Each year, on the last Wednesday in January, the Magazine Publishers of America play host to the Henry Johnson Fisher dinner–the magazine world’s once-a-year black tie and black dress get together. At the Waldorf gathering, a Lifetime Achievement Award is given to a publisher and to an editor. The Publisher receives the Henry Johnson Fisher award; the editor is inducted into the American Society of Magazine Editors’ Hall of Fame. On Wednesday night, Cathleen Black, the attractive, ebullient president of Hearst’s magazine division, won the publisher’s award; National Review’s William F. Buckley, Jr. received the editor’s.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have to confess that I once won the Henry Johnson Fisher Award; and, to be honest, the award seems to be given, in turn, to someone from each of the major magazine publishers–they all know who won it the year before, and whom it should go to next.
In contrast, as Mark Whitaker, the editor of Newsweek (and current head of the American Society of Magazine Editors), shared with the gathering, when Bill Buckley was told he was to receive this year’s award, he said thank you, “but then confessed he had never heard of it and the editors’ hall of fame.”
Other past Hall of Famers include Clay Felker, who started New York magazine, Helen Gurley Brown, and Hugh Hefner. “But having an Editors’ Hall of Fame without William Buckley,” Whitaker said, “is like having a Baseball Hall of Fame without Ted Williams.”
Bill Buckley’s reaction was unusual. Cathie, whom the Financial Times has called “The First Lady of American Magazines,” is the more typical MPA winner. She certainly seemed to know the drill: Her award was presented by Patricia Carbine, who had been the first publisher of Ms., the publication where Cathie started out as ad director. Cathie has also been the publisher of New York magazine, president of USA Today, and head of the Newspaper Association of America. She is a terrific at selling and a very popular and successful media executive, who has been at the helm of Hearst’s magazine empire for ten years. The launching of O, The Oprah Magazine is probably her biggest recent success.
Cathie’s acceptance speech was preceded by a slick Hearst-made video, full of clever typography and bouncing photos which owed a lot to a Target commercial. Award winners often have introductory videos; I confess that I did. (Although, it is somewhat ironic, I know, that print-on-paper people think you need “Lights! Camera! Action!” to keep a crowd in the magazine industry entertained.)
In her gracious speech, Cathie thanked the usual suspects, so to speak–her dad, her husband and kids, her bosses, and, of course, the Chicago ad director who, back in the ’70s, thought a cute little thing like her would get married and not stay in the business for long. She hoped that he ended up with a woman boss.
After that, William Buckley was introduced by Tom Wolfe, resplendent as ever in his famous white suit, who told the crowd, “I am Bill Buckley’s video.”
(Interesting aside: In Wolfe’s most recent book, I Am Charlotte Simmons, the innocent college-aged heroine is stunned when she sees her first copy of Cosmopolitan. She can’t believe a respectable publishing house like Hearst puts it out. Cosmo, by the way, is Hearst’s biggest money maker.)
Wolfe, in his introduction, went on to compare Buckley’s influence to Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Charles Darwin, and Alexander Solzhenitsyn–taking a swipe at Darwin along the way. He talked about “his sheer power of intellect. His sheer ability to debate and argue his position.” Not the usual build up to handing over the award. Most important, he told the crowd, was that without Bill Buckley there would have been “no conservative movement, no Reagan revolution”–which was probably no news to some, big news to many in that crowd.
Buckley was both erudite and self-deprecating, talking about a magazine article he once wrote for Esquire that was still paying royalties, about teaching students at Yale how to write, and concluding that he thought Tom Wolfe was the real star of the evening. (Wrong!) The magazine industry usually honors people who can trumpet the circulation and ad-page gains of their magazines. And, yes, they deserve to be applauded by their peers. But on Wednesday night, the MPA did something a little different. This time they honored an editor who changed the world for all of us.
–Myrna Blyth, former long-time editor of Ladies Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness–and Liberalism–to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.