Esky: The Early Years at Esquire

Hugh Merrill, Author
Hugh Merrill, Author Rutgers University Press $27.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-8135-2165-7
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Those who consider Tina Brown's Vanity Fair and New Yorker an original mix of high and mass culture, observes Merrill, who teaches journalism at the University of West Florida, ignore the case of Esquire. In this intriguing sliver of history, he explores the people and context behind that magazine, founded in 1933. The editorial vision of Esquire founders Arnold Gingrich and David Smart--frank sexuality (based on the classy salaciousness of the Ziegfield Follies) and good literature (Hemingway and Fitzgerald)--aimed to deliver an upscale male audience. Initially successful, Esquire became racier by the 1940s; the airbrushed Varga girl became a voluptuous icon for American servicemen and set a standard for 1950s cinematic beauty. Esquire's successful 1940s battle with the Post Office over censorship, the author suggests, represented a triumph of new urban, permissive American values. However, by the 1950s, the sophisticated conformity offered by Esquire was supplanted by the bachelor glories promised by the more revolutionary Playboy. And Esky--Esquire's goggle-eyed cover symbol--disappeared, ``metamorphosed into a rabbit.'' Illustrations. (July)
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