HAROLD T.P. HAYES: THE IDOL I NEVER MET
FROM THE VOLT (WINTER 2010)
One of the best compliments I have ever received was shortly after my departure from Interview magazine in 2009, when a rather literate and knowledgeable blogger compared me to Harold Hayes, whom I consider to greatest magazine editor ever. It was a great compliment, but also a surprise because not too many people today know who Hayes was.
Harold Hayes ran Esquire magazine for only a decade, from 1963 to 1973, but what a decade. The sixties didn’t start on January 1, 1960 and end on December 31, 1969, the swinging, revolutionary decades started when Harold Hayes became editor of Esquire and ended in ’73 when he left. Esquire didn’t just report on the sixties, it was instrumental in making up the mind of that decade crucial time. It was Hayes’s Esquire that made me get into magazines; it taught me that a great editor was one who made exactly the magazine he wanted to read.
When I came up, Esquire was the best magazine on the planet, a position it had occupied on and off since it was founded in Chicago in1933 by Arnold Gingrich, the editor, and David Smart, the publisher, both fellows with a background in the advertising business. Gingrich was a bon vivant intellectual former copywriter, and he more or less invented the idea of the men’s magazine. Not in the sense that Playboy would be a men’s magazine, or gods forbid, Maxim, Esquire was for intelligent gentlemen, although it did have a naughty side kept in check for the most part by an evolved sense of discretion. Of course discretion meant something quite different in those days, and theirs was not enough to prevent the magazine from being prosecuted for obscenity over the female nude drawings of Vargas.
Under Gingrich, Esquire took magazines to new heights of literacy. Gingrich published F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Pat Hobby Stories and “The Crack-up” and Hemingway’s “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” He also Hemingway to cover the Spanish Civil War. He published John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, John Dos Passos, and Thomas Wolfe, basically every major American writer of the time.
By the early sixties Gingrich had come to resemble Esquire’s cartoon mascot, Esky, a bug eyed gray-haired gent with a handlebar moustache and a fedora. Gingrich had left Esquire briefly to retire in Switzerland and pursue his interest in things like trout fishing and violins, but as the magazine began to flounder he was brought back to revive the magazine as its editor and publisher…Gingrich knew it was time of big changes and that it was time to reflect change on the masthead. As he stepped up to act as full time publisher, he orchestrated a competiton for the editor slot among his “Young Turks.” Among this group was Ralph Ginzberg who went on to fame as publisher of Eros (and was convictioned on Federal obscenity charges,) but ultimately the battle was between features editor Clay Felker and managing editor Harold T.P. Hayes, who had joined Esquire in 1956 and served as the magazine’s managing editor since 1960. The dapper ex-marine Hayes won the job, and Felker left to join the New York Herald Tribune. Today both are legitimately regarded as the founders of “the new journalism.”
We don’t hear that term much anymore, but at the time it was a literary sea change. Fiction had long ruled the literary world, but in the sixties it seemed that truth was now far stranger than fiction, and we saw the best fiction writers of the time taking up reporter’s credentials, and new writers abandoning the conventions of journalism for the freedom of fiction. Notable among the latter who starred in Esqsuire was Tom Wolfe whose extraordinary breakthrough piece “There Goes (Varoom! Varoom!) That Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby” was midwifed by managing editor Byron Dobell. A frustrated Wolfe had written Dobell a letter the night before the piece was due, explaining his experience researching the piece he had been unable to complete. Dobell simply deleted the Dear Byron and “voila!” That piece gave the title to Wolfe’s first collection which also contained pieces written for Esquire on Las Vegas, Muhammed Ali, Junior Johnson, and Confidential Magazine. Esquire found another star in Gay Talese and his 1966 pieces “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” and “The Silent Season of a Hero” about the legendary baseball player Joe DiMaggio, simply changed the way writers wrote.
Hayes built a great staff, including two famous fiction editors, first Rust Hills then Gordon Lish, John Berendt (who went on to write Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil,) and Robert Sherril, among others.
Esquire also published Hunter S. Thompson, William Styron, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, Gary Wills, Tom Wicker, James Baldwin, Graham Greene, and David Halberstam, among countless important voices. Two of the most important books to come out of the Vietnam War had their genesis in the pages of Esquire. John Sack’s M and Michael Herr’s Dispatches both moved beyond the traditional viewpoint of the war correspondent, bringing the truth of Vietnam to life with all the resources of the literary writer. Sack pioneered the idea of the embedded writer, following a company from basic training to the battlefield while Herr was a roving correspondent, going where the action was. And in 1968, while Sack and Herr were dodging bullets in the South, Hayes sent Susan Sontag to report on the view from Hanoi.
Hayes enlisted Norman Mailer as a columnist as well as a reporter. For the Democratic Convention of 1968, which looked to be an apocalyptic political Woodstock (or Altamont) Hayes assigned not only Mailer, but also Terry Southern, William S. Burroughs, and Jean Genet as reporters.
Also at Chicago were William Buckley and Gore Vidal (both veterans of Esquire’s pages) serving as commentators from the right and left respectively, on the goings on at the convention and in the streets. When Buckley accused the demonstrators of being crypto-Nazis, Vidal rejoined that the only crypto-Nazi he was familiar with was Buckley himself, to which Buckley retorted on national prime time television:
“Listen you, you queer, stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in the goddamn face and you’ll stay plastered…”
Subsequent Hayes published Vidal’s “An Unpleasant Encounter with William F. Buckley” which delved thoroughly into Buckley’s psyche as well as resurrecting an incident from the latter’s childhood in which he apparently vandalized a church in Sharton, Connecticut after the real estate agent wife of the pastor sold a house to a family of Jews. Esquire was sued by Buckley and settled by giving advertising space to Buckley’s National Review.
Esquire published some of the best columns ever written for magazines. There was Mailer for one, but also Gore Vidal on politics, the very young Nora Ephron on women and Peter Bogdanovich on film. Esquire was a funny magazine, even on serious subjects, and Hayes launched an annual feature “the Esquire Dubious Achievement Awards” which selected the most glaring examples of idiocy, hubris, and each year, ans which was remarkably similar to the “The Worst of Everything” feature that hot him fired from his first editor in chief job at Picture Week magazine. It was executed by then art director Robert Benton and associate editor David Newman who eventually left Esquire for Hollywood where they wrote Bonnie and Clyde, What’s Up Doc?, There Was a Crooked Man, Bad Company and Superman, among other successful things. The Dubious Achievements had a Harvard Lampoon tone to them, but they took it to the next level, which eventually the crew of Spy Magazine would inherit.
Hayes knew that a great magazine had to have great visual impact and so he hired the greatest advertising art director in America, George Lois, to do the bold, conceptual, poster-like covers of the oversized (11” x 13”) magazine. Between 1962 and 1972 he created 92 covers for the magazine, 32 of which were later exhibited by the Museum of Modern Art. There was Andy Warhol drowning in a giant can of Campbell’s Tomato Soup, Muhammed Ali as St. Sebastian pierced by arrows, Lt. Calley of the My Lai massacre with Vietnamese children on his lap, and Hubert Humphrey as a ventriloquist’s dummy on Lyndon Johnson’s lap.
Unlike today’s magazine type covers that plead with you to buy them, Lois’s covers were like great posters, sometimes with only a single coverline, like the December, 1962 cover, a black and white photo of a smiling soldier with the single line: “Merry Christmas. I’m the 100th G.I. killed in Vietnam. The Sonny Liston as Santa Claus cover not only had no cover line, it didn’t even identify the scary black man in the Santa hat. It didn’t have to.
Another stroke of visual genius was Hayes’s hiring of Jean-Paul Goude, a young Parisian illustrator, to serve as art director. Goude, who went on to an amazing career –creating the image of his girlfriend Grace Jones, making epic television commercials for companies like Chanel, and staging the astonishing bicentennial parade in Paris, made Esquire the most modern looking magazine on the planet. A genius with photos, blade, and brush he began a practice of reworking photography to make the impossible possible, anticipating Photoshop by thirty years. He made Nixon into a black man, Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown into a hairy man.
Hayes was in Paris in 1968 to look at some portfolios, including Goude’s, and they met. Hayes asked Goude if by any chance he knew Jacques Prevert, the poet, and he happened to know him quite well.
“My studio happened to look very grand at the time,” Goude recalls “I had illustrations blown up on the walls. And I was driving a 1955 Bentley. I think he thought I was very well off, which I certainly wasn’t, but I drove him all over Paris in my Bentley and he offered me a job.” Goude art directed a special issue, the 75th anniversary issue, and because of its success, he was offered a full time job with the magazine in New York. Jean Paul says that Hayes him a certain sum which he took to be his salary per month. As it turned out it was per year, but he took the job anyway.
“I think of Harold Hayes as a sort of second father,” says Jean Paul. “He’d say the one true value is to be yourself and to find yourself the courage to speak your mind.
I really wanted to work for Harold Hayes. I guess I sort of wanted to be Harold Hayes. I happened to become friends with Jean-Paul Goude and we eventually did work together for Esquire, but by that time Hayes was gone. Boom. Just like that.
The corporate powers at Esquire were unhappy. They thought were losing readers and ad pages to Rolling Stone and they asked Hayes to move to the position of publisher. He said he would become publisher but he still wanted to be be the editor of Esquire. “They told him he was arrogant and he just walked out,” says Jean-Paul Goude. He came to see us in the art department and say goodbye and he was gone in five minutes and we never saw him again.
Maybe that departure style and alleged arrogance is why that blogger compared me with Harold Hayes. But I’d rather think it was his vision. Hayes could see what was happening and he showed it to the rest of the world.
Hayes went on to write a few books, include a best seller The Dark Romance of Dian Fossey which became the basis for the film Gorillas in the Mist. Hayes tried television, do-founding ABC’s 20/20, and co-hosting it, once. Goude recalls, “Harold reminded me of Jimmy Stewart. He had this great Southern charm. He had everything—brilliance, wit, sophistication, and good looks—but he also had stage fright.”
I don’t think there’s room for a Harold Hayes in magazines anymore. The courage to speak your mind is now generally considered arrogance, and instinct has been replaced by focus groups. Hayes was too bold and impolitic to be the sort hired to helm a magazine today. But for a decade he was a king in the realm of periodical literature and he didn’t just change magazines, he changed writing and art direction and he changed the world. He moved to the top of the big masthead in the sky in 1989.
by Glenn O’Brien