Jan 17, 1977: Rupert Murdoch depicted on Time magazine cover as the invading King Kong of New York publishing world, with Time’s editors offering a Murdoch-esque news banner of style to come.
In was mid-January 1977, and Jimmy Carter was about to be sworn in as President of the United States. But in the newspaper and magazine business, the big news of the day was an audacious New York media grab by a then little-known Australian newspaper mogul named Rupert Murdoch. By late January 1977, Murdoch would own two premier New York media companies: the New York Post newspaper and New York Magazine Co., which then published three magazines: New York, The Village Voice, and New West.
Rupert Murdoch in the 1970s was just getting started on his global media empire, and by today’s standards, his 1976-77 New York acquisitions seem tame. Yet these deals, and the changes Murdoch undertook with them at the time, shook things up in the media print world and hinted at his grander plans ahead.
In later years, Murdoch would create the Fox television network and acquire the Wall Street Journal, among other properties.His 1976-77 deals, though, were the first signs that Murdoch would be a determined player in the U.S. market. These, however, were not the first deals Murdoch had made in America.
Murdoch and wife Anna in Texas, 1973.
In 1973 he acquired two newspapers in Texas — The San Antonio Express and The San Antonio News — for $18 million. The following year, he entered the U.S. supermarket tabloid business launching a brand new paper then called The National Star. More on these later.
By 1976, however, Murdoch had set his sights on the bigger eastern cities. He had looked at the possibility of acquiring some major women’s magazines, such as Redbook and Ladies’ Home Journal. But he was also considering starting a daily paper in either New York City or Boston, and that’s when the New York Post became available.
The New York Post had roots that dated to 1801, and one of its founders was Alexander Hamilton. For years it was known as the New York Evening Post, and described itself as the nation’s oldest, continuously-published daily newspaper.
The New York Post
Dorothy Schiff, the publisher of The New York Post, with the presses running overhead in 1963.
At the time Murdoch became interested in the New York Post it was owned by Dorothy Schiff, the granddaughter of Jacob H. Schiff, a New York city financier and social welfare advocate. Dorothy Schiff had purchased the paper in 1939. Under her tenure the New York Post was devoted to liberalism, supporting trade unions and social welfare. It was the only New York City daily to support Adlai Stevenson, the Democratic candidate for president, in 1952 and 1956. Among some of its popular columnists were: Drew Pearson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Max Lerner, Murray Kempton, Pete Hamill, Earl Wilson and Eric Sevareid. It also had well a respected theater critic and Broadway columnist. Under Schiff’s direction, the paper increased its circulation by two thirds. The Post had undertaken stories critical of New York master builder Robert Moses, “slum clearance,” and J. Edgar Hoover, among others. It is also known for its 17-part series on communist witch-hunter, U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy — headlined, “Smear, Inc.: Joe McCarthy’s One-Man Mob.” By 1976, The New York Post was the only surviving afternoon daily in New York City, with a circulation of about 500,000.
When Murdoch remarked to Schiff at one meeting that he was thinking about launching a new paper in Boston or New York, Schiff, then 73, told him she was thinking of selling the Post. According to one account of the deal that followed, “Murdoch pounced, wrapping up the $30 million sale in three weeks of secret negotiations.” He acquired the paper by late November 1976.
Dec 20, 1971.
Apr 22, 1974.
Mar 17, 1975.
Aug 23, 1976.
New York Magazine Co.
After Murdoch made the Post deal, he moved next on the New York Magazine Co. This company was run by Clay Felker, an innovative editor and writer who had worked at various newspapers and magazines including Life, Sports Illustrated, Time, Esquire, and The New York Herald Tribune.
The flagship publication of the New York Magazine Co. was New York magazine, a weekly focused on culture, politics, and New York City style. New York magazine was begun in 1964 by Felker as a Sunday supplement enclosed with The New York Herald Tribune. After the Tribune folded in 1968, Felker and graphic designer Milton Glaser (who later invented the “I Love NY” logo) reintroduced New York as a glossy, stand-alone magazine.
New York initially was intended to compete with The New Yorker — and an earlier, scathing piece about the New Yorker’s “mumified” reporting in April 1965 when New York was still a Tribune supplement, had already set off a war between the two. But New York magazine also became known for its own unique enterprise: helping launch and define what would be called the “new journalism” — a departure from the more objective norm of journalism to a form of narrative and point-of-view journalism relying on characters, dialogue, participant authors, and/or fictional devices.
Clay Felker in 1976 at ‘The Village Voice.’
Felker was the visionary in the enterprise. The magazine, under his leadership, “set about revising the hierarchies of urban experience,” Sarah Bernard and Aaron Latham wrote, in a 2008 retrospective on New York magazine. “Felker had observed something new happening in the city, and he’d brought his own outsider’s sense of romance and a fascination with power and status. The magazine he made had a new palette of interests, with no brow distinctions. Restaurants were as important as business, or politics. Everything that went on in a city dweller’s mind was something to be curious about.” The magazine, with Milt Glaser’s help, also did clever things with design, text, and illustration, also departing from the norm. New York magazine would become a model for many city and other magazines that would follow it in years to come. New York’s writers, editors, and contributors were some of the most talented to come out of the late 1960s and 1970s, including: Tom Wolfe, Jimmy Breslin, Nora Ephron, Kurt Andersen, Gloria Steinem, Gail Sheey, John Heilemann, Nick Cohn, Ken Auletta, Richard Reeves, Aaron Latham, Dick Schaap, Michael Kramer, John Simon, Pete Hamill, Gael Greene, Walter Bernard, Bill Flanagan, Anna Wintour, James Brady, Lally Weymouth, Andy Tobias, Judy Daniels, Laurie Jones, Nancy Newhouse, Nick Pileggi, Mark Jacobson, Robert Benton, Byron Dobell, Mimi Sheraton, Gael Greene, Dorothy Seiberling, Amanda Urban, Walter Bernard, and others. But Clay Felker was the visionary leader and editorial maestro. And as Tom Wolfe would put it, “he created the hottest magazine in America in the second half of the twentieth century: New York.”
Milt Glaser & Walter Bernard at New York magazine offices pondering a cover design, 1974. (Photo: Cosmos Sarchiapone).
New York in the 1960s and 1970s under Felker and Glaser covered the national topics of the day as well as New York’s cultural scene and its movers and shakers. Tom Wolfe, wrote one of the magazine’s early features on 1960s’ psychedelic cultural renegade Ken Kesey and his band of pranksters, a story that later became the Wolfe novel, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Gloria Steinem wrote about women’s issues for New York. She also wrote on the 1968 presidential election. Felker helped her launch her own publication in 1971, MS magazine, using New York to launch a sample insert issue (see cover above). New York also covered New York sports stars, the arts, and national politics. In 1969, it did a story on Joe Namath, flamboyant quareterback of the New York Jets. In the 1970s, Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal were covered closely. In 1976, Nick Cohn wrote a New York story titled, “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night,” an account of a young working-class Brooklyn guy who spent his evenings at a local disco club — a story that became a sensation and helped spawn the film Saturday Night Fever.
The New York Magazine Co. also owned two other publications — The Village Voice and New West. The Village Voice, originally established by writer Norman Mailer and others in October 1955, was merged with Felker’s company in 1974, continuing as The Village Voice. The newest member of the New York Magazine group by 1977 was New West, which Felker had launched in Los Angeles, California in 1976, modeled after New York. The circulation of each of the magazines at the time of Murdoch’s takeover in 1977 was as follows: New York, 375,000; the Village Voice, 162,000; and New West, 290,000. So, how did Rupert Murdoch come to own this company?
Murdoch vs. Felker
Rupert Murdoch & Clay Felker in East Hampton, NY in the 1970s, when the two newspapermen were “pals.”
Clay Felker had met Rupert Murdoch in the early 1970s at the home of Washington Post Chairman, Katharine Graham. Felker, by this time had established his reputation as an innovator, and a gifted though somewhat erratic editor. He and Murdoch got on well at first, and by some accounts became “great pals.” In fact, Felker had introduced Murdoch to New York Post publisher Dorothy Schiff in 1974, at Felker’s East Hampton beach house. The two newspaper men had explored the possibility of undertaking a few business ventures together. Felker also confided in Murdoch about some difficulties he was having with his board of directors, as there had been some feuding about Felker’s “high living and low profits,” as one report later put it. Felker wanted to be chairman of the New York Magazine Co., but his board denied him that post — as well as his demand for a salary increase and company purchase of his Manhattan duplex. Felker had exceeded his budget for the launch of New West, and was reported as having spent lavishly on visiting staff, office space, and cut-rate introductory subscriptions. Meanwhile, the New York Magazine Co. was a publicly-held company, and its stock in 1976 was not appreciating, as the company had suffered a loss.
Milton Glaser, Lally Weymouth, Clay Felker, and Katharine Graham in 1976. (Photo: Jill Krementz)
Felker, then looking for some allies on his board, had asked Murdoch if he would be interested in buying a stake in the company. Some of Felker’s board members weren’t always cooperative and a few held sizeable stakes in the company. When Felker acquired the Village Voice in 1974, Carter Burden, the former owner of the Voice, received about 24 percent of the New York Magazine Co. stock.Murdoch told Felker he would be happy buy into the New York Magazine Co., but he wanted control of the company, which Felker would not agree to. The strategy of enlisting Murdoch’s help was soon dropped by Felker — but not Murdoch.
Murdoch saw another publishing asset to add to his New York base and began negotiating directly with the top shareholders at the New York Magazine Co. He wanted the whole company. Felker then sought allies in defense of Murdoch’s moves, eventually enlisting Katharine Graham of the Washington Post, who agreed to match Murdoch bid for bid — starting at $7 a share, then $7.50, then $8.25, matching his offers. But Murdoch by January 1, 1977 made a direct deal with Carter Burden, who then held the largest chunk of the company. Murdoch also lined up more than a dozen other shareholders in the New York Magazine Co. and soon held over 50 percent of the company. In the end, Murdock paid something on the order of $7.6 million for the New York Magazine Company.
Clay Felker addressing the troops at the Village Voice amidst Rupert Murdoch takeover in 1977. (Photo: James Hamilton).
Felker had tried a variety of strategies to stop Murdoch, and at one point did get a temporary injunction from U.S. District Court judge to block some stock sales to Murdoch. Felker had also lined up potential allies for cash, including British industrialist Sir James Goldsmith, Cincinnati financier Carl Lindner, and some unidentified New York real estate interests. But the prospect of a protracted court battle with Murdoch soon dissuaded these backers. In the battle with Murdoch, Felker also had the support of his New York staff, who were not keen on the idea of working for Murdoch. They held press conferences and walked out at one point, some complaining that Murdoch would bring “trash” journalism to the enterprise. They also met with Murdoch’s lawyers, arguing if they left, the enterprise would be devalued. They were told in reply, according to Ken Auletta, that it didn’t matter what they thought or did, as writers they were merely “furniture” in the equation.
“New West” magazine, had a look & tone much like “New York,” but also help put the company in jeopardy.
On the inside of the New York Magazine Co., however, there was a perspective that Felker had made the company vulnerable with the New West project, enabling Murdoch to make his deal. Here’s one observation from Alan Patricof, an early board chairman at New York:
“…He [Felker] always wanted to be respected as a businessman. Then he wanted to start New West. We didn’t have the money to do it. Clay was determined to do it. We reluctantly supported him. Clay spent freely, and he really wanted to create this footprint on both sides of the country. I remember going to Clay in ’76 saying, “Clay, we’re going to have to find some way of resolving this” — but he didn’t do much about it. Then Rupert Murdoch came along and was prepared to pay a premium on the price at the time. He knew that he was going to be buying something where Clay was not happy about it, and it wasn’t until the very last second, when the board had gone very far with Rupert, very far, at the midnight hour, that Clay produced Katharine Graham, but it was too late by then. He had plenty of time, but he didn’t want to face up to it. I have to tell you, it was one of the most reluctant sales I ever made…”
“…It was a time that we all thought the power was really with the writers, with the creative people, and in a way we learned what they learned in Hollywood: That’s not the way it is. The power is with the money…” – Richard Reeves In the end, Murdoch won. Felker was not happy with the loss of his dream enterprise. At the first directors’ meeting following the deal, Murdoch demanded two seats on the New York Magazine Co. board — and got them. He also said to Felker at the time that he thought Felker was “an editorial genius” and wanted him to stay and run the magazine. Felker refused. In his departure from the company, Felker was paid $1.5 million for his shares plus his $120,000 salary for three years. The managing editors of New York, the Voice and New West, as well as the ten most senior New York writers, were all given two-year contracts by Murdoch. Clay Felker, meanwhile, went on to other magazines and editorial projects, briefly tried Hollywood, and later took a faculty position at the University of California at Berkeley. In 1995 he was honored with the creation of the Felker Magazine Center at Berkeley. After battling throat cancer for some years, he passed away in July 2008 at age 82 and was eulogized and fondly remembered by many of his former New York staff.
Richard Reeves, one of the early writers at New York, offered this observation on Felker, Murdoch, and the magazine changing hands in1977:
“…The story was Clay was a great editor and a bad businessman, and Murdoch sensed that. He was like a wolf or a shark. He could sense there was blood in the water, and he made his move. It was a time that we all thought the power was really with the writers, with the creative people, and in a way we learned what they learned in Hollywood: That’s not the way it is. The power is with the money. While we wrote about that all the time, and while Clay understood that intellectually, as a businessman I don’t think that he did.”
Now that Murdoch owned New York,The Village Voice, and the New York Post, the city’s publishing establishment began to size up their new neighbor and the kind of journalism he might be bringing their way. They looked at his record in Australia and the U.K, and what he had done in San Antonio and with his new national U.S. tabloid, The Star. What they found was not encouraging.
Rupert Murdoch shown with copies of his London newspapers “The Sun” and “The Times,” the latter of which he would acquire in 1981.
Rupert Murdoch, born into an Australian newspaper family in 1931, was educated at Oxford in England and began his rise back home with one newspaper, the Adelaide News. But he soon began acquiring suburban and provincial newspapers throughout Australia. In 1956 he bought a Sunday paper in Perth for $400,000. He was also successful launching the Channel Nine TV station begun in Adelaide, a station that became profitable. In 1960, he spent $4 million for the Sydney Daily Mirror, a tabloid-styled paper. He also acquired a small, Sydney-based recording company, Festival Records. In 1964, he ventured to New Zealand acquiring a daily in Wellington called The Dominion. That same year back home, he established a new newspaper called The Australian, the nation’s first national daily newspaper. The Australian was intended by Murdoch to be a “quality” newspaper, and one with political influence.
By 1968 Murdoch’s holdings included newspapers, magazines and broadcasting stations worth an estimated $50 million. He then turned to the U.K., making a bid in 1969 for the largest-selling British Sunday newspaper, The News of the World. With $20 million he outbid British book publisher Robert Maxwell and won controlling interest of the “Sunday scandal sheet,” as some called it. News of the World then had a circulation of about 6 million. A year later, also in London, he acquired The Sun, a daily broadsheet newspaper associated with Labor politics; a paper then in poor condition with a circulation of about 950,000. The Sun had begun in 1964 with noble aspirations, designed to tap into the lifestyle changes of the 1960s and the rise of the young, upwardly-mobile professionals, including career-oriented women. Murdock and his editors turned it into a tabloid, shifted the emphasisaway from Labor politics, and moved to more titillating topics using a formula of “sex, sport and sensation.”
First edition of The Sun (U.K.) under Rupert Murdoch, Monday, Nov 17, 1969.
The Sun’s first edition of November 17, 1969 ran with the front-page headline “Horse Dope Sensation,” billed as an “exclusive” — a story about a racing trainer admitting he had doped his horses. Some of the stories inside that edition featured gossip on the “playboy Prince of Wales” — the 21-year-old Charles “sowing his wild oats” with 20-year-old daughter of the Duke of Westminster. The Rolling Stones were also given some ink in the center of that edition, focused partly on the clothed and unclothed ladies they encountered in their rock ‘n roll travels. Other stories in subsequent issues would focus on sex scandals. At one point, Murdoch’s other London paper, The News of the World, began rehashing the memoirs of a famous call girl named Christine Keeler — a former model and showgirl whose affair with a British government minister in 1963 rocked the Conservative government of Harold Macmillan. U.K. talk show host David Frost brought Murdoch on TV at one point to grill him about the Keeler material his paper was then running. Some critics began calling Murdoch the “dirty digger” — digger being a slang term for an Australian. Murdoch seemed unscathed by the criticism, happy to see his newspapers’ circulation rising. In fact, the use of titillating material in Murdoch’s papers was just getting started.
“Page Three Girls”
In November 1970 — about a year after The Sun’s first edition — a nude photo of German model Stephanie Rahn appeared on page three of The Sun. It was the first nude photo, shot from the side with breast area exposed, that a major circulation U.K. newspaper had run. Murdoch, out of the country when the photo ran, was reportedly upset over the move at first, but after the circulation numbers rose, accepted it. Page Three girls boosted circulation — from about 1 million in 1969 to 3.8 million in 1977 by one count — and made The Sun one of the most popular newspapers in the U.K.Thereafter, “the Page Three girl” became a regular feature. A year earlier, Murdoch’s first edition of The Sun had included a “glamour page” using clothed models, some with unbuttoned shirts or in otherwise provocative poses, but none that were nude or topless. With the Stephanie Rahn photo of November 1970, however, a new era had begun, as the Page Three girls were gradually shown in more overtly topless and/or suggestive poses. Over the next four years The Sun published photos of topless Page Three girls intermittently, going daily with the feature in 1975. Although controversy ensued, the Page Three girls boosted circulation — from about 1 million in 1969 to 3.8 million in 1977 by one count — and made The Sun one of the most popular newspapers in the U.K. Competing U.K. tabloids the Daily Mirror and Daily Star, instituted similar features in their papers. Today, “Page Three” and “Page 3” are registered trademarks of News International Ltd, the parent company of The Sun. In 1999, The Sun also launched a Page Three website, Page3.com, complete with online archive.
Excerpts from this book ran in The Sun.
The Sun newspaper in the 1970s also ran feature stories with headlines such as such as “Do Men Still Want To Marry A Virgin?” and “The Way into a Woman’s Bed.” The Sun would also run serializations of best-selling erotic books. Portions of The Sensuous Woman by “J” (Joan Garrity), first published in 1969, were run in Murdoch’s Sun at a time when copies of the book were being seized by British customs, causing a stir in London, but providing some free publicity for Murdoch’s newspaper.
The Sun also ran excerpts from Jacqueline Suzann’s 1969 novel, The Love Machine. Through the 1970s, The Sun would overtake the Daily Mirror to become the UK’s biggest selling daily. Back in Australia, meanwhile, Murdoch in 1972 acquired another Sydney newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, a morning tabloid. But he also began looking elsewhere around the world.
Murdoch in Texas
By 1973, Murdoch had turned his attention to America, buying up his first two newspapers in San Antonio, Texas — the San Antonio Express and San Antonio Evening News from the Harte-Hanks news group. Reportedly, Murdoch flew into town and made the deal in a single day, signing the papers at the airport, but leaving instructions on his way out to turn one of the papers “into a screamer.”
Rupert Murdoch with wife Anna and Robert G. Marbut, of Harte-Hanks Newspapers in San Antonio, 1973 (photo: San Antonio Express-News).
Under Murdoch, the San AntonioNews became a tabloid-styled paper, while the San Antonio Express retained its original, conservative format. Neither the San Antonio Express nor the Evening News showed much interest in politics. Neither paper’s reporters covered state or national political conventions, but sportswriters would travel wide and far to cover the San Antonio Spurs basketball team. Murdoch pitted his San AntonioNews against Hearst’s San Antonio Light in a circulation battle which brought out the worst in both. “Murdoch provided a daily diet of rape and mayhem, tortured tots, and killer bees,” reported Time magazine of Murdoch’s 1970s San Antonio paper. One classic story in the San Antonio News during that time was about a divorced epileptic, who told police she was buried alive in a bathtub full of wet cement and later hanged upside down in the nude, with the News recounting a bizarre horror story of rape, torture, and starvation.
An example of San Antonio News “rack-card” advertising, 1970s.
In addition, because single-copy sales were a major part of the News‘ circulation, news-stand “rack card” advertising became part of the hype. Rack cards are poster-size advertisements attached to the paper’s vending machines and newspaper racks. These cards often feature attention-grabbing headlines touting stories in the paper. San Antonio News rack-card advertising went the extra mile, shouting out the newspaper’s latest story lines, using bizarre and sordid-type headlines such as: “Midget Robs Undertaker at Midnight”; “Dissolve Old Man in Acid!”; “Gunned-Down Pregnant Cat Fights for Life”; “Vampire Killer Stalks City”; “Sewer Boy Still Missing”; and “Animal Auschwitz.” And the actual front-page headlines that appeared in the paper were often of a similar vein. In 1976, Texas Monthly magazine ran an article critical of Murdoch’s San Antonio News, titled, “Weirdo Paper Plagues S.A.” In the piece, the writer took the paper to task for its diet of strange stories:
“…Readers of the News are learning things that five years ago they never dreamed they might be privileged to know: ‘Nude Principal Dead in Motel,’ for example, or ‘Armies of Insects Marching on S.A.’. The front pages regularly impart disconcerting information: ‘Handless Body Found.’ Or, ‘Screaming Mom Slain.’ Or, ‘Uncle Tortures Tots with Hot Fork.’ …The columns of the paper are populated by an unforgettable (and recyclable) cast of characters: tots, oldsters, thugs, nudies, grannies, moms.”
Time magazine, in one January 1977 review of Murdoch’s San Antonio paper, observed that “the front page of the News is virtually devoid of substantial news.” Only “the diligent reader,” concluded Time, would discover any meaningful reporting on politics or national policy issues.
An April 1978 edition of “The Star” then featuring Cher and assorted other stories.
Murdoch in 1974 also started from scratch a new tabloid he named The National Star. It was designed asa U.S. supermarket paper to compete with the established National Enquirer tabloid. The Star, as it would become known, was initially an unstapled tabloid printed on newsprint. In a few years’ time, however, it became hugely successful, although at first it ran well behind the Enquirer. Murdoch spent millions on a TV ad campaign to promote it and he burned through a series of editors as well. But by 1977, The Star was making a profit and reaching about 1.6 million readers weekly. By the early 1980s, it was almost even with the Enquirer, at close to 4 million. Although based in New York, some portion of The Star’s production was printed on Murdoch’s San Antonio, Texas presses, and a version of The Star was also inserted as a Sunday supplement in the San Antonio papers. Both The Star and The Enquirer did their commerce in front-page titillation, typically using the most current celebrity news coupled with headlines of the off-beat, outrageous, and/or scandalous. Murdoch, meanwhile, had begun living in the U.S. by 1974, splitting his time between his New York city office and a more spacious family residence upstate.
But in 1977, what Murdoch’s New York city neighbors in the publishing biz wanted to know was: would his tabloid publishing style from the U.K., San Antonio, and The Star now carry over into the New York Post, New York magazine, and the Village Voice?
Murdoch in New York
Some of the fears about what Rupert Murdoch would do with his New York acquisitions were realized, but some weren’t. The New York Post turned for the worst, according to some, but New York and The Village Voice, by most accounts, did not seem to change substantially.
April 23, 1979.
March 16, 1981.
Jan 31, 1983.
At New York, Murdoch initially had a succession of editors in the 1970s, followed by Edward Kosner, of Newsweek, who Murdoch hired in 1980. Murdoch also acquired another magazine, Cue, a listings magazine that had covered the city for more than 50 years. Murdoch folded Cue into New York, which added value to New York with a going-out guide, while eliminating a competitor. New York’s content, meanwhile, tended toward a mix of news- magazine-style, trendy pieces, articles on shopping and consumer topics, and close coverage of the glitzy 1980s New York scene epitomized by financiers Donald Trump and Saul Steinberg. Other stories focused on national and New York political figures or the major issues of the day. The magazine was profitable for most of the 1980s and its stories sometimes permeated popular culture, as in mid-1985 when the term “Brat Pack”was coined by New York — used in a cover story to describe a group of young Hollywood film stars that variously included: Emilio Estevez, Anthony Michael Hall, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Tom Cruise, C. Thomas Howell, Matt Dillon, Ralph Macchio, Charlie Sheen, and James Spader. Meanwhile, given New York’s survival and good standing through the 1980s, the earlier worries of Murdoch trashing the magazine seemed over done. Even his critics would later concede that he did not fundamentally change New York magazine.
Village Voice, March 1981.
“In 1977, I was working for New York magazine when Murdoch bought it,” explained Ken Auletta in a 1995 Frontline documentary for PBS. “We all feared he would tart up our journalism, so more than 40 of us quit. But he didn’t care. And as it turned out, we were wrong. He didn’t change the magazine. But some thought he did desecrate the Post. He made it more conservative and he replaced one quarter of the staff with tabloid warriors from his empire.”
Over at The Village Voice, meanwhile, many employees there also feared for the paper’s quality under Murdoch, at least initially. And Murdoch did make a number of personnel changes at the Voice, but largely allowed the paper run itself. Some found in subsequent years that the Voice had actually become closer to its original form, hitting a steady circulation of about150,000, where it remained for several years. In 1981, The Voice received a Pulitzer Prize for the feature writing of Teresa Carpenter.
The biggest changes that Murdoch brought to his acquired New York publications, however, were those that came at the New York Post.
New York Post's "blackout special" edition, July 14, 1977.
At the Post, Murdoch initially became an active presence in the newsroom, according to some, especially punching up the paper’s headlines and copy. Celebrities got more play, too. Early on, Murdoch’s editors created a “Page Six,” gossip column at the Post, and before long there were stories about Woody Allen’s love life, ice skater Dorothy Hamill dating Dean Martin’s son, and a piece noting that Muhammad Ali wanted to star in an all-black remake of Ben-Hur. In March 1977, The Post ran 21 items on Farrah Fawcett-Majors, then a big star of the popular Charlie’s Angels TV show. Stories at the Post also became shorter; photos and headlines, larger. And as it turned out, the summer of 1977 was a ripe time for Murdoch-styled journalism, beyond just celebrities.
First, it was the summer of the great New York city blackout of July 13-14, 1977 that created near panic in the city for about two days, during which the city suffered heavy looting and civil unrest. Over 3,000 people were arrested. “They [The New York Post] handled the blackout stories by exaggeration and by scare headlines over their stories and on their front pages,” recalled Thomas Kiernan on a PBS Frontline TV documentary. “The impression was created that there was an impending threat of a kind of race war in New York.” The Post published a “Blackout Special” on the first day following the blackout with the giant front-page headline: “24 Hours of Terror,” also noting in smaller headlines that New York Governor Carey “fears a new blackout” and that Grand Central Station was “crippled.” Inside the paper was a special pullout section headlined, “A City Ravaged.” New York City’s deputy mayor, Osborn Elliott, sent a letter to Murdoch during the crisis suggesting his paper had made the situation worse. Mayor Abe Beame was more direct, calling Murdoch an “Australian carpetbagger” who “came here to line his pockets by peddling fiction in the guise of news.” Across town, at the rival Daily News, Pete Hamill wrote: “Something vaguely sickening is happening to that newspaper, and it is spreading through the city’s psychic life like a stain.”
NY Post “Son-of-Sam” story, August 10, 1977.
The second big story for the New York Post and other New York papers that summer was the “Son-of-Sam” murder spree. “Son of Sam was just a godsend for the Post,” said James Brady ” — you know, a good serial killer. He was targeting people in lover’s lane, primarily attractive young women of a certain physical description, and he was sending these wacky notes.” Steve Dunleavy, who covered that story for the Post, added that Son of Sam “really changed the city” during the killer’s rampage. The sale of locks and guns soared. “The Son of Sam virtually gave New York City this massive nervous breakdown,” said Dunleavy. And Murdoch’s Post was in the thick of it, whipping up the fear and fervor. “It was half truth, half speculation,” said Thomas Kiernan. “That was Murdoch journalism.” Among the headlines the Post ran as the killer increased his range in city was one on August 1st that declared: “No One Is Safe from Son of Sam.” On August 10, 1977, when the police finally caught Son of Sam — whose name was David Berkowitz — Murdoch’s Post ran the banner headline shown above. Inside this edition, the Post ran sixteen related stories along with 36 photographs. There was also the first in a series of installments from a crime novel “that might have inspired” the Son of Sam killer. The New York Post that day sold more than 1 million copies, nearly twice its average daily circulation.
August 18, 1977 NY Post Elvis Presley story & drug revelations from Steve Dunleavy book.
After Son of Sam, it was on to other stories. The August 17th, 1977 issue of the New York Post — like other newspapers that day — ran a front-page story on the death of rock ‘n roll singer, Elvis Presley. But the Post had a special angle on the Elvis story, thanks toreporter Steve Dunleavy, whose book “Elvis: What Happened?” had just been published. Excerpts from the controversial book, including allegations of Presley’s extensive drug use, had been slated to run the following week. However, with Presley’s death, the Post printed the first installment in its paper that day, with a front page box boasting “exclusive ” material along with headline: “New Book Tells of His Decline in Drug Nightmare.” The story helped push the relatively unknown book into the spotlight.
In addition to the 1977 front-page stories covering Elvis, the blackout, and Son-of-Sam, Murdoch also put his Post squarely in the middle of the New York city politics — and particularly so in the promotion of Ed Koch for mayor. Koch, then a U.S. Congressman, later recalled in a PBS Frontline documentary, a phone call he received one day in 1977 from Murdoch:
…When the phone rang, the voice on the other end said something like, “Congressman Koch, please.” I said, “Speaking.” He said, “Congressman, this is Rupert,” and I guess I was still a little sleepy maybe. I said to myself, “Rupert? Rupert? Rupert’s not a Jewish name. Who could be calling me at 7:00 o’clock in the morning named Rupert?” And then suddenly, because he was speaking, I realized it was Rupert, the Australian. I mean, the voice came through. And I said, “Yes, Rupert?” He said, “Congressman, we’re going to endorse you today on the front page of the New York Post and I hope it helps.” I said, “Rupert, you’ve elected me.”
Ed Koch: Former U.S. Congressman who Rupert Murdoch’s NY Post helped elect mayor in 1977.
Ken Auletta added, that The Post did not just support Koch, “it anointed him.” Koch would also reiterate in later interviews that the Post’s endorsement transformed his campaign. “I wouldn’t have won without it,” he would later tell The New Yorker’s John Cassidy.
In 1977, Koch ran in the Democratic primary against incumbent mayor Abe Beame. Also in the primary were candidates Bella Abzug, Mario Cuomo, and others. Koch ran to the right of the other candidates, on a “law and order” platform, using the blackout and crime as major issues, promising to restore public safety. Still, Rupert Murdoch’s decision to have the Post endorse Koch in both the primary and the general election was key.
According to one poll, only four per cent of voters even knew who Koch was before Murdoch’s Post endorsed him. Koch proceeded to win the initial vote in the Democratic primary as well as a runoff between he and Cuomo. In the general election, too, Koch prevailed, not only crushing Roy M. Goodman, the Republican candidate, but also beating Cuomo for a third time, as Cuomo ran on the Liberal Party ticket. Journalist Jonathan Mahler, who would write the 2005 book The Bronx is Burning, later observed: “Murdoch had wagered that Koch represented his best shot at becoming a kingmaker in his new town.”
Jonathan Mahler’s book on the summer of 1977also covers Rupert Murdoch & the NY Post.
Murdoch’s Post, meanwhile, would continue to collect criticism for its political coverage, both during the 1977 mayoral race as well as subsequent gubernatorial and presidential elections. During the month before the 1977 mayoral primary, the Post’s early editions ran nothing unfavorable about Ed Koch, but there were unflaterring stories about Koch’s opponents, including Mario Cuomo. One of the latter used the headline, “The Blond Millionairess Whose Big Bucks Back Cuomo.” Koch also received more favorable front-page headlines and more front-page ink in the Post than all of the other candidates, including the incumbent, Mayor Abraham Beame, who had already lashed out at Murdoch, calling him an “Australian carpetbagger.”
Ken Auletta, later writing for the New Yorker, would also observe: “When Murdoch endorsed Edward I. Koch for mayor…, his support spilled over onto the news pages of the Post, with the paper regularly publishing glowing stories about Koch and sometimes savage accounts of his four primary opponents.” But after the election, adds Auletta, “fifty of the sixty reporters on the paper signed a petition of protest to Murdoch.” Murdoch reportedly invited them to quit, and twelve did.
The New York Post was one of a few newspapers to run Jimmy Carter’s June 1979 quote about Ted Kennedy on its front page.
As the 1980 presidential race was gearing up, The Post would sometimes jump into the fray with a controversial front page, as it did in the June 1979 example at left when incumbent Democratic president Jimmy Carter and U.S. Senator Edward Kennedy appeared to be the likely contestants for the Democratic nomination. The Post was one of the few newspapers nationally to run the full quote on its front page. On television that evening, the CBS’s Evening News substitute anchor, Bob Schieffer, alluded to Carter’s remark without quoting it directly, as a copy of the New York Post’s front-page headline was projected on a screen behind him.
Later in the 1980 presidential race between Carter and Ronald Reagan, Murdoch’s Post supported Reagan. And some of the Post‘s news columns during the campaign used headlines that tilted to Reagan such as: “Reagan: I’ll Save the Middle Class” — a headline which ran in red ink on the front page. Other Post stories featured celebrities for Reagan but not Carter, with headlines such as, “Stars Want Ron to Get the Part.” The Post also ran a headline the day before the Reagan-Carter election that said, “Kohmeni Pulls Strings,”a slam on Carter’s then difficult going with a hostage situation, then a hot-button election issue.
Rupert Murdoch in the New York Post press room with a copy of a Ronald-Reagan era edition of the paper, 1980s.
In January 1982, a front-page headline in the Post proposed “Ed Koch for Governor” even though Koch had not entered the race. In fact, ten days earlier in the Post’s discussion of some11 possible candidates, Koch wasn’t even mentioned. But the Post charged ahead on behalf of Koch. It invited readers to fill out Koch-for-Governor coupons on its news pages every weekday for the two weeks. Simultaneously, the Post ran news headlines such as, “Apple Loves Koch.” Mayor Koch eventually entered the gubernatorial primary, which he proceeded to lose to Mario Cuomo. Still, Cuomo was steamed about the ink the Post had given Koch. When most papers endorse candidates, Cuomo explained, “you get one column on the editorial page. With Rupert, he turns the whole paper over to you.”
In any case, within five years of making his New York acquisitions, Rupert Murdoch had become something of a political broker and kingmaker, both locally and nationally, by virtue of his media holdings. And there was much more to come. “Murdoch says he loves newspapers because they give him the power to help shape the public mind and, as always, he loves to win,” observed Ken Auletta in the 1995 Frontline documentary. Robert Spitzler, who had been managing editor at the New York Post, added in that same documentary:
“Rupert is a power junkie, in the sense that he enjoys the company of people with power. He also holds them in a certain degree of contempt…
When Rupert first came to New York, he was an Australian of no particular reputation. He bought the New York Post, suddenly he becomes an intimate, so to speak, with mayors, with governors and the president. You can’t ignore a guy who runs a New York newspaper….”
The New York Post’s “Headless Body In Topless Bar” headline of April 15, 1983.
Meanwhile, out on the newsstands, Murdoch’s New York Post continued to shock with the best of them, using sensational and gritty headlines to sell its papers. One of the all-time classics in the outrageous headline department is the New York Post’s April 1983 classic, “Headless Body in Topless Bar,” shown at left, which described a robbery at a Brooklyn strip club in which the gunman herded all the customers into one room, shooting and decapitating the tavern owner.
Other front page headlines at the Post could play to the popular hero of the moment, such as New York city subway rider Bernie Goetz who turned to vigilantism in December 1984 when he shot four would-be muggers on the New York subway. The incident made headlines for months at the Post and elsewhere. In 1985, when Goetz turned himself in, the Post ran the front-page headline, “I Am Death Wish Vigilante.” Other classic front-page headlines in the Post during the first Murdoch era ran the gamut of stories — crime, politics, sex, sports and scandal. The Post in recent years apparently became quite happy with the notice its front-page headlines received, as it compiled a collection of them in a 2008 book using the title, Headless Body in Topless Bar: The Best Headlines from America’s Favorite Newspaper.
Change & Sell Off
Rupert Murdoch’s media reach in the 1980s and 1990s was extending more into broadcast and satellite television, although print and publishing would remain important to Murdoch. Still, his 1976-77 New York publishing acquisitions — the New York Post, New York magazine, The Village Voice — as well as his San Antonio newspapers and supermarket tabloid, The Star, were all sold off during the late 1980s and early 1990s for various reasons. Among these sell-offs, however, the New York Post would be re-acquired by Murdoch later. More on that in a moment.
Rupert Murdoch, against a wall of his various publications at his New York Post office, 1985.
In September 1985, Murdoch became a naturalized U.S. citizen primarily to satisfy legal requirements enabling him to become an owner of American television stations. In that year, Murdoch acquired 20th Century Fox film studios as well as $1.55 billion worth of TV stations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas, Houston, Boston and Washington, DC. These stations then reached some 22 percent of all television households in the U.S., and combined with the Fox film studio, they provided the structure and distribution network for studio programs and a fourth U.S. broadcast television network, the Fox Broadcasting Co. Murdoch would continue buying up newspapers, however, as he acquired several in 1987 and also U.S. book publisher Harper & Row, combining that publisher two years later with another, Collins, to form HarperCollins. Murdoch’s News Corp. by then was the world’s largest newspaper publisher, controlling, for example, about 60 percent of Australian newspapers and thirty-five percent of U.K. newspapers. In 1989 he also began Sky television in the U.K., an expensive undertaking in the subscription satellite TV business. In the course of all the media buying and selling, Murdoch was incurring debt and running up against regulatory restrictions.
In 1985 he put the Village Voice up for sale when the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) blocked his purchase of a New York radio station unless he sold off one of his New York papers. So at that point, he sold the Voice to Leonard Stern, heir to the Hartz Mountain pet food company, for $55 million. But Murdoch was also confronting cross-ownership media rules in other parts of his burgeoning U.S. empire — and in the process, coming up against some unfriendly politicians. Among the latter was U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy, who Murdoch’s papers and TV stations had covered in some unflattering ways, including dredging up and re-broadcasting some old news about Kennedy’s 1969 Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts automobile accident, in which a Senate aide named Mary Jo Kopechne had been killed.
Murdoch, however, had enjoyed a “temporary” waiver under FCC rules enabling him to own both a newspaper and a broadcast station in the same city. Murdoch profited from that waiver in New York, Boston, and other markets where he owned newspapers and broadcast stations. However, by the late 1980s,One headline in the Herald read: “Kennedy’s Vendetta,” calling the Sen- ator “fat boy” in a front- page editorial. Ted Kennedy and Senator Fritz Hollings backed a rider to a budget bill that ordered the FCC to strictly enforce the media ownership rules, eliminating waivers such as that held by Murdoch. So Murdoch went to war. He turned his Boston Herald and New York Post headline writers loose on Kennedy. One headline in the Herald read: “Kennedy’s Vendetta” and included some prose in a front-page editorial calling Kennedy “fat boy.” The New York Post ran one headline during the controversy that announced, “It’s War on Post Busters.” In addition, Murdoch went on CNN’s “Crossfire” TV show to publicly plead his case. “We’re keeping the Boston Herald in spite of Senator Kennedy,” he said. Murdoch explained he would sell his small Boston TV station if necessary, but keep the newspaper. However, in the end, Murdoch was forced to sell off the Boston Herald. In New York, he would also sell off the New York Post for $37.6 million, as he could not give up his New York TV station since it was the flagship for his new Fox television network. But Murdoch wasn’t finished with the New York Post in 1988; he would return. In the meantime, however, he went shopping elsewhere, acquiring TV Guide and others at Triangle Publications for $3 billion.
After Rupert Murdoch re-acquired the New York Post in 1993, creative headlines continued to appear, as in the Barry Bonds “hypodermic needle” home run record story.
By the early 1990s, feeling the bite of mounting debt in some of his other ventures, Murdoch began selling off a few more of his U.S. publishing properties. Among these was the supermarket tabloid, The Star, which he sold to the GP Group, the National Enquirer’s parent, for $400 million in cash and stocks. At the time, the Star’s 3.6 million weekly circulation was just below National Enquirer’s 4.1 million. Murdoch also sold off his San Antonio newspapers in 1992 — by this time, combined into one paper, The San Antonio Express-News. Murdoch’s News Corp was then struggling from some earlier debt restructuring and needed cash. So he sold The San Antonio Express-News to the Hearst Corporation for $185 million.
Through the 1980s and 1990s, Murdoch was buying and selling media properties as the situation and his expansion plans required. In 1993, the New York Post came on the block again, as it was in poor shape financially and nearly bankrupt. But in order for Murdoch’s News Corp. to acquire the Post, a waiver from the same FCC rules that required him to shed the paper five years earlier was required. This time, a number of politicians, including Democratic New York governor Mario Cuomo, came to Murdoch’s support and persuaded the FCC to grant him a permanent waiver from the cross-ownership rules. Without that ruling, the New York Post would have shut down, but instead, under Murdoch’s renewed direction, the Post more or less picked up where it left off when Murdoch first owned it. In recent years, criticism of the paper’s style and sensationalism has appeared in selected articles and at various websites, including one list of documented 1997-2009 items at Wikipedia.org.
Rupert Murdoch on the July 2006 cover of Wired magazine: “Rupert Murdoch, Teen Idol! – News Corp & The Future of My Space”(later sold for big loss; “huge mistake,” Murdoch would later say).
Rupert Murdoch, meanwhile, continued to build his media empire through the 2000s, acquiring most notably in recent years, MySpace.com in 2005 for $580 million, and the Wall Street Journal in July 2007 for $5 billion. The MySpace deal, however, proved to be a bad bet for Murdoch, and by June 2011 that company was sold for a gigantic loss, fetching only a reported $35 million sales price. Some compared it to another bad deal of the new internet age – the Time-Warner purchase of AOL, covered in the Ted Turner story at this website.
For additional stories at this website on newspaper and magazine history, see for example: “Empire Newhouse, 1920s-2012” (the rise of Sam Newhouse and family as newspaper/ magazine/publishing powers and “culture makers,” with magazines such as Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, among others); “Newsweek Sold!, 1961″ (history of the Washington Post’s acquisition of Newsweek, Ben Bradlee/Phil Graham role, and more recent history through Newsweek’s demise and the Jeff Bezos acquisition of the Washington Post); “FDR & Vanity Fair, 1930s” (politics & publishing during the New Deal era); “Ted Turner & CNN, 1980s-1990s” (rise of Turner’s all-news cable TV channel, CNN, and his impact on the media industry); and “Rockwell & Race, 1963-1968,” (Norman Rockwell’s art on this topic at The Saturday Evening Post and Look magazine). Thanks for visiting – and if you like what you find here, please make a donation to help support this website.
Thank you. – Jack Doyle
“Press: Whip His What?,” Time, Monday, Jun. 25, 1979
Steve Stecklow, Aaron O. Patrick, Martin Peers & Andrew Higgins, “Calling the Shots: In Murdoch’s Career, a Hand on The News; His Aggressive Style Can Blur Boundaries; ‘Buck Stops With Me’,” Wall Street Journal, June 5, 2007.
Allan R. Gold, “Kennedy and Paper Battle in Boston,” New York Times, January 7, 1988.
Allan R. Gold, “Kennedy vs. Murdoch: Test of Motives,” New York Times, January 11, 1988.
New York Post Staff, Headless Body in Topless Bar: The Best Headlines from America’s Favorite Newspaper, March 25, 2008, 208 pp.
Steven Cuozzo, It’s Alive! How America’s Oldest Newspaper Cheated Death and Why it Matters, New York: Times Books, 1996, 342 pp.
Paul Farhi, “Murdoch, All Business: The Media Mogul Keeps Making Bets Amid Strains in His Global Empire.” Washington Post, February 12, 1995.
David M. Alpern, “What Makes Rupert Run?” Newsweek, March 12, 1984.
Thomas Kiernan, Citizen Murdoch, New York, 1985.
Thomas Moore and Marta F. Dorion, “Citizen Murdoch Presses for More.” Fortune, July 6, 1987.
William H. Meyers, “Murdoch’s Global Power Play,” New York Times, June 12, 1988.
Roger Cohen, “Rupert Murdoch’s Biggest Gamble.” New York Times, October 21, 1990.
Richard Brooks, “Murdoch: A Press Baron Re-Born.” Toronto Star, September 12, 1993.
Elizabeth Jensen and Daniel Pearl, “One Dogged Lawyer Shakes Murdoch Empire.” Wall Street Journal, April 6, 1995.
Caricature of NY Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt on the September 1932 cover of ‘Vanity Fair’, by Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias (artist bio featured later below).
Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was in his second term as governor of New York when he was nominated to run for President at the June 1932 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. America was then three years into the Great Depression.
During the fall election campaign that year, Vanity Fair, a magazine of the arts and culture based in New York, put a caricature of Roosevelt on its September 1932 cover, shown at right.
The illustration — by Mexican-American artist Miguel Covarrubias — featured a dapper, blue-eyed and smiling FDR against a background of an American flag’s red and white stripes. This would be the first of about a dozen Vanity Fair covers that would either feature FDR, his programs, or the situation in Washington and nation during the early- and mid-1930s.
Vanity Fair, although primarily a magazine of arts and culture, would use its magazine covers, its artists, and its inside pages to draw attention to Roosevelt’s programs and his time in office through late 1935, as the magazine ceased publishing shortly thereafter. A review of some of that coverage — focused primarily on the cover art — follows below, along with a few sketches of the artists involved, cover subject, and the politics of the day.
Herbert Hoover was the first political figure on a ‘Vanity Fair’ cover, Oct 1931. Hoover was then blamed for much of the nation’s economic woes, as the Depression arrived on his watch. Here, the artist extends him a bouquet of flowers in appreciation for his moratorium on Germany's reparations payments, which helped protect Europe from financial chaos. (Miguel Covarrubias)
Also portrayed on the September 1932 cover above, in the lower right-hand corner, is an “everyman” mug of beer, symbolizing Roosevelt’s pledge to end Prohibition. The national ban on alcohol had been in effect since January 1920, and calling for Prohibition’s end would be popular with many voters. “Franklin D. Roosevelt’s stand on prohibition in the present campaign,” wrote one New York Times reporter, “is wetter than Alfred E. Smith’s was four years ago…” [when Smith, former Democratic Governor of New York, ran for President]. In fact, the shift in the Democrats’ position on Prohibition between 1928 and 1932, observed the reporter, was like going from the Gobi Desert to the Mediterranean Sea.
Roosevelt, of course, had more on his mind than Prohibition. He was keenly focused on the nation’s dire economic straits. During his campaigning from July through October of 1932, he promised a program of social reconstruction and federal support of the economy — programs aimed at the “forgotten man.” He stressed the need for an economy that would foster a more balanced distribution of wealth with the least possible federal interference. One of the contributing causes of the Depression, according to some economists at the time, was the concentration of wealth in the stock market and other capital accumulation that was being held back and not being spent or circulated in the wider economy.
FDR’s opponent, the incumbent president, Republican Herbert Hoover — who presided over the stock market crash of 1929 and the onset of the Depression — called for private enterprise solutions, charging that Roosevelt’s program was socialistic. Yet on Hoover’s watch, the Depression had some of its worst years. GNP in 1932 had fallen a record 13.4 percent; unemployment rose to 23.6 percent. Industrial stocks had lost 80 percent of their value since 1930. Some 10,000 banks had failed since 1929, and GNP had fallen a total 31 percent. Over 13 million Americans had lost their jobs since 1929 and international trade was off by two-thirds. Congress had passed the Federal Home Loan Bank Act and the Glass-Steagall Act of 1932, and the nation’s top tax rate had been increased. But public opinion considered Hoover’s measures too little too late. More on the Depression and FDR’s election in a moment. But first some background on Vanity Fair.
Vanity Fair, 1930s
New York mayor Jimmy Walker was the featured caricature on the April 1932 cover of ‘Vanity Fair,” shown here welcoming himself to New York.
By the 1930s, Vanity Fair, owned by New York publisher Conde’ Nast, was an established culture and society magazine catering to a somewhat upper-crust, avant garde readership. In 1909, Nast had started a fashion magazine named Vogue. Four years later in 1913, he acquired two other magazines — one called Dress, and another named Vanity Fair from Britain. The former was a men’s fashion magazine. Vanity Fair had flourished in Britain since the 1860s as a society magazine with theater and book reviews, serialized fiction, reports on social events and scandals, and more. It had taken its name from its use in John Bunyan’s 17th-century The Pilgrim’s Progress, and William Thackeray’s 19th-century novel, Vanity Fair. After pur- chasing the two magazines, Nast decided to merge them into a new publication called Dress & Vanity Fair, which lasted only four issues before it was re-launched in January 1914 as simply Vanity Fair. This came about after Conde’ Nast sought the advice of a well-known New York editor named Frank Crowninshield who said the magazine should cover “the things people talk about. Parties, the arts, sports, theater, humor, and so forth.” Crowninshield became Vanity Fair’s editor not long thereafter, and would preside over its output for the next 22 years.
By the mid-1920s Vanity Fair was one of America’s leading culture chroniclers. It contained writing by top writers of the day, including Thomas Wolfe, T. S. Eliot and P. G. Wodehouse, theater criticisms by Dorothy Parker, and photographs by Edward Steichen; Claire Booth Luce was one of its editors for a time. From the fall of 1931, the magazine’s covers ran, in varying order, the words “Art,” People” “Politics” “Satire,” “Sports,” “Humor,” “Books,” “Stage” along one or two of its outer borders (see issues above and below for examples). Politics seemed to gain somewhat more visibility on VF’s covers at about that time, as well. In fact, no political figure had appeared on the cover prior to October 1931, as the magazine’s covers had focused primarily on subjects related to the arts. Herbert Hoover was the first political figure to be caricatured on a Vanity Fair cover — appearing on the October 1931 issue shown above. He was followed by others, including various world leaders: India’s Mahatma Ghandi in November 1931, Britain’s prime minister Ramsay MacDonald in January 1932, and New York Mayor Jimmy Walker in April 1932 (shown above). U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Andrew Mellon was featured on the May 1932 cover, following his departure from office (see below). Germany’s elderly chancellor Paul von Hindenburg appeared on the cover June 1932; Hindenburg had then narrowly defeated Hitler in a runoff election that April. The magazine also put caricatures of dictators Benito Mussolini of Italy and Adolf Hitler, respectively, on its October and November 1932 covers (shown later below).
The only other Hoover-era official to be featured on a VF cover was Treasury Secretary, Andrew Mellon, in May 1932, shown in white chin beard with coin atop his head. Unpopular at the onset of the Depression, Mellon faced scandal & impeachment with many calling for his removal, forcing Hoover to name him as an ambassador (artist, Paolo Garretto).
FDR first appeared on a Vanity Fair cover with the September 1932 cover shown at the top of this article. Throughout the next three years, caricatures and drawings of FDR, New Deal programs, Uncle Sam, and the state of the nation’s economy would be depicted by various artists on Vanity Fair covers. Inside the magazine as well, articles on FDR’s programs and administration, and sometimes photographs of its officials and/or critical opponents, would also appear during this period.
A typical Vanity Fair issue in the 1930s had four main sections — “Articles,” included short pieces written on the issues of the day, covering film, books, theater, politics and other subjects; “Short Stories” ran pieces of fiction and nonfiction; “Photographs,” usually a dozen or so large-to-medium sized, featured stage and screen stars and other notables, some of portraiture quality; and finally “Art and Caricature,” featuring paintings by new artists, satirical and comic drawings, and caricatures of celebrities and other notables. Advertising pages were positioned in the front and back of the magazine, running ten to twelve pages in each section, with the magazine’s core content in the middle.
By the 1930s, Vanity Fair was at its peak, with a circulation at just under 90,000 — certainly no threat to the larger circulating Saturday Evening Post, then in the millions-per-week. Vanity Fair’s circulation by 1935 was 88,000, compared to 553,577 at Time, 127,959 at the New Yorker, and 155,476 at Vogue, a sister magazine also owned by Conde’ Nast. Vanity Fair, however, wasn’t after the mass audience; it catered to a more sophisticated readership; one that followed art, film, literature, and to a lesser extent, politics, too — what might today be called the “influentials” or “opinion-makers” market. However, by the mid-1930s, the magazine had fallen out of sync with the times, and would become a casualty of the Great Depression. With the poor economy and the rise of Fascism at the forefront of readers’ minds, subscribers moved to more no-nonsense news coverage. Declining advertising revenues were also a factor, although Conde’ Nast was happy to subsidize this magazine with other revenue. Still, in 1936 Vanity Fair was folded into Conde’ Nast’s Vogue magazine. It would make a comeback in the 1980s. But prior to its first ending — during that early- and mid-1930s time of economic difficulty and political change — Vanity Fair did its share to cover and spotlight politics, with FDR and his programs getting a fair amount of play and artist attention. A further sampling of some of that coverage continues below.
Vanity Fair’s February 1933 ‘valentine’ cover to President-elect Franklin Roosevelt and Vice President-elect, Rep. John Nance Garner, prior to their March 1933 swearing in. (Miguel Covarrubias)
Roosevelt won the 1932 election in a landslide with a popular vote of 22.8 million to Hoover’s 15.7 million. He also swamped Hoover in the electoral vote, 472 to 59. But the new president would not be sworn in until March 1933, as was then the custom. Vanity Fair, meanwhile, offered a Valentine caricature on its February 1933 cover depicting the new president-elect and his former foe, Vice President-elect John Nance Garner, a U.S. Congressman from Texas and then Speaker of the House.
Garner had initially ran against Roosevelt for the Democratic Presidential nomination in 1932, becoming one of Roosevelt’s most serious opponents. When it became evident that Roosevelt would win the nomination, Garner cut a deal with the front-runner, becoming Roosevelt’s Vice Presidential candidate. This cover was another from artist Miguel Covarrubias who by this date had already done a number of caricatures for VF covers, as well as inside pieces (see artist profile below). FDR, meanwhile, had begun his fireside chats on radio as a way to directly communicate with the American people.
‘Fickle Washington’ – May 1933 ‘Vanity Fair’ cover. Artist: Vladimir Bobritsky.
In the May 1933 edition of Vanity Fair, a cover scene depicting “fickle” Washington, D.C. was offered by artist Vladimir Bobritsky. The cover showed half the scene full of sunshine, blue skies, and flag-flying patriotism, with the other half terrorized by storm clouds and lightening, suggesting the city’s unpredictable and whimsical political nature — patriotic and optimistic one minute, foreboding and disastrous the next. FDR and his Administration at this time were in the middle of their first “100 days” in office, cranking out all manner of new laws in the March-through-June 1933 period to help right the nation’s economic course — from providing relief payments to states, to raising farm prices. Inside this issue of Vanity Fair, meanwhile, there was also an article by writer Jay Franklin, entitled “Not a Cabinet But a Coalition,” describing Roosevelt’s selection of cabinet members.
Among Roosevelt’s main problems when he first took office was the banking crisis. Runs on banks had forced bank failures and official “bank holidays.” Emergency banking powers were among the first laws enacted, giving the government the power to reopen banks once declared secure. Related to the banking and financial issues was gold and gold trading.
The June 1933 cover of ‘Vanity Fair’ offered ‘The Wailing Wall of Gold’ by artist Miguel Covarrubias.
In the 1920s, European governments and the U.S. had tied their currencies to gold. But a rise in demand for gold through 1928 had a depressionary effect on the price of goods. Abandonment of gold standard, it was thought, would allow more money to be put into circulation, though creating mild inflation. Soon, governments began abandoning the gold standard; the U.K did so in September 1931, with Sweden shortly thereafter and other European nations somewhat later. At his inauguration, and as one of his emergency actions in March 1933, Roosevelt had put an embargo on the withdrawal of gold for export or domestic use. And by mid-April 1933, FDR took the U.S. off the gold standard for its currency. This caused the dollar to decline in foreign exchanges, but commodities and stocks rose in the American market. The net effect was to make money more available to Americans and thereby, stimulate the economy. However, during 1933, there was still much debate on the matter of gold in international circles, especially by France, which sought a return to the gold standard, and at one point had alluded to an allied force of western nations acting in unison as a “wall of gold” also called a “gold bloc.” This debate on gold appears to have caught the attention of Vanity Fair in its June 1933 issue, with artist Miguel Covarrubias depicting the various national symbols in caricature — Uncle Sam, John Bull, etc. — commiserating at “The Wailing Wall of Gold.” In mid-June 1933, at the London Economic Conference, there would be more debate about gold. In the U.S., meanwhile, the dollar was allowed to float freely on foreign exchange markets with no guaranteed price in gold. Markets responded well to the suspension, although initially it was assumed to be temporary. There would be continued debate for a time on the pros and cons of the gold standard, but the U.S. and other nations did not return to it.
Miguel Covarrubias Artist Profile
Covarrubias at work on a mural, 1939. Photo, Life magazine.
Miguel Covarrubias (b.1904- d.1957) is the Mexican-American painter, illustrator, caricaturist, and writer who did numerous works and covers for Vanity Fair, Vogue, The New Yorker, Fortune, Life and Time. He also did illustrations for more than 20 books. For Vanity Fair, he was one of a handful of artists who helped give the magazine its distinctive image in the 1930s. The Vanity Fair covers of FDR and Herbert Hoover that appear above, as well as several others throughout this article, feature his work. Covarrubias covered a range of subjects. Working from the 1920s-1950s, his art explored the Harlem renaissance; Bali, Mexican, and Caribbean cultures; relations between Mexico and the U.S., and more. He arrived in New York in 1923 at the age of 18 on a scholarship from the Mexican govern- ment having contributed illustrations to popular Latin American newspapers. By 1924, Vanity Fair’s editor, Frank Crownshield, had begun to use his work in the magazine and he soon became a regular contributor. A book of his caricatures — The Prince of Wales and Other Famous Americans — was published in 1925 and was a hit. By 1926 Covarrubias had become one of the most hopeful new caricaturists in America and would soon become as well known as some of his celebrity subjects. He also did some famous illustrations for advertising, such as an award-winning “American in Paris” drawing for Steinway & Sons pianos.
Impossible Interview: Al Capone v. Chief Justice Hughes, 1932.
At Vanity Fair, Covarrubias also became notedfor the magazine’s “Impossible Interviews” series of caricatures that featured unlikely pairings of public figures from opposing sides of the political and/or social spectrums. Each sketch was accompanied by a short and witty caption or contrived dialogue. The sketches were usually of two famous people unlikely to even be in the same room with one another — i.e., mob boss Al Capone and Chief Justice Charles Hughes; conservative and moralist, U.S. Senator Smith W. Brookhart (R-IA) and movie star Marlene Dietrich; writer Gertrude Stein and comedienne Gracie Allen; movie star Clark Gable and the Prince of Wales; J. D. Rockefeller and Josef Stalin; dancer/stripper Sally Rand with modern dance pioneer Martha Graham; and others.
Benito Mussolini cover by Miguel Covarrubias, Oct 1932.
Through his exposure at Vanity Fair, The New Yorker, and other outlets, a great demand for Covarrubias’ art developed. Throughout the 1930s he continued designing covers for Vanity Fair and Vogue. Among others he sketched or caricatured were D.H. Lawrence, Joe Louis, Walt Disney, Benny Goodman, and scenes from the 1943 Broadway musical, Carmen Jones. Covarrubias would later leave Manhattan and return to Mexico, undertaking a study of the anthropology and ethnology of ancient American cultures, while also writing and teaching. He had wide-ranging interests, from archeology and folk art to theater and dance. choreography. He counted among his friends and associates both the Whitney and Rockefeller families, as well as leftist causes and known communists such as Diego Rivera. In 1950, as the U.S. descended into its McCarthyism hysteria, Covarrubias, under scrutiny from the FBI 1943, was labeled a threat to national security. Without visas for U.S. travel, his career took a turn for the worse. He died in 1957 due to complications from ulcers. His art survives today, and is periodically shown in American, Mexican, and other museums.
Paolo Garretto's rendition of Uncle Sam in the shape of numeral “4” featured on the July 1933 cover of ‘Vanity Fair.’
The July 1933 issue of Vanity Fair featured artist Paolo Garretto’s rendition of Uncle Sam in the shape of an Independence Day numeral “4.” Garretto portrays a despondent Sam, head in hands, seated in the western hemisphere, with storm clouds above. Although a number of FDR’s New Deal programs had been launched, domestically there was little to cheer about, as the economy was dismal.
Overseas, the picture was also dire, with the U.S. set apart from its European allies over international monetary policy. Roosevelt’s rejection of an agreement reached in mid-June at the London Economic Conference resulted in an overwhelmingly negative response from the British and French, as well as inter- nationalists at home. Also in Europe, the Nazis in Germany by this time had already staged massive public book burnings, and had forbidden all non-Nazi political parties.
“The Sporting Life”
Vanity Fair’s August 1933 cover focuses on professional athletes of the day, with the exception of FDR on his yacht, bottom center.
Taking a break from the otherwise dismal news of that time, the August 1933 cover of Vanity Fair, featured various star athletes of that era as caricatured by Constantin Aladjálov (see background on him below at 1935 Ringmaster cover). Among those included in this cover offering were New York Yankee baseball slugger Babe Ruth and tennis champions Helen Wills and Ellsworth Vines.
Also shown was polo player Tommy Hitchcock, Jr., as polo in the early 1930s was having one of its greatest eras, not only surviving during the Depression, but expanding with a rising number of clubs and recognized national players. Hithcock was one of the latter, known as “a ten-goaler” who for 20 years was an American favorite.
Other notables on this Vanity Fair cover are several boxing athletes, among them, Germany’s Max Schmeling, who was heavyweight champion between 1930 and 1932, shown wearing a swastika. He is flanked by two other smaller boxers, one a Jewish boxer adorned with the Star of David, possibly Barney Ross, a lightweight and welterweight fighter at that time, and on the other side of Schmeling, possibly Jimmy McLarnin, a popular Irish boxer and welterweight champion, shown wearing a shamrock on his sweater. Golf champion Gene Sarazen is also shown.
And finally, though not an athlete, FDR is shown at the bottom of the magazine in a caricature by artist Constantin Alajalov, as a high society yachtsman.
‘Vanity Fair’ cover of October 1933 issue contrasts the ‘Aristocrat’ fat cat of 1929's pre-crash stock market boom, with the ‘down-and-out’ hobo of 1933's Great Depression.
Fat Cat & Hobo
The October 1933 issue of Vanity Fair, while not on FDR or the New Deal per see, focused on the contrasting economics of boom and bust in the years 1929 and 1933. Two silhouette characters are featured, shown as cut-outs from newspaper stock market numbers — one shown as a stout, wealthy aristocrat with cigar for the year 1929, pre-crash, and the other, as a down-and-out hobo for the much-deflated realities and hard times of 1933. The two characters portrayed the vast difference between America’s financial attitudes in 1929 and 1933 and the still dire straits that then existed. Roosevelt’s New Deal, meanwhile, unveiled the Civil Works Administration in early November 1933, a government program designed to create jobs through new federal, state, and local projects. Eventually, about $1 billion would be spent on nearly 400,000 projects. Rural America, at that time, was also being ravaged by fierce dust storms. A particularly strong storm on November 11th, 1933 stripped farmland badly in South Dakota — one in a series of disastrous storms that year. Rural America was being hit doubly hard — by natural events bordering on catastrophe plus the Depression. By the end of the year, some 2,000 rural schools would not open for the fall semester and 2.3 million eligible children were not in school. In addition, throughout the nation, a number of colleges and universities were forced to close and some 200,000 teachers were out of work.
FDR to The Rescue?
Cover of Vanity Fair’s February 1934 issue, showing FDR on a ‘rough ride.’
In the early days of Roosevelt’s administration in 1933-34, cartoonists and caricaturists tended to show him as a confident, strong, and energetic leader whose intentions for the nation were good and hopeful. These cartoons and renderings suggested an American faith in their president and that he could lead the nation out of hard times. The cover of the February 1934 issue of Vanity Fair at left, with caricature of FDR by artist Leon Carlin, shows a smiling President Roosevelt riding a bucking horse in the shape of the United States, suggesting he’s on a rough ride but in control and seemingly optimistic with the outcome.
In January 1934, in his message to Congress, FDR had requested $10.5 billion to advance his recovery programs over the next 18 months. In January, Congress also passed the Gold Reserve Act which empowered the president to fix the value of the dollar in terms of its relation to gold, all aimed at giving the Federal government control over fluctuations in the value of the dollar. By late February, Congress would pass the Crop Loan Act to continue programs by the Farm Credit Administration through 1934 to insure that farmers were given loans for crop production and harvesting. More farm programs would follow that spring.
March 1934 cover of ‘Vanity Fair’ showing FDR drawing superimposed over field of political figures of that day.
FDR & Politics
In mounting his economic recovery programs, FDR was doing battle on a variety of fronts and dealing with an array of special interests. To give an idea of his political engagement and influence at the end of his first year in office, Vanity Fair’s March 1934 issue offered cover art with a line drawing of the president’s face superimposed over a field of other political and business figures of that time — more tableau than political statement, although FDR friends and foes were both depicted. A number of the caricatured faces came from earlier works by various VF artists, including those of Miguel Covar- rubias, Will Cotton, and others. The green line drawing of FDR’s face, though not attributed, could be the work of another artist, possibly Jean Carlu, who had also done cover art for Vanity Fair in the early 1930s.
The New Deal by then was encountering opposition from both ends of the political spectrum. Unions had sparked job actions in various places across the country. A prominent left-wing threat to Roosevelt came from U.S. Senator, Huey P. Long, Democrat of Louisiana, who railed at the New Deal for not doing enough. Long is shown in a smaller Miguel Covarrubias caricature near the top of this cover beneath the “N” in “Vanity Fair.” To the immediate left of Long, in a larger facial caricature, is Al Smith, former New York Governor and 1928 Democratic Presidential candidate. Smith founded the American Liberty League in 1934 to attack New Deal programs as fostering unnecessary “class conflict.” Eleanor Roosevelt — FDR’s wife and sphere of New Deal influence in her own right — is shown on the cover at bottom-center, beneath FDR’s chin, in a drawing by artist Will Cotton.
U.S. Senator William Borah, R-Idaho.
Another of Will Cotton’s faces on this cover is that of Senator William Edgar Borah, Republican of Idaho. By the time of Roosevelt’s election in 1932, Borah was an established Republican and Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. In 1932, unhappy with the conservative policies of President Herbert Hoover in light of the Great Depression, Borah refused to publicly endorse Hoover’s reelection campaign. As Dean of the Senate, Borah supported certain components of the New Deal, such as old-age pensions and the confiscation of U.S. citizens’ gold by executive order, but opposed others, including the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) and the Agricultural Adjustment Act. He fought the National Recovery Adminstation (NRA) because he believed it would promote monopoly and would work against the small, independent businessmen that he believed were the bedrock of American economic democracy. Borah made defending the interests of small business the focus of an unsuccessful bid for the 1936 Republican presidential nomination.
Chief Justice Hughes, from March 1934 VF cover.
Also on this cover, in the upper right hand corner beneath the title line, is a Miguel Covarrubias caricature of Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, Charles Evans Hughes. Hughes was appointed by Herbert Hoover as Chief Justice in 1930. His appointment was opposed by progressive elements in both parties who felt that he was too friendly to big business. Hughes, however, often aligned with Justices Louis Brandeis, Harlan Fiske Stone, and Benjamin Cardozo in finding FDR’s New Deal measures to be Constitutional, although he would write the opinion invalidating the National Recovery Administration in1935 and also led the fight against FDR’s attempt to pack the U.S. Supreme Court. Also on this Vanity Fair cover, directly below Hughes, is Oliver Wendell Holmes, caricatured with the long white mustache by artist Will Cotton. Holmes was also a famous Supreme Court judge, who served for over 30 years. Holmes had just retired from the court in 1932.
Journalist Arthur Brisbane from March 1934 VF cover.
Arthur Brisbane is shown near the top of the March 1934 Vanity Fair cover, beneath the title line, in a Miguel Covarrubias caricature. Brisbane was one of the most widely read newspaper columnists in America at the time. His “Today” column — published in 1,000 daily and weekly newspapers for two decades — was then read by 20 million people. He had worked for Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World in the 1890s. But in 1897, William Randolph Hearst made him managing editor of his New York Evening Journal, where Brisbane became a practitioner of sensational-style “yellow journalism.” He also became a close friend to Hearst and a well-paid editor. Brisbane interviewed or conversed with nearly all the U. S. presidents during his career, and had visited FDR at Hyde Park during his first presidential run in 1932. Brisbane’s columns often ran on the front page of Hearst newspapers. As long as Hearst and FDR were getting along, Brisbane’s columns, typically conservative, were restrained with regard to the New Deal. But after 1934, they turned more critical, accusing the New Deal of taking the country down the road toward communism. Hearst had helped Roosevelt get the Democratic nomination and become president in 1933. But Roosevelt had alienated Hearst with New Deal regulations, taxes, and spending programs. Hearst was once in labor’s corner too, but came to see unions as a threat to his newspaper empire. Brisbane had made a similar turn. In the 1961 biography, Citizen Hearst, by W.A. Swanberg, Brisbane is described as “a one-time socialist who had drifted pleasantly into the profit system… in some respects a vest-pocket Hearst — … a liberal who had grown conservative, an investor.” Brisbane’s columns continued until his death in 1936.
Lippman caricature from March 1934 VF cover.
Another journalist, Walter Lippmann (b.1889- d. 1974) — shown inside FDR’s “chin” on the March 1934 cover in a Miguel Covarrubias caricature — had been an editor at the New Republic in 1914-17. Lippmann became Assistant Secretary of War during WWI and worked at the New York World newspaper in the 1920s. In 1931 he began writing for the New York Herald Tribune and soon had a highly influential syndicated column. His early books, such as Public Opinion (1922), and A Preface to Morals (1929) championed liberalism, and he was an early supporter of FDR the New Deal, but he later became disillusioned and an FDR and New Deal critic. In 1936, he would support Republican Alf Landon for president, leading some to conclude he had become a reactionary, though he was a defender of liberal principles, as found in a later book, The Good Society. Lippmann would win a special Pulitzer Prize citation in 1958 praising his powers of news analysis.
All of the other faces on the March 1934 cover of Vanity Fair are also those of various political and business figures of that day.
June & Sept 1934
FDR’s “Brain Trusts”
Artist Paolo Garretto gives Washington’s Capitol building a ‘brain trust’ look with scholarly glasses and a mortarboard for the June 1934 cover of Vanity Fair.
Throughout his New Deal tenure, Franklin Roosevelt had a group of key advisors — university educated, wise men and women who helped him launch, revise, and relaunch various New Deal programs during 1933-1936. This “team-of-experts” approach seems to have originated with speechwriter and legal counsel Samuel Rosenman who suggested in March 1932 that FDR have an academic team to advise him. It wasn’t wholly unprecedented, however, as Presi- dent Woodrow Wilson had a group of academic advisors in 1917 to help him prepare for peace negotiations following World War I. But in 1932, New York Times writer, James Kieran, first used the term “Brains Trust” when referring to a close group of experts that surrounded then-candidate Roosevelt. Others say that close FDR advisor, Louis Howe, actually used the term first, though derisively, in conversation with Roosevelt. FDR had two brain trusts — one early in the first New Deal, primarily during 1933, and another in the second phase of the New Deal in 1935-36. Among those in the first group were Columbia law professors — Raymond Moley, Rexford Tugwell, and Adolph Berle — and also James Warburg from the Bank of Manhattan, who became a financial adviser to FDR. Although these experts never met as a group, each of the original Brain Trusters had Roosevelt’s ear on certain matters, and they played key roles in shaping and/or advancing the original New Deal. Newspapers of the day, however, often ridiculed them as idealists. The second FDR brain trust, helping craft the programs of 1935-1936, were men associated with the Harvard law school — Benjamin Cohen, Thomas Corcoran, and Felix Frankfurter.
Vanity Fair’s September 1934 issue featured FDR’s Brain Trust as an educated eagle with Uncle Sam in its grasp.
Vanity Fair, using the talents of Italian caricaturist and artist Paolo Garretto, made the Brain Trust their cover subject for both the June and the September 1934 issues. In June, the Capitol building was shown wearing a pair of scholarly glasses and a mortarboard to symbolize the influence of FDR’s first Brain Trust bringing, presumably, good and enlightened policy.
By the fall of 1934, a number of government programs that FDR and his administration had created were becoming fair game for journalists and artists. For the September 1934 issues, Paolo Garretto once again caricatured the Brain Trust in a cover scene showing the New Deal era symbol, the NRA eagle, cast in academic black with mortarboard, carrying in its talons, a somewhat watchful Uncle Sam, holding onto his hat. Presumably, this enlightened American thunderbird is taking Sam to a better place, but perhaps not.
In fact, in due time, some of FDR’s Brain Trusters would part ways with him and his policies. Raymond Moley of the first Brain Trust broke with Roosevelt and became a sharp critic of the New Deal from the right. James Warburg also left FDR’s government in 1934, having come to oppose certain policies of the New Deal.
Vanity Fair of October 1934 featured Uncle Sam as ‘The Tattooed Man,’ bearing all manner of New Deal program and/or government agency acronyms.
Artist Paolo Garretto also did the cover art for the October 1934 issue of Vanity Fair, titled, “The Tattooed Man,” capturing the begining of FDR’s “alphabet soup” of agencies and programs that would proliferate in the New Deal. In this case, Garretto shows Uncle Sam with all manner of tattoos on his body, each an acronym for one of the New Deal’s laws or programs — each also signifying an attached special interest. The sign on the curtain over Sam’s left shoulder and above the tattoo artist at work, reads: “Dr. Braintrust, Tatoo Artist; $1.00 Per Letter; Eagles, $3.00 Each.”
Among the programs or agencies tattooed on Sam in this illustration are: AAA, the Agricultural Adjustment Administration, created in 1933 to pay farmers to reduce crop area with the intention of reducing crop surpluses to help raise crop values to restore farm stability; CCC, for the Civilian Conservation Corps of 1933-1942, which employed young men to perform unskilled work, often installing natural resource-conserving improvements in rural areas; NRA (with Eagle on Sam’s chest) was the National Recovery Administration created by the National Industrial Recovery Act of 1933 to promote economic recovery by ending wage and price deflation and restoring competition; and the FERA, Federal Emergency Relief Administration, which during the first hundred days of the Roosevelt Administration distributed federal monies to the states to be used to provide work relief or direct relief to households. The FHOLC, or Federal Home Owners Loan Corporation, was created in 1933 to assist in the refinancing of homes. Between 1933 and 1935 one million people received long term loans through this agency that helped save their homes from foreclosure. The Public Works Administration (PWA) was another emergency agency established in 1933, while the Public Buildings Administration (PBA) and the Public Roads Administration (PRA) were prior federal agencies that were rearranged to offer grants to states and cities to build roads and federal buildings outside Washington, D.C. These grants were also used largely to employ workers but also for building public infrastructure and buildings — dams, roads, and schools.
The CSB, or Central Statistical Board, was created in 1933 to coordinate federal and other statistical services. Its duties were later absorbed by the Budget Bureau in 1939. The SAB, also known as The National Research Council’s Science Advisory Board, was created by an executive order issued by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in July 1933 to help address scientific problems of the various government departments, initially to undertake a survey of the overall relationship between science and the government. The FCC, or Federal Communications Commission, was created in 1934 to regulate interstate and foreign communication by telegraph, telephone, cable, and radio. The SEC, or Securities and Exchange Commission, was created in 1934 to protect public and private investors from stock market fraud, deception and insider manipulation on Wall Street.
Paolo Garretto, photographed by Lusha Nelson, for the August 1934 issue of Vanity Fair.
Paolo Garretto, (b.1903-d.1989), was born in Naples, Italy. As a young boy at age 12 or so, he lived in Philadelphia for a time as his father a was a scholar and teacher who frequently traveled. With the outbreak of WWI the family returned to Italy. After a brush with fascism as a youth, his father pushed Paolo back to school for an architecture degree, then to England where he became a caricaturist, later moving to the U.S. He was first commissioned for work at Vanity Fair by Clair Booth Brokaw/Luce in 1930, the magazine then promoting color caricature. Garretto specialized in major political figures and jazz-age celebrities and he helped give Vanity Fair a portion of its graphic identity in the 1931-35 period, designing some 50 covers there. Later, when World War II broke out, Garretto, an Italian citizen living in the U.S., was interned as an enemy alien and deported to Italy. He was approached by the Nazis to produce caricatures of President Roosevelt and other Allied leaders. When he refused, he was interned as a political prisoner in Hungary from 1942 until the end of the war. Garretto, in fact, a decade earlier, had done a caricature of Hitler’s head affixed to the “body” of the swastika on a Nazi flag for the Nov 1932 cover of Vanity Fair.
A Paolo Garretto caricature of New York Democrat, Al Smith, for ‘Vanity Fair,’ October 1934.
Garretto often critiqued celebrity culture with gaiety, wit and satire. Art experts note that he used a stark and stylized approach in casting his subjects. In the October 1934 issue of Vanity Fair, in addition to “The Tattooed Man” cover (above), he also did a drawing inside the magazine of Al Smith, the four-term governor of New York, progressive reformer, and onetime presidential contender. This caricature evoked the “Happy Warrior” Al Smith of the campaign trail, capturing his flamboyant character and a “patriotic heart,” depicting him in a theatrical gesture amid the city’s skyscrapers; or as one critic observed, ” a celebration of New York’s native son and Smith’s distinctive character.” But in late 1934, Smith’s political fortunes within the Democratic Party were declining due to a feud with FDR. Over the years, Garretto’s work has emerged periodically in U.S. museum and libraries, such as one New York Public Library exhibition titled “Celebrity Caricature in America.” His work today resides in various collections, including those at the National Portrait Gallery, the Library of Congress, and the Smithsonian Museum of Art. The web site Cartantica.Itoffers a sampling of some of Garretto’s celebrity caricatures.
FDR’s “Blue Eagle”
Vanity Fair’s November 1934 issue shows master chef FDR serving up one of his favorite New Deal program symbols: the National Recovery Administration’s Blue Eagle.
Through 1934, FDR continued doing battle with one political faction or another not happy with his initiatives. Conservatives argued that Roosevelt had done too much. Some of them organized the American Liberty League in August 1934 to galvanize the right. However, in the mid-term elections November 1934, the Democrats gained enough seats in both houses of Congress to enjoy veto-proof majorities. Vanity Fair that month offered a Miguel Covarrubias cover illustration depicting FDR as a master chef who is shown serving up a dish of American fare featuring the NRA blue eagle on a platter. Some viewed this as perhaps a counterpoint to former president Herbert Hoover’s promise of a “chicken in every pot.” However, Roosevelt’s Blue Eagle NRA took a fair amount of lampooning and criticism during its tenure, which was somewhat shortened by its legal and constitutional difficulties.
The National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA) of June 1933 was one of the famed “first 100 Days” laws enacted in FDR’s first term to deal with the Great Depression. It was enacted to promote economic recovery by ending wage and price deflation and restoring competition. Among other things, the act authorized the President to regulate industry and permit cartels and monopolies in an attempt to stimulate economic recovery. The Act was implemented by the National Recovery Administration (NRA) and the Public Works Administration (PWA), and it authorized the creation and use of industrial codes of fair competition, guaranteed trade union rights, permitted the regulation of working standards, regulated the price of certain refined petroleum products, and authorized public works projects.
‘Blue Eagle’ poster displayed by U.S. companies during 1933-35 that were in compliance with certain New Deal recovery programs.
Under the program, a blue eagle — a blue-colored American “thunderbird” with outspread wings — became a prominent symbol used in display by U.S. companies to show compliance with the NIRA. The Blue Eagle became an official symbol of the industrial recovery in July 1933. All companies that accepted the Re-employment Agreement or a special Code of Fair Competition were permitted to display a Blue Eagle poster with the slogan, “NRA Member. We Do Our Part.” Consumers were encouraged to buy products and services only from companies displaying the Blue Eagle poster. However, under the NRA, regulations proliferated, which eventually led to a significant loss of political support for Roosevelt and the New Deal. Roosevelt had sought reauthorization for the NIRA in February 1935, but the backlash against the New Deal, coupled with congressional concern over the NIRA’s suspension of antitrust law, left FDR without the needed political support. NIRA was set to expire in June 1935, but in a major case, the Supreme Court held it unconstitutional in the case of Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States.
The Blue Eagle’s days as an official symbol of the NRA and the economic recovery ended by September 1935. However, a part of its legacy survives to this day in the name of the Philadelphia Eagles football team, as in 1933, Philadelphia native and college football coach Bert Bell, who had formed a new National Football League franchise to replace the defunct Philadelphia team named the Frankford Yellow Jackets, named his new team the Eagles in recognition of the NRA.
However, during its two years or so of operation, the NRA issued 557 basic and 189 supplemental industry codes. In addition, some 3,000 administrative orders were issued, running to over 10,000 pages of rules, with thousands of opinions and guidelines from national, regional, and local code boards. Debate over the NIRA’s creation and effectiveness continues to this day, but chief among its failings was its allowance of economically harmful monopolies and its lack of support from the business community, including powerful players such as Detroit automaker, Henry Ford. Franklin Roosevelt, meanwhile, had shifted his views on the best way to achieve economic recovery, and began a new legislative program that would become known as the “Second New Deal” in 1935.
Vanity Fair rang in the 1935 new year with a foldable cover design that revealed a leaner Sam from 1934.
The New Year
As the nation rang in its new year of 1935, Vanity Fair’s January issue offered a Miguel Covarrubias caricature of a seemingly robust and pleased Uncle Sam on its cover symbolizing the hoped-for better year ahead. Readers of this issue found instructions on an inside page, that after a series of folds of the cover art, which opened out in two halves, a sad and leaner version of Uncle Same appeared, representing the previous year, 1934, contrasting sharply with the stout and happy figure presented for 1935. By 1935, however, the country had only achieved a modest degree of recovery, with Roosevelt and his Administration under siege by a variety of critics. Still, on January 4, 1935, when FDR delivered his State of the Union message to Congress, he proposed legislation with long-term goals for “social security” — programs for the aged, the unemployed, and the ill. He also called for better housing, taxation reforms and more jobs for the unemployed, and Congress, with its increased Democratic margins, would respond with new programs and more money, helping FDR with what would become known as his “second New Deal.”
Vanity Fair’s March 1935 cover has artist Paolo Garretto depicting FDR as puppet master playing industrialist against the working man as his ‘second New Deal’ offered labor strengthened bargaining rights.
In the spring of 1935, responding to the setbacks in the courts and skepticism throughout the nation, FDR, his Administration, and allies in Congress embarked on their “second New Deal” with initiatives that in some ways were regarded as more radical, more pro-labor, and more anti-business than programs of the first New Deal of 1933-34. Among these was the National Labor Relations Act, also known as the Wagner Act, for Senator Robert Wagner of New York. Following in the wake of earlier initiatives for worker rights and collective bargaining begun in 1933-34 under the NIRA, the Wagner Act would bring more specific law protecting labor organizing. Under the law — debated in Congress during early 1935 and signed by FDR in July that year — employers could not restrain, interfere, with or coerce employees in the exercise of their rights, could not create or support “company unions,” could not discriminate against an employee for union activities, and could not refuse to bargain with a duly designated majority union. Accordingly, Vanity Fair’s March 1935 issue used its cover to show Franklin Delano Roosevelt as a puppet master, playing the industrialist against the working man with artist Paolo Garretto’s illustration, also a commentary on FDR’s second New Deal as being more pro labor.
Vanity Fair, April 1935: Franklin Roosevelt shown as confident ringmaster taming all manner of political beasts. Artist, Constantin Aladjálov.
The cover of Vanity Fair’s April 1935 issue features an illustration by Russian illustrator Constantin Aladjálov who cast Franklin Roosevelt as a jolly ringmaster. FDR appears to have tamed all the unwieldy political beasts, while cajoling and aiding others to their best performance. The Republican elephant is shown, along with the Democrat’s donkey; Wall Street’s bull and bear are there too — the bull appearing on his last legs with tongue hanging out; the bear, wide-eyed and scratching his head, perhaps trying to figure out what FDR would throw at the economy next. The Tammany tiger is there too, looking tamed and obedient. Tammany Hall was the political machine that had dominated New York city politics, but Roosevelt stripped Tammany of its federal patronage. Caged above FDR is a diminished American eagle, while the New Deal’s NRA blue eagle is on the floor below, appearing to have a splint on its leg, as the NRA by then had received a fair amount of criticism and was headed for a fall in the Supreme Court. Still, the overriding theme on this April 1935 Vanity Fair cover is FDR in control, leading the way, and putting a smiling face on the still very bleak times.
Constantin Aladjálov — the artist who did this cover (b.1900- d.1987) — was a painter and illustrator who studied at the University Petrograd, Russia. His work appeared on the covers of Vanity Fair and other Conde’ Nast publications during the 1930s. Until he arrived in New York in 1924, Aladjálov dabbled in everything from sign painting, to portrait painting, to court painting. He designed covers for The New Yorker from 1926-1960 as well as The Saturday Evening Post. His work also appeared in George Gershwin’s Song Book (1932) and Alice Duer Miller’s Cinderella (1943). Over the years, there have been various national and solo shows of his work in Hollywood, New York, and Dallas. His art is found today in collections at the Brooklyn Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Modern Museum of Art, and the Dallas Museum of Art.
Back in the New Deal, FDR by 1935 had Democratic majorities in the Congress, and in the spring of that year his Administration charged ahead with more ambitious programs to help the economy. In April, Congress established the Soil Conservation Service in the Department of Agriculture to help stanch the dust storms plaguing the west, and it also authorized nearly $5 billion in relief spending used to set up various programs such as the Works Progress Administration (WPA), established in May 1935. The WPA would become one of the best known New Deal programs, putting millions of Americans to work on various public works projects.
Vanity Fair’s May 1935 issue features a Paolo Garretto caricature of FDR crushing an electric utility executive with his ‘utility reform' Easter Egg.
In the 1920s, electric utility holding companies had consolidated in America to such an extent that by the end of the decade, less than a dozen utility systems controlled three-fourths of the nation’s electric power business. The booming utilities, seen as secure investments in the 1920s, lured in millions of investors, though their pyramidal structures and inflated values were revealed in the 1929 market crash. Attempts at weak regulation followed. FDR fought vehemently against the holding companies, calling them “evil” in his 1935 State-of-the-Union address.
After a hard-fought campaign in Congress, the Public Utility Holding Company Act of 1935 was passed. Among other things, the new law required holding companies which owned 10 percent or more of a public utility to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission and provide detailed accounts of their financial transactions and holdings. The legislation had a dramatic effect on the operations of holding companies and over the next two decades or so, their numbers would decline dramatically — from 216 to 18 between 1938 and 1958.
Vanity Fair’s May 1935 issue — in a cover take-off on the annual Easter Egg roll at the White House — featured a caricature by artist Paolo Garretto depicting a grinning Roosevelt pushing a giant Easter egg labeled “Utilities” over a top-hatted electric company executive who is holding a banner that reads “private ownership.”
FDR’s fight for public power became an integral part of his New Deal campaign. In addition to the utilities bill, Congress also passed the Federal Power Act of 1935, which gave the Federal Power Commission regulatory power over interstate transmission and wholesale transactions of electric power. The Federal Power Act also gave the FPC the legal power ensure that electricity rates were “reasonable, nondiscriminatory and just to the consumer.” And adding to this public power initiative, and that of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) already created in 1933, Roosevelt by executive order in May 1935 authorized the U.S. Rural Electrification Administration (REA) to create and finance rural utility companies to serve farmers and rural Americans all across the country.
Demise of Vanity Fair
Miguel Covarrubias' illustration, 'Bali Beauty,' for the February 1936 issue of Vanity Fair, marked the last issue of the magazine that had used its covers to spotlight FDR & the New Deal.
Vanity Fair’s cover art shifted away from FDR and the New Deal after May 1935, focusing on Europe and the rise of the Nazi threat, with Paolo Garretto cover art on those topics in June and August 1935. Thereafter, the front covers were also somewhat lighter — a race horse was featured in September 1935, Charles Lindbergh and Anne Morrow in October 1935, a Hollywood scene for November, and Santa Claus in December. For the last two issues in 1936, a stylized skier was used on the January 1936 cover, and for the final February issue, a Miguel Covarrubias illustration appeared, shown at right, “Bali Beauty”.
Lack of advertising revenue, the continuing Depression, and the changing times helped to hasten the end of Vanity Fair, which was folded into Vogue, another Conde’ Nast publication. Vanity Fair had seen some of its best years in terms of sales in 1931 and 1935, and it continued to attract new readers in that period. Vanity Fair had become more political during the Depression than it ever had been before, bringing along some of it previously non-political sophisticates into an at least appreciative following of politics. Vanity Fair’s readership, according to some, even though it showed signs of growth, no longer had the market value it once did: its readers weren’t buying the products the magazine advertised. And it was also considered a bit too urbane for those times, despite its political satire. So it ceased publication. But it would rise again, in a new form, in the 1980s.
As for FDR and the New Deal, had Vanity Fair lasted through the later terms of his presidency, and the controversies that swirled around them, there is no telling what turns the cover art may have taken — but it is likely that good caricature and satire would have continued in fair display. Happily, in its modern rebirth since 1983, Vanity Fair has renewed and continued the creative blending of art, satire, and politics to good effect, though there still may be some pining for that old-form, art caricature that can grab readers’ attention in unique ways and leave lasting impressions.
Article Citation: Jack Doyle, “FDR & Vanity Fair, 1930s,” PopHistoryDig.com,
November 2, 2009.
Sources, Links & Additional Information
Another sample of Vanity Fair cover art from January 1932 – Paolo Garretto depicts the changing allegiances of Ramsay MacDonald, then Britain's prime minister, by dressing him in worker's overalls on one side and an aristocrat's suit and top hat on the other.
Miguel Covarrubias’ cover for Vanity Fair’s August 1932 issue featured tennis star Helen Wills Moody.
Miguel Covarrubias’ caricature of Greta Garbo appeared on the February 1932 cover of Vanity Fair.
Paolo Garretto casts Adolf Hitler in political cartoon for Vanity Fair’s November 1932 cover.
John D. Rockefeller & Joseph Stalin, ‘Impossible Interviews,’ Vanity Fair, April 1932.
Queen Marie & Mae West, ‘Impossible Interview,’ June 1932, Vanity Fair
Lippmann & Walter Winchell, ‘Impossible Interviews,’ Vanity Fair, 1930s. Miguel Covarrubias.
Miguel Covarrubias, “Impossible Interviews” (samples follow below)
“Marie of Romania vs. Mae West,” text by Corey Ford, Vanity Fair, June 1932. The Romanian Queen laments her neglect by the public, to which West replies: “What I mean, sister, lemme put you wise. Royalty don’t get you any place, any more. Today they only want the kind of a Queen they can hold on their laps. Lookit me, for instance. Every other inch a Queen, from hips to whoozis.” (see image, below right)
“John D. Rockefeller Sr. vs. Joseph Stalin,” Vanity Fair, April 1932.
“Senator Smith W. Brookhart vs. Marlene Dietrich, Vanity Fair, September 1932.
“S.L. Rothafel vs. Arturo Toscanini,” Vanity Fair, February 1933.
“Herr Adolf Hitler and Huey ‘Hooey’ Long vs. Joseph Stalin and Benito Mussolini,”Vanity Fair, June 1933.
“Sally Rand (dancer/stripper) vs. modern dance pioneer, Martha Graham,” Vanity Fair, December 1934, text by Cory Ford. In the accompanying mock dialogue, stripper Sally is quoted as saying they were “…just a couple of little girls trying to wriggle along.”
“Freud vs. Jean Harlow,” Vanity Fair, May 1935.
George Arliss vs. Cardinal Richelieu, Duke of Wellington, and Disraeli,” Vanity Fair, January 1936.
Price V. Fishback, William C. Horrace and Shawn Kantor, “Did New Deal Grant Programs Stimulate Local Economies? A Study of Federal Grants and Retail Sales During the Great Depression,” Journal of Economic History, March 2005.
Fishback, Price V., William C. Horrace, and Shawn Kantor. “The Impact of New Deal Expenditures on Mobility During the Great Depression,” Explorations in Economic History, 43 (April 2006), 179-222.
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 to motivate employees 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 known by many as “Rosie the Riveter,” though that was not the intended purpose at its creation. In fact, at the time of the poster’s release the name “Rosie” was in no way associated with Miller’s image. The poster — one of 42 produced in Miller’s Westinghouse series — was used exclusively within Westinghouse and not initially seen much beyond several Westinghouse factories in Pennsylvania and the Midwest where it was displayed for two weeks in February 1943. It was only years later, after the Miller poster was rediscovered in 1982 – some 40 years later, in fact – that his rendering began to be associated with “Rosie The Riveter,” and more importantly, women’s liberation and other causes.
In terms of the origin of Miller’s “We Can Do It!” image, there have been some reports that an actual WWII woman worker may have been used as the source and/or inspiration – either from a photograph or as an in-person studio model. A 1942 wire service photo of one WWII female worker at Alameda Naval Air Base in California dressed in bandanna and work clothes has been suggested as a possible source, but one friend of Miller’s has noted that he rarely worked from photographs.
Both images, however — Rockwell’s and Miller’s — were used to help motivate the WWII workforce, but in Miller’s case, perhaps only at Westinghouse factories. But Rockwell’s “Rosie,” in particular, helped encourage female workers to fill WW II production jobs. Sheridan Harvey of the U.S. Library of Congress has noted: “Rosie’s appearance on the Memorial Day cover of the Saturday Evening Post implied that her work might help save soldiers’ lives.” And in later years, up to present times, both of these images – Miller’s and Rockwell’s – have become iconic symbols of women’s rights struggles and are occasionally adapted for other causes and political campaigns as well. But in any case, 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 newspaper 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 Sotheby’s 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 — Mary Doyle (Keefe), then a 19 year-old telephone operator — 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 amid 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 propaganda 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 Rising Value
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.”
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.