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YOU'VE COME A LONG WAY, BABY
Little-known histories of well-known magazines

By Sarah Feightner


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1939

COSMOPOLITAN

1886: Founding editor Paul Schlicht envisioned Cosmo-politan as a “firstclass family magazine.” By the 1890s, under the direction of John Brisben Walker, the magazine became a mecca for great American fiction writers like Theodore Dreiser, Jack London, and Edith Wharton.

1905:
William Randolph Hearst added Cosmopolitan to his media empire and filled its pages with serious prose and muckraking investigative reporting from Sinclair Lewis, Upton Sinclair, and Ida Tarbell. After reaching a peak of two million during World War II, sales declined throughout the 1950s.

Now: Today’s Cosmo was born in the mid-60s when Helen Gurley Brown became editor-in-chief and remade the magazine into a bible for single women, scandalizing old-school Cosmopolitan readers and helping to redefine “women’s interests” with its sexually explicit content.


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1931
GQ

1931:
GQ’s earliest incarnation was as Apparel Arts, a guide to the men’s fashion industry for wholesalers and retailers, in the 1930s. The guide was so popular with customers that the publisher spun off an edition for the general public: today’s Esquire.

1957: Apparel Arts was revamped as a quarterly fashion supplement to Esquire and renamed Gentleman’s Quarterly. While not an openly gay publication, the GQ of the 60s and 70s catered primarily to gay male readers with its focus on fashion and culture, and with a noticeable lack of female models in its pages.

Now: Condé Nast and editor Art Cooper took the helm in the early 80s and quashed GQ’s gay vibe. Among other changes, Cooper added female pinups to the magazine, explaining: “They sell better, and we have the figures to prove it.” Gay readers cried foul, accusing Condé Nast of stealing their magazine, and Cooper was denounced in the Advocate for betraying the gay community.




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1955
MAD Magazine

1952:
For its first three years, MAD wasn’t a magazine at all. It was a comic book published by William Gaines’s EC Comics (also responsible for such comics classics as Tales from the Crypt and Weird Science). According to MAD’s 400th anniversary issue, “The second issue of MAD goes on sale on December 9, 1952. On December 11, the first-ever letter complaining that MAD ‘just isn’t as funny and original like it used to be’ arrives.”

1955: MAD relaunched as a magazine with its twenty-fourth issue. Legend has it that the switch was made to thwart the censorship of the Comics Code Authority, created by the U.S. Senate to stamp out comics-fueled juvenile delinquency. By the 1960s, the magazine’s spoofs on hippies, drugs, and the Vietnam War had made it wildly popular.

Now: Though Gaines sold MAD in 1961, he maintained tight control over the magazine under a succession of corporate overlords (most recently Time Warner) until his death in 1992. Since then, its corporate owners have added paid advertising to the magazine— breaking a fifty-year tradition— and created a wide variety of new MAD merchandise.
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