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Posts Tagged ‘the fifties’

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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Make It

December 3, 2014 | by

“More Than a Hundred Things for Boys and Girls to Make and Do.”

Here’s a gift idea for you, suitable for children and arrested adults—which is to say, a large part of your Christmas list. Go online at once and buy several copies of McCall’s Giant Golden Make-it Book.

Until recently, I had totally forgotten about the Giant Golden Make-it Book, but I ran across a copy at a used bookstore and immediately realized how well it’s held up. Simply put, no modern activity book can compare. It’s truly giant, and really comprehensive, but like the same-vintage Betty Crocker’s Cookbook for Boys and Girls, it’s as much about the illustrations as the ideas. A smart publisher has seen fit to reissue the latter; McCall’s really needs to do likewise.

There’s everything you might hope for—games and homemade costumes and simple recipes and easy knitting instruction and theme parties—but also a lot of things that never occurred to you. Dutch painting! Soap carving! Elementary flower arranging!  Read More »

A Gadget for Lonely Hearts, and Other News

May 21, 2014 | by

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From “Slot Machine Sweethearts,“ in the May 1, 1955 issue of American Weekly; image via Gizmodo

  • Yesterday Dracula’s castle was for sale; today it’s Ray Bradbury’s house in Los Angeles, which is on the market for a comparatively reasonable $1.5 million. “His three-bedroom, 2,500-square-foot house, built in 1937, is painted a cheery yellow. It has three bathrooms, hardwood floors, and sits on a generously sized 9,500-square-foot lot.” This concludes today’s edition of Literary Real Estate.
  • The history of Red Lobster, which was recently sold to a capital equity group by its parent company, tells a hopeful but ultimately tragic tale of casual dining in postwar America.
  • The short story is “having a moment,” even in the UK: “In Britain we don’t have a culture of literary magazines that routinely publish short fiction. There are dozens in the US and this has helped the form to flourish.”
  • Curious new archeological discoveries in the British Virgin Islands: a witch’s bottle and some iron ammunition “magically used to stop violence.” Whether or not it succeeded is another story.
  • The 1955 equivalent of online dating: “Women would approach a machine that looked a bit like an old-school automat. The machine had photos of different men, each with a short description. She would put her coins in a slot and out would pop a more detailed note, describing just what kind of guy her potential suitor was. The woman would then take her letter to a love-agent who was able to make an introduction.”

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