His Life and Time

by James R. Gaines
The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century
By Alan Brinkley
(Knopf, 560 pages, $35)
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Hadden took first turn as editor, and it was he who elaborated Time’s signal style. He instructed editors to avoid Latinate in favor of hard-edged Anglican English and to peg newsmakers with titles (Demagog Hitler, Teacher Scopes). He also mined his translation of the Iliad for high-baroque locutions, front-loaded sentences, and compound adjectives along the lines of “fleet-footed Achilles.” Brinkley favors us with one especially outrageous example from the introduction to a 1925 story on the Scopes trial:

The pens and tongues of contumely were arrested. Mocking mouths were shut. Even righteous protestation hushed its clamor, as when . . . a high-helmed champion is stricken by Jove’s bolt and the two snarling armies stand at sudden gaze, astonished and bereft a moment of their rancor.

“But even as the magazine matured and shed some of its more egregious excesses,” notes Brinkley, “writers . . . forced readers to wade through considerable imagery before encountering any real information.”

In 1929, six years after the magazine’s launch, Hadden died of a respiratory illness complicated by exhaustion and heavy drinking. Although Luce always styled himself editor in chief, he named a new editor for Time after Hadden’s passing and turned his energy to a new business-magazine idea. (Though Hadden had belittled the idea, Luce told the board that Hadden had been all for it.) In 1930, he launched Fortune into the teeth of the Great Depression: an oversized, luxurious anachronism with photographs by Margaret Bourke-White, art by Rockwell Kent 1904CC and Diego Rivera, and text by Dwight Macdonald, James Agee, Archibald MacLeish — hardly the sort of people to toe what became his anti-Roosevelt line.

But Luce always called himself a liberal, and his politics were anything but consistent. From the beginning, Luce and his magazines were progressive on race. Early on he espoused “welfare capitalism.” In one memo he described Fortune’s editorial mission this way: “Goddamn you Mrs. Richbitch. We won’t have you chittering archly and snobbishly about Bethlehem Common [stock] unless you damn well have a look at the open hearths and slagpiles — yes, and the workers’ houses of Bethlehem, Pa.” In fact, the early issues of the magazine featured investigative stories and progressive politics of such bite that advertisers grew nervous.

Six years after Fortune came the instantly and almost ruinously popular Life (ad rates were fixed for a year while circulation ballooned into the millions, burying Time Inc. in unmet printing and distribution costs). Life’s luminous coverage of World War II (Time coined the term) was followed by its pitch-perfect theme song to the ’50s, with photo spreads of idealized scenes of America’s serene suburbs. Life’s Thanksgiving 1954 issue asked: “How can one feel thankful for too much?” and its July 4 issue the next year proclaimed, “Nobody is Mad with Nobody.” Life’s faithful adherence to such an amiable and popular view of that decade has undermined a better understanding of the ’50s to this day.

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