The Day I Worked for Clay Felker

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I was sad to learn of Clay Felker’s passing at age 82 last week, but glad to see his obituary was below the fold on the front page of The New York Times. He was one of the great pioneers of American magazine publishing, having co-founded New York magazine and guided its ascendancy through the late 1960s and ’70s as the first of a slew of regional magazines.

When I was a freshman at NYU, New York (like Esquire before it) was my staple. I learned every name on the masthead, pored over every layout and illustration, and marvelled how virtually each column and feature touched on one of my varied interests. I was proud to be a New Yorker and New York reader (at the time it was far more responsive to my generation than The New Yorker). Though I worked for anti-establishment, underground magazines, I tried emulating New York. What’s more, I longed to work for Felker. In fact, I even turned down a job at Esquire in hopes that design director and co-founder Milton Glaser would hire me for New York‘s art department. But that never happened.

A decade later, however, I did briefly work for Felker. For one day. He was editor of Adweek; he asked Seymour Chwast and I to speedily guest-edit a special section on design and advertising. I had heard that Felker was a tough task-master, but at our one-and-only meeting, he enthusiastically received the ideas we offered for the section, although totally improved by his expert tweaking. It was a thrill to be edited by him.

He passed last week after a long battle with throat cancer. And this week, New York magazine devoted a cover and huge piece of editorial real estate to his legacy. For anyone interested in the history of magazines, this is a must-save document.

Be sure to read:

Tom Wolfe: “A City Built of Clay”

Kurt Andersen: “Felkerisms”

Clay Felker: “My New York”

And check out the gallery of New York covers, including the very first issue (above) when it was a supplement of the New York Herald Tribune.

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Daily Heller, Imprint: Print Magazine's Design Blog

About Steven Heller

Steven Heller is the co-chair of the SVA MFA Designer /Designer as Author + Entrepreneur program, writes frequently for Wired and Design Observer. He is also the author of over 170 books on design and visual culture. He received the 1999 AIGA Medal and is the 2011 recipient of the Smithsonian National Design Award.

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