"IT WASN'T PRETTY, FOLKS, BUT DIDN'T WE HAVE FUN? Esquire in the Sixties" by Carol Polsgrove


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Polsgrove (Journalism/Indiana Univ.) explores a remarkable decade in the life of a sometimes remarkable periodical. The author turns out a neat bit of literary history of the '60s, and a corporate history of Esquire at that time. It's all combined with a portrait of its influential editor, the late Harold Hayes. A serendipitous follow-up to Hugh Merrill's new narrative of the magazine's early years (p. 615), this text draws with great effect on diverse archives and the recollections of some of the important players to nail pivotal events of the epoch. Esquire's cheesecake days were over in the '60s; Esky had matured and gained a new attitude. The magazine strived for good writing and reportage rather than polemic, and more than occasionally, it was successful. Frequently, it was a literary circus. Happily, Polsgrove's book is not a simple exercise in nostalgia. It's a fond tale of the Fourth Estate--of the reporters and fiction writers (and those who mixed the two disciplines) under the tutelage of Hayes, who had succeeded founding editor Arnold Gingrich and was just as forceful in imprinting a distinctive personality on Esquire. It helped, of course, that there was a concatenation of events and writers. There was JFK, LBJ, and Vietnam; Nixon, Martin Luther King, and the Chicago police riot to write about. And there was John Sack, Garry Wills, and Gay Talese; Mailer, Baldwin, and Tom Wolfe to do the writing. Malcom Muggeridge and Dwight MacDonald dispensed their views. Diane Arbus contributed pictures. George Lois did the covers. Vidal had catfights with Buckley, Mailer quarreled with everyone. The circus ended in the new decade, as it had to, with the businessmen seizing control. No dubious achievement, but rather a welcome addition to the story of American magazine journalism.

Pub Date: Aug. 21st, 1995
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Norton