I was going great guns back in the Spring. I thought I'd be churning out reviews all year long. But two things got in the way. 1. Summer. And 2. Esquire. During this lag, we lost both Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. It's a whole new world out there but let's head back to 1965 to see what the old world was like.
According to the Hearst website, “Esquire was founded in 1933, as a men’s apparel trade magazine with exclusive distribution through haberdashery stores. By the 1940s, the magazine had broadened its focus and increased in popularity, due in large part to the famous Varga Girl covers.” These led to the US Postmaster General bringing charges against the magazine for using the Postal Service for promoting “lewd images,” a suit that went to the Supreme Court who ruled that Esquire’s right to use the Post Office was protected by the 1st Amendment.
Billed as “the Magazine for Men,” Esquire was also an important platform for writers such as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald and later Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe, and Terry Southern. According to Hearst again, “As the only general-interest lifestyle magazine for sophisticated men, Esquire defines, reflects and celebrates what it means to be a man in contemporary American culture. Required reading for the man who is intellectually curious and socially aware, Esquire speaks to the scope and diversity of his passions with spirited storytelling, superb style and a tonic splash of irreverent humor.”
Esquire is clearly high on itself. At the time of our issue, September 1965, it bathed in its own sophistication, fashion, and forward-thinking but it doesn’t seem to see the oncoming rejection of much of its values in the rapidly-approaching counter-culture.
Also at this time, it was a very large 10” by 13” size (it didn’t reduce to 8 ½” by 11” until 1971); square bound and very heavy as magazines go. I can’t imagine holding the thing up and reading it in the subway.
I was looking back at some of my early non-Spidey issue reviews (like Strange Tales (Vol. 1) #115 and Fantastic Four (Vol. 1) #21) and I had forgotten how short they were. Somehow I got into this pattern of making all of the reviews as long as the Spidey-title reviews. That was never the intent and I’m going to dial it back a bit, if you don’t mind, starting with this issue. I’ll pick out some nice nuggets along the way to the main article under discussion but, by the time we are done, you won’t feel like you’ve read the whole magazine. I hope.
So, let’s begin with the cover. It gives us a collage of four faces. They are, according to the cover copy, “4 of the 28 who count most with the college rebels.” These four are, clockwise from top left, Bob Dylan (#1), Malcolm X (#2), John F. Kennedy (#4) and Fidel Castro (#3). Who are the other 24? Ah, that’s why we’re here, isn’t it?
This issue is also billed as the “Back to College Issue.” This issue looks to me like it is already behind the times but a 70 year old friend of mine assures me that 1965 was very different on campus than 1968, at least fashionwise. Even so, the advertisers seem to be gearing toward the “Mad Men” of the time, not the college student. The inside front cover has a Miller High Life ad that looks like a parody of the Middle America Picnicking Good Life. Before we even hit the contents page, there are ads for Cole-Haan shoes and London Fog macs. This is not what I’d spotlight in a “college” issue of the mid-60s, but then, what do I know? The Columbia Record Club has a two-page ad that features a “Hootenanny” section, which is where you’ll find Bob Dylan. The Pop is Sinatra and Andy Williams and Jerry Vale.
On the “Publisher’s Page,” Arnold Gingrich writes that they polled students and found that “Esquire is a dress rehearsal for the real world outside.” Maybe so, but I still can’t believe that means that they’d be interested in “The Subtle emanations of the Noblest Grape.”
You have to plow through 80 pages of lead-off features before you get to the meat of the issue. Along the way, you’ll encounter “What’s in on Campus for ’65?” which tells us “Comic books are IN with the OUT crowd and the Innermost of the IN crowd. Batman and Wonder Woman have the edge over Superman. Dick Tracy has a permanently carved niche in the Hall of Comic Heroes. Snowflake Falls, Diet Smith, and Gravel Gertie are current favorites.” Also “The IN but not too INteresting shirt is the standard white button-down preferably in a cotton polyester blend, incorporating shaped styling. Farther OUT are tab collars, regular collars and long pointed collars in about that order.” Good to know.
Want proof of how much times have changed? This is an actual quote from Dwight MacDonald’s review of the film “Cat Ballou.” “What saves Cat Ballou is, or are, Lee Marvin and Jane Fonda. The latter’s assets are, here at least, mostly physical, like Brigitte Bardot’s, of whom she is a fresher, more clean-cut American version: long legs, high bosom, slim waist, trim bottom, crisply pretty face.” The article is bracketed by ads for Crompton Corduroy jackets, Sir after shave lotion, and J&B scotch.
Let’s jump ahead to Cal Kid, a four-page comic written by David Newman and Robert Benton (co-screenwriters of “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Superman,” and more) and drawn by Chic Stone. Cal Kid decides to transfer to a west coast college from the Midwest because he keeps hearing that California schools are filled with “Riot! Revolution! Change!” but he immediately runs into trouble when he finds that he is one of 87,000 students trying to get into Poli Sci I which has a limit of 725 students. #63,459 has had enough of waiting and swears loudly. He is suspended for his obscenities and a fight breaks out, landing Cal and #63,459 in jail. After they get out, Cal wants to “have a bull session” at the “beer hall.” #63,459 tells Cal, “Kid, if you want to be an activist, you’d better forget all that stuff! This is Vietnam, man, only worse!” He takes Cal for a ride in his very “swell” Jaguar. “I can hardly wait to tackle the real issue of our time, the sexual revolution,” says Cal. “It’s over!” says #63,459. “The Beat Generation!’ “Dead!” “Legalizing pot!” “It’s legal!” “Drinking!” “Who drinks?” “Lord of the Flies!” “Stupid!” “Cheating!” “Forget it!” #63,459 tells Cal that the enemy is the University. “They think they can buy us with bowling alleys and Kurosawa film festivals!” Cal suggests joining the student government! “Sandbox politics, Kid!” says #63,459, “Stay away from groups! Us Maoists prefer direct action even if we have to be nice to an occasional Trotskyite to get what we want!” Later, Cal attends a meeting where he is told, "It's cute to have an actual student in our student protest group!" He expresses interest in a woman dressed like Daisy Mae from Lil Abner but she is involved with someone else. As are all the other women in whom he is interested. It fizzles from there. The group attends a protest but not the "administration approved riot." Cal gets arrested and expelled. "Now I feel like a real college student!" he says. And the Daisy Mae lookalike now wants him to move in with her. For the life of me, I can't tell whether this comic is on the side of the students or against them but I suspect it's the latter. Or rather against the non-students hanging out on the campus, like Cal Kid now is. Either way, the comic has that uncomfortable feeling of the establishment ridiculing the young for being opposed to the establishment.
As if to underline the point, Letter From the Berkeley Underground purports to be a chronicle of the sponging, slovenly former students that live around the campus area. It is supposed to have been written by one of those drop-outs but has a taste of phoniness about it. Two Chic Stone illustrations accompany it; one entitled "Underground Student Glomming a Free Lecture in a College Class Room," and the other "Underground Student Glomming a Free Meal in a College Dining Hall." In both, the Underground member is berated by actual students who resent him.
The New Fraternity, when you boil it down, essentially mocks Students for a Democratic Society, The W.E.B. DuBois Clubs of America and other radical student organizations. It becomes increasingly clear that the "Back to College Issue" is not intended for college students.
Because it's Esquire and it's 1965 there has to be a photo feature of attractive women. Townies is subtitled, "What else has California got? A quarter of off-campus cuties who make higher education the dream of every red-blooded American dropout." Nuff said.
Stealing Their Way Through College is an article about the proliferation of student shoplifters. In case you forgot that the Back to College issue is not intended for college students.
And now, at last, 28 People Who Count which purports to be "the heroes of the California rebels (and as Cal goes, so goes the rest)." I'm starting to get the feeling that the only college they checked in on was Cal. You already know the first four from the cover. Who are the rest? 5. Mario Savio (Berkeley Free Speech Movement), 6. Terry Southern 7. Ralph Ginzberg ("Because they are trying to put him in jail for obscenity.") 8. Paul Goodman 9. Paul Tillich (theologian) 10. Bishop James A. Pike 11. Norbert Weiner (author of "Cybernetics: Or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine") 12. Caryl Chessman 13. Bob Parris Moses (leader of SNCC) 14. BF Skinner 15. Mike Myerson (president of SLATE) 16. The Rand Corporation ("Because of 'Game Theory'") 17. The Vietcong 18. Fannie Lou Hamer (co-founder of the Freedom Democratic Party) 19. Nikolai Lenin 20. Chuck Berry 21. Shirley Ellis 22. Stanley Kubrick 23. Francois Truffaut 24. Joan Baez 25. James Bond 26. Norman Mailer and then the last two...27. The Hulk ("Because he's a brilliant nuclear scientist turned into a ghastly monster by radiation. As a scientist, he devotes himself to the cause of peace; as a monster, he does what he can to be abhorrent to humanity.) And 28. Spider-Man ("Because he's a fink kid with a fantastic power (ability to climb the sides of buildings and trap people in webs) which can be translated into figurative fantasies.") A very strange and interesting list. (Why 28? Is there significance to that number? Why not 30?) But, really, the description of Spider-Man is as insulting as the articles about the Berkley Underground.
Is there any need to go on? There's an article that purports to be "The Apotheosis of the Practical Joke" performed by Caltech students but none of the examples seem all that exciting. There's an article by John Updike about a college friend who became "not merely a god but God;' a memoir by Heinrich Boll about being in the German army in the last days of World War II; a cool little piece by Isaac Asimov, using what we know of Mars to construct a Martian that could actually live there. There's a feature on wine, a fashion section for men, three New Yorker-type cartoons (one that I don't get and two that I don't find funny) and, yes, much much more.
The Esquire of the 1960s seems endless and unwieldy with tiny print and heavy pages and I can't imagine getting this monster once a month and trying to read it cover to cover. It has a slightly-superior attitude that I find annoying and while this issue has some articles worth reading (particularly the Asimov one), it is weighed down by its view of the college scene as being filled with slackers and troublemakers who, no doubt, don't deserve any better because they just dress so poorly. I give Esquire credit for recognizing Spidey's appeal among more than just children all the way back in 1965 but they lose points for calling the web-slinger "a fink kid."
One web for the Spidey content, three webs for the whole issue and five webs for the collectible factor. Call the whole thing three webs.
I'm going to have to recharge my batteries before I tackle the other Esquire issue that I missed. In the meantime, let's get back to ASM #62 as we "Make Way for Medusa!"