The Paris Review Daily

Arts & Culture

On ‘Holiday’

November 30, 2011 | by

Here’s how it begins. You are in a bookstore on the main drag of a small town. You walk along the mystery and western paperback sections, and then you see a wicker basket overflowing with Life magazines. You idly flip through the stack because you know Life was once an important cultural force but have never seen the magazine in person. The copies of Life are musty and torn, and in the middle of the heap you come across something called Holiday. It has the same heft as Life, more than a foot tall and surprisingly heavy, but in place of a black-and-white photograph on the cover there is a colorful swirling yellow illustration of the sun and the words “California Without Cliches.” The magazine is from 1965 and you think it would look good on your coffee table. Also the ads are campy and fun (“San Diego Is a See-Do Vacationland!”), so you buy the magazine—why not, it’s only a few bucks—and take it home. You turn on the TV and half watch Seinfeld as you flip through for the ads. Then you come upon “Notes from a Native Daughter,” the Joan Didion essay you read in college but don’t really remember. You read how California is only five hours from New York by jet but really that is just a delusion: “California is somewhere else.” Now you are somewhere else. Seinfeld ends and another Seinfeld begins and you read the entire essay and then discover a piece by Ray Bradbury, your old pal from high school English. You read his rhapsodic paean to Disneyland (“No beatniks here. No Cool people with Cool faces pretending not to care, thus swindling themselves out of life or any chance for life”), and you think that’s pretty good, too. You head back to the bookstore to see if they have any more issues of Holiday.

***

Whenever I mention to someone that I’ve started collecting old issues of Holiday, the excellent yet forgotten monthly travel magazine that was born after World War II and lived until the late seventies, the response generally falls between bafflement and irritation. “Why would you do that?” people ask, as though I’ve just admitted to hoarding old shoehorns or something truly sinister.

Holiday was composed of almost all long-form travel essays—it was not, like many modern travel magazines, list after list of where to eat, shop, and sleep. (There would be little point or pleasure in reading a 1957 Holiday if it were just about where to get the best goulash.) A handful of the pieces are dated, but, like the greatest travel writing, many are timeless. After all, plenty of people still read The Great Railway Bazaar and Travels with Charley, not to mention the roughly 150-year-old Innocents Abroad.

The most puzzling thing about the lost history of Holiday is that the magazine published so many famous writers: Joseph Heller, Irwin Shaw, Arthur C. Clarke, E. B. White, Arthur Miller, Gay Talese, Paul Bowles, Steinbeck, Saroyan, Kerouac, Cheever, O’Hara, Bellow, Thurber, Faulkner. It was in Holiday that Truman Capote declared that he lived in Brooklyn—by choice! On several occasions even Papa Hemingway appeared in the magazine, both as a writer and eventually (yikes) as a pitchman: “Ernest Hemingway says ... Pan American and I are old friends.” (Such advertisements, in fact, seem to be Holiday’s primary legacy: eBay sellers almost exclusively note the magazine’s “great vintage ads,” and it is not hard—yet still somewhat disheartening—to imagine someone cutting out a colorful ad for a long-retired cherry liqueur at the expense of a Mordecai Richler piece on the reverse side.)

But more than the essays by major writers, what I find most fascinating about Holiday is the articles by little-known, or totally unknown, authors. In my first issue of Holiday—purchased on eBay for an article I couldn’t find elsewhere, by the underappreciated Joseph Wechsberg—I came upon an essay by Romain Gary. There may be no more than two or three people who can recall this essay, and I say this not to boast of esoteric knowledge but because it’s a shame.

Gary’s essay, published in 1967, is a relatively straightforward travelogue about Guadeloupe, the southernmost archipelago in the Caribbean, but it ends with one of those anecdotes you find yourself recalling at odd intervals in the following days and weeks. As part of Gary’s trip he plans to visit an old Royal Air Force buddy from whom he hasn’t heard in twenty years. The friend, Moran, asks that Gary bring books on Judaism, specifically about bar mitzvahs. Gary agrees, though five months pass before he makes it to Moran’s house with the books. He arrives to discover that Moran is dead. He is met at the house by a Dominican priest holding a Hebrew book and teaching Moran’s son the rites of the bar mitzvah.

I turned back toward the dark faces in the candlelight and said nothing. A colored family in Guadeloupe and a white Catholic priest teaching them how to address the Lord on Sabbath eve according to the Law of Moses.

“Yes,” the Dominican said quietly, and nodded, as if reading my thoughts.

Perhaps because of my astonishment, I felt angry with myself and a bit ashamed. If there was a cause for surprise here, it lay only in the fact that a truly nice man is always something to be looked at in wonder.

We left the books and went away in the soft tropical night. My trip to Guadeloupe was over, and it was good to leave with the feeling that the sweetness and gentleness of this island could reach higher than its hills and deeper than its sea.

That’s when I started buying up copies of Holiday. There is something satisfying about discovering great literature that is virtually unknown; it’s a bit like the purpose of travel itself, answering the question, Well, what do we have here?

There are plenty of other lost masterpieces I’ve discovered in Holiday but to repeat too many would strain your patience. I will mention just one other that floored me.

In 1967, Welles Hangen, an NBC correspondent, visited the village of Ravensbrück, the former site of a women-only concentration camp north of Berlin. Hangen’s piece touches on a number of fascinating topics: East Germany’s attempt to memorialize the camp as a place where many Communist inmates were killed, to say nothing of Jews; the doctor Hertha Oberheuser, who performed unfathomable experiments on Ravensbrück inmates and who, after having served only a seven-year sentence (!), received a grant from the West German government (!!) and became a successful pediatrician (!!!); and the general weirdness, horror, and begrudging acceptance of living in a town where one hundred thousand people were murdered and where old bones are still discovered (“What would you think if you unexpectedly came across a pile of skeletons in your backyard?”). But then there’s a disturbing little historical detail I’d never read about before and which I find no reference to outside of this article. Hangen talks to a pharmacist’s helper who still lives in the town and used to smuggle medicine to the female inmates. Aside from medicine, says the woman, “I also sent the prisoners hair dye. The older women begged for it to darken the gray in their hair so they wouldn’t automatically be selected for the gas.”

Hangen himself came to an unfortunate end: three years after writing this piece he was captured in Cambodia while on assignment. His skeleton was discovered and identified two decades later.

Holiday is a testament to the fact that some things still manage to get lost in an age when almost everything is archived, or at least mentioned, online. As far as I can tell, no one seems to care much about the legacy of Holiday, and no archive exists. By now I own some forty copies of the magazine. I may be the archive.

Josh Lieberman lives in Brooklyn, New York. His last piece for the Daily was on the German musician Michael Rother.

41 COMMENTS

Next:

‹ Previous:

36 Comments

  1. Maria | November 30, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    What a beautiful magazine! It’s great to read about something you’re obviously so excited about.

  2. William Miller | November 30, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    Thanks for bringing this to light!

  3. em | November 30, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    Thank you for sparking a new obsession. I’m a writer, and after a lifetime of frequent travel (often under spontaneous and adventurous circumstances), and then working in the travel industry, this kind of writing has been calling to me recently. I just wrote a piece about sleeping in the Charles de Gaulle airport on a Saturday morning. And I want to write an experiential piece about a small town in South Africa and … the thing next to it. Modern travel writing is boring in comparison to these kinds of articles.

    And now, seems that reading and collecting issues of Holiday is a logical next-step in my evolution.

  4. k | November 30, 2011 at 8:44 pm

    I’m always pro nerd hoarding that doesn’t involve comic books or “action figures.”

  5. Mary L. Gillaspy | December 1, 2011 at 8:39 am

    How well I remember Holiday! The wonderful essays by Clifton Fadiman, glorious prose about exotic places in the world that I longed to visit, and articles I still remember, like “The Effete East.” I remember building my vocabulary in the pages of Holiday. Growing up in a rural area of northeast Texas in the 1950s, Holiday was a ticket to a different life. Keep building that archive!

  6. Sharanya Manivannan | December 2, 2011 at 3:22 am

    Incredible! What a treasure trove.

  7. Karen | December 2, 2011 at 7:20 am

    My grandmother gave me a subscription to Holiday magazine for Christmas when I was about 10 (I turned 10 in 1964). I loved it. I still remember articles on the Rinaldis and a Ronald Firbank-type story about a journalist visiting a retired equatorial explorer (now back home in England) who had brought back “the girl of his dreams” from the jungle, and it turns out to be a gorilla in a frock who is wiping her forehead and saying “If I live to be 100 I’ll never get used to this blasted climate”. I wish I could find out who wrote it. Anyway that was one of the best presents I ever got in my life.

  8. Lary Wallace | December 2, 2011 at 8:07 am

    I used to buy up old _Holiday_s too, but ended up getting rid of them because they were just taking up too much space. I was after them mainly for the Michael Herr articles anyway, and I’ve now read those many times and photocopied them from the Boston Public Library (where a complete cache is kept). But in the days when I used to regularly go through them, before I’d photocopied all the Herr out of them, I would often make serendipitous discoveries: Red Smith on his favorite brand of booze, Jack Kerouac on riding the rails, Burton Hersh (another sadly neglected relic) on travel generally, and even some cultural criticism (like a terrific think piece on Lenny Bruce). Herr’s famous Fort Dix piece appeared there, and so did some of his less famous but just-about-equally interesting pieces: on an Amazon snake-handler, on Cambodian brothels, on the ’68 Expo, on Greenwich Village, etc. Yep, _Holiday_ magazine–that was a great one. Good to see it’s not entirely forgotten. We could really use a magazine like that now.

  9. Alissa Clough | December 2, 2011 at 12:49 pm

    Look for Alfred Bester. He was a great science fiction writer with an unique ear for language.

  10. Fracas Levelhead | December 2, 2011 at 6:41 pm

    This is a fantastic article. Thanks for sharing! Reminds me of a story that I read in Holiday about a surly boat captain named Robbie Bo. I still haven’t found a copy of that article though.

  11. Rita Mukherjee | December 2, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    You have whetted my appetite for HOLIDAY. I loved reading the article as much as you enjoyed telling about the magazine.

  12. Facebook Fans | December 4, 2011 at 4:06 pm

    Love it!!!. Brilliant Post

  13. James Scott Linville | December 5, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    What a lovely piece, and just as I’m reading Robert Byron’s “The Road to Oxiana.” Thanks.

  14. Charles Ward | December 6, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    My parents had a subscription to Holiday when I was about 11. I still remember a mid-1960s all-illustrations “Rake’s Progress” sort of article by Ronald Searle, about a businessman’s descent through the fleshpots of Hamburg. In the last panel, the man is discarded in a trashcan, oblivious and fleeced, as a trio of streetgirls go through his wallet. Not your usual travelogue!

    I also collect old magazines, by the way.

  15. Kristin | December 8, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    I collect vintage copies of Holiday too! My favorite issue is from 1957, the cover story, India – only 10 years old at the time as a democracy.

  16. Claire | December 8, 2011 at 8:30 pm

    Great piece! You should check out AFAR, a new travel magazine that runs long-form stories—and isn’t list after list of where to shop, eat, and sleep.

  17. Erica Heller | December 9, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    My father was the author Joseph Heller. Holiday hired him in 1966 to revisit the places where he had been during WWII 9and wrote about in “Catch-22.” We had a sensational summer in Italy and he wrote an amazing cover story.

  18. Thomas Swick | December 14, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    You can sometimes find, in those same used bookstores, the anthology “Ten Years of Holiday” published in 1956. It includes a part of E.B. White’s classic essay “Here Is New York,” which many people think appeared in The New Yorker. Similarly, people assume that Holiday was published in New York, while it was one of the jewels of the Curtis Publishing Co. in Philadelphia. I called it “the great travel magazine of the mid-20th Century” in my recent essay “Are Travel Writers the New Poets?” which can be found at http://www.worldhum.com. These days it looks as though it will be the great travel magazine in the history of American publishing.

  19. Facebook Likes | December 22, 2011 at 6:22 am

    Any ideas where I can get hold of these old copies of “Holiday Magazine”? Will check out e Bay etc

  20. Erika Doss | January 1, 2012 at 2:26 pm

    Nice piece, thanks. Don’t overlook the photographers who did pieces for Holiday, including Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson, both of whom published photo-essays in the early days of the magazine.

  21. LINDA LOCKART | January 12, 2012 at 9:38 pm

    I have some 1957 issues of Holiday magazine that I would like to sell.

    Can anyone give me some contacts, or
    send my email to those that indicated interest in Josh Lieberman’s post?

  22. Matt Jones | February 17, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    At last! Via Josh’s enthusiasm for HOLIDAY mag I’ve found some like-minded fans of the defunct publication. I curate the Ronald Searle Tribute blog

    http://ronaldsearle.blogspot.com/2007/10/magazine-illustration-part-2-holiday.html

    Back in the UK it used to cost a fortune to get Holiday shipped over due to the sheer weight of multiple issues but now I live in California and they’re much more accessible.

  23. Carol B | February 29, 2012 at 2:59 pm

    I worked for Holiday in the 1970s — long after its heyday and after Curtis Publishing was sold and moved from Philadelphia. The archives moved with the rest of the publishing company and we occasionally got to root through boxes to find letters, manuscripts, and illustrations from the literary lights of the 20th century. Many writers and photographers continued to publish in Holiday after the move and editor in chief Kathryn Klassen tried her very best to uphold the grand traditions of the magazine in its albeit smaller format. I’m delighted to know that there are people out there who love the old Holiday.

  24. Brent Gunsalus | April 19, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    I too grew up with Holiday, and recall it as a door to another world of sophistication and erudition far beyond my suburban 1960′s childhood. A few years ago, I rediscovered an old copy and since then have been buying them whenever I can. I now have more than a hundred issues going back to the first, including bound copies of most years from the mid 50′s to the mid 60′s. It’s still a trip, to another world, but now it is more of a delightful time machine.

  25. Cherie Nutting | May 27, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    My father Philip Nutting, was advertising manager of Holiday New England,from the 1940s until the 1970s.In 1948 he was “Holiday Man of the Year” I have wonderful memories and photos of the ad men during this Holiday era. It is wonderful to see something on the net about the magazine. It is sad that they do not have the magazine more covered however. Cherie Nutting

  26. Cherie Nutting | May 27, 2012 at 8:14 pm

    My father Philip Nutting was N.E. Advertising manager of Holiday Magazine from the 1940s to 1970s.
    He was”Holiday Man of the Year” 1948.
    I grew up with these people during a magical moment in advertising and travel history and I have beautiful photos of that time.I see so little on the internet about the magazine in the
    ad men involved. It was an important time in US history.Cherie

  27. Cherie Nutting | May 27, 2012 at 8:15 pm

    oops I thought it did not go through….sorry for the repeat.Cherie

  28. Rachel Jeffer | December 5, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    We have a collection of Holiday magazines from 1946 – 1977. We are thinking of donating them to a library, but would consider selling them, but we want to keep the collection intact. Glad to hear of another Holiday enthusiast!

  29. free dating sites | February 9, 2013 at 12:16 am

    You should check out AFAR, a new travel magazine that runs long-form stories—and isn’t list after list of where to shop, eat, and sleep.

  30. PakHostia | September 30, 2013 at 6:50 am

    It is awesome reading about Holiday. Paris is the dream city I always want to go there. Let see when will my travel start for Paris.

  31. Hank Fesler | November 9, 2013 at 9:08 am

    I just found a huge stack of them in good condition at the recycling center. It is remarkable how many outstanding writers were in those pages. The graphics for the cover designs were excellent. People read more in those days, generally. Even advertising included a written story as well as a visual one.

  32. Hank Fesler | November 9, 2013 at 9:11 am

    I just found a huge stack of them in good condition at the recycling center. It is remarkable how many outstanding writers were in those pages. The graphics for the cover designs were excellent. People read more in those days, generally. Even advertising included a written story as well as a visual one. I mean, come on: I am looking at a random issue. Who’s in it? Sandburg, Algren, Kupcinet, Capa, Beebe, etc. Incredible!

  33. anais jouin | November 29, 2013 at 11:39 am

    hello,

    I’m doing research on the magazine Holiday and would like to know if you can help me find out when the first issue went out exactly? I think it’s either january 1946 or april 1946 but I’m not quite sure.
    Also, do you know what is the last issue? In terms of volume and number but also the date of it?

    If you could help me with those questions it would be great.

    Thanks a lot,
    Best,

    Anais Jouin

  34. Justin Alvarez | November 29, 2013 at 5:09 pm

    Hi Anais,

    Here is a great resource for any Holiday-related questions: http://holidaymag.wordpress.com/.

  35. D. T. DeBerry | January 25, 2014 at 9:51 pm

    I just received a set of Holiday magazines, beautifully bound in 6 month increments from a library archive that was clearing out its bound periodicals. The issues begin in mid 1947 and run through the 70′s. Enjoying reading these facinating volumes, so well preserved and bound so elegantly.

  36. Josh Eisenfeld | March 21, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    Josh,

    Please contact me. I am looking for a specific holiday magazine article about Hope Town, Abacos, Bahamas and I could use your help. Please please try to help or send me to someone who can.

    Thank you,

    Josh Eisenfeld

5 Pingbacks

  1. [...] good, too. You head back to the bookstore to see if they have any more issues of Holiday.” (The Paris Review) Related posts: » No related posts This entry was posted on Friday, December 2nd, 2011 at 1:30 [...]

  2. [...] “On Holiday” from the Paris Review [...]

  3. [...] by this lovely piece and Eric’s gallery picture which speaks to [...]

  4. [...] Holiday was composed of almost all long-form travel essays—it was not, like many modern travel magazines, list after list of where to eat, shop, and sleep. Holiday also published so many famous writers: Joseph Heller, Irwin Shaw, Arthur C. Clarke, E. B. White, Arthur Miller, Gay Talese, Paul Bowles, Steinbeck, Saroyan, Kerouac, Cheever, O’Hara, Bellow, Thurber, Faulkner. It was in Holiday that Truman Capote declared that he lived in Brooklyn—by choice! Tweet Subject: Periodicals, Travel       [...]

  5. [...] after discovering Holiday magazine. (I won’t go on about the glories of that magazine, though I have before.) Travel writing was not something I’d ever sought out, or figured I’d had an interest [...]

Leave a Comment