The Year Was 1953. The Magazines And I. Chapter Two, Part Three.

July 30, 2020

The Political Front

In the March 16, 1953 issue of Life magazine the cover had Joseph Stalin and Georgy Malenkov, who briefly succeeded Stalin after his death, super-imposed side-by-side in a very striking image. The writer of the cover story was the British author Edward Crankshaw, who was and is known for his writings about Soviet affairs.

Stalin had recently died and Malenkov was preparing to step into the powerful shoes of the deceased leader. Crankshaw had a flair for the dark and conspiratorial atmosphere that surrounded the Kremlin. From the “poisoning doctors” he writes about to the violence and suspicion that encompassed Stalin’s shadow, the author could set the tone and mood of the actual state of affairs in Russia at that time perfectly.

This beautifully done article that mysteriously weaves the historical story of Stalin’s death and life behind the fearful walls of the Kremlin, is a masterpiece typical of the type of authors and stories that Life gave its readers. Stories of substance, images that could take your breath away. As we delve into this fascinating year 1953, we begin to see the importance of magazines throughout that time. There was no Internet and television was just beginning to find its footing to become what it is today, but magazines could take readers on a journey to Russia to get up close and personal with the body of the prone Stalin. Magazines could transport a secretary in Gary, Indiana smackdab into the middle of the Kremlin. It was a magical time for ink on paper.

When Advertising Was King         

Chapter Two, Part Three

During that momentous time, it wasn’t just the content that could be called an influencer, the ads in the magazines were just as important and amazing. With the end of the Korean war and a new president and first lady in the White House, people in 1953 were ready to start spending money and what better way to grab those dollars than advertising in magazines. The time was right and the possibilities unlimited and magazines were the best way to get a product before the eyes of the country.

Lucky Strike cigarettes, where nothing beat better taste, could fill the back cover of a major magazine, tempting people to find out why they had better taste. A full-page ad for Pabst Blue Ribbon beer made people realize how thirsty for yeast and hops they were, and because busy people paused for Coke, Coca-Cola became everyone’s drink of choice, busy or not.

It was an advertiser’s dream come true. The ads worked because there were no taboos, cigarettes and beer were the norm for that era. Health and consequences hadn’t even been thought of yet when it came to smoking and drinking.

But it wasn’t just beer and tobacco products that reigned supreme. There were airline ads, hotel ads, automobile ads, tire ads; you name it. Soon, people were driving new cars, flying everywhere and staying in the best hotels. Advertisements in magazines were raking in money, making publications thrive and educating people about the latest and greatest products and trends.

The Dissemination of Information

Getting magazines in the hand of subscribers has always been vitally important to publishers, and in 1953 that statement was no less true.

Congress legislated postage rates until 1970, keeping magazines and newspapers extremely low, allowing them to travel where they were going very reasonably. In 1953, a first-class postage stamp cost $0.03, but it was only $0.02 to send out a magazine, so getting informational content out to a mass audience was not only cost-efficient, it was necessary.

Magazines For The Readers

Even the United Nations had its own magazine United Nations World that was founded in 1947, redesigned in 1950, and once again went through another revamping in March 1953. The publisher introduced those changes by stating:

United Nations World appears in your home and on your newsstand this month wearing a new dress. As you notice, we have completely redesigned our cover in order to make it modern, distinctive and – we hope – strikingly attractive.

 It is fitting that our “cover girl” for this issue should be Elizabeth II. However, the new design was not created by our artists solely as a setting for beauty and queenly dignity. The format you see will be a permanent one.

 The editors have been experimenting for a long time to find a cover which would reflect the spirit and the contents of UN World. On this page, you will find reproduced a few of the previous covers we have used. We feel that the new design is superior to the others but, of course, we are not unprejudiced. So, since this magazine is published for its readers, we are eager to hear what you think. Will you write and tell us?

 Roger S. Phillips


 Reflecting – it appears everyone knows what magazines are excellent at, especially the weeklies of that era… They reflected and ruled the space as the Internet of the 1950s, as we’ll see in chapter three.

Coming soon: Chapter Three


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