Paltrow and Liv Tyler covers shown above.
2000s: New World
Actress Rachel Bilson on the cover of the March 2008 issue of “Lucky” magazine, a Newhouse success story in the otherwise tough 2000s.
Through the first decade of the new millennium, Newhouse faced something of a new world, with changing technology, and later, tougher economic times. Still, at the beginning of the decade, the Newhouse enterprise continued what it had been doing in the past – acquiring more properties. In July 2000, Newhouse acquired a group of newspapers in New Jersey and Pennsylvania from the Media News Group, including: The Gloucester County Times, Today’s Sunbeam,Bridgeton Evening News – all in New Jersey – and The Express-Times of Easton, Pennsylvania. However, Newhouse also closed down the Syracuse Herald- Journal in 2001.
On the magazine side, there were also additions, as well as a few subtractions. Lucky, a new creation, was launched in December 2000, cast as a shopping guide and style magazine primarily for women. Its articles focused on fashion – what to wear and how to wear it – and each issue featured a spread on some the cover girl’s favorite clothes and trends. Another magazine, Modern Bride, was acquired from Primedia for $52 million in 2002, and fit another slice of the Condé Nast upscale audience. In early 2003, Teen Vogue was launched as a another new Condé Nast magazine with Gwen Stafani on the cover of the first issue. Teen Vogue was basically conceived as a teenage version of Vogue magazine aimed at teenage girls. Focusing on teen fashion and celebrities, with related news and entertainment feature stories, it became a successful new magazine in the Newhouse/Condé Nast stable, soon reaching a circulation of more than one million. At the same time, three other magazines were closed in 2001 – Mademoiselle,Golf World, and Golf Digest. In the Cable TV arena, Advance and AOL/Time-Warner ended their cable partnership in 2002, as Advance changed the name of its cable operations to Bright House. By early 2008, before the economy went south, the Newhouse empire had revenues of more than $7 billion with more than 20,000 employees. The combined worth of Si and Donald Newhouse had been estimated by Forbes a few years earlier at around $15 billion.
Image & Style. Newhouse magazines during the 2000s continued with their celebrity-centric and fashion offerings, as well as their socially-trendy reporting. Vanity Fair had established itself since the 1990s as perhaps the top New York magazine on pop culture, fashion, and current affairs, and continued with that mix of fare through the 2000s. In 2002, for example, it offered a formal portrait of President George W. Bush’s Afghan War Cabinet. In 2005, came some juicy celebrity exclusives – “the big post-prison interview” with diva Martha Stewart in August, followed by the first interview with Jennifer Anniston after her divorce from Brad Pitt in September titled, “The Unsinkable Jennifer Aniston,” with Anniston on the cover. In January 2006, Vanity Fair published a cover feature and interview with Lindsay Lohan.
Eva Mendes, August 2007.
Jennifer Anniston, Jan 2009.
Hot Covers. Newhouse magazines had generally been edging into more exotic territory with its covers. In fact, during the 1999-2009 period, it ran covers that increasingly showed their female subjects in discreetly- posed nude or near-nude photos. The May 1999 issue of W magazine had Cindy Crawford in a “naked-while-pregnant pose,” repeating the Demi Moore Vanity Fair cover. The August 2002 cover of GQ magazine had model Heidi Klum posing nude with a birthday cake. In February 2003, Kate Winslet appeared on GQ’s cover in sexy black lingerie. For the October 2004 issue of GQ, Heidi Klum, named “Woman of the Year” appeared in just a scarf and thigh-high leather boots. Paris Hilton went topless for the cover of Vanity Fair’s September 2005 issue, as did Jennifer Aniston for the December 2005 cover of GQ, wearing only jean shorts. Heidi Klum was naked on the cover of Jane in August 2006, when “celebrities went bare for charity.” For Vanity Fair’s “Young Hollywood” issue in 2006, Scarlett Johansson and Keira Knightely appeared naked with designer Tom Ford, subjects shot by Annie Leibovitz. In the August 2007 “celebrities pose naked for charity” issue of Jane, a nude Eva Mendes graced the cover with some strategically placed flowers. And for the January 2009 issue of GQ, Jennifer Aniston posed in nothing but a red, white and blue men’s tie. In February 2012, Time magazine voted three Newhouse/Condé Nast nude covers – Vanity Fair’s 1991 Demi Moore, Vanity Fair’s 2006 Young Hollywood threesome, and GQ‘s 2009 Jennifer Anniston with necktie – among a “top ten” selection of such covers it reviewed. Vanity Fair, however, ran into a bit of controversy in April 2008 after some near- nude photos taken by Annie Leibovitz of Disney teen star, 15year-old Miley Cyrus, leaked out in a New York Times story.
Vogue’s Sept 2007 fashion issue, featuring actress and model Sienna Miller on its cover.
Fashion, of course, is a core part of the Newhouse /Condé Nast publishing and advertising world, with the venerable Vogue magazine and its iconic editor, Anna Wintour, among its biggest stars. Wintour, in fact, was famously played by Meryl Streep in the 2006 film, The Devil Wears Prada. If that weren’t enough, a documentary film was made about Vogue’s famous annual fall fahion issue. The film, bearing the title, The September Issue, was released in 2009. It chronicled the production of what was then the largest issue in Vogue magazine history, the September 2007 issue, running some 840 pages thick, 727 pages of which were ads. The cover of that issue featured Sienna Miller along with its proudly proclaimed page count.
“We stand for a certain world,” Anna Wintour would later tell New York magazine writer Steve Fishman in a 2009 interview. “Women want to have pretty clothes. I mean, it’s a question of self-respect too.” In his New York article Fishman also quoted Wintour describing Vogue’s place in the publishing world as she pointed to some of the wares her magazine promoted: “… Wintour tells me about Ralph Lauren’s new collection of watches, which inspires her. They cost more, but they will last. ‘He wants to be part of the culture, and I feel the same way about Vogue: I want Vogue to be there, part of the culture,’ she says.”
Over at The New Yorker, meanwhile, the engaging stories and cover art of that magazine continued to be much-loved features, though occasionally generating notice with cover art that hit certain sensitive political or controversial subjects. Among these, perhaps most famously, was a July 2008 cover, meant as satire, that used cartoon renditions of then presidential candidate Barack Obama and his wife, depicting them as flag-burning, fist-bumping radicals — she dressed as a revolutionary and he in muslim garb. The artist, Barry Blitt, defended his work, saying “the idea that the Obamas are branded as unpatriotic in certain sectors is preposterous. It seemed to me that depicting the concept would show it as the fear-mongering ridiculousness that it is.” Editor David Remnick explained that the satire was deliberate and purposely overboard in order to mock all the phony smears that were being leveled at the Obamas. Still, others – and notably Obama’s campaign at the time – thought the imagery was harmful. Rachel Sklar writing in the Huffington Post, noted: “presumably the New Yorker readership is sophisticated enough to get the joke,” but she worried about those who might use the “handy illustration” to continue to spread the very scare tactics and misinformation depicted. Other New Yorker covers during the 2000s captured economic problems such as “Red Death on Wall Street,” by artist Robert Risko that ran in the October 20, 2008 issue, or “S.O.S.,” by Christoph Niemann, that ran in the August 15/22, 2011 issue. Two New Yorker covers in 2010 hit BP’s Gulf of Mexio oil spill – one from the June 7, 2010 issue that showed a man in a suit testifying before a Congressional-like panel of oil-saturated marine animals, and five weeks later, offering a visual play on Escher-like imagery, titled “After Escher: Gulf Sky and Water,” by artist Bob Staake, which reportedly “lit up the blogosphere,” as Staake cleverly modified the original Escher to include oil-drenched Gulf wildlife, with a pelican at the top and a turtle at the bottom.
Creating The Buzz Si Newhouse
Si Newhouse, buzz-maker.
With the Condé Nast group of publications in the last few decades there is no question that Si Newhouse has left a substantial stamp on contemporary culture. New York Times reporter Richard Pérez-Pena, writing on Newhouse in July 2008 observed: “Over three decades, Si Newhouse has built Condé Nast from an elite boutique into one of the largest, most successful American media companies, an upscale arbiter of popular culture from fashion to fiction.” He is sometimes compared to old-line publishers like Time-Life’s Henry Luce or newspaper baron William Randolph Hearst who also pursued personal interests through publishing. But Si Newhouse also became known for focusing on the details of his magazines, and some say he ran his shop like a Hollywood producer, also personally taken with the film industry. Graydon Carter, editor in chief of Vanity Fair, has said that the magazine’s annual “Hollywood issue” was Si Newhouse’s idea. Over at Vogue, whenever Si Newhouse offered advice, according to editor Anna Wintour, “he’s always made the surprising choice rather than the safe choice.” David Remnick, The New Yorker editor, has said much the same, describing Si Newhouse as the Babe Ruth of magazines, swinging for the fences.
Part of the sequence of 20 “celebrity pairs” used in Vanity Fair’s special Africa edition, July 2007.
Si Newhouse enjoys having his magazines at the center of the cultural swirl, no question. As New York Times reporter Richard Pérez-Pena, has observed: “More than almost anything else, acquaintances say, Mr. Newhouse delights in the buzz his magazines routinely create. He welcomes controversies, like the recent brouhaha about the Obamas-as-terrorists cover of The New Yorker. What tickles him often challenges convention, often embraces the new or novel, and often sells.” Anna Wintour at Vogue has made similar comments: “He likes the buzz, there’s no question. If you have lunch with a celebrity or political figure, he’s thrilled to hear about it.” Magazines in the Condé Nast group will sometimes go the extra mile to get attention and create the buzz their leader loves. In July2007, for example, Vanity Fair printed 20 different versions of its cover each featuring a famous celebrity pair. The issue was guest-edited by U-2 rock star Bono and was dedicated to fighting poverty in Africa. Each famous celebrity pair, in varying poses, was photographed by Annie Leibovitz, including: Maya Angelou, Desmond Tutu, Brad Pitt, Condoleezza Rice, George W. Bush, George Clooney, Iman, Jay-Z, Warren Buffet, Bill and Melinda Gates, Muhammad Ali, and a young Illinois senator named Barack Obama. The project was shot at locations around the globe and cost million do. But in the end, it paid for itself, according to Vanity Fair editor, Graydon Carter, as the buzz resulted in increased newsstand sales.
Hard Times at Newhouse
June 2009: New York magazine ran a cover story on part of the Newhouse empire, subtitled “Si Newhouse’s Condé Nast, a Good-Times Empire in a Hard-Times World.”
In June 2009, New York magazine published a cover story titled, “The Last Old-Media Tycoon,” alluding to changes then assaulting the Newhouse empire. The piece, written by Steve Fishman, focused mostly on the trendy magazine side of the business, referring to it as “Si Newhouse’s Dream Factory,” further elaborating with a subtitle that explained: “Condé Nast’s own stars compare their glossy empire to the MGM of Old Hollywood. But no one would wish it the same fate.”
Yet hard times were taking a toll on the Newhouse publications and the family fortune. In the first three months of 2009, The New Yorker’s ad pages were down 36 percent, and at Vogue and Vanity Fair, around 30 percent. Wired’s were down by almost 60 percent. Between 2007 and 2009 Newhouse had closednearly a dozen magazines, among them: Jane, House & Garden, Men’s Vogue, Golf for Women, Domino, Portfolio,Modern Bride, Elegant Bride, Gourmet, and Cookie. Some of these, however, retained an on-line presence. Fishman’s New York piece explained how Si Newhouse had grown up in the magazine business and loved magazines, and how it pained him personally to close them down. But the nature of the Newhouse business was changing, as Fishman;s piece explained. Some 40 percent of the family fortune now came from its stake in Discovery Communications, which ran cable and satellite TV networks with programs such as Discovery Channel, Animal Planet and TLC.
Cash Cow Blues. Newspapers – the stock and trade of the Newhouse rise – were also in trouble by this time. What was once the reliable center of the Newhouse empire – at least with respect to its revenue-generating power – had become something of an albatross by the mid- and late 2000s. Hit hard by the realities of the internet, some big Newhouse newspapers were bleeding badly. In 2008, the Newark Star-Ledger for one may have lost as much as $40 million. Circulation there had fallen by nine percent to 223,000 copies and newsroom staff cuts of 40 percent followed. In 2009, The Ann Arbor News was reduced more or less to a website, AnnArbor.com, with a print edition appearing just two days a week using a fraction of its former staff to run the website. Revenues for the Newhouse newspaper group plummeted 26 percent in 2009, to $1.3 billion, according to Ad Age. In 2010, the slide continued at some papers, as circulation at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland — one of the biggest of the Newhouse papers — was down 7 percent during the six-months of March-August 2010 to an average of 253,000 copies. More recently, in May 2012, it was revealed that The Times-Picayune daily newspaper in New Orleans, founded in 1837, would be reducing its print schedule, publishing a print edition three days a week while shifting more coverage on-line.
May 2012: The Times-Picayune of New Orleans announces print edition cutback and move to digital.
Painful News Hits. With the newspaper adjustments Newhouse has made in recent years, seasoned writers, reporters and columnists have lost their jobs. Layoffs at The Times-Picayune and three Newhouse-owned Alabama newspapers, for example, were pretty devastating. At The Times- Picayune, 84 people in the newsroom were laid off, including some of the paper’s best-known reporters and columnists. At the Alabama papers, 400 people lost jobs. Some re-hires occurred at the papers, as new digital positions opened, but those positions were not the same. In Alabama, for example, John Archibald, a columnist for The Birmingham News – known for the zingers he leveled at city and state political figures – was told he could return as a “local buzz reporter.” Joey Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial writer for that same paper, was told he could return as a “community engagement specialist.” These are obviously not happy transitions for seasoned news journalists. And given the sizeable contingent of Newhouse-owned newspapers around the country, it is likely this trend will continue in the years ahead. Newhouse newspapers, however, are still capable of turning out nationally-important investigative stories, as demonstrated in 20011-2012 by The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Curiously, among buyers of newspapers recently has been Warren Buffett, the billionaire investor. In April 2012, the Patriot- News and its reporter, Sara Ganim, received a Pulitzer Prize for “courageously revealing and adeptly covering the explosive Penn State [University] sex scandal involving former football coach Jerry Sandusky.”
And at least in certain markets, newspapers still make good business sense. Curiously, among buyers of newspapers recently has been Warren Buffett, the billionaire investor who has frequently had a keen eye for what’s likely to make money in the future. His purchase of the Omaha World-Herald, where Buffett lives, may have been “one for the home town.” Yet, his May 2012 acquisition of Media General’s 63 newspapers in the southeast U.S. may suggest that local advertising revenue is alive and well, and possibly more. If nothing else, newspapers offer good bases for digital development and website expansion.
Back at Newhouse, meanwhile, “Advance Digital” is growing alongside of, and in some cases may eventually supplant, much of the company’s newspaper empire. The focus there is to build out a local news and information network of websites, each in alliance with one or more of the 25 Newhouse-owned newspapers presently affiliated with Advance Publications. The Advance Digital websites provide local information, breaking news, local sports, travel destinations, weather, dining, bar guides and health and fitness information. In its pitch to advertisers, showing a U.S. map with links to its 12 websites, Advance Digital says: “We are a leading network of local websites – we are affiliated with over 25 newspapers; we reach over 18.9 million consumers every month; and we have a large and diverse audience of educated and affluent professionals.”
Newhouse & The Web. The Newhouse organization, however, and especially Si Newhouse, have been criticized for not making quicker and better use of the web. Initially, Newhouse kept editors away from the web and viewed it simply as a vehicle for selling magazine subscriptions and little else. For nearly a decade, Newhouse opposed purchasing Wired.com. But after Donald Newhouse’s son, Steve Newhouse, pulled the deal together in 2006, the Wired website actually proved the more valuable piece of the business, outpacing the magazine itself, reaping sixteen times more unique visitors than the magazine had in circulation. Still, according to Advertising Age, by 2008, only about 3 percent of Condé Nast ad revenues came from digital, among the lowest in its class. Steve Newhouse, however, now in his early 50s, has been responsible for some web initiatives that may show the way forward, such as Epicurious.com and Style.com, both conceived as new brands for the company. Other Newhouse managers and executives have also helped bring in iPad applications, which can showcase Newhouse magazine design strengths. In 2010, GQ magazine became the first Condé Nast title available on the iPad. And as mentioned earlier, Reddit.com, the popular user-generated “social news” website, is now owned by Advance Publications, having been acquired by Condé Nast in October 2006 for an estimated $10-to-$20 milion. Today Reddit.com has some 35 million users.
Actor Hugh Grant on the cover of Vanity Fair, Italy (Feb 2010), one of more than100 international Newhouse editions.
More Video & TV. In October 2011, Newhouse created Condé Nast Entertainment, an entity that will produce more video-styled content — including TV shows, web series and films — content derived from Newhouse journalists and its magazines, ranging from Vogue and GQ to The New Yorker and Vanity Fair. Having long admired the ways of the Hollywood studios, the Newhouse Condé Nast entities may actually become more studio-like in their outlook and content development. The chase for advertising dollars will be among the key drivers moving the Newhouse entities to more video and digital media.
Whether the Newhouse magazines can make this move with success, however, is an open question, as other publishers have tried similar moves in the past attempting to link to television and film that have failed. One advantage in their favor, however, may be the top-shelf nature of the Newhouse magazines and their premium-brand content, offering strong appeal to upscale consumers and advertisers.
International Business. In the last few years, another Newhouse manager, Si’s cousin Jonathan Newhouse, now in his early 60s, has made Condé Nast International a Newhouse growth area. As of November 2010, he added Vogue in India and GQ in China. Condé Nast International now has more than 100 editions. The division also recently launched Condé Nast Restaurants, which plans to license the Vogue and GQ brands as eateries overseas.
The Newhouse-owned Vogue magazine released its record-breaking, 916-page fall fashion issue in September 2012 with Lady Gaga on the cover.
In the new swirl of media and technological change that is now sweeping through print and publishing, the Newhouse empire is likely to roll on, both as a successful business entity and a continuing force in contemporary culture. It will likely make the necessary digital adjustments and internal management changes to weather the most serious business threats. The Condé Nast magazines, in particular, have been setting the cultural tone among the wealthier classes and avant- garde for the last three decades or more, and will not likely yield much ground in that arena to competitors. Any doubt on that score, and what likely lies ahead, can be seen in the Vogue record-breaking tome of September 2012 – a 120th anniversary edition to boot! At 916 pages, featuring Lady Gaga on its cover, this issue of Vogue suggests – as Washington Post writer Ned Martel put it – “that even in bad times, someone is up for a good time.” In the pages of Vogue, he says, “the forecast is always a little sunnier…” And judging from the number of ad pages – 658, with single page rates in the September 2012 edition going for as much as $165,000 – the Newhouse empire would appear to be holding its own.
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “Empire Newhouse:1920s-2010s” PopHistoryDig.com, September 18, 2012.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
Sam Newhouse Sr. and wife Mitzi, possibly early 1970s.
Vogue magazine, 15 August 1960, about a year after Newhouse acquired it and others.
A sample cover of "Glamour" magazine, January 1971.
March 1981: Actor Jack Nicholson on cover of Newhouse-owned “GQ” magazine.
Actor Clint Eastwood on the cover of "Parade," the Sunday supplement magazine, October 23rd, 1983.
Inaugural March 1991 issue of “Allure,” a Condé Nast publication that focuses on beauty, fashion, and women’s health, now with a circulation of 1 million plus.
November 1992: Democratic candidates Bill Clinton and Al Gore are featured on CQ’s cover with a story by Gore Vidal – “Gore Vidal Punches the Ticket.”
August 1993 Vanity Fair cover with model Cindy Crawford “shaving” famous lesbian singing star, k.d. Lang in drag, meant as a controversial statement.
Vogue magazine cover with Hillary Clinton, December 1998, a tough time for the First Lady. Click for story.
In 1998, Newhouse gained full control of “Wired” magazine, which focuses on a range of science & technology issues, often with stories in the life style and cultural realms, here featuring Pixar, June 2010.
New Yorker cover of November 15, 2010, titled “Bumped,” by artist Barry Blitt, follows mid-term elections depicting President Obama in the Oval Office with Rep. John Boehner (R-OH), then expected to replace Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House. Boehner is shown offering his fist, while Obama extends his hand for a handshake.
Milton Moskowitz, Michael Katz & Robert Levering, “Newhouse,” Every- body’s Business, An Almanac: The Irreverent Guide to Corporate America, San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers, 1980, pp. 385-387.
“Condé Nast Publications,” Wikipe- dia.org.
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“Newhouse Buys Oregon Journal; Estimated Price is $8 Million for Daily in Portland,” New York Times, August 5, 1951.
“The Newspaper Collector,” Time, July 27, 1962.
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U. S. Congress, House of Representa- tives, “Federal Responsibility for a Free and Competitive Press,” Hearings before the Antitrust Subcommittee of the House Committee on the Judiciary (investiga- tion of monopoly practices in the newspaper industry), 1963.
John A Lent, Newhouse, Newspapers, Nuisances: Highlights in the Growth of a Communications Empire, New York: Exposition Press, 1966.
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Philip H. Dougherty Advertising; Condé Buys A Men’s Magazine,” New York Times, February 16, 1979, p. D-12.
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Carol J. Loomis & Rosalind Klein Berlin, “The Biggest Private Fortune: Media Magnates Si and Don Newhouse Control a $7.5-Billion Empire. It’s a Tightly Private Show, But There’s No Hiding Wealth This Big,” Fortune, August 17, 1987, p. 60.
Herbert Mitgang, “Random House Buys Crown,” New York Times, August 16, 1988.
Geraldine Fabrikant, “Si Newhouse Tests His Magazine Magic,” New York Times, September 25, 1988.
Albert Scardino, “Big Spender at Vanity Fair Raises the Ante for Writers,” New York Times, April 17, 1989.
N. R. Kleinfield, “The Media Business; Heads Have a History of Rolling at Newhouse,” New York Times, November 2, 1989.
Maggie Mahar, “All in the Family,” Barron’s, November 27, 1989.
Milton Moskowitz, Michael Katz & Robert Levering, “Newhouse,” Every- body’s Business: A Field Guide to the 400 Leading Companies in America, New York: Doubleday/Currency, 1990, pp. 359-361.
Deirdre Carmody, “Tina Brown to Take Over at The New Yorker,” New York Times, July 1, 1992.
Geraldine Fabrikant, “The Media Business; Vanity Fair Is Hot Property, But Profit Is Open Question,” New York Times, July 13, 1992.
“Coastal Post Office” by artist Stevan Dohanos published by the “Saturday Evening Post” magazine on August 26th, 1950.
In this day and age of Facebook, Twitter, and e-mail, when information travels at the speed of light, the U.S. Post Office system seems a quaint and costly anachronism – and an easy target for government budget cutters.
Yet despite the changes that have come to the system in recent decades, and the carping about rising postage, slow service, or overpaid workers, the U.S. Post Office as place and institution in the local community – whether remote rural outpost or big-city neighborhood branch – is still, even today, a much-loved part of the American scene.
And over the years, in the nation’s cultural tableau and social register, the post office has been portrayed fondly as a valued place and integral part of the community.
Take, for example, how the Saturday Evening Post magazine portrayed a local post office scene on one of its covers from August 26, 1950. This rendering, shown at right, by artist Stevan Dohanos (1907- 1994), is titled “Coastal Post Office.” It portrays the “Menemsha Post Office” – an actual place on Martha’s Vineyard Island, Massachusetts.
Detail from Stevan Dohanos’ “Coastal Post Office.”
Dohanos depicts this post office as something of a busy community hub in 1950, with people coming and going. A line of patrons is queued up, extending out through the entrance doorway, each person awaiting his or her turn at the postal services window. Outside, a local artist has set up a display of one of his paintings, being admired by two onlookers. A couple of other locals are simply biding their time at the front of the building, one leaning on a cane, and another siting on the porch.
A close-up portion of Dohanos’ painting displayed at left reveals a bit more detail about the postal patrons and the services being offered — a woman reading her mail on the way out; signs in the post office window announcing, “Skiffs Rented” and “Home Baked Goods,” and another higher up for a local “bake” of some kind on “Friday.” True to form, and as suggested by Dohanos in this rendering, the thousands of local post offices that stood across mid-20th century America were active community hubs — and many remain so today. Thousands of post offices that stood across mid-20th century America were and still are active community hubs. Then and now, they have been and continue to be important gathering places and information centers, offering multiple services beyond just the mail, also as Dohanos relayed of Menemsha in 1950.
Those were surely the halcyon days of the U.S. postal system; a time when letter writing, mail, and the local post office were all a more central part of everyday American life. Yet still today, the U.S. Post Office system is a major player in American communities and the American economy. In 2010 it had revenues of $67 billion, which if it were a private company, would place it at roughly No. 29 on the Fortune 500 list. The U.S. post office system has more domestic locations – i.e., some 31,800 post offices – than Walmart, Starbucks, and McDonald’s combined. And despite the system’s current financial woes and the rapidly changing nature of information culture, the long-standing community place known as the local post office is still a welcomed and valued presence in many communities.
Recent photo, Menemsha Post Office.
Artist Stevan Dohanos, meanwhile, were he alive today, might be pleased to know that the Menemsha Post Office – which is actually located in the town of Chilmark, Massachusetts on the southern end of Martha’s Vineyard Island – appears to be still operating today as a combination grocery story and Postal Service substation. It’s open for business mid-May thru mid-September, Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The structure, shown at left, appears somewhat differently than it did in the time Dohanos did his rendering more than 60 years ago, but the resemblance is still there. A story about its local operation and one of its long-time postmasters and store owners appears as a link in “Sources” below. It is not known, however, if the Menemsha Post Office is on the latest list of targeted post office closings.
A Stevan Dohanos illustration, “Rural Post Office at Christmas,” provides the seasonal cover art for the Saturday Evening Post of December 13, 1947.
Another post office rendering by Stevan Dohanos for TheSaturday Evening Post appeared on the cover of the magazine’s December 13, 1947 issue. This one, entitled “Rural Post Office at Christmas,” shown at right, depicts a wintry scene with a rural resident, likely a farmer, who has parked his truck out front with a cow riding in back and a dog in the cab. The farmer is carrying several packages – Christmas presents, no doubt – to the entrance of the red brick post office building. The overhead sign at the building’s entrance says “Post Office, Georgetown.” It is believed the model for this rendering was the actual Georgetown, Connecticut post office which in those years was located on North Main Street in that town from about 1920 to sometime in the 1950s, when it then moved to a new location.
A somewhat crisper portion of this Dohanos painting, displayed below, reveals a bit more detail in the scene. A sign on the ground at the corner of the post office building features a Santa Claus on the move with mail sack over his shoulder, also bearing the seasonal admonition: “Don’t Delay, Mail Today.” Through the doorway, an older man in a white shirt can be seen, likely the postmaster waiting to help with the packages. Behind him, through the doorway, rows of postal boxes can be scene, and through the window, tacked to the wall, are various notices and announcements. Prints of this particular Dohanos painting – both in its Saturday Evening Post cover form and as the painting by itself – can be found for sale online. The painting used for the Saturday Evening Post cover was offered for sale at Sothebys in March 2010 with an estimated price of between $15,000 and $20,000.
Detail from "Rural Post Office at Christmas," S. Dohanos.
At the Saturday Evening Post, Stevan Dohanos – along with J. C. Leyendecker and Norman Rockwell – was one of the magazine’s most prolific and popular cover artists, doing more than 100 covers there as well as others for story composition.
Dohanos also worked for Esquire and Medical Times magazines and provided advertising art for Caterpillar, Four Roses Whiskey, Maxwell House coffee, Pan Am airlines, Cannon Towels, Olin Industries, John Hancock Insurance, and others. In addition, Dohanos illustrated WWII posters, did Christmas Seal art, film art for White Christmas, and also wall murals for a number of federal buildings from West Virginia to the Virgin Islands.
“Wanted Posters,” cover scene title for the February 21, 1953 Saturday Evening Post, by artist Stevan Dohanos.
Another Dohanos rendering of post office activity in the American community came on the cover of the February 21, 1953 edition of The Saturday Evening Post. Entitled “Wanted Posters,” the scene shows a group of three young boys in their cowboy attire, complete with hats and six-shooter guns, looking up at the latest FBI wanted posters on a wall in the post office lobby. The “most wanted” posters have been regular fare in many post office lobbies for decades, and have typically included unflattering mug shots of the nation’s most notorious criminals. The boys in this rendering appear somewhat in awe of what they are viewing and reading. They have apparently taken a break from their play, and wandered into the free and open lobby of the local post office, deciding to take a look at the posted information on the nation’s real criminal element. They are not likely contemplating a try for the reward money, but perhaps they may add to their play fantasy by what they read. And who knows, maybe one of them might even be inspired to go into criminal justice work. But surely such cold and stark “money-on-your-head” public postings must have helped dissuade the young play outlaws that this was no real life for them. Meanwhile, the postal worker at the stamp window in this scene is watching the boys with seemingly amused approval.
Detail from “Wanted Posters” reveals that one of the offenders is wanted for “mail fraud” the other “bank robbery.”
The FBI’s “most wanted” poster program came about after a reporter for the International News Service asked the FBI in 1950 for the names and descriptions of the “toughest guys” the Bureau wanted to capture. The resulting story generated so much publicity and had so much appeal that then FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover began the “Ten Most Wanted Fugitives” program. The program at post offices, however, has done its share, as at least 14 of the “Ten Most Wanted” FBI criminals between 1950 and 1999 were apprehended as the result of folks recognizing the criminals from postings they saw at their local post offices.
Mailmen & The Mail
“Mailman,” is the title of the cover art for the May 13th, 1944 edition of the Saturday Evening Post, by Stevan Dohanos.
Other Saturday Evening Post covers by Stevan Dohanos featuring postal themes includes his “Mailman” cover for the May 13th, 1944 edition. This illustration shows an umbrella-covered mailman slogging through an early spring rain making his appointed rounds, bulging mailbag in tow. And today, more than 60 years later, there are thousands of letter carriers that continue to make their daily rounds, rain or shine.
The U.S. Postal Service currently has something on the order of 570,000 full-time workers, making it the country’s second largest employer. All of these folks are not letter carriers, or course, as many work in various other parts of the mail system. Still, only Wal-Mart employs more people in the U.S. than the Postal Service. And the U.S. mail system still handles an enormous amount of “product.”
As of 2010, the U.S. Postal Service was delivering an average 560 million pieces of mail each day; more than 170 billion annually, accounting for about 40 percent of all global mail. However, in recent years, the composition of the U.S. mail bag has been changing in major ways. In the late 1970s, for example, Congress prevailed upon the Postal Service to allow private companies to carry letters needing urgent delivery. As a result, Federal Express and the United Parcel Service (UPS) built enormously valuable businesses on what was once Post Office turf. Today, UPS and FedEx have respectively 53 and 32 percent of the American express and ground-shipping market, while the Postal Service has about 15 percent.
“Mailman” detail – What’s in the U.S. mail sack today?
Then came e-mail in the 1990s, which has since devastated first-class mail – the primary funder of most U.S. mail operations and the Postal Service’s most profitable form of mail. With e-mail’s ascendancy, “old-fashioned,” physical-form letter-writing declined fairly dramatically, pushing first-class mail volume way down, declining from 103.7 billion pieces in 2001 to 78.2 billion pieces in 2010.
By 2005, junk mail had surpassed first-class mail for the first time. Yet junk mail, per piece, is only a third as valuable as a first-class letter. And junk mail rises and falls with the vagaries of the economy. Recently in the U.S., when times were flush with booming real estate sales and easy credit, banks deluged mailboxes with mortgage deals and credit-card offers. But when the recession hit in 2006-2010, total mail volume plunged 20 percent.
Stevan Dohanos did this “Stamp Collecing” cover for the Saturday Evening Post of February 27, 1954.
Back at the Saturday Evening Post in the 1950s, artist Stevan Dohanos did another postal-related cover illustration, this one depicting a father and son engaged in stamp collecting, shown at right. Stamp collecting then and now, is a fairly huge global enterprise. There are some 200 million stamp collectors world wide, 25 million of those in the U.S. The first U.S. postage stamps were authorized by Congress in 1847, with Benjamin Franklin and George Washington appearing on some of the earliest known issues in July 1847. Commemorative stamps have also been issued in the U.S. since 1893, when a set of 16 were issued to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World (1492-1892). Those were $1 stamps and the first one depicted a scene entitled “Isabella pledging her jewels” — to finance Columbus’s first expedition. Since then the U.S. commemorative and postage stamp universe has expanded broadly to include many different categories of stamps along with collectors who partake of them — stamps of presidents, statespersons, and politicians; stamps of famous places, historic events, and famous battles; stamps of birds and other wildlife; stamps of sports figures, film stars, and celebrities of all stripes; and more. Among notable stamp collectors have been, for example, Franklin Roosevelt, who also designed several American commemorative stamps while he was U.S. President. Libertarian author Ayn Rand revived her childhood interest in stamps to become an avid collector in later life. And even some rock stars such as Freddie Mercury, lead singer of the band Queen, and John Lennon of The Beatles, were childhood stamp collectors.
“Stevan Dohanos” 1940s-1960s
Photograph of Artist Stevan Dohanos at work, undated.
Stevan Dohanos, it turns out, was not just a casual observer of the American postal scene. In later life he would become quite involved with art for U.S. postage stamps and would also do some post office wall murals during his career. Born in Lorian, Ohio. Dohanos was the son of Hungarian immigrants. A childhood admirer of Norman Rockwell, Dohanos’ own talent was noticed by his family and men he worked with at a local steel mill. After a two-year home study course in art, he enrolled at the Cleveland Art School as a ful-time student, graduating to become a commercial artist in Cleveland. He later settled in the Westport, Connecticut area and began submitting his work to The Saturday Evening Post, his first cover appearing there in the March 7, 1942 edition, depicting a WWII search-light team. During the next fifteen years he became one of the Post’s regular cover artists, his work categorized as “American realist,” influenced by Edward Hopper. He also painted some wall murals for the government during the Great Depression.
“Legend of James Hamilton--Barefoot Mailman” (mural study, West Palm Beach Post Office), 1940, S. Dohanos, panel 2.
Stevan Dohanos also had a role in depicting some of the “remote delivery” mailman lore, as postal carriers, especially in the earlier years, were often known for their heroics delivering mail in difficult and out-of-the way places. In 1939 the Treasury Department’s Section of Fine Arts contracted Dohanos to paint six murals depicting the “Legend of James Edward Hamilton, Mail Carrier” in the West Palm Beach, Florida Post Office. Hamilton was one of the “barefoot mailmen,” letter carriers who worked a remote stretch of rural Florida in the 1880s – a 68-mile roadless and part-by-boat route from Palm Beach to Miami, much of it by beach walking. The round trip of 136 miles from Palm Beach to Miami and back took six days. Hamilton mysteriously disappeared on the route, either drowned, taken by alligator, or some say, murdered. In conducting his work on the murals, Dohanos corresponded with Charles W. Pierce, postmaster in Boynton Beach, Florida who had also been one of the carriers on the “barefoot route,” which ended in 1892 after a rough road was installed. Pierce first used the term “barefoot mailman” in conversation with Dohanos, the term then applied to the murals Dohanos produced. In 1943, the novel, The Barefoot Mailman, by Theodore Pratt, was based on the story of James Hamilton, and a film followed in 1951 starring Robert Cummings and others. Some of the studies for the Dohanos post office wall murals are now in the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum and have also been displayed at the Library of Congress.
Stevan Dohanos helped design this 1967 JFK stamp.
In 1959, Dohanos was asked by the U.S. Post Office to design a stamp commemorating the 10th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. In the 1960s, after the Saturday Evening Post ceased to use artist illustrations on its covers, Dohanos took a position as chairman of the National Stamp Advisory Committee where he helped design and select art for postage stamps. Dohanos worked with stamp art during the administration of seven U.S. presidents and nine postmaster generals, and he knew from his own experience how much the public display art work meant to its creators. “Artists are always interested in seeing their art reproduced,” he said at one point during his Stamp Advisory Committee years. “Imagine seeing your work reproduced four and a half billion times.” Dohanos designed 46 stamps for the U.S. Postal Service, including one honoring John F. Kennedy in 1967. Among others he designed were those commemorating the statehood of Alaska and Hawaii, another on the Food for Peace Campaign in 1963, and one featuring duck decoys with the caption, “Folk Art U.S.A.” As a design coordinator Dohanos also oversaw the art work for more than 300 other stamps. In 1984, the Postal Service’s Hall of Stamps in Washington was dedicated in his honor. He died of pneumonia in 1994 at the age of 87.
Stevan Dohanos’ paintings today can be found in the collections of the Avery Memorial of Hartford, The Cleveland Museum, New Britain Museum of American Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.
“The End of Mail” cover story illustration, Bloomberg Business Week, May-June 2011.
Today’s magazine cover art featuring the U.S. Postal system has not been in the tradition of those old Saturday Evening Post covers capturing community bustle at a picturesque post office in a coastal town, or of Christmas cheer a-coming in December’s mail. Rather, today’s magazines are now focused on the financial side of the story, as Bloomberg Business Week did with its May-June 2011 cover story displayed at left.
Yet for millions of Americans there is still something of the Stevan Dohanos and Saturday Evening Post imagery and vitality that survives in today’s real world postal system – and a longing among many that something like it should survive into the future. But how to do that has been the major problem facing Congress and country in recent years, as a variety of bills proposing major changes have been offered and debated. And as this is written in September 2011, more than 3,600 U.S. Post Offices across the land have been slated for shut down.
Yvonne Rennolds stops by the Arrow Rock, Arkansas post office in August 2011 to get her mail and bring postmaster Tempe McGlaughlin a container of pasta salad. The post office is among those slated for closing. Sarah Hoffman.
The U.S. postal system it would seem — as Stevan Dohanos’ historic renderings remind us – is about more than just money. The post office, especially at the community level, is also about social connection – people-to-people and community-to-government. Like Facebook and Twitter, the local post office is a kind of social networking – the actual on-the-ground physical network that is out there working every day, connecting people to government, or at least extending that opportunity. These brick-and-mortar places then, are a kind of connective national tissue. Post offices still help to “bind a nation together” – words from the founding language and Congressional debate to justify the system. So what sense is there in tearing apart this connective tissue?
Kim Billington of Waverly, WA, a city council member, at her town's post office which serves 100 residents in southern Spokane County. Billington says the post office is the only building in town that is staffed every day. Photo, AP.
Those American small towns and remote rural regions now targeted for post office closings will surely become future assets; places that can and will absorb future growth. Why disconnect them now?
Paring down far-flung networks and centralizing services may seem an efficient accounting at the moment. Yet if it costs the nation citizen connectedness today and imposes a future capital replacement cost tomorrow, isn’t that really a false economy? Rather, if a network of connectedness exists out there now, why take it apart? Why dismantle something that connects people to their government, is in place now, and can serve the future?
Some 60 post offices may close in Mississippi...
Would it not be better to rebuild and repurpose this network – or even expand or combine it with other government services, old and new – but at all costs, keeping it in place? Why not refurbish these places and bolster their networking capability by adding community services – from worker training counseling and housing assistance, to energy conservation outreach and computer training? Surely with all that the government is doing now – or should be doing – to help American communities and lift local economies, there ought to be a way to keep and revitalize today’s national network of local postal locations.
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “The U.S. Post Office, 1950s & Today”, PopHistoryDig.com, September 29, 2011.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
Stevan Dohanos wasn’t the only cover artist at the Saturday Evening Post who did postal- or mail-related cover art. This one, titled “Letter From Overseas,” by artist John Falter, appeared May 8, 1943.
December 8, 1945: “Post Office Sorting Room” by artist John Falter for the Saturday Evening Post.
February 22, 1936: “Reading Her Mail at the Greenville Post Office,” by artist Ellen Pyle for the Saturday Evening Post.
February 18, 1922: “Sorting The Mail,” by artist Norman Rockwell for the Saturday Evening Post.
Sandra Taylor Smith and Mark K. Christ, “Arkansas Post Offices & Treasury Dept.’s Section Art Program, 1938-1942,” Arkansas Historic Preservation Program, 1500 Tower Building, 323 Center Street, Little Rock, AR 72201.
Lot 171, Stevan Dohanos, “Georgetown Post Office (Don’t Delay, Mail Today),” American Paintings, Drawings & Scuplture, Catalogues, Sothebys, March 2010.
Norman Rockwell’s painting of six year-old Ruby Bridges being escorted into a New Orleans school in 1960 was printed inside the January 14, 1964 edition of Look magazine.
In June 2011 at the White House, Norman Rockwell’s 1963 painting, The Problem We All Live With, depicting a famous school desegregation scene in New Orleans, began a period of prominent public display with the support of President Obama. The White House exhibition of Rockwell’s piece, which ran most of 2011, drew national attention to an iconic moment in America’s troubled civil rights history.
Rockwell’s painting focuses on an historic 1960 school integration episode when six year-old Ruby Bridges had to be escorted by federal marshals past jeering mobs to insure her safe enrollment at the William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. Ruby was the first African American child to enroll at the school, and the local white community – as elsewhere in the country at that time – was fiercely opposed to the court-ordered desegregation of public schools then occurring. Rockwell’s rendering focuses on the little girl in her immaculate white dress, carrying her ruler and copy book, as the four U.S. marshals escort her. The painting also captures some of the contempt of those times with the scrawled racial epithet on the wall and the red splattering of a recently thrown tomato.
Norman Rockwell at work, mid-career.
Rockwell’s portrayal first appeared to wide public notice in January 1964 when it ran as a two-page centerfold illustration on the inside pages of Look magazine. The painting ran as an untitled illustration in the middle of Look’s feature story on how Americans live, describing their homes and communities.
The context of the Ruby Bridges scene rendered by Rockwell had been heavily reported in print and on television in November 1960, with the anger of the mobs that day burnished deeply in the public mind. Magazine readers viewing Rockwell’s piece in 1964 would likely recall the unhappy context of young school children being heckled and needing federal protection.
July 15, 2011: President Obama with Ruby Bridges (girl in painting), Rockwell Museum CEO, Laurie Moffatt, and behind Obama, Rockwell Museum President, Anne Morgan, viewing Rockwell’s painting at the White House near the Oval Office. White House photo, Peter Souza.
In 2011, President Obama had a hand in bringing Rockwell’s original painting to the White House, as did others, according to the Washington Post, including Ruby Bridges herself, the Norman Rockwell Museum which owns the painting, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), and U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA). Some quiet lobbying helped bring the painting to the White House, suggesting it be displayed there at the 50th anniversary of Ruby Bridges’ admission to the Frantz school. “The President likes pictures that tell a story and this painting fits that bill…,” explained a statement in the White House blog. “In 1963 Rockwell confronted the issue of prejudice head-on…” However, at the time of the painting’s White House display, some reporting had erroneously stated the Rockwell piece had initially appeared on thecover of the January 14th, 1964 Look magazine. That is a forgivable mistake given the fact that so much of Norman Rockwell’s work frequently did appear on magazine covers, most notably at the Saturday Evening Post. But the error raises an important question, nonetheless. Why didn’t the Rockwell painting of the famous civil rights incident run on the cover of Look magazine or some other magazine?
Norman Rockwell, circa 1940s.
Well, therein lies a whole other tale, or at least a part of the story not often told – about how depictions of race and civil rights evolved in American art and popular magazines during those times. By way of presenting some of that story here, the article that follows will look at the history of Rockwell’s Ruby Bridges piece; three other works he did related to race and civil rights; and how Rockwell, his magazine sponsors, and popular magazine publishing dealt with race and civil rights in the 1940s-thru-1960s period. First, some background on the artist.
Born in 1894, Norman Rockwell grew up in New York city, and as a boy dreamed of becoming an artist. By the time he was ten he was drawing constantly. He soon dropped out of high school and enrolled in art school, first at the National Academy School, but by 1910, at the prestigious Art Students League. After graduation he did some of his first work for Boy’s Life magazine. In 1916, Rockwell did his first cover for Saturday Evening Post, then one of America’s premiere weekly magazines. For nearly the next fifty years, he would continue making much-loved Saturday Evening Post covers, most depicting everyday scenes of 20th century Americana. Rockwell in fact, would do more than 320 covers for the Saturday Evening Post through 1963. But that’s only part of his story.
1929: Girl & Doll's Heart.
1949: Game Called, Rain.
1954: Girl in The Mirror.
1958: The Runaway.
Rockwell’s cover subjects for the Post ranged across American daily life – from a young boy in a doctor’s office awaiting a curative needle or teenage girls gossiping at a soda fountain, to a rookie baseball player reporting to play his first game or a worn-out politician at the end of a hard day of campaigning. Some of Rockwell’s covers dealt with aspirational themes and democratic values. In 1942, in response to a speech given by President Franklin Roosevelt, Rockwell made his famous “Four Freedoms” series, each of which also ran as a Saturday Evening Post cover – Freedom of Speech (Feb 20, 1943), Freedom of Worship (Feb 27, 1943), Freedom from Want (March 6, 1943), and Freedom from Fear (March 13, 1943).
During this period as well, his Rosie the Riveter cover for the May 29th, 1943 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, and another depicting a “liberty girl” for the September 4th, 1943 edition, helped the government recruit female workers for the war effort during WWII. Some of these paintings traveled around the country in the mid-1940s, shown in conjunction with the sale of government war bonds. “The Four Freedoms” series reportedly brought in a tidy sum of $132,992,539 in war bond funds. Rockwell also did poster art for the U.S. Office of War Information in conjunction with the war bond drives.
Norman Rockwell at work on a 1953 painting for Saturday Evening Post cover, “Soda Jerk.”
While Rockwell’s name became practically synonymous with the Saturday Evening Post, he also did art for other publications, including: Ladies’ Home Journal, McCall’s, Literary Digest, Look,Country Gentleman, Popular Science, and others. Rockwell’s art appeared on the covers of some 80 magazines. His work also appeared in numerous advertisements and he became well known for illustrating the Boy Scouts of America annual calendar. (Galleries of Rockwell’s covers for the Saturday Evening Post are found at a number of very good websites, a few of which are listed at the end of this article in “Sources, Links & Additional Information”). In the 1950s and 1960s, Rockwell in particular — and other artists at the Saturday Evening Post as well — became chroniclers of American culture and America’s culture past as nostalgia. Rockwell worked at the heyday of the Saturday Evening Post’s reign as a magazine powerhouse, when circulation reached 4-to-5 million copies a week, and when a Rockwell cover alone could boost non-subscription sales by 250,000. For millions of magazine readers in those years, Norman Rockwell became a household name in America, even if many art critics at the time didn’t regard his work as “serious art.”
Civil Rights Subjects
“Freedom of Speech” was one of a Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms” series admired by African American activist Roderick Stephens, who urged Rockwell in 1943 to do a similar series to promote racial tolerance.
Rockwell appears to have been first nudged toward civil rights as subject matter in June 1943 when Roderick Stephens, an African-American activist and head of the Bronx Interracial Conference, wrote to Rockwell urging him to do a series of paintings to promote interracial relations. Stephens had been moved by Rockwell’s “Four Freedoms” and was worried at the time that urban race riots would ensue in major cities like his own New York, touched off by the migration of southern blacks to major cities. Race riots, in fact, had then already occurred in Houston, Los Angeles, and Detroit. Although Stephens expressed his admiration to Rockwell for his “Four Freedoms,” he noted that two of the freedoms – “Freedom From Want” and “Freedom From Fear” – were, for most blacks at the time, freedoms denied. Stephens proposed that Rockwell do a series of paintings to be printed and circulated as posters, just as the “Four Freedoms” had been, to promote racial tolerance, featuring subject matter that would illustrate the contributions of blacks to American society and how they helped realize the Four Freedoms. Stephens believed Rockwell was an artist who could make a difference at the time, and could help “advance racial goodwill by years,” offering art to point up what was then in American practice, a restricted conception of freedom. Rockwell is believed to have replied to Stephens, but he never embarked on Stephens’ proposal, more or less rejecting the series idea, explaining to Stephens the difficulties he had encountered creating the “Four Freedoms” series. But there may have been more to it than that, as Rockwell was then laboring under restrictions imposed by The Saturday Evening Post.
Dec 7 1946: “NY Central Diner,” Saturday Evening Post cover by Norman Rockwell.
Rockwell’s venturing into controversial material such as race and civil rights did not come until later in his career, after he had left the Post. Like other artists of the 1940s and 1950s who did commercial art and magazine illustrations, Rockwell was bound by certain publishing covenants and restrictions, written and unwritten, that determined what could and could not appear in magazine covers and illustrations. The Saturday Evening Post, for example, would only allow minorities to be shown in servile roles.
In a 1971 interview with writer Richard Reeves, Rockwell explained the unwritten rule laid down by his first editor at the Post: “George Horace Lorimer, who was a very liberal man, told me never to show colored people except as servants.” Lorimer was Rockwell’s editor at the Post for his first twenty years there. The Rockwell cover illustration at left from the December 7th, 1946 Saturday Evening Post illustrates the rule in practice. The scene, which is also known as Boy in Dining Car, shows a young boy in a railroad dining car studying the menu with purse in hand, trying to determine the proper payment and tip for the black waiter.
Rockwell’s “Full Treatment” SEP cover of May 1940 includes black shoe shine boy.
In addition to the 1946 Post cover above, Rockwell also did other magazine covers and illustrations from the mid-1920s through mid-1940s that depicted African Americans in various roles, usually in minor or servile roles, and sometimes not facing the viewer. Among a few of these Rockwell pieces, for example, are: The Banjo Player, an illustration for a Pratt & Lambert varnish advertisement appearing inside The Saturday Evening Post of April 3rd, 1926; Thataway, a March 17th, 1934 cover illustration for The Saturday Evening Post depicting a young black boy pointing to the direction taken by a thrown rider’s horse; Love Ouanga, a June 1936 illustration for a short story in American Magazine depicting a beautiful, stylishly-dressed young African American woman in a church scene contrasted against more coarse and country dress of other farming and working African Americans also in the scene; Full Treatment, a May 18th, 1940 cover for The Saturday Evening Post depicting a wealthy man being attended to by a barber, manicurist, and a black shoe shine boy; The Homecoming, a May 26th, 1945 cover for The Post depicting a returning military veteran arriving home to a scene of welcoming family and neighbors that also includes an African American worker; and Roadblock, a July 9th, 1949 cover for The Saturday Evening Post depicting a moving van that is blocked by a small dog in an urban alley scene with a variety on onlookers, including some black children.
Continuing into the 1950s and early 1960s, publishing art and mainstream magazines generally were slow to portray African American success stories and the civil rights struggle.
Cover Art, 1950s
1947: Jackie Robinson.
1954: Dorothy Dandridge.
1954: Segregation story.
1955: Thurgood Marshall.
During the 1950s and early 1960s, a time when the civil rights movement was struggling for recognition, the American art community – then involved with modern art and abstract expressionism – was generally not at the ramparts fighting racial discrimination. Nor, for the most part, were America’s most popular magazines in that era featuring African Americans on their covers or doing prominent stories on civil rights. In its May 8th, 1950 edition, Life magazine featured a photograph of baseball player Jackie Robinson on its cover, the first individual African American to be so featured by that magazine. Robinson had become the first African American to break the color barrier in professional baseball three years earlier with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Time magazine, for its part, had used an artist’s rendering of Robinson on an earlier cover in September 1947. Back at Life, meanwhile, actress Dorothy Dandridge became the first African American woman to be featured on a cover at that magazine, for the November 1st, 1954 edition. Dandridge was then appearing in her Academy Award-nominated best actress film role in Carmen Jones. A few stories on segregation also appeared on major magazine covers in the mid-1950s. On September 13, 1954, Newsweek ran a cover story on segregation in schools, showing a white and a black child in a Washington, D.C. school. Time magazine put Thurgood Marshall on the cover of its September 19th, 1955 issue, Marshall then having risen to notice as chief counsel for the NAACP arguing the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education school desegregation case before the U.S. Supreme Court. (see “Brown vs Board…” sidebar, later below, for more details).
A portion of the January 24, 1956 cover of Look magazine showing “Approved Killing” story tagline.
Look, another pictorial magazine similar to Life, and also popular in the 1950s, had rarely if ever used cover art that solely featured an African American. There were black sports stars shown on Look covers occasionally – such as Jackie Robinson, Joe Louis, and Sugar Ray Robinson – but usually as one among five whites in a framed, six-photo layout. Look did give cover billing to a few articles on racial issues in the 1950s. On the cover of its January 24th, 1956 issue, Look ran the title of an article by William Bradford Huie, “The Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi.”
Although there was no mention of race in the title, and it ran on a somewhat incongruous cover featuring the U.S. teenager (partially shown at left), the “shocking story” inside was truly shocking. It was the story of the August 1955 murder of Emmett Till, a 14 year-old Chicago boy who was savagely beaten, shot, and mutilated by white men in Mississippi while the boy was visiting relatives there. Till, a brash kid who knew nothing about the realities of the South, made the mistake of whistling at a white woman at a local country store. Later abducted from his relatives’ home, Till was brutally pistol-whipped and dumped into a river, his body tied to a heavy metal fan.
Click to read at PBS.org.
Two white suspects – Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam – were later tried and acquitted by an all-white jury in less than two hours. Their defense attorney had called on the jurors to honor their forefathers by not convicting white men for killing a black person. Back in Chicago, Till’s mutilated body was displayed at an open-casket viewing. No mainstream print publication in America at that time published the gruesome photos, although a few black-owned publications did, provoking outrage throughout African American communities.
Inside the January 24th, 1956 Look magazine, the article by author William Bradford Huie covered the Till murder and he also interviewed the two suspects, Roy Bryant and J. W. Milam, who were paid $4,000 to tell how they killed Emmett Till. In the article, the two suspects – then safe from conviction after having been acquitted in their friendly Mississippi trial – confessed to the crime. A year later, in its January 22nd, 1957 edition, Look published a follow-up article on the killing, also by William Bradford Huie, entitled “What’s Happened to the Emmett Till Killers?” That story reported that blacks in the local community stopped using stores owned by the Milam and Bryant families, putting them out of business, as both men were also ostracized by the white community.
1957: MLK bus boycott.
1961: Freedom Riders.
1963: Negro in America.
Cover Art ( cont’d)
On September 3rd, 1956, Life magazine featured a cover story related to slavery and segregation – “Beginning A Major Life series – Segregation,” stated Life at the top of the cover. Time magazine featured Martin Luther King on its cover February 18th, 1957, as King was then in the news for his leadership in the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott. Later that year, on October 7th, 1957, Time and Life both featured the school integration conflict at Little Rock, Arkansas with National Guard troops shown on their covers. By the time of the Freedom Riders in 1961, a Newsweek cover story featured photos and quotes from three key players in the controversy: U.S. Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Mississippi Governor, John Patterson. For its June 28th, 1963 edition, Life featured a cover photograph of the wife and child of slain civil rights activist Medgar Evers at his Arlington National Cemetery funeral. Evers, a Mississippi organizer, was shot in the back in his own driveway by a Ku Klux Klan member. In July 1963, Newsweek published a special issue on “The Negro in America,” picturing an unnamed black man on the cover. In smaller type on the cover, Newsweek further explained the focus of its series with the following: “The first definitive national survey – who he is, what he wants, what he fears, what he hates, how he lives, how he votes, why he is fighting … and why now?” For its September 6th, 1963 issue, Life magazine featured a cover story on the historic August 1963 “march on Washington” with a photograph of two of its leaders, A. Phillip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, shown standing in front of the Lincoln Memorial. And as the civil rights movement received more national notice throughout the 1960s, along with urban unrest, more magazine covers followed.
13 Feb 1960: Norman Rockwell, cover feature, Saturday Evening Post.
Rockwell & The Post
Norman Rockwell, meanwhile, was experiencing change at The Saturday Evening Post. By the early 1960s, the frequency of his covers there had slowed – down to a half dozen or so a year – and the magazine was experimenting with new formats. Still, after more than 40 years of his cover art being featured for millions of Post readers, Rockwell was clearly an asset to the magazine. In fact, for the February 13th, 1960 issue of the magazine and its cover story, he was the featured star and title subject. The cover used his famous “triple self-portrait” and gave full billing to a beginning series of articles about him for the magazine taken from a new autobiography written with the help of his middle son, Thomas Rockwell. Shown at right, the cover taglines for that issue of the Post explained: “Beginning in this issue: America’s Best Loved Artist Finally Tells His Own Story… My Adventures As An Illustrator.” Yet Rockwell was chafing at the Post by this time, and his days there were numbered.
1960: Window Washer.
1961: Artist at Work.
1962: Art Connoisseur.
1963: Nehru of India.
Through the early 1960s, Rockwell continued doing Post covers. In 1960, for example he did five more Post covers in addition to “triple self portrait,” shown above, three of which offered traditional subjects: “Repairing Stained Glass,” April 16, 1960; “University Club,” August 27, 1960; and “Window Washer,” September 17, 1960 (with the washer ogling the secretary). Two more Rockwell covers that year were portraits of the 1960 presidential candidates – U.S. Senator John F. Kennedy and Vice President Richard M. Nixon. The magazine by then had begun shifting to more portraits of famous people as cover material, and was also using more cover photography rather than illustrations or paintings. Rockwell cover portraits, in any case, held their own at the Post, and included others in the early 1960s, among them: Indian prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, January 19, 1963; Jack Benny, entertainer, March 2, 1963; a serious portrait of President John F. Kennedy to accompany a cover story on his foreign policy challenges, April 6, 1963; and Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, May 25, 1963. Other more traditional Post covers by Rockwell in the early 1960s included: “Artist at Work,” Sept 16, 1961; “Cheerleader,” Nov 25, 1961; and “Art Connoisseur” of January 13 1962, showing a middle-aged man in a museum observing a Jackson Pollack-type painting (this issue also had cover billing for a story inside the magazine entitled, “The Little Known World of Our Negro Aristocracy.”).
Rockwell’s “Golden Rule” appeared on Saturday Evening Post cover, April 1, 1961.
One interesting departure for Rockwell from his normal Saturday Evening Post fare during the early 1960s – and a sign of his more liberal inner concerns – came with the April 1st, 1961 cover that appeared under the title “The Golden Rule.” This illustration actually had its genesis, in part, during the late 1940s when Rockwell had set out to do a painting honoring the United Nations (UN), an organization he admired and found hopeful for solving world problems. For the UN painting, Rockwell had in mind something that would highlight the cultural, racial, and religious tolerance of the organization, and he had visited the UN Security Council Chamber for ideas and sketches. His first efforts yielded a charcoal drawing of several major-nation delegates debating from their seats in a brightly lit foreground. Behind the delegates, in the shadows, was a crowd of more than sixty people – a cross-section of men, women, and children from around the world, some in native dress. But Rockwell had difficulty with the UN delegates agreeing to sit for the drawings, and he also had his own dissatisfactions with his art, so he set the project aside. Some years later, in 1960, he resurrected the project, then changing its composition somewhat and using “the golden rule” as theme. He also incorporated the phrase “Do Unto Others As You Would Have Them Do Unto You” directly into the painting using gold lettering.
Rockwell at work on “Golden Rule,” 1960.
The painting – which ran as a Saturday Evening Post cover on April 1st, 1961 – became a further expression of Rockwell’s inner values and interests, marking something of a turning point in his relationship with the Post, not the least of which was his depiction of people of color. African Americans were also included in the painting and placed in prominent positions – one as a Ruby Bridges-type young girl in the foreground holding her schoolbooks to her chest, and another as a middle-aged black man in a white shirt in the upper right corner looking out at the viewer. Art critics have noted that these African American depictions were positive portrayals that broke with the traditional servile stereotypes at the Saturday Evening Post. And along with the other Asians and Africans shown, were Rockwell’s way of following his conscience and “integrating” a Saturday Evening Post cover on his own. Rockwell also incorporated a portrayal of his second wife, Mary, in the painting. Mary was the mother of their three sons and had passed away in 1959. She is shown in the right middle of the painting holding their grandson she never saw. Rockwell is believed to have completed this painting in November 1960. He was later presented with the Interfaith Award from the National Conference of Christians and Jews for the painting, a citation he treasured.
Rockwell’s last cover for the Post, Dec 1963, an earlier JFK portrait.
By late 1963, Rockwell was about to embark on a career change. He was in his 60s by this time. The cover art at the Saturday Evening Post pretty much continued to focus on Americana and everyday life as it had in the past. Inside the magazine, however, there were contemporary stories of the day; the magazine was slowly changing.
Still, Rockwell had become frustrated by the limits the Post had imposed upon his art, especially regarding political themes and social concerns. By then he had begun thinking about and moving on to other subject matter. So in December 1963, he ended his near half-century with the Saturday Evening Post.
Rockwell’s final cover for the magazine appeared in mid-December 1963. It was actually an earlier portrait of John F. Kennedy he had done during the 1960 presidential campaign which the Post republished in a special memoriam issue that ran after Kennedy’s assassination.
Look magazine at about the time Rockwell signed on, December 1963, then featuring Hollywood’s Cary Grant & Audrey Hepburn.
Rockwell at Look
In December 1963, at the age of 68, Norman Rockwell signed on with Look magazine. Look covers at the time dealt with contemporary subjects, celebrities, and general topics of the day, using mostly photographs. A sample cover from December 1963 appears at left, this one also mentioning a civil rights story inside that edition.
Major circulation magazines in the early 1960s were beginning to feel the competition of television. Collier’s had ceased publication in 1956, and even the Saturday Evening Post was feeling the heat. Yet, Life and Look – the “picture magazines,” as they were sometimes called – remained strong, with solid advertising revenue. Look by the mid-1960s would have some of its best years for sales and circulation.
When Rockwell began doing work for Look, Dan Mich was editor there. Mich was a supporter of thought-provoking journalism, and along with art director Allen Hurlburt, they gave Rockwell freedom to pursue his “bigger picture” interests, as he called them. Look wanted to use Rockwell’s art as a compliment to current reportage and that gave Rockwell opportunity to pursue subject matter that interested him.
Rockwell’s third wife, Mary L. “Molly” Punderson, a fervent liberal, was an influence on Rockwell’s work through the 1960s, as was his friend and psychiatrist Erik Erickson. And Rockwell himself, despite being tagged “conservative” by association with his Saturday Evening Post covers, had his own internal guideposts and values, as already noted above. Rockwell was clearly more liberal/progressive than many of his Saturday Evening Post followers might have realized. Some who knew him described him as a “strict constructionist,” especially so when it came to American values. No surprise then, if given a subject and a free hand where American ideals such as freedom and equality of opportunity were at stake, his brush would be on the right side of those concerns.
Ruby Bridges exiting the William Frantz school in New Orleans, November 1960, with U.S. marshals.
And so it was with the Ruby Bridges episode from 1960. Rockwell came to this particular controversy somewhat after the actual event had occurred. The date of his painting, The Problem We All Live With, is 1963 and its use in the illustration in Look magazine appeared in January 1964. So the Ruby Bridges painting was a studied affair for Rockwell; a project he had worked on for some time and given considerable thought to. In November 1960, at the time of the actual incident, there had been television and news reporting of the event. Rockwell no doubt made use of this reporting and the news photographs of the event. He also employed models to work from as he painted.
Prior to the first integration actions in New Orleans – and there were two schools involved and several black students; three at another school – politicians in Louisiana, including the state’s governor at the time, segregationist Jimmie Davis, had maneuvered to prevent and forestall the integration. In September 1960, the schools there opened initially as segregated. By November, however, the courts had set a deadline to begin school integration, but parents did not know which schools would be involved
“Brown vs. Board…” Landmark Case: 1954
Ruby Bridges being escorted into school, November 1960.
The racial integration of American public schools was triggered by a Kansas welder named Oliver Brown who wanted a better education for his children. Brown had sought the opportunity for his daughter to attend a whites-only school that was closer to his home than the local school for blacks. An earlier U.S. Supreme Court decision dating from 1896 had allowed for the establishment of racially-segregated schools, which the court had then deemed acceptable under the constitution, calling them “separate but equal.” Yet most of these schools were not equal. A long legal battle – a court fight consolidated with other similar cases using the name Brown vs. Board of Education – eventually went to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the case was argued by Thurgood Marshall, chief counsel for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (and who later became a Supreme Court justice). The court unanimously ruled in Brown’s favor on May 17, 1954, and the case became a landmark ruling in ending segregation, not only in schools but throughout a wide variety of public venues.
A federal marshal driving first grader Gail Etienne to McDonogh 19 school in New Orleans, November 14, 1960, one of four black children who entered two previously all-white schools in the city. Times-Picayune photo.
Putting the new law into effect, however, would take years. Initially, as Southern states and counties resisted integrating schools, federal marshals — and sometimes federal troops — had to be used to enforce the law, as in the case of Ruby Bridges in New Orleans. In 1956, U.S. District Court Judge J. Skelly Wright ordered the desegregation of the New Orleans public schools. After a series of appeals, Wright in 1960 set down a plan that required the integration of the schools on a grade-per-year basis, beginning with the first grade. The New Orleans School Board then tested black kindergartners to determine the best candidates. Six-year-old Ruby Bridges was one of six children selected; four agreed to proceed. On November 14th 1960, Bridges integrated the William Frantz School (the other three children were assigned to the McDonogh 19 School).
Rockwell’s Ruby Bridges
Sidewalk protest in New Orleans over school integration, November 15th,1960.
Once it was revealed which schools in New Orleans were the ones chosen for the court-ordered integration, sidewalk protests ensued and white parents promptly removed their children from those schools. However, at Ruby Bridges’ school – the William Frantz school — there were also two white parents who chose to keep their children in the school: a Christian minister’s five-year old daughter, Pamela Foreman, in kindergarten, and another white child, Yolanda Gabrielle, age six. In addition to the jeering of Ruby, these white kids and their parents were also jeered and harassed, even beyond the school grounds. Neighbor turned against neighbor and it got pretty ugly in those communities.
Rockwell, no doubt knew about all of this and likely read news accounts of the protests. On November 15, 1960, The New York Times reported the greeting Ruby and her mother received as they arrived that day: “Some 150 white, mostly housewives and teenage youths, clustered along the sidewalks across from the William Franz School when pupils marched in at 8:40 am. One youth chanted ‘Two, Four, Six, Eight, we don’t want to integrate’…”
Detail from Rockwell painting: note “K.K.K.” on upper left wall.
As four U.S. marshals arrived with Ruby and her mother, they walked hurriedly up the steps to the school’s entrance as onlookers jeered and shouted taunts. On the sidewalk that day, assembled mothers and school students were yelling at police, some carrying signs, one held by a young boy that said, “All I Want For Christmas is a Clean White School.” Another placard that day read: “Save Segregation, Vote States Rights Pledged Electors.”
The white parents kept up their boycott of the schools the entire year, and the protests and jeering continued periodically. On December 2nd, 1960, for example, housewives demonstrated at the William Frantz school, one standing with a placard that read “Integration is a Mortal Sin,” citing a biblical scribe as source.
Rockwell’s painting, of course, does not capture all of this, nor was it intended to. His focus appears to be solely on the girl, placed at center, giving no special notice to the marshals, other than they were needed, as he portrays them as anonymous and headless, from mid-torso down. The setting around the little girl is ugly and threatening, but she is innocent and perfect, as her white dress and ribbon-tied hair suggest. As far as she is concerned, she is just going to school.
1962: Steinbeck book.
One description of the 1960 New Orleans school integration protests that Rockwell may have read prior to or during his work on the Ruby Bridges painting was John Steinbeck’s observations of the episode, offered in his 1962 best-seller, Travels with Charley: In Search of America. “Charley” was Steinbeck’s dog and traveling companion during his road trip around the United States. Travels With Charley was published by Viking Press in the mid-summer of 1962, reaching No.1 on the New York Times nonfiction best- seller list October 21, 1962. In part four of that book, Steinbeck recorded his reactions on coming to the New Orleans communities where the school integration controversy had flared, and he came away gravely saddened by what he saw. In his book, Steinbeck offered a detailed account of Ruby Bridges’ arrival at the elementary school and her handling by the U.S. marshals:
“…The show opened on time. Sound of sirens. Motorcycle cops. Then two big black cars filled with big men in blond felt hats pulled up in front of the school. The crowd seemed to hold its breath. Four big marshals got out of each car and from somewhere in the automobiles they extracted the littlest Negro girl you ever saw, dressed in starchy white, with new white shoes on feet so little they were almost round. Her face and little legs were very black against the white…The little girl did not look back at the howling crowd but from the size the whites of her eyes showed like those of a frightened fawn. The men turned her around like a doll, and then the strange procession moved up the broad walk toward the school, and the child was even more a mite because the men were so big…”
November 1960: Demonstrators during school integration in New Orleans, Louisiana; one holding sign that reads, “Integration is A Mortal Sin.”
Steinbeck had come to New Orleans in part to see the “cheerleaders,” as he called those then protesting New Orleans’ school integration, and he describes what he found first hand, as he witnessed some of the protests:
“…No newspaper had printed the words these women shouted. It was indicated that they were indelicate, some even said obscene. . . . But now I heard the words, bestial and filthy and degenerate. In a long and unprotected life I have seen and heard the vomitings of demoniac humans before. Why then did these screams fill me with a shocked and sickened sorrow?…”
Steinbeck wrote that he knew “something was wrong and distorted and out of drawing” in what he had seen in New Orleans. He had formerly counted himself as a friend of New Orleans; knew the city fairly well, had his favorite haunts there, and also had many treasured friends there – “thoughtful, gentle people, with a tradition of kindness and courtesy.” Where were they now, he wondered – “the ones whose arms would ache to gather up a small, scared, black mite?” Answering his own question, he wrote:
“…I don’t know where they were. Perhaps they felt as helpless as I did, but they left New Orleans misrepresented to the world. The crowd, no doubt, rushed home to see themselves on television, and what they saw went out all over the world, unchallenged by the other things I know are there….”
Another influence on Rockwell at this time was likely Erik Erikson, a psychoanalyst at the Riggs Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts where Rockwell then lived and worked. Erikson treated Rockwell occasionally for bouts of depression, was Rockwell’s friend, and also had a passion for civil rights. Erikson was a colleague and mentor to a younger child psychiatrist named Robert Coles, who had begun working with Ruby Bridges and other children in the early school desegregation cases in 1961. Coles had found that segregation had damaged the self-esteem of the little girls, and by 1963 he had written a series of articles beginning in March for The Atlantic Monthly magazine profiling Ruby Bridges’s experiences during integration of the Frantz school. He also published The Desegregation of Southern Schools: A Psychiatric Study, a short book. Erikson may well have made Rockwell aware of these at the time he was painting The Problem We All Live With.
Look magazine’s cover story of January 14, 1964 focused on “How We Live” – American’s homes and communities – city, farm & suburb.
It appears Rockwell began working on the Ruby Bridges painting sometime in 1963, also finishing it that year. The editors at Look decided to use it in their January 14th, 1964 edition. On the cover of that issue, a portion of which is shown at right, Look featured photos of American homes in various urban and suburban settings, along with a few family shots, billing its cover story as: “How We Live: Up in the city, Down on the farm, Out in the suburbs. In homes packed with pride, prejudice and love.”
There was no special mention or billing of Norman Rockwell’s painting on the cover. The illustration would be found in the middle of the magazine as a full two-page spread with no accompanying text. In the table of contents it was billed under “art” with the title “The Problem We All Live With.” It appeared amidst a series of articles with titles such as: “Their First Home,” “Down On The Farm,” and “Their Dream House Is On Wheels.” One of the stories focused on Theodore and Beverly Mason, a black family living in a mixed community in Ludlow, Ohio.
Detail from “The Problem We All Live With.”
Rockwell’s former Saturday Evening Post fans, coming upon this painting in Look, may have been quite surprised. In fact, the painting did elicit reaction from Look’s readers, as the magazine received letters from those who were deeply moved by it, as well as those who were angered by it. Some analysts would later note that precisely because Rockwell was an artist dear to the hearts of many conservatives for his renderings of Americana and American values, that his “new” work on civil rights subjects may have made some of these same fans think twice about America’s racial problem at that time, helping them face up to racism. Rockwell himself would later say of his change in subject matter: “For 47 years, I portrayed the best of all possible worlds – grandfathers, puppy dogs – things like that. That kind of stuff is dead now, and I think it’s about time.”
March 23, 1965, Look cover.
Rockwell appears to have been quite comfortable with what he offered in the Ruby Bridges painting. In fact, in a letter he later wrote to the NAACP, Rockwell offered the illustration to the civil rights group, suggesting they reproduce the illustration as a poster to publicize their progress and accomplishments. It is not known here what the NAACP made of this offer, or if the illustration was ever used as Rockwell suggested. Rockwell, in any case, had more work to come on civil rights issues; work that would also be published by Look magazine, two of which are explored below.
Apart from Rockwell’s work, Look also published cover stories on civil rights issues in that period. On March 23, 1965 the magazine featured “The Negro Now” story by Robert Penn Warren on its cover, describing its content with a series of questions, also on the cover: “How far has the Negro come?,” “What is the South ready to concede?,” “What happens next in the North?,” “Can we move forward without violence?,” and “Who speaks for the Negro now?”
Rockwell’s “Southern Justice” painting of 1965, also known as “Murder in Mississippi,” depicting the killings of three civil rights workers murdered in June of 1964.
Another step that Norman Rockwell took with his civil rights painting in the 1960s, came when he ventured into depicting violence then occurring in the civil rights movement. In 1964, he began work on a painting inspired by the murder of three young civil rights workers in Mississippi in June of 1964.
The three young men – James Chaney, a 21 year-old black man from Meridian, Mississippi; Andrew Goodman, a 20 year-old white Jewish anthropology student from New York; and Michael Schwerner, a 24 year-old white Jewish organizer and former social worker also from New York – were helping to register black voters in Mississippi. Initially, the three men were reported missing.
Within days of their disappearance, the story made national headlines, as President Lyndon Johnson ordered a massive search. However, it turned out that shortly after midnight on June 21, 1964, the three civil rights workers were murdered by local members of the Ku Klux Klan, aided in their plot by a local police chief. All three were beaten and then shot, and their bodies not located until August 8, 1964, found buried beneath an earthen dam.
Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman – the three civil rights workers who were murdered in Mississippi, June 1964. FBI photos.
Rockwell began work on his “Murder in Mississippi” in 1964, a painting which later used the name of the Look article that it ran with, “Southern Justice.” Rockwell typically worked on several projects at once, but with this project, he bore in on the work exclusively for five weeks straight. The painting, which depicts the horror endured by the three young men as they were being beaten, uses a barren, isolated rural scene as its setting, likely at the end of some dirt road in the middle of nowhere in the middle of the night. The scene is lit only by an unseen torch. One man is portrayed by Rockwell lying on the ground, presumably beaten, but trying, with one arm, to push himself up from the ground. Another is standing in the glow of the attacker’s torch trying to help his colleague, who appears beaten and near death. Analysts of this painting have noted that Rockwell, rather than actually showing the murderers in the scene, casts them instead as six ominous shadows approaching from the right, indicating that the young men are outnumbered, and also perhaps, symbolically, indicating the problem is a larger societal issue.
Norman Rockwell’s rough study sketch of beaten civil rights workers as it ran with article in Look magazine, June 29, 1965.
In considering this piece, the editors of Look were more taken with Rockwell’s initial sketch for the illustration and favored it over the finished painting, using it in the magazine. The editors felt the coarser version offered a more powerful, emotional interpretation. Rockwell at first disagreed with their choice but he did allow the sketch to be printed. In the June 29, 1965 edition of Look, it ran as a single-page illustration alongside a one-page article by Charles Morgan titled, “Southern Justice,” which focused on “segregated justice” in the South, the Schwerner-Chaney-Goodman murders, other civil rights murders and beatings in the South, and the absence of black judges in Southern courts. Rockwell’s illustration was captioned as “Philadelphia, Miss., June 21, 1964.”
As with the Ruby Bridges episode, Rockwell no doubt learned of this civil rights story through the media accounts and newspaper reporting of that day. On June 22, 1964, for example, the New York Times ran a front-page story on the incident using the following headlines and description: “3 In Rights Drive Reported Missing; Mississippi Campaign Heads Fear Foul Play–Inquiry by F.B.I. Is Ordered….”After the three workers were found dead, however, local officials in Mississippi refused to prosecute the suspected killers. The U.S. Justice Department then charged eighteen individuals with conspiring to deprive the three workers of their civil rights (by murder). Seven were found guilty on October 20, 1967, but with appeals, did not begin serving their 3-to-10 year sentences until 1970, with none serving more than six years. Three other suspects had been acquitted, but no further legal action ensued in the case until pressure was brought decades later, in June 2005, when the state of Mississippi prosecuted and convicted Edgar Ray Killen – who planned and directed the killing – on three counts of murder.
May 3, 1966: KKK cover.
June 14, 1966: Peace Corps.
Look magazine, meanwhile, went on to do other stories on civil rights issues. Less than a year later, on May 3, 1966, Look ran a cover story on the Ku Klux Klan showing a hooded Klansman on the cover wielding two flaming torches. Rockwell had done some other work for Look in 1965 following his Southern Justice illustration. For the July 27, 1965 edition of Look, Rockwell did an illustration to accompany an article on President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty program for the poor, entitled “How Goes the War on Poverty.” Rockwell’s illustration featured a “helping hand” clasped to another’s seeking help, superimposed over a background of diverse faces with a quote from President Johnson lettered into the painting: “Hope for the Poor, Achievement for Yourself, Greatness for Your Nation.” In the following year, for the June 14, 1966 edition of Look, Rockwell did the cover art and four other pieces inside the magazine helping to illustrate a story on The Peace Corps – “J.F.K.’s Bold Legacy.” Rockwell’s cover piece included a profile of John F. Kennedy and others who actually served in the Peace Corps (some of whom also modeled for Rockwell as he did the painting), including one African American female. All were shown on the cover in profile looking left, with Kennedy in front (see cover above). Rockwell had thrown himself into the Peace Corps project, actually visiting Peace Corps volunteers in action in Ethiopia, India, and Colombia during 1966 as he created several narrative scenes of them at work. But Rockwell would also do more civil rights work the following year, also published in Look.
Look 1967: "Suburbia."
Story: Negro in Suburbs.
The May 16th, 1967 issue of Look magazine was billed as “A Report on Suburbia” – with added tagline, “The Good Life In Our Exploding Utopia.” Look’s cover for that edition also listed the line-up of suburban-related stories inside: “Parties and Prejudices,” “New Styles and Status,” Morals and Divorce, and “Teenagers in Trouble.” One of the stories to follow was by Jack Star, entitled “Negro in the Suburbs.” Mrs. Jacqueline Robbins, a young black housewife who then lived in the all-white Chicago suburb of Park Forest, Illinois with her chemist husband, Terry, 32, and their two sons, was quoted as saying, “Being a Negro in the middle of white people is like being alone in the middle of a crowd.” A Rockwell illustration — entitled New Kids in the Neighborhood — ran in the middle of that article. “Although Negroes are still a rarity in the green reaches of suburbia,” reported the Look article, “they are emerging from nearly all the large metropolitan ghettos with increasing frequency.” In Chicago during 1966, the story explained, 179 Negro families moved into white suburbs – more than twice as many as in the previous year, seven times as many as in 1963…”
Norman Rockwell’s “New Kids in the Neighborhood” ran as full two-page centerfold in Look magazine, May 17, 1967.
Rockwell’s full, two-page illustration inside this suburban-themed issue focused on a “moving-in” day scene for a new black family freshly arrived in some unnamed white suburb. In his painting, Rockwell uses black and white children as his focal point. The two sets of children are standing in front of a moving van sizing one another up. The two African American kids are presumably brother and sister. The three white kids – two boys and a girl – are kids from the neighborhood. Rockwell has included common elements for all the kids – the boys have baseball gloves, the girls each wear ribbons in their hair, and both groups have a pet. For the viewer, meanwhile, there is little escape, as Rockwell involves them quite directly with the central question, essentially asking them to complete the picture; asking them to think about how the interaction between these kids, their parents, their community and the larger society will unfold.
Child models used by Rockwell for “New Kids,” 1967.
Students of Rockwell have noted that he often used kids in his illustrations, sometimes as neutral arbiters and non-judgmental conveyors of life situations – but also as a means of reaching out to mainstream audiences to prod, send a needed message of some kind, or raise a pointed question. Rockwell’s two groups of kids in this painting might be seen as surrogates for the larger society, each group trying to decide what to do and whether or how to conquer that middle distance. The issue in the New Kids painting, of course, is not only the relationships that may ensue between the kids in the weeks and months ahead, but also the larger slate of societal and democratic issues that integration then posed for the nation and its future. The kids, in any case, are usually not the problem. As Ruby Bridges has remarked from her own experience with integration in Louisiana, “none of us knows anything about disliking one another when we come into the world. It is something that is passed on to us.” Rockwell, it seems, also tried to convey some of that, featuring childhood innocence amid adult turmoil, or just letting children be children. But Rockwell was also capable of more direct messages, using tougher themes and subject matter.
A black and white copy of Norman Rockwell’s “Blood Brothers” painting which he later gave to CORE.
In June 1968, during a conversation at a party, Norman Rockwell hit upon an idea for a painting. Following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in April that year, there had been rioting in more than 100 U.S. cities, with a number of people killed and injured. Rockwell was thinking of a scene resulting from this urban unrest, and he called his editor at Look, Allen Hurlburt, to get preliminary approval and begin work. What Rockwell began to sketch were two dead men on the ground – one black and one white – both bloodied and beaten, found on a ghetto street after a riot lying parallel to one another, their blood co-mingling in a pool on the ground. According to the Norman Rockwell Museum, “Rockwell hoped to show the superficiality of racial differences – that the blood of all men was the same.”
Norman Rockwell, 1968, in front of easel with his “Blood Brothers” painting as shown in photograph from Ben Sonder book, “The Legacy of Norman Rockwell.”
Rockwell continued working on the project though June 1968 when Allen Hurlburt at Look suggested that Rockwell change the ghetto scene to a Vietnam battlefield scene. Rockwell then had the two men in essentially the same position, now dressed in military uniform, presumably killed in action during the Vietnam War, their helmets cast beside them on the ground. In war, of course, there was no discrimination; death and injury came to soldiers the same way, no matter if they were black or white. At this point the painting began to be known as Blood Brothers. However, later that fall, the editors at Look decided not to use the painting.
Rockwell wasn’t happy with the decision, did some soul searching and talked with friends about the painting, but set it aside and moved on to other work. But later that year, Rockwell received an invitation from the Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), a civil rights group founded by students at the University of Chicago in 1942. CORE was active in desegregation protests and sits-in from its founding, and became a leading civil rights group in the 1960s, especially in the South, and also helped sponsor the 1963 March on Washington and other events. CORE wanted Rockwell to do an illustration for a Christmas card that the organization likely planned to use to send to its membership or perhaps for fundraising. But Rockwell did not send the group a typical Christmas or Holiday-themed illustration. Instead, he sent them the Blood Brothers painting. CORE, in any case, was happy to have Blood Brothers. However, it is not known how CORE used the painting or whether the group reproduced it for other purposes. One account has reported that the painting is missing from the CORE collection. The earlier studies and sketches Rockwell did for the painting are still held at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge.
Rockwell RFK sketches.
Rockwell, in any case, had been a very busy man in 1968. He had done portraits of all the presidential candidates for Look magazine that year – President Lyndon Johnson and U.S. Senators Eugene McCarthy, Hubert Humphrey and Bobby Kennedy for the Democrats, and Ronald Regan, Nelson Rockefeller and Richard Nixon for the Republicans.
Also in 1968, Rockwell’s Right to Know – a painting of a diverse group of citizens addressing their government – was published in Look’s August 20th edition. The 74 year-old artist had a number of other projects ongoing that year as well, including advertising work and illustrations for a children’s book. He also found time that year to appear on the Joey Bishop Show and the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.
Norman Rockwell continued painting through his 70s. However, it was only in his latter years that his work began to be recognized for its artistic value. During much of his professional life, especially during his Saturday Evening Post years, Rockwell’s work was dismissed by many art critics who regarded his portrayals of American life to be idealistic or too sentimental. They did not consider him a “serious painter;” others believed his talents were wasted or put to frivolous purpose. Yet time would work in Rockwell’s favor.
Norman Rockwell, later years.
Today, his body of work, stretching over more that 60 years, is highly regarded and continues to be studied by scholars while thousands flock to Rockwell exhibitions wherever they appear. During his lifetime Rockwell completed some 4,000 original works, some lost to fire. In addition to his several hundred magazine illustrations and covers for Saturday Evening Post, Look, and other publications, he also did illustrations for more than 40 books including Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn; made annual contributions to the Boy Scouts of America calendars between 1925 and 1976; did illustrations for the Brown & Bigelow publishing and advertising firm between 1947 and 1964; completed numerous illustrations for booklets, catalogs, movie posters, sheet music, stamps, and playing cards; and also painted a few wall murals. His portrait work in later years would involve a number of famous figures, among them, Judy Garland, Bob Hope, Arnold Palmer, Frank Sinatra, and John Wayne. He also did a few unexpected pieces, such as a 1968 album cover portrait of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper for their rock-blues recording, The Live Adventures of Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper.
In 1969, having lived in Stockbridge, Massachusetts for last quarter of his life, he agreed to lend some of his works to the Stockbridge Historical Society for a permanent exhibition. Word soon spread that his works were on display there and attendance grew annually, into the thousands. By 1973, then in his late 70s, Rockwell established a trust to preserve his collection, placed initially in a custodianship that would later became the Norman Rockwell Museum of Stockbridge. In 1977, Rockwell was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then-President Gerald R. Ford, recognizing his “vivid and affectionate portraits of our country.” The following year, on November 8, 1978, Rockwell died at his Stockbridge home at the age of 84. An unfinished painting remained on his easel.
Rockwell’s “Rosie the Riveter” became a WWII & women’s rights icon. The original painting sold for 4.95 million dollars in 2002.
In July of 1994, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative series of five Rockwell works including “Triple Self Portrait” and “The Four Freedoms.” In 1999, New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl said of Rockwell in ArtNews: “Rockwell is terrific. It’s become too tedious to pretend he isn’t.” Rockwell’s work was exhibited at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York city from November 1999 through February 2002.
Today, Norman Rockwell originals fetch millions at auction, and in recent years the values have been jumping. Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveterpainting, used for a Saturday Evening Post cover in 1943 shown at right, was sold twice in recent years – once in 2000 for $2 million, and when resold again in May 2002, escalated to $4.95 million. His Homecoming Marine sold for $9.2 million at auction in May 2006. And in November 2006 at Sotheby’s in New York, Rockwell’s Breaking Home Ties sold for $15.4 million. Collectors of Rockwell art today include the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Smithsonian, The National Portrait Gallery, the Corcoran Gallery, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and others.
1994 U.S. postage stamp for Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom From Want.”
The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, MA – with visitors now trending upwards of 160,000 annually – holds the world’s largest collection of original Rockwell art, including some 574 original works as well as the Norman Rockwell Archives of photographs, fan mail, and other documents. Rockwell’s Ruby Bridges painting – The Problem We All Live With – featured at the top of this story, is on display at the White House from June 22 – October 31, 2011. Thereafter it is scheduled to rejoin the Rockwell museum’s traveling exhibition, “American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell.”
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “Rockwell & Race, 1963-1968,” PopHistoryDig.com, September 22, 2011.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
1940s: Norman Rockwell at work on a magazine cover.
"Thataway" - March 1934 Saturday Evening Post cover; example of early "rule" on African American depiction.
Nov 29, 1960: White parent, Rev. Lloyd Foreman (left) walks his five-year-old daughter Pam to the newly integrated William Frantz School where they were blocked by jeering crowd. At right is AP reporter Dave Zinman. AP photo.
Nov 30, 1960: White parent Mrs. James Gabrielle, with police escort, is harassed by protestors as she walks her young daughter home after day in the newly integrated William Frantz school in New Orleans. Crowd wanted total white boycott. AP photo.
Rockwell’s “Breaking Home Ties,” SEP cover art of Sept 25, 1954, depicts father and son sitting on automobile running board as son departs for college, sold for 15.4 million dollars at Sotheby's auction in 2006.
Norman Rockwell’s “Saying Grace,” SEP cover art of Nov 24, 1951 and a fan favorite, depicts an older women and young boy giving thanks for their meal at a shared table amid busy scene in a working class restaurant.
Norman Rockwell’s "Truth About Santa" or "Discovery,” captures the complete surprise of a crestfallen young boy who has discovered Dad’s Santa suit. SEP cover, December 29, 1956.
DeNeen Brown, “Iconic Moment Finds a Space at White House,” Washington Post, Monday, August 29, 2011, p. C-1.
Norman Rockwell’s ‘Rosie The Riveter’ cover for the May 29, 1943 edition of The Saturday Evening Post, was the first visual image to incorporate the ‘Rosie’ name.
“Rosie the Riveter” is the name of a fictional character who came to symbolize the millions of real women who filled America’s factories, munitions plants, and shipyards during World War II. In later years, Rosie also became an iconic American image in the fight to broaden women’s civil rights.
After the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941 and the full involvement of the U.S. in World War II, the male work force was depleted to fill the ranks of the U.S. military. This came precisely at a time when America’s need for factory output and munitions soared. The U.S. government, with the help of advertising agencies such as J. Walter Thompson, mounted extensive campaigns to encourage women to join the work force. Magazines and posters played a key role in the effort to recruit women for the wartime workforce.
Saturday Evening Post cover artist, Norman Rockwell, is generally credited with creating one of the popular “Rosie the Riveter” images used to encourage women to become wartime workers. Rockwell’s “Rosie,” shown at right, appeared on the cover of the May 29th,1943 edition of The Saturday Evening Post. The Post was then one of the nation’s most popular magazines, with a circulation of about 3 million copies each week. In addition to Rockwell’s Rosie, however, another image would become the more commonly known “Rosie the Riveter” image.
J. Howard Miller's 'We Can Do It!' poster was commissioned by Westinghouse and shown briefly in February 1942.
In 1942, Pittsburgh artist J. Howard Miller was hired by the Westinghouse Company’s War Production Coordinating Committee to create a series of posters for the war effort. One of these posters became the famous “We Can Do It!” image — an image that in later years would also become “Rosie the Riveter,” though not intended at its creation. Miller based his “We Can Do It!” poster on a United Press photograph taken of Michigan factory worker Geraldine Doyle. Its intent was to help recruit women to join the work force. At the time of the poster’s release the name “Rosie” was not associated with the image. The poster — one of many in Miller’s Westinghouse series — was not initially seen much beyond one Midwest Westinghouse factory where it was displayed for two weeks in February 1942. It was only later, around the 1970s and 1980s, that the Miller poster was rediscovered and became famous as “Rosie The Riveter.” But both images of Rosie — Rockwell’s and Miller’s — were used to help enlist women in the WWII workforce. In later years, and in fact up to present times, these images have became iconic symbols of women’s rights struggles, and are occasionally adapted for other political campaigns as well. But it was during the World War II years that “Rosie the Riveter” got her start.
“Rosie the Riveter” Song Lyrics
While other girls attend their fav’rite
Sipping Martinis, munching caviar
There’s a girl who’s really putting
them to shame
Rosie is her name
All the day long whether rain or shine
She’s a part of the assembly line
She’s making history,
working for victory
Rosie the Riveter
Keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage
Sitting up there on the fuselage
That little frail can do more than a
male will do
Rosie the Riveter
Rosie’s got a boyfriend, Charlie
Charlie, he’s a Marine
Rosie is protecting Charlie
Working overtime on the
When they gave her a production “E”
She was as proud as a girl could be
There’s something true about
Red, white, and blue about
Rosie the Riveter
Everyone stops to admire the scene
Rosie at work on the B-Nineteen
She’s never twittery, nervous or jittery
Rosie the Riveter
What if she’s smeared full of
oil and grease
Doing her bit for the old Lendlease
She keeps the gang around
They love to hang around
Rosie the Riveter
Rosie buys a lot of war bonds
That girl really has sense
Wishes she could purchase
Putting all her cash into national
Senator Jones who is “in the know”
Shouted these words on the radio
Berlin will hear about
Moscow will cheer about
Rosie the Riveter!
_____________________ Paramount Music Corporation, NY,
1942. Listen to song at NPR.
First, The Song
Rosie the Riveter appears to have come first in song, not in art. In 1942, a song titled “Rosie the Riveter” was written by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb and was issued by Paramount Music Corporation of New York. The song was released in early 1943 and was played on the radio and broadcast nationally. It was also performed by various artists with popular band leaders of that day. The song became quite popular, particularly one version recorded by the Four Vagabonds, an African-American group — a version that caught on and rose on the Hit Parade. It seems likely that Saturday Evening Post artist Norman Rockwell heard this song, and possibly was influenced by it, especially since he wrote the name “Rosie” on the lunch box in his painting.
In the Post’s cover illustration, Rockwell’s Rosie is shown on her lunch break, eating a sandwich from her opened lunch pail as her riveting gun rests on her lap. A giant American flag waves behind her. Rosie appears content, gazing off into the distance. However, Rockwell portrays her with some important details, from the lace handkerchief visible in her right hand pocket, to her foot placed smack on the cover of Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf at the bottom of the painting. But there was also something else in Rockwell’s Rosie.
The “Isaiah Effect”
In early June 1943, after The Saturday Evening Post cover of Rosie had hit the newsstands and had been widely circulated, the Kansas City Star news- paper ran images of Rockwell’s Rosie alongside of Michelangelo’s Isaiah from his Sistine Chapel ceiling painting. The splash in the Star drew a lot more attention to Rockwell’s Rosie. Followers of Rockwell’s illustrations in those years knew well his penchant for touches of humor and satire.
In more recent years, reviewers of Rockwell’s Rosie have added their interpretations and observations. “Just as Isaiah was called by God to convert the wicked from their sinful ways and trample evildoers under foot,” wrote one Sothebys curator in a May 2002 review, “so Rockwell’s Rosie tramples Hitler under her all-American penny loafer.” Rockwell had used a petite local woman as a model for his Rosie, but he took liberties with her actual proportions to make his Rosie appear as a more powerful, Isaiah-like figure. “Righteousness is described throughout Isaiah’s prophecy as God’s ‘strong right arm’,” continued the Sotheby’s reviewer, “a characterization that must surely have occurred to [Rockwell] as he portrayed Rosie’s muscular forearms.” Rockwell’s Rosie also has a halo floating just above the pushed-back visor on her head. Rockwell had fun with his paintings, using some irreverent humor here and there, but also including the necessary serious messages and patriotic tone.
Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post Rosie was widely disseminated during the war. In addition to the magazine’s 3 million-plus circulation, Rockwell’s Rosie was also displayed in other publications, including The Art Digest of July 1, 1943. Rockwell’s “Rosie” was later donated to the U.S. War Loan Drive and briefly went on a public tour. However, Rockwell’s image of Rosie might have enjoyed an even wider circulation had it not been for the actions of the magazine’s publisher, Curtis Publishing. In 1943, Curtis initially used the phrase “Rosie the Riveter” on posters it distributed to news dealers advertising the forthcoming Post issue with Rockwell’s painting on the cover. However, according to author Penny Colman, within a few days, Curtis sent telegrams to the news dealers ordering them to destroy the poster and return a notarized statement attesting to the fact that they had. Curtis issued its retraction because it feared being sued for copyright infringement of the recently released song “Rosie the Riveter.” Rockwell’s painting of Rosie was then donated to the U.S. Treasury Department’s War Loan Drive, and then went on a tour for public display in various cities across the country.
A ‘Wendy-the-Welder’ in 1940s’ shipbuilding at Richmond, CA.
Real Life Rosies
In June 1943, about two weeks after Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post cover appeared on newsstands, the press picked up the story of a woman worker named Rose Bonavita-Hickey. She and partner Jennie Florio, drilled 900 holes and placed a record 3,345 rivets in a torpedo-bombing Avenger aircraft at the former General Motors Eastern Aircraft Division in North Tarrytown, New York. Hickey’s feat was recognized with a personal letter from President Roosevelt, and became identified as one of many real-life “Rosie the Riveters.” Other women workers doing riveting — as well as others generally who were filling heavy-industry “men’s” jobs all across the nation – e.g., “Wendy-the-welders,” etc. — also gained media attention during the war years.
WWII-era photo showing Dora Miles and Dorothy Johnson at Douglas Aircraft Co. plant in Long Beach, CA.
Sybil Lewis, an African-American riveter who worked for Lockheed Aircraft in Los Angeles, would later provide this description of women riveters:
“The women worked in pairs. I was the riveter and this big, strong, white girl from a cotton farm in Arkansas worked as the bucker. The riveter used a gun to shoot rivets through the metal and fasten it together. The bucker used a bucking bar on the other side of the metal to smooth out the rivets. Bucking was harder than shooting rivets; it required more muscle. Riveting required more skill.”
In early August 1943, Life magazine featured a full cover photograph of a woman steelworker, along with an inside photo-story spread of other “Rosie” steelworkers, some quite dramatic. The photographs were taken by Margaret Bourke-White, the famous Life photojournalist who was the first female war correspondent and the first woman to be allowed to work in combat zones during World War II.
Life magazine cover photo of August 9, 1943 shows steelworker Ann Zarik at work with her torch.
Bourke-White had spent much of WWII in the thick of things overseas, but also managed to do domestic stories such as the “Women in Steel” spread, which included at least a dozen photographs displayed in Life’s August 9, 1943 edition. These photos captured women at work in the American steel industry, including some taken at Tubular Alloy Steel Corp. of Gary, Indiana and Carnegie-Illinois Steel Company. Some of the photos showed the women wielding torches and working on heavy plate and structural steel with sparks flying, with others working in midst of giant steel caldrons that carried the molten steel. A display of these and other Rosie photographs, culled from the Life magazine archive, can be seen at “The Many Faces of Rosie The Riveter, 1941-1945.”
Need More Women
The government, meanwhile, continued to call for more women in the workforce. They needed women to work in all kinds of jobs, not just those in munitions plants or military-related factory work. By September 1943, the Magazine War Guide was asking magazine publishers to participate in a “Women at Work Cover Promotion.” They wanted publishers and others to push all kinds of employment as vital “war jobs.” Everyday “civilian jobs” were vital, too, not just the factory jobs. The slogan for this promotion was: “The More Women at Work the Sooner We Win.”
Norman Rockwell’s portrayal of American ‘liberty girl’ in her ‘jack-of-all-trades’ mode, capable of doing many kinds of civilian jobs to help the War effort – September 4, 1943, Saturday Evening Post.
The Saturday Evening Post used Norman Rockwell again to produce a cover for this campaign — a cover that appeared on its September 4th, 1943 issue. It was entitled “Rosie To The Rescue.” For this cover, Rockwell created a “liberty girl” dressed in patriotic clothes but cast as a jack-of-all-trades composite, capable of doing any number of civilian jobs — nurse, mechanic, telephone operator, milkman, farmer, etc. This “liberty girl” image did not resonate the same way that Rosie did, but Rockwell and the publishers were still doing their part for the War effort.
Rockwell and The Saturday Evening Post were only part of a much bigger campaign to move women into the workplace. Motion pictures, newspapers, radio, museums, employee publications, and in-store displays were all involved. Some 125 million advertisements were produced as posters and full-page magazine ads.
Fine print reads: ‘Uncle Sam Needs Stenographers. Get Civil Service Information at Your Local Post Office.’
In fact, the govern- ment was quite direct about the propa- ganda campaign it needed to mount. According to the Basic Program Plan for Womanpower in the Office of War Information, for example: “These jobs will have to be glorified as a patriotic war service if American women are to be persuaded to take them and stick to them. Their importance to a nation engaged in total war must be convincingly presented.”
A 'WOW' was a 'Woman Ordinance Worker.'
Some promotional films were produced as well. Hollywood actor Walter Pidgeon, working for the government War Bond effort, made a short film promoting the war effort in which he recruited a real “Rosie the Riveter” worker named Rose Will Monroe whom he met while touring Ford Motor’s Willow Run aircraft factory. The short film was shown in theaters between featured films to encourage viewers to buy War Bonds.
Unrelated to the War Bond effort, a Hollywood movie called Rosie the Riveter was also made in 1944; it was a B-grade romantic wartime comedy made by Republic studios with Jane Frazee as Rosie Warren who worked in an airplane factory.
Female trainees at Middletown, PA, 1944. The Middletown Air Service Command stockpiled parts and overhauled military airplanes. During WWII, Middletown’s workforce grew from 500 to more than 18,000, nearly half of them women.
The women who responded to “Rosie’s call” during the 1940s’ war years did all kinds of work. In 1942, the Kaiser shipyards opened in Richmond, California, becoming a major shipbuilding center for the war effort. A woman named Bethena Moore from Derrider, Louisina was one of thousands who came to work there. In Louisiana, she had been a laundry worker. A small woman of 110 pounds, Bethena was one of the workers who would climb down into the bowels of ships — sometimes four stories in depth — on a narrow steel ladder, tethered to a welding machine. She did the welds on the ships’ double-bottoms. “It was dark, scary,” she later recounted to a New York Times reporter in October 2000. “It felt sad, because there was a war on. You knew why you were doing it — the men overseas might not get back. There were lives involved. So the welding had to be perfect.”
Woman working inside the tail of a B-17 aircraft at Boeing production line in Seattle, WA, 1940s.
Phyllis McKey Gould was another worker at the Richmond, California Kaiser shipyard No. 2. She worked as a welder there, later recalling the work she did: “I’d never worked in my life,” she said. “I loved the look of welding, the smell of it… You’d look through really dark glass and all you’d see was the glow. You moved the welding rod in tiny, circular motions, making half-crescents. If you did it right, it was beautiful. It was like embroidery.” At the war’s height, women, many of them African-American, made up more than a quarter of the Richmond shipyards’ 90,000 workers.
Women welders in New Britain, Connecticut, 1943.
In Maine during the early 1940s, Dorothy “Dot” Kelley was recently divorced, out on her own, and raising four children. After seeing women from the Portland shipyard cashing $600 checks, she quit her job at a Montgomery Ward department store and went to work at the South Portland Shipyards. She worked there helping build ships from 1942 until the shipyard closed in 1945. She worked nights so her days could be free for her children. Dot and other the women welders wore heavy clothes against the cold, and they wriggled into the ships’s tight spaces to weld its seams together. Her neck and chest became spotted with tiny burn marks from the sparks — common to other welders as well. But after the war ended, Dot Kelley was forced to work two jobs, and her children were sometimes left to fend for themselves at home. She was determined, however, to keep working and keep her family together. She lived to be 94 years old, and through her daughter, National Public Radio told her story in a December 2006 broadcast.
Women working at the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama, 1940s.
In Georgia, Eloise Strom, a young mother of two young boys, rose every morning before dark and rode an hour and a half in a car pool with five other women to go to work at the aircraft plant in Marietta. Some worked in the office, others worked in production. In the early 1940s the plant was called the “Bell Bomber plant,” later to become Lockheed-Martin. During WWII, it employed some 28,263 workers at its peak — about 10,000 of them women. It then paid well above the minimum wage. The factory produced B-29 bombers — some 668 in all. The B-29s were used mainly in the Pacific Theater to bomb Japan; they had a longer range than the B-17s used in Europe. The Marietta plant not only reshaped the work force, it also transformed Marietta from a sleepy town of 8,000 into a booming industrial center.
Sante Fe Railroad ad singing the praises of its women workers.
Near Hunstville, Ala- bama, a military ordinance complex known as the Redstone Arsenal, also used women throughout its facilities. By December 1942, about 40 percent of Redstone production line employees were women, and that share would rise to 60 percent or more on some production lines by war’s end. Dealing with munitions, chemicals, and other dangerous substances, the jobs at Redstone entailed a degree of risk, and several women were killed there during the WWII years, with a number of others injured.
In Michigan, at Ford Motor Co., more than 30 percent of Ford workers in 1943 in the machining and assembly departments were women. Women at Ford plants built jeeps, B-24 aircraft, and tractors. They also became test pilots for the B-24s. And they operated drill presses, welding tools, heavy casting machinery and riveting guns.
The Sante Fe Railroad also used women in war-time jobs. One of the company’s wartime ads explained in part: “…Right now, thousands of Santa Fe women are doing war-vital work to ‘keep-em-rolling’. Many of them are pitching into ‘unglamourous jobs’… greasing engines, operating turntables, wielding a shovel, cleaning roller bearings, working in blacksmith and sheet metal shops. They take pride in their work too!” A small inset box in the ad also read: “Another chapter in the story ‘Working for Victory on the Sante Fe’.”
Marilyn “Rosie” Monroe
Marilyn Monroe, before she became a Hollywood star, appeared in a series of airplane factory photos in June 1945 that led to her becoming a model and film star.
One of the “Rosies” during the WWII years was none other than Marilyn Monroe — well before she became “Marilyn the Hollywood star,” however. In the 1945 photo at right, Marilyn was then the 19 year-old Norma Jean Dougherty working at the Radioplane munitions factory in Burbank, California. Monroe was then married to Merchant Marine seaman James Dougherty, whom she had wed in Los Angeles in June 1942. In 1943, after Dougherty joined the U.S. Merchant Marine and was sent overseas in 1944, Monroe started work at the Radioplane plant, where she was “discovered” by an Army photographer. In the summer of 1945, Capt. Ronald Reagan of the Army`s 1st Motion Picture Unit, sent 26-year-old private David Conover, a professional photographer, on an assignment for Yank magazine, the Army weekly. Conover was sent to the Radioplane plant to shoot morale-boosting photographs of pretty girls doing their job to help the war effort, none of which were used by Yank. (There have been some discrepancies on this point, as Yank did a prior story, “Women in Industry,” published in December 22, 1944. But apparently no photo of Norma Jean Dougherty was ever used by Yank). Conover, on his first encounter with Marilyn at the factory, would later write: “I moved down the assembly line, taking shots of the most attractive employees. None was especially out of the ordinary. I came to a pretty girl putting on propellers and raised the camera to my eye. She had curly ash blond hair and her face was smudged with dirt. I snapped her picture and walked on. Then I stopped, stunned. She was beautiful. Half child, half woman, her eyes held something that touched and intrigued me.”
Another of David Conover's photos of 19 year-old Norma Jean Dougherty.
Conover introduced himself to Monroe, and there began a professional relationship. Monroe’s appearance and natural ease in front of the camera captivated Conover. He would later write that she had “a luminous quality in her face, a fragility combined with astonishing vibrancy.” Upon hearing that she wanted to become an actress, he told her that she would need to become a model, and then spent the next two weeks snapping photos of her, and coaching her on how to pose and “address” the camera. Thereafter, Conover was sent to the Philippines and the two lost touch. Monroe, meanwhile, moved out of her mother-in-law’s home, stopped writing to her husband, James Dougherty, and filed for divorce in 1946. Dougherty later remarried after the war in 1947 and joined the Los Angeles Police Department. In 1950, he was one of the police officers who held back the crowd at the premiere of Monroe’s movie, The Asphalt Jungle. It was not until 1953 that photographer David Conover learned that Norma Jean Dougherty had become movie star Marilyn Monroe, who would later credit Conover with having “discovered” her. Tutor and student were reunited in 1953 on the set of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. To learn more about the Conover-Monroe photos, read Conover`s 1981 book, Finding Marilyn. See also at this website, a short story about Elton John’s tribute song to Monroe, “Candle in the Wind.”
Opening The Door
Mexican American women workers on the Southern Pacific Railroad during WW II.
During the WWII years, the government’s war-related “get-women-to-work” campaigning opened the door to women in the workforce, setting off a key change for women’s civil rights and altering the demographics of the workforce in later years. At the end of December 1941, there were about 13 million women at work. ‘Rosie the Riveter’ and other campaigns helped to increase that number to 15 million in early 1943. By 1944, there were 20 million women in the workforce, with 6 million of those working in factories. And according to the American Rosie the Riveter Association, the millions of Rosies who filled the factories helped turn out critical war materiel, including nearly 300,000 airplanes, more than 100,000 tanks, and some 44 billion rounds of ammunition.
Although many of the jobs held by women during WWII were initially returned to men after the war ended, the workforce would never be the same again. Sybil Lewis, who worked as a Lockheed riveter during those years stated: “You came out to California, put on your pants, and took your lunch pail to a man’s job. This was the beginning of women’s feeling that they could do something more.” Inez Sauer, who worked as a Boeing tool clerk in the war years, put it this way:
“My mother warned me when I took the job that I would never be the same. She said, ‘You will never want to go back to being a housewife.’ At that time I didn’t think it would change a thing. But she was right, it definitely did. . . . at Boeing I found a freedom and an independence that I had never known. After the war I could never go back to playing bridge again, being a club woman . . . when I knew there were things you could use your mind for. The war changed my life completely. I guess you could say, at thirty-one, I finally grew up.”
Women at Douglas aircraft plant during WWII.
Women discovered a new sense of pride, dignity and independence in their work and their lives. Many realized their work was just as valuable as men’s, though for years, and to this day, an earnings disparity still exists. During the war years, however, a number of women workers joined unions, gaining major new benefits from labor representation. Black and Hispanic women also gained entry to major industrial plants, factory and other jobs throughout the country. But the fight for equal rights in the workplace and equal pay for women was just beginning, and would be fought over many years following WWII.
America’s working women were praised during the war, but when the war ended they were encouraged to return to homemaking.
As the women’s rights movement emerged in the 1970s, Rosie the Riveter imagery was called upon for use in campaigning and popular literature. By the 1980s, the historical importance of the WWII “Rosie workers” began to be revisited in books and film. One documentary film entitled, The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter, was made by Connie Field, who originally got the idea for the film after attending a California Rosie-the-Riveter reunion. The film, released in September 1981, is based on extensive research and some 700 interviews. It profiles five females who were working in low-paying jobs before the war and become wartime workers. The five “Rosies” recall their WW II-era experiences working in Detroit, Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco. Their stories are interwoven with archival recruitment films, stills, posters, ads, and music from the period.
The film’s views contrast with some of the popular legends and mythology surrounding the Rosies of WW II, including the fact that many Rosies were denied opportunities to continue working once the war ended. The film is regarded as one of the best accounts of women working in heavy industry in World War II, and also of home-front life during those years. In the film’s first year, some 1 million viewers saw it, a very high number for a documentary. It has also won various film festival prizes and was dubbed into six languages. In 1996, it was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Rosie stamp, circa 1999.
‘When America marched off to war, the women marched into the factories,’ says this 1984 movie promo. ‘From then on...nothing was ever the same again.’
In 1984, Goldie Hawn’s Hollywood film, Swing Shift, made with Warner Brothers, also built its storyline around the Rosie workers of World War II. That film also starred Christine Lahti, Kurt Russell, Fred Ward and Ed Harris. Swing Shift focuses more on the personal relationships of its WW II-era female workers played by Hawn and Lahti while their husbands are away in the war. This film, however, also fairly portrayed what happened to women workers at the war’s end as male workers returned and the female workers were no longer needed. In the 1990s, Rosie the Riveter imagery and stories continued to pop up in various venues. Smithsonian magazine did a story on WWII era Rosie poster art in its March 1994 edition, putting the J. Howard Miller “We Can Do It” Rosie on the cover. In November 1998, the U.S. Postal Service authorized a new first-class postage stamp honoring the WW II-era working women, also using the “We-Can-Do-It!” Rosie.
Rosie, the action figure.
And by this time, too, there was all manner of Rosie-the-Riveter para- phernalia available — from T-shirts to Rosie action figures and bobble head dolls. The Rosie action figure, for example, is a five-inch, all-plastic toy replica with moveable arms, legs and head. It also comes with a lunch box and a “riveting action” rivet gun. One of the toy’s merchants — having a little fun with his promotion — offered the following play scenarios: “…You can use her [Rosie] to beckon your Barbies out of their mansions and into the factories to do their part for the US of A. …Or, you can ignore her historical significance and pit her against your WWF [World Wrestling Federation] action figures in a cage match battle extreme!”
Back in the real world, however, thousands of older Rosies who had actually worked in the wartime production frenzy, were getting up in years, and many were recalling their experiences in their wartime jobs. Some were having reunions, while others began communicating with one another. In 1998, the “American Rosie the Riveter Association” was formed in Warm Springs, Georgia and is today headquarterd in Birmingham, Alabama. By 2004 this organization had 1,400-members. In California, meanwhile, something else was afoot: a National Park (follows below the Rockwell sidebar).
Rockwell’s Rosie & Beyond
Over the years, Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter has generally yielded in popularity to the J. Howard Miller/Westinghouse “We Can Do It!” poster girl. Copyright restrictions on Rockwell’s Rosie in subsequent years meant it was less frequently reproduced. The Miller/Westinghouse poster image, on the other hand, was without such copyright limitations, and over the years, appeared in numerous forms — on coffee mugs, magnets, t-shirts, and mouse pads. Still, Rockwell’s original painting had some interesting travels. …By the 1990s, certainly, Rockwell’s body of work had received serious attention of historians and art critics alike… And in the art world, Rockwell’s Rosie enjoyed a considerable following. In the 1940s, after Rockwell’s painting was donated to the government War Bond effort, it went on public tour, as did other works of art during those years. Items on these tours were sometimes offered as prizes in raffles as a way to increase public interest and contributions for the war effort. Reportedly, at one of those events — believed to have been when the painting was displayed at the Strawbridge & Clothier store in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — Rockwell’s original Rosie was raffled off and won by a Mrs. P. R. Eichenberg of Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania. After that, the painting appears to have been acquired by the Chicago Pneumatic Tool Co. on E. 44th St. in New York city, where it was hung in a display window next to a placard explaining Rosie’s history. Also included in that window display were some riveting hammers identical to the one Rockwell’s painting placed in Rosie’s lap. After its window display, it appears that Rosie was held by Martha Parrish and James Reinish of New York.
Rockwell's Rosie: sold for millions.
By the 1990s, certainly, Rockwell’s body of work — for The Saturday Evening Post and elsewhere — had received serious attention of historians and art critics alike. Rockwell captured the best of America with his brush, also exploring patriotic subjects. “Rockwell’s pictures often honored the American spirit,” wrote Judy Larson and Maureen Hart Hennessey in their 1999 book, Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People. “Particularly during times of crisis, Rockwell created images that communicated patriotism and unquestioned allegiance to the United States.” Others would write that his Rosie the Riveter was a testament to the indomitable strength of the American spirit during one of the nation’s most challenging times. “Rosie’s cool self confidence, sheer physical might, and unwavering support of her country,” said one, “parallel the strength, determination and patriotism of the American people.”
Sometime in the year 2000, the original Rockwell Rosie painting was sold to an anonymous collector for $2 million. By 2002, that collector decided to sell. In the meantime, Rockwell’s Rosie had been part of an all Norman Rockwell exhibition entitled “Norman Rockwell: Pictures for the American People,” which had run at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York from November 1999-February 2002. In 2002, Rockwell’s Rosie was sold at Sotheby’s for $4.95 million. Rockwell’s Rosie had illustrated the exhibit brochure’s back cover as well as interior pages. After the exhibition, it was then featured on the cover of Sotheby’s May 2002 American Paintings auction magazine. The auction was held on May 22, 2002. The bidding on Rockwell’s “Rosie the Riveter” painting began at $1.5 million and proceeded in $100,000 increments until it was sold for $4,959,500. The buyers were a husband-and-wife team — Kelly Elliott owner of the Elliott Yeary Gallery of Aspen, Colorado, and her husband, Jason Elliott, a partner in Ranger Endowments Management of Dallas, Texas.
“‘Rosie’ was the first piece of art I ever appreciated back in grade school,” Jason Elliott, 32, explained to a New York Times reporter. “…She’s colorful, she’s calm and this is my favorite representation of America.” Kelley Elliott, 29, who had done the bidding for the Rockwell painting, said it would be displayed in the Colorado gallery for the summer. No longer range plans for the painting were announced at that time, but Jason Elliott indicated that he wanted the painting to be seen. “I don’t want it locked away in a room somewhere,” he said. Rockwell’s “Rosie,” however, would be sold again. In June 2009, it was reported that Alice Walton, daughter of Sam Walton, founder of Walmart Stores, acquired the Rockwell painting for $4.9 million. The “Rosie the Riveter” painting is currently housed at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. The museum, which opened in November 2011, is largely the creation of Alice Walton and the Walton Family Foundation.
Beyond “Rosie the Riveter,” Norman Rockwell’s work today is still admired broadly throughout America. Museum exhibits of Rockwell’s work at The Saturday Evening Post and elsewhere have appeared over the years throughout the country. In Columbus, Ohio, for example, during February-March 2009, there was a “Rockwell’s America” exhibit at the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus, Ohio. A photo from the Rosie the Riveter portion of that exhibit appears at left. There is also the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where Rockwell lived the last 25 years of his life. Founded in 1969, it holds the world’s largest collection of original Rockwell art — some 574 original works as well as the Norman Rockwell Archives of photographs, fan mail, and other documents.
Rosie Memorial & Park
Rosie the Riveter Memorial looking out toward Richmond Marina & San Francisco Bay beyond. This site was formerly Kaiser Shipyard No. 2.
On October 14th, 2000, a “Rosie the Riveter memorial” was dedicated in Richmond, California, a location on the San Francisco Bay where one of WWII’s amazing engineering feats took place — with women workers playing a key role. For it was here that Kaiser shipbuilding devised mass-assembly techniques to more quickly produce the vessels that were needed in the war. In that undertaking, Richmond became a Mecca for workers, as other factories, including a Ford Motor plant, were also converted to war-time production of jeeps and other equipment. In the 1990s, with some of these sites deteriorating and/or fading in memory, a few local officials sought to improve their locale and draw tourist and public attention to the historic role women workers had played at some of these locations. A modest “Rosie the Riveter” memorial was first proposed at the site of one the Kaiser shipbuilding docks, and work began in the late 1990s. But this memorial soon sparked, and became part of, a much larger vision and plan that would come to encompass the “Rosie the Riveter WW II Home Front National Historical Park” — a U.S. National Park with multiple venues and historic sites along Richmond’s 22-mile waterfront.
Rosie park poster.
In the U.S. Congress, legislation authorizing the “Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Historical Park” was submitted by U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA), U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) in March of 2000. The bill was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in October 2000. “Preservation is not only for parks and wilderness areas,” said Congressman George Miller at the bill’s signing. “We are also committed to using our resources to preserve historic sites that help tell the story of America’s development, and the Rosie the Riveter Home Front National Historical Park will stand as a lasting tribute to these brave women who played such a crucial role in winning the war.” Today, the park includes a number of exhibits on the “homefront” and “Rosie-the-Riveter” contributions to the WWII-era production that took place in Richmond. Other exhibits for the park are also planned.
View toward Bay from hull sculpture looking down walkway. Engraved pavement sections are visible as well as “image ladders” with period photographs & shipyard memorabilia.
At the October 2000 dedication of the Rosie the Riveter memorial, for example, hundreds of visitors and dignitaries came to the ceremony, not the least of whom were some 200 “Rosies” returning to the former workplace to revisit their past. The memorial, which includes a sculpture of part of a ship’s hull under construction, evokes the ship building that went on there, with a granite walkway that stretches the length of a Liberty ship the to the water’s edge. The granite walkway includes etched words from women workers. The site also includes “image ladders” with photographs and memorabilia, and a timeline of events on the home front and individual memories of the period. On the overlook platform at the memorial, in a prominent location, is the following quote for all to read: “You must tell your children, putting modesty aside, that without us, without women, there would have been no spring in 1945.”
For other stories at this website on notable women and their careers see, for example: writer and ecologist Rachel Carson and her book, Silent Spring; Olympics star and pro golfer, Babe Didrikson; singer and TV celebrity Dinah Shore; rock star Tina Turner; and dancer and movie star, Cyd Charisse. The topics page, “Noteworthy Ladies,” offers 36 story choices on women who have made their mark in various fields. Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you see here, please consider supporting this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle
Penny Colman, Rosie the Riveter: Women Working on the Home Front in World War II, Crown Books, 1995.
Dr. Kaylene Hughes, “Women at War: Redstone’s WWII Female Production Soldiers,” paper originally written by Dr. Kaylene Hughes, Senior Historian, U.S. Army Missile Command Historical Office, for presentation to the U.S. Army Historians Conference, June 1994. The paper was adapted to book-format by Dr. Hughes in early 1995.
Tony Marcano, “Famed Riveter In War Effort, Rose Monroe Dies at 77,” New York Times, June 2, 1997.
James J. Kimble and Lester C. Olson, “Visual Rhetoric Representing Rosie the Riveter: Myth and Misconception in J. Howard Miller’s ‘We Can Do It!’ Poster,” Rhetoric & Public Affairs, Vol. 9, No. 4, Winter 2006, pp. 533-569.
“Rosie The Riveter: Wars and Battles, World War II Home Front,” U-S-History.com.
National Public Radio (NPR), “My Mother’s Story: Dot the Welder,” by Joyce Butler, on Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo; senior producer for StoryCorps Sarah Kramer, December 15, 2006.
New York Times story on the acquisition of Newsweek by the Washington Post, March 10, 1961.
It was early March 1961. A young John F. Kennedy was just months into his new presidency, “Blue Moon” by The Marcels was the No. 1 hit on the radio, and The Great Impostor with Tony Curtis had just opened in movie houses. In New York, Phil Graham, the 45 year-old publisher of the Washington Post, was in Manhattan on business. He had just written a personal check for $2 million to the Astor Foundation. The check was earnest money for an $8.9 million block of stock The Post would buy as part of its $15 million deal to acquire Newsweek, then the nation’s second largest weekly news magazine behind Time. The transaction marked one of those mid-20th century business deals that was changing the newspaper industry and signaling, in part, how big media would take form through the remainder of the century. For the Washington Post, the acquisition of Newsweek would become a major asset and would help make it become a much bigger and more influential player in news, information, and politics.
Phil Graham & Eugene Meyer holding 1st copy of the newly merged Washington Post-Times Herald, amid St. Pat’s celebration, 17 March 1954.
Founded in 1877, the Washington Post had grown from something of second-tier newspaper in a town that once had several. Over the years, the Post had been sold to a succession of new owners, not all of whom were focused on making it a good business or a good newspaper. In 1933, Eugene Meyer, a financier, bought the paper at public auction for $825,000. Meyer set about to turn around the failing enterprise and to run a respected paper. In March 1935, he published — on the front page — his paper’s principles and standards for truthfulness and decency. By 1943, The Washington Post circulation was 165,000 — more than triple its 1933 figure. Advertising also tripled. Then, in 1940, a young lawyer named Phil Graham, married Meyer’s daughter Katharine. A few years later, in 1946, at the age of 31, Graham dropped his law career and became associate publisher of his father-in-law’s newspaper. Within six months he was publisher and by 1948, after a gift from his father-in-law, he and his wife Katharine held all of the Post’s voting stock.
Phil Graham, rising newspaper man, on Time cover, 1956.
Graham then bought out one of his competitors, the Washington Times-Herald in 1954, becoming the city’s only morning paper.Within two years of that deal, Graham had doubled the Post’s circulation and he was featured on the cover of Time magazine. He had also acquired two television stations. In 1959, after Eugene Meyer died, Graham became president of the Washington Post Company.
The Newsweek Story
Newsweek, originally launched under the name News-Week in February 1933, was founded with the help of a group of wealthy stockholders that included Ward Cheney, of the Cheney silk family; John Hay Whitney, owner of the New York Herald Tribune; and Paul Mellon, of the industrial and banking Mellons. Other industrialists, investment bankers, and corporate lawyers were also added to the magazine’s stockholders in later years. News-Week’s first issue in 1933 featured seven photographs from the week’s news on its cover. By 1937, it merged with another weekly journal named Today, founded several years earlier by former New York Governor and diplomat Averell Harriman and Vincent Astor of the prominent Astor family. Vincent Astor became News-Week’s chairman and its principal stockholder. Malcolm Muir took charge as editor-in-chief and President, changing the news magazine’s name to Newsweek, abolishing the hyphen.
1st edition of News-Week, 17 Feb 1933, featuring its '7-photos-of-the-week' format, later abandoned as confusing to readers.
Newsweek was profitable from the early 1940s. During World War II, it put out a pocket-size special edition for the troops in Europe, and at war’s end in 1945, published its first international editions in Tokyo and Paris. Through the 1950s, Newsweek enjoyed increasing circulation. Vincent Astor, with a stake of 59 percent, died in 1959. With Astor’s death, rumors began to circulate about the family’s interest in selling the magazine. Malcolm Muir, Newsweek’s president and editor following Astors’ death, was among those inter- ested in acquiring the magazine.
Genesis of a Deal
Meanwhile, a group of Newsweek’s journalists in its Washington and New York bureaus were concerned about the fate their magazine. They worried that it might fall into the wrong hands. Among those concerned was Ben Bradlee, Newsweek’s bureau chief in Washington. Bradlee had hoped that one of the major newspaper families might be persuaded to buy Newsweek – publishers “who ran newspapers of conscience and quality,” as he put it; publishers such as Joe Pulitzer of the St. Louis Post- Dispatch, Marshall Field of the Chicago Sun Times, or Phil Graham at The Washington Post. Bradlee, in fact, had once worked for Graham at the Post but knew him only slightly. Yet as Newsweek was then heading for an uncertain fate, Bradlee would initiate a meeting with Phil Graham, urging him to buy Newsweek. Writing in his 1995 book, A Good Life, Bradlee recalls the meeting he had with Graham:
. . .One night, after a bad day of brooding, and a few shooters, I called [Osborn] Elliott in New York [Newsweek’s managing editor] and told him I was damn well going to pick up the phone — it was almost 11:00 p.m. — and call Phil Graham right then. It was the best telephone call I ever made — the luckiest, most productive, most exciting, most rewarding, totally rewarding. He answered the phone himself. Ben Bradlee, then chief of Newsweek’s Washington bureau, became a player in the Washington Post / Newsweek deal.I blurted out that I wanted to talk to him soonest about the Post buying Newsweek. He said simply, “Why don’t you come on over? Now.”
I was sitting in his living room ten minutes later. I stayed there talking, and trying to answer his questions — mostly about people, who was good and who was bad and why — until just before 5:00 a.m. I was back at 9:00 a.m., as ordered, with fifty pages of thoughts, “just stream-of-consciousness stuff. . . No one’s going to read it but me,” Graham told me. I scarcely knew Phil Graham. . . .
Ben Bradlee writes about the Newsweek deal, among other things, in his 1995 memoir.
Essentially my pitch to him was that Newsweek could be made into something really important by the right owner, if only the right people were freed to practice the kind of journalism Graham knew all about; that Newsweek was about to be sold to someone (whomever) who wouldn’t understand or appreciate its potential; that it wouldn’t require a lot more money. . . maybe a few thousand bucks worth of severance pay, and maybe Newsweek was just the right property for The Washington Post to make a move toward national and international stature. He got my message long before I was through delivering it, and all he wanted to talk about was the cast of characters [at Newsweek]. Who was who — in the Washington Bureau and in New York, on the news side and on the business side. God knows what I said, I was so turned on by his interest and enthusiasm. Luckily, there is no written record of this conversation, and the fifty-page memo I gave him at nine that morning has mercifully disappeared. I’m sure I was indiscreet; he encouraged indiscretion with indiscretion, and before I left he was using ‘we’ and saying ‘could.’
Bradlee thereafter became part of Graham’s inner group of advisers on the deal, and traveled to New York with Graham as the deal unfolded. Among others bidders for Newsweek was the magazine’s then Chairman Malcolm Muir, 75, who hoped to enlarge his family’s 13 percent holding in the magazine with the Astor shares. But after Phil Graham heard that bidding for the foundation stock had held around $45 a share, he raised his bid to $50, which was then about 24 times the magazine’s earnings per share. Some back home at the Post worried about the amount of money involved, and thought it could better spent to improve the Post’s operations and quality. “Though the official selling price for Newsweek was $15 million, in the end no more than $75,000 really changed hands. It was one of the great steals of contemporary journal- ism.” -David Halberstam And in addition to the bidding for Newsweek by Muir, others with considerable resources were also involved, including Doubleday, the book publisher, and Sam Newhouse, the newspaper mogul. But in the end, Graham’s offer of $50 a share proved the winning bid as the Post took the prize.
It turned out that the Post had struck a very good bargain. At $50 a share, the total price for the deal appeared to be something like $15 million. But Newsweek had $3 million in cash in the bank, and owned half interest in a San Diego TV station, which the Post later sold for $3 million. In the end, the real price for the acquisition was closer to $9 million, with Prudential Insurance Co., one of the backers, carrying most of that. In addition, Newsweek’s books looked very promising for the road ahead, as the magazine had average $15 million a year in profit for the last thirty years. “Though the official selling price for Newsweek was $15 million, in the end no more than $75,000 really changed hands,” wrote David Halberstam in his book The Powers That Be. “It was one of the great steals of contemporary journalism.”
Newsweek in Nov 1960, prior to the Washington Post acquisition.
Phil Graham, meanwhile, went on to expand the reach and influence of the Washington Post Co. and its assorted enterprises. In 1962, Graham helped establish a 50/50 Washington Post-Los Angeles Times news service formed to broaden and syndicate the reach of both papers. The service soon boasted a strong Washington bureau as well as global coverage with a range of notable writers. Graham also went looking for additional writing talent, and in October 1962 he signed up New York Herald Tribune columnist Walter Lippmann, who would also write columns for Newsweek and the new wire service. A month later, he added another well-known writer, Joe Alsop. The news service by then had signed up 33 U.S. dailies with the British papers, the London Sunday Times, Manchester Guardian, and London Observer coming on later. Back at the Washington Post, Graham had raised salaries, increased circulation, and beat rival Washington Star in advertising. But Phil Graham was in trouble.
Loss of Phil Graham
Graham, for some years, had been an undiagnosed and untreated manic-depressive, and in the early 1960s, his condition worsened. In August 1963, he took his own life. The event devastated the Post and was seen as a major loss. Sam Newhouse offered Katharine Graham $100 million for Newsweek, but she wasn’t selling. Gradually, following Phil Graham’s passing, his wife and Eugene Meyer’s daughter, Katharine, also known as Kay by colleagues, assumed the mantle at The Washington Post, including Newsweek. Two years after her husband’s death, in 1965, Sam Newhouse offered Katharine Graham $100 million for Newsweek, a substantial premium over what Phil Graham had paid of it. But Katharine Graham wasn’t interested in selling. She was interested in growing her company. Along the way, she pumped more money into Newsweek, eventually making it a more robust player in the weekly competition with Time and U.S. News & World Report.
Vietnam War story, 13 Feb 1969.
Cleveland's first black mayor featured, April 14, 1969.
30 July 1973 edition, after the Post had broken Watergate story.
During the 1960s, Newsweek distinguished itself from Time by appealing to younger readers and focusing on two big stories of the era: race relations and the Vietnam War. In July of 1963, Newsweek had already been the first major news magazine to put the face of an unknown black American on its cover. But in November of 1967, the magazine ran a civil rights cover story and editorial. Newsweek‘s then-editor Osborn Elliott, would later say the cover story questioned traditional notions of journalistic “objectivity,” calling it the first example advocacy journalism by any major magazine.” In 1968, following the Tet Offensive in Vietnam, Newsweek again offered its views, this time calling for de-escalation of the war and eventual U.S. withdrawal.
Back at the Washington Post, Kay Graham was also focusing on her newspaper. In August 1965, she lured Ben Bradlee away from his Newsweek bureau chief post to become a deputy managing editor at the Post, with promises of bigger things to come. By 1968, Bradlee became executive editor with Kay Graham’s backingNewsweek became a leader in advocacy journalism.. He initiated change at the paper early on, including the January 1969 creation of a culturally and politically attuned “Style” section, replacing a dated “For and About Women” section. Bradlee and Graham would proceed to lead the paper into the thicket of some of the next decade’s most important issues, publishing the Pentagon Papers in 1971 — a secret history of the Vietnam War — and winning a Pulitzer prize for the paper with its 1972-73 coverage of the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon. The Post’s coverage of these and other issues would also show through to some extent in Newsweek’s coverage.
Today, the Washington Post Co. is a major media concern with wide ranging newspaper, radio, television, magazine, educational services, and internet holdings. Newsweek now offers 12 editions, appearing in more than 190 countries, with an audience of some 21 million readers. According to Washington Post Co., Newsweek has won more National Magazine Awards and more Loeb Awards than any other newsweekly. (Note: the above graph was written in 2008).
TheWashington Post continued to publish Newsweek through the 2000s. However, by 2008 Newsweek was losing money – $16 million that year, followed by $29 million loss in 2009, and heading for another $20 million-plus loss in 2010. Advertising had been down 30 percent in 2009 and 40 percent in the first three months of 2010. Then there was the euphemistically described “generational change in reading patterns,” meaning the digital tsunami that was ravaging traditional print newspapers and magazines.
December 2012: Last print issue of Newsweek.
By May 2010, after some 47 years of Newsweek ownership, the Washington Post put the magazine up for sale, and by August that year was sold to Sidney Harman – of Harman-Karman music systems fame and more. Harman, then 92, entered a partnership with Washington Post board member Barry Diller, chairman of IAC/InterActiveCorp (IAC), which, among other ventures, had launched The Daily Beast, a digital news company. In the deal with IAC, Newsweek would be merged with The Daily Beast.
Tina Brown, a well-traveled editor who had notable stints at Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, became editor of the merged Newsweek-Daily Beast entity. The venture undertook some interesting initiatives, but had rocky going as it went through changes. In October 2012, Brown announced that Newsweek would cease print publication with the December 31, 2012, issue and transition to an all-digital format, to be called Newsweek Global.
On August 3, 2013, IBT Media, a global digital news organization based in New York, announced it had acquired Newsweek from IAC on terms that were not disclosed. The acquisition included the Newsweek brand and its online publication, but not The Daily Beast.
August 2013: Washington Post sold to Jeff Bezos.
TheWashington Post, meanwhile, was having it own financial difficulties, as the Graham-family owned and run newspaper was bleeding pretty badly with successive years of losses.
On August 5, 2013, Amazon.com founder and billionaire, Jeff Bezos, announced his purchase of the Washington Post for $250 million in cash. The deal stunned both the Washington, D.C. community and the larger world of media and journalism, finding this a particularly glum sign of how poorly the print journalism business was faring in the internet age.
Still, for both Newsweek and the Washington Post, there was hope of better times ahead, at least in some form, assuming as well that the very considerable and historically-valuable archives of both organizations would continue to be preserved, protected, and made publicly available in the decades ahead.
For other stories on publishing history at this website see the “Print & Publishing” category page. A Warren Buffett story at this website also includes some history on Kay Graham and the Post’s relationship with Buffett during the 1970s and 1980s. Thanks for visiting – and please consider supporting this website. Thank you. – Jack Doyle