The Roaring Weeklies. The Magazines And I. Chapter Three, Part Two

August 9, 2020

Chapter Three, Part Two

The Roaring Weeklies… is the third chapter from the book I am writing on the magazines of 1953, specifically March 1953, the month I was born.  This is chapter three, part two.  Feel free to back track for chapters one and two in previous blogs.  Enjoy.

The Heavy-Duty Political Weeklies

The biggies when it came to news and political coverage in 1953 were: Time, Life, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report. Time and Life were published by the same company, Time Inc, and were the two dominant titles in that era. The focus of those weeklies was a mix of politics, society, religion and news, with many similarities between the two.

The particular conversations in news and politics that could be overheard on the world’s stage in March 1953 centered around the death of Joseph Stalin and the changes that were taking place in the Soviet Union and what was happening with the Red Army and the Cold War. The evil that even Stalin’s name conjured up and what his death meant to the Soviet people came alive on the pages of weeklies such as Life.

The importance of these weeklies was known from Buckingham Palace to the White House. The editorial pages of these magazines held more than the words of the editors, often publishing or republishing announcements from presidents, such as in the March 2, 1953 issue of Life when former President Harry S. Truman’s memoirs were about to be written. Life believed in the makers of history, as they called the former president. And as a believer and publisher of history in the making, the magazine reprinted the Associated Press bulletin where Truman had written that he had selected Life to “handle all rights in the memoirs.” The magazine’s importance was established.

And Truman wasn’t the only notable leader that Life had published. There was Winston Churchill, Omar Bradley, the Duke of Windsor, and the list goes on. Between the excellent writing and the inimitable photography, Life magazine was one of the most esteemed publications in the country at that time.

In fact, Life was known for its excellent, and often poignant photography. For example, if you look at the March 16, 1953 issue of the magazine, right after Stalin died, the coverage of this world event was incredible. Joseph Stalin and Georgy Malenkov graced the cover of that issue and the entire story was put together from 50,000 photos that the staff had collected. The result was a picture-rich article that amazed.

Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report also had coverage of world events, such as Stalin’s death, but it was a softer, less epic visual experience. While in March 1953, Time focused on Korea, Stalin and Russia throughout that month, Newsweek focused on classical musicians, Edward R. Murrow and Speaker of the House Joe Martin, so it had more of a lighter approach when it came to coverage of the information. In fact, Newsweek featured Edward R. Murrow on one of its covers, talking about how presenting the news on television is very different from radio. Television was becoming big news in 1953.

Also in that era, Look magazine and Cowles Media decided to publish a newsweekly too, a pocket-sized magazine that covered everything. If newsweeklies were the Internet of 1953, Quick magazine, was the iPhone of 1953. From 1949 to 1953, the pocket-sized publication was jam-packed with information from one end of the spectrum to another. There was art, sex, business, crime, education and entertainment. People were encouraged to carry it in their pockets or their purses so they could access the information on-the-go. The magazine provided what would be called today the “Tweets” of the news, tidbits of information about everything. The name itself reflected the tone of the magazine: Quick.

Quick enabled pop culture to fit easily into purses and pockets. The covers were spot-on for the times. From the real-life Rocky Marciano and a story on why some boxers don’t box anymore, to actress Piper Laurie and a collection of Easter Bonnet portraits, Quick magazine was the social media of 1953. The  posts – snippets of information, comments and pictures were all there on their own little platform. Just whip the magazine out of your pocket and you had Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in one convenient package.

 The High-Brow Literary Weeklies

Saturday Review and The New Yorker fit into this category, with The New Yorker magazine’s founding editor Harold Ross once famously describing his publication (founded in 1925) as being, “not for the little old lady in Dubuque.” Distinguished by their obvious literary prominence, both magazines were reviews of many things. From movies to books, the theatre to museums, these two magazines had their fingers on the pulse of American culture in 1953 from a literary point of view.

The New Yorker had its own iconic covers, becoming an entity unto themselves, with their smart and timely illustrations depicting political satire, the images of the city itself, and many other environmental and social issues of the times.

At that time in the magazine’s history, the front of the magazine was devoted to “The Goings On About Town,” which as you can imagine, was filled with all the fun and exciting things New York City had to offer, from Broadway to art sales offering everything from lithographs and etchings by Pissarro to the showing of paintings and drawings at the Whitney Museum.

As you moved farther inward through the magazine, The New Yorker presented “The Talk Of The Town,” of course, not without first passing some of the most savvy and smart advertisements ever created. “Talk Of The Town” was a place where announcements of varying topics could be discussed, often ones that were on the edge of being dubious, such as the March 21, 1953 issue where a bus company in Yonkers was making plans to install radios in its buses. The problem with that was many thought it was a way for the bus company to raise revenue by selling the attention of all the passengers with only the consent of some, according to The New Yorker’s “The Talk Of The Town.”  Of course, The New Yorker couldn’t stand behind that and let it be known, yet again proving the importance and influence of these weekly magazines.

Saturday Review was very widely read by music and theatre critics and others who thrived on literary journals. The magazine shared the “Good News” in the front of the book, by utilizing that space to talk about many things such as in the March 7, 1953 issue where they wrote about “proof that Americans spend their time in places other than sport stadiums,” as apparently the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City had exceeded the two million mark in visitors for the previous year.

The literary weeklies were more than hoity-toity titles that carried themselves around town with an upturned nose. They were important magazines that people in 1953 relied on to give them honest and factual information about the topics they covered.

News, Television & Weekly Magazines

Not only was 1953 a time when audiences could not get enough information about what was going on in the world they lived in, but it was also a time when weekly magazines actually provided the best coverage of those stories.

While television networks such as CBS and NBC were airing 15 minute newscasts and many stations only did five minutes total of local news right before 5:00 p.m. (TV Guide, Washington-Baltimore area, March 27-April 2), the weekly magazines were filling their pages with informative and relevant information.

But the television magazines were gaining steam, there were TV Guides, TV Forecasts, TV Digests and TV Guides & Forecasts for every part of the country, showcasing this new medium. And the television magazines began predicting things that interested readers, such as who would win that year’s Academy Award.

While Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, and Life dealt with foreign affairs and political topics, TV Guide became the escape vehicle for readers who wanted to travel away from facts and the actual news of the day, to the fun and frolic the celebrities were having. And the TV weeklies began reflecting that.

 TV Guide and other television titles of March 1953 took note of people’s fascination with the prominent actors and other celebrities on the screen of the new medium known as television. In fact, so much so, that the magazines’ covers were suddenly flooded with their images.

From the March 13-19, 1953 issue of TV Guide, which featured Janette Davis from Arthur Godfrey and His Friends, a highly popular variety show from that era, to “TV’s Lady-Killers” TV Guide cover from March 27-April 2, 1953, featuring Charlton Heston, John Newland, John Forsythe and John Baragrey, celebrities were the content of choice when it came to the covers of these magazines. Jackie Gleason, Lucille Ball, Desi Arnaz, George Burns and his wife Gracie, were just a few of the other famous folk who appeared on covers of the TV weeklies.

Needless to say, when the Academy Awards were first televised on March 19, 1953, the television magazines were thrilled to feature all the stars and their stories.

Your Weekly Magazine Inside A Newspaper

Supplements in newspapers had a rich history by the time 1953 came along. From inserts inside Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World in the late 1800s, to Women’s Home Journal and Sunday American Magazine, which later became The American Weekly, inside William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal,  these magazine-formatted publications became another resource for information.

The American Weekly was a successor to the Sunday magazine and the artwork was created by some of the best artists of that time, such as Lee Conrey and Howard Chandler Christy. There were great stories and, as in the February 22, 1953 issue of the magazine, which had the magazine’s first annual Auto Section, some of the most colorful and inviting illustrations and ads that you could find anywhere.

Parade was another insert that really became an entity all on its own. The Sunday newspaper magazine was founded in 1941 and was originally a supplement for its creator’s own newspaper, the Chicago Sun. But over the years the insert with the humble beginnings is now nationwide and still retains a circulation of 18 million. Renowned authors such as Ernest Hemingway (who sent in reports from the Far East), Ben Hecht (author of “the Front Page”), Dr. Carl Sagan (who provided his first report on Nuclear Winter), James Thurber, Herman Wouk, Norman Mailer, John Cheever and Alex Haley, among many others, have been published between its covers.

In the March 15, 1953 issue, Parade (this particular copy from The Wichita Sunday Eagle) the Norman Rockwell ads, combined with helpful tips and delicious-looking recipes, show just why this entertaining, yet informative magazine is still around.

Grafic Magazine, an insert in the Chicago Sunday Tribune, was much like its Parade counterpart, published on Sunday and highlighting home tips and entertainment features.These great additions to Sunday newspapers is a tradition that carries on even in the 21st century.

Getting News & Entertainment In “Weekly Time”

Today we experience real time. A family faces down a giant black bear and we watch the fingernail-biting moments while they unfold. But in 1953 that wasn’t an option. Instead, the people got their news a little less instantaneously. With TV newscasts so brief, they may as well not have happened, the American public relied strictly on print. Ink on paper was the internet of the 1950s and a technology that couldn’t be beaten.

So when those daily newspapers and weekly magazines came calling, people couldn’t wait to answer their front doors. Craving information and missing the bells and whistles and notifications of today, they relished these weekly visits from the magazine friends that they loved and trusted.

The Roaring Weeklies

When we look at the roaring weeklies of 1953, we see why they could be called the Internet of 1953, because each magazine gave you a little bit of everything. If you subscribed to Life, not only did someone get 144 pages of great photography, great writing, great stories, but also great advertising with very skillful marketing. People discovered the latest automobile, the latest fashion, the latest everything. It was all there between the pages. People could read about religion, sports, modern living, fashion, science… just a composite of topics. So, the magazines were the Google of the 1953 Internet, with any topic one could imagine available.

Weeklies To The Right, Please…And The Left

Mr. Magazine™  explored his vault extensively to bring you this chapter on the great weeklies of 1953. Looking to the right and to the left, he walked the halls and rooms and searched out the precise magazines talked about here. The experience was most satisfying. While there were lesser-known weeklies alive in 1953, the ones elaborated about in Chapter Three were the major players of that year.

And Next…

The Vault is endless and the doors many. Let us check out the next room… look, it’s the Women’s Magazine sanctuary. Come in and Mr. Magazine™ will introduce you to the Seven Sisters and many of their friends, cousins, and relatives…

To be continued…


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