Saturday, September 16, 2006

Esquire 1972

I picked up an old copy of Esquire at a used bookstore in Chelsea today. I might have passed it by had it not been for the coverline: "Mrs. Spillane on Mickey Spillane." For $5 (A bit more than the cover price in 1972: $1 -- or 2006: $3.50; but still fair.) I got the August 1972 issue -- A Mr. R. Kopper of 117 West 13th Street's issue, to be precise.

Esquire was known for two things back in the old days: great writing and great covers. This old issue is considerably more "wordy" than the issue I bought at the airport last week. There are a lot of columns -- Nora Ephron has a "Women" column and Peter Bogdonavich has one called "Hollywood." There are two stories, one by Borges and another by Malamud. Fiction is disappearing in magazines these days.

Esquire's covers aren't as smart as they used to be, but some are well-done. September 2006 is forgettable. Esquire's website has a cover gallery showing every cover they ever did. There are some incredible ones, like February 1968's Roy Cohn cover (one of two; he also appeared ten years later.) which showed Senator Joe McCarthy's notoriously mean and notoriously gay henchman with a halo. Close up, without coverlines. It's a powerful image.

Nixon is on twice, too. in May 1968 he appeared close up with eyes closed, in profile as four hands applied make-up. Again, a cover with no coverlines. Magazines these days can't help but to clutter covers with words to sell the contents. These older Esquire covers, the good ones at least, sold magazines with bold covers. Did they sell? Maybe it's been proven that coverlines sell issues. After all, I bought my 1972 issue because I saw Mickey Spillane's name (I'll get to him shortly).

Both the Nixon and the Cohn covers were designed by the legendary ad man and sometime Esquire cover man George Lois. (He is also the guy who created the "I want my MTV" ad campaign, and the inventor of the "Lean Cuisine" line of "gourmet" frozen foods.)

A few things about the old Esquire remains the same. In my September 2006 issue, we have a "Best Dressed List" that includes five regular chaps who won the magazine's "Best Dressed Real Men in America" contest and a celebrity list that includes Nick Cave, Jake Gyllenhaal, Terrence Howard, John Legend, Daniel Craig (the new James Bond).

In my August 1972 issue, we have "The 10 Best-Dressed Jocks," a list that includes cover boy Walt Frazier (New York Knicks), downhill skier Billy Kidd, tennis player Stan Smith, and, my favorite, Minnesota Vikings defensive end Carl Eller. The caption on Eller says he "wears a dashiki and slacks he designed himself, made by Elegantique. His high-laced boots are by Bela, a St. Paul bootmaker." He is pictured at left.

One of the stranger things in the August 1972 issue is an article called "How to Get a Great Chinese Meal in an American Chinese Restaurant" by Roy Andries de Groot. De Groot was an interesting character -- he was a blind food critic and culinary writer who lived in New York and shot himself in 1983. As a critic, he was very influential. His article in Esquire is just what the title says it is, and it's good. It's the accompanying photo of a grinning Dick Nixon amid myriad Chinese dishes that's strange. Of course, Nixon had, quite famously, just been in China in February of that year. But it remains a peculiar photo, perhaps because Nixon always looked peculiar, always looked uncomfortable and out of place. The caption for this two-page spread (of which I show only one) says:
"Each of these Chinese banquet dishes was served to President Nixon at one time or another during his trip to the mainland in February. Together, the comprise an ideal Chinese feast. You can taste them yourself in New York, San Francisco, or St. Louis by ordering the dinner in advance from one of the four great Chinese restaurants mentioned in the article."
I haven't checked yet to see if any of those restaurants still exist.

And now, the reason I bought this magazine, Mickey Spillane. As I mentioned in an obituary post from July (Frank Morrison Spillane: 1918-2006), Spillane's second wife Sherri Malinou appeared on the cover of his attempt at a more literary novel, "The Erection Set." Here, in the August 1972 issue of Esquire, we have Mrs. Spillane née Malinou, profiled in a story called "That's no naked lady, that's Mickey Spillane's naked wife." Says the article:
"Actually it was Sherri Spillane who had breathed, in approved Spillane heroine fashion, to her husband, "I want to be naked on the cover of your next book," and Mickey who had assented gruffly. "I was tired of dogs anyway."
Apparently Spillane wrote her into the plot of "The Erection Set" as a sexually confident young character named Sharon. The profile is spare -- there isn't much to Mrs. Spillane, or her marriage for that matter. And that's why we have such a large, nude, photo.

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