It arrived in the mail a couple of weeks ago but because I was pushing through to finish a novel, I let it sit there like an unwrapped gift. Finally, I got to it: The 1,000th issue of Esquire.
Wow. Totally worth the wait.
For a loyal reader like me, it was a treat in every conceivable way, much like a greatest hits collection of a favorite musician or band. Even the way it was organized — an encyclopedic A to Z approach, where each letter of the alphabet had two or three entries — was appealing.
The editors guided you from the present to the recent past to the origins of the magazine and all the way back again, with selections of not only the finest writing, memorable interviews and short profiles but also quick takes featuring the unsung guys behind the scenes who contributed mightily to the magazine’s look over the decades.
Here I’m talking about Carl Fischer, the photographer who created Esquire’s most famous covers, including menacing Sonny Liston as Santa Claus and an impaled Muhammad Ali, pierced with arrows like a martyr after being stripped of his title because he refused to go into the Army.
I’m also talking about E. Simms Campbell, “the Jackie Robinson of magazine illustration,” who broke the color line just like the famous baseball player did when he became the first black artist to contribute regularly to a mainstream American magazine, starting with the debut issue in 1933.
But, of course, there’s much, much more, touching on athletes, actors, presidents and writing legends Hemingway, Mailer, Talese, Baldwin and Wolfe. There are profiles of contemporaries like Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and war correspondent C.J. Chivers; smart features like 49 (not 50) sentences of great fiction; and the 11 men (and one woman) of our time who stand out “for having not just interested us but affected us.”
Who are those 11? Here are a few: Clinton, Obama, Clooney, Nicholson, Ali … and Woody Allen. Would it surprise you to know that “America’s great filmmaker, bar none” has been on the cover six times, beginning in 1964, and a regular subject of stories, most recently in 2013? That’s nearly 50 years.
Would it surprise you to learn that John F. Kennedy also was featured on six covers, most recently in 2010? And that he was the subject of a fresh essay reflecting on the “casual elegance” and “photogenic command” that forever transformed the way we elect our candidates? On image more than substance.
I know I’m gushing, but let me offer a handful (no, two handfuls) of nuggets to give you a taste of this commemorative issue. Call ’em George’s Gems:
— David Granger on James Baldwin: Today, when videos surface weekly of deadly encounters between white policemen and black citizens, Baldwin’s writing from the early 1960s can seem strikingly of the moment: “There are few things under heaven more unnerving,” he wrote of the police in “Fifth Avenue, Uptown,” “than the silent, accumulating contempt and hatred of a people.”
— Tom Junod on Mark Zuckerberg: It is hard to decide whether Mark Zuckerberg is the most interesting boring person in the world or the most boring interesting one. He’s important, yes — undeniably so….But what would Mark do if Facebook didn’t exist?
— Truman Capote, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” (1958): He was a middle-aged child who had never shed its baby fit, though some gifted tailor had almost succeeded in camoflaging his plump and spankable bottom.”
— Tennessee Williams, “Tent Worms” (1980): She made herself a thermos of Tom Collinses and she drank them all afternoon while her husband attacked the insects with his paper torches.
— Internet, The: A parallel universe of information that has dissolved all meaningful communication into an undifferentiated mass of content.
— Steven Marche on John F. Kennedy: In 1960, Norman Mailer described JFK as the first “hipster candidate” and recognized, with a mixture of hope and trepidation, the birth of a new type of politics revolving around his appearance.
— On Manhood, A Brief History of Recent: Barack Obama makes the world seem blazingly new for a minute, and then the Great Recession falls on working Americans like a wet circus tent.
Also: Michael Jackson moonwalks. Sally Ride crashes the boys’ club. The Cosby Show debuts. … Bill Fucking Buckner. Gary Hart gets caught, loses. Michael Dukakis rides in a tank. George H.W. Bush, kinder and gentler, becomes president.
— Michael Paterniti on Thurman Munson (1999): I give you Thurman Munson in the eighth inning of a meaningless baseball game, in a half-empty stadium in a bad Yankee year during a fourteen-season Yankee drought, and Thurman Munson is running, arms pumping, busting his way from second to third like he’s taking Omaha Beach, sliding down in a cloud of luminous Saharan dust, then up on two feet, clapping his hands, turtling his head once around, spitting diamonds of saliva. Safe.
— Nora Ephron on Donald Trump (1989): He wants to be famous. He wants people to talk about him. He wants people to notice him. He wants people to write about him. He wants people to ask him for autographs and recognize him and invade his privacy…
— Bill Clinton, asked who or what comes to mind as “the people who have defined our time.”: Well, as a baby boomer, it’s the people who led the great movements to try to make America a more just place, a better place. The civil-rights movement, the women’s-rights movement, the gay-rights movement, and the environmental movement. The idea that the world is going to have to become more accepting of diversity — and the people who don’t agree, ISIS.
— Luke Dittrich on the Joplin, Missouri tornado (2011): The tornado stretches twenty thousand feet to the sky. It is three-quarters of a mile wide. It is not empty.
It is carrying two-by-fours and drywall and automobiles.
It is carrying baseball cards, laptop computers and family photo albums.
It is carrying people, as naked as newborns, their clothes stripped away like tissue paper.
It is carrying fragments of the Walmart where Carl and Jennifer met, of the church where Donna worships, of three of the nursing homes where Lacey works.
It has traveled six miles through the city, and now it is carrying a great deal of the city within itself.