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Fleur’s Flair

January 20, 2015 | by

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Flair‘s first issue.

Flair Magazine existed for only one year and twelve issues, from February 1950 to January 1951. In that time, it published the likes of Jean Cocteau, Tennessee Williams, Simone de Beauvoir, Gloria Swanson, John O’Hara, Eleanor Roosevelt, Bernard Baruch, Gypsy Rose Lee, the Duchess of Windsor, Lucien Freud, Salvador Dalí, Colette, and Saul Steinberg, among others.

Fleur Cowles—who conceived of the magazine, edited it, and, perhaps most impressive, persuaded her husband to publish it, even when it meant losing his shirt, if not his whole wardrobe—would be 107 today. If that seems like a throwaway detail, bear in mind that she lived until she was 101. It’s maybe best to let her describe her own accomplishments:

Few women have lived more multiple lives than I have: as editor: as that anomaly, an American president’s personal representative, decorated by six governments; as a writer of thirteen books and contributor to six others; as a painter, with fifty-one one-man exhibitions throughout the world; patron of the arts and sciences, irrepressible traveller and, more importantly, friend-gatherer …

Fond as she was of bragging about her gifts as a friend, or even merely as a “friend-gatherer,” her most enduring creation is Flair, a beautiful, high-minded cataclysm of a magazine that incorporated “cutouts, fold-outs, pop-ups, removable reproductions of artworks and a variety of paper stocks of different sizes and textures”:

[Flair] was simply too expensive to produce … When Flair ceased publication, Mr. Cowles, who had financed it, estimated that it had lost $2.5 million … A spring issue featured the rose, a flower Ms. Cowles painted and extolled until her death. The issue was suffused with a rose fragrance, some four decades before scent strips became ubiquitous.

All this comes from Cowles’s New York Times obit, which is a work of art itself: “Fleur Cowles, 101, Is Dead; Friend of the Elite and the Editor of a Magazine for Them.” Take a step back and you can see the splotch of animus on that headline—“a Magazine for Them.” That’s what Flair was: their magazine. Never yours. It was designed to appear tantalizingly out of reach. That’s a commonplace these days, when every publication aspires to be “aspirational,” but Flair, with its peephole covers and almost farcically high production values, may have done more to further the concept than any other American magazine in history. Copies of The Best of Flair, a 1996 compilation, sold for $250 apiece. And is it any wonder? Just look at the covers: Read More »

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First Person

The Not-so-open Road

January 20, 2015 | by

Hoarding books across the country.

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Photo: Frank Kovalchek, via Flickr

Fourteen years ago, my mom bought herself a Volkswagen Jetta, and this Christmas she passed it on to me. My girlfriend Sheena and I did what anyone would: we packed our bags and set a course for Iowa.

What I mean is that we took an old-fashioned road trip, from Minneapolis to San Francisco, and Iowa City was our first port of call. If Sheena and I had set out in the summer we might have shot straight west into South Dakota and beyond, but in winter our rusting station wagon seemed about as likely to make it through the Rockies as to successfully invade Russia. Instead, we drove south through Iowa, Missouri, and Oklahoma, in search of warmer climes and easier roads. People sometimes complain that the Midwest is too flat, but that quality has its consolations. Mountains, like high heels, are attractive but impractical—especially in the snow. Read More »

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From the Archive

Vegetable-snake Undersea Beings: A Belated Correction

January 20, 2015 | by

Ginsberg in May 1965. Photo: Engramma.it

When The Paris Review interviewed Allen Ginsberg for our Spring 1966 issue, he expressed a sense of conflict about hallucinogens. He treasured their effects on consciousness—“you get some states of consciousness that subjectively seem to be cosmic-ecstatic, or cosmic-demonic”—but his body was having trouble tolerating them. “I can’t stand them anymore,” he said, “because something happened to me with them … After about thirty times, thirty-five times, I began getting monster vibrations again. So I couldn’t go any further. I may later on again, if I feel more reassurance.”

Thomas Clark conducted that interview in June 1965; the issue was on newsstands the following spring. A year later, though, in June 1966, Ginsberg sent The Paris Review the following letter, which recently resurfaced in our archives: Read More »

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Our Daily Correspondent

Something Nasty

January 20, 2015 | by

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Johnny Depp in a poster for Mortdecai.

Lately, posters for the film Mortdecai have been popping up everywhere. They feature Johnny Depp and a battalion of costars extravagantly mustachioed and looking wacky. Oh, great, I thought. More of Johnny Depp pretending to be a character actor. That’s what the world needed. Maybe in six months if I’ve seen everything else on a plane and the movies are free.

The posters were designed to intrigue, but I can’t imagine they piqued much curiosity. But of course someone, eventually, had to ask, What the Hell Is Mortdecai?, and in a weak moment, I clicked on the link. And of course, then it all made sense—kind of. The new movie is an adaptation of the Mortdecai series by Kyril Bonfiglioli. The spelling is the same, of course, but it was still hard to believe—these lighthearted posters just bear so little resemblance to the tone of the books, and the preview roams even further.

It’s true, the books are technically wacky. Here’s how Leo Carey described them in The New Yorker when the series was reissued in 2004: Read More »

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On the Shelf

He Was Always Right, and Other News

January 20, 2015 | by

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James Rosenquist, Floating to the Top, 1964. Courtesy VAGA New York and Paul Kasmin Gallery.

  • Merriam-Webster has undertaken a daunting project: they’re publishing a new edition of their unabridged dictionary, which hasn’t seen a major overhaul since 1961. Their employees are already hard at work: “Emily Brewster has produced anywhere from five to twenty-five definitions a week. Twerking is ready, she tells me in December. Nutjob (which dates to 1959) and minorly are good to go. Jeggings is, too. The new sense of trolling looks promising, she says, ‘but first I have to finish hot mess.’ Brewster is very excited about hot mess. Thanks to Google Books, she found it in a machinists union trade journal from 1899: ‘If the newspaper says the sky is painted with green chalk that is what goes. Verily, I say unto you, the public is a hot mess.’ ”
  • In 1969, the curator Henry Geldzahler convinced the Met to host “New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940–1970,” a show so vast and intensely contemporary that it remains a watershed—so why not just do the whole thing again? “Henry had a fantastic eye. He wasn’t wrong about anything. He was always right.”
  • A mother from an affluent Texas town would strongly prefer her children to read Ayn Rand in school, not The Working Poor, David K. Shipler’s book about poverty. In other news, Oxfam announced yesterday that 1 percent of the global population holds half the world’s wealth.
  • George Steinmetz traveled by helicopter to take these aerial photographs of New York in winter. He and his pilot “frequently flew so low that they passed in between buildings, with Steinmetz and his camera hanging out of the open door.”
  • Remembering Alice K. Turner, who was Playboy’s fiction editor for two decades. “Fiction is kind of a nuisance,” she once said. “The ad sales guys don’t see the point. They would cut it out if they could, except for the fact that it adds a certain respectability … Playboy stories have beginnings, middles, and ends. They have a kind of general appeal. They are not experimental. They are not terribly modern or forward-reaching but they have real quality, or so I hope.”

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Arts & Culture

Damn the Absolute

January 19, 2015 | by

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William James, left, and Josiah Royce in New Hampshire, September 1903. When James heard the click of the shutter, he shouted, “Royce, you're being photographed! Look out! I say, Damn the Absolute!”

A letter from William James to his publisher Henry Holt, sent from Cambridge, Massachusetts, on January 19, 1896.

MY DEAR HOLT,—At the risk of displeasing you, I think I won’t have my photograph taken, even at no cost to myself. I abhor this hawking about of everybody’s phiz which is growing on every hand, and don’t see why having written a book should expose one to it. I am sorry that you should have succumbed to the supposed trade necessity. In any case, I will stand on my rights as a free man. You may kill me, but you shan’t publish my photograph. Put a blank “thumbnail” in its place. Very very sorry to displease a man whom I love so much. Always lovingly yours,

WM. JAMES.

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