A memoir from someone who knew Reader’s Digest inside and out, including its legendary founder William “Wally” Roy DeWitt Wallace.
Veteran journalist Hubbell offers stories about the place where he happily worked for 40 years. Hubbell (born 1927) was a University of Minnesota journalism grad who, after a couple of false starts, submitted an article to the Reader’s Digest. They liked it, Wally hired him, and the rest is his career. It seems almost a charmed life, and he would surely admit as much. Hubbell wasn’t an editor for the Digest; instead, he wrote original investigative pieces and quickly made a name for himself with expertise in military and political matters. In these pages, one finds stories about tense moments in the Cold War, the Vietnam War, PGA highlights (Hubbell loved the game of golf), presidential quirks, Edward Teller and the strategic Defense Initiative, and also biographical stuff about Hubbell’s growing up, all of which forms an engaging picture of an ambitious young man’s rise. He seemed to know everyone who was anyone, especially because, as he repeatedly points out here, working for enormously popular Reader’s Digest provided ready access to those in power (particularly those who shared the Digest’s patriotic, establishmentarian take on things). Although there were some liberals at the Digest—the Vietnam War showed the fault lines—Hubbell was basically conservative, like Wally. Hubbell is almost idolatrous of Wally, and it is hard to fault him on that score: the man was a genial genius at what he did. Aside from a few typos, the narrative has a handful of awkward sentences: e.g., “We are at sea for perhaps an hour, and I am standing near the Skipper, who is standing on a slightly raised platform in the Control Room, near his periscope, which is not up.” Hubbell also doesn’t follow standard usage for periods, commas, and quotation marks, which might distract readers. Still, the story’s a good one. Wally died in 1981, and while he tried to protect the legacy of the Digest, gradually the managerial side won out over the editorial vision that had been true to Wally’s vision. Today, in and out of bankruptcy, Wally’s brainchild is on life support.
Love the magazine or not, Hubbell’s memoir deserves a read.