In the 1960s and ’70s, San Francisco-based magazines Ramparts and Scanlan’s raked muck and raised hell when it was most needed.
In the 1960s, San Francisco’s youth culture of acid rock, underground comix, radical lifestyle movements and, not least, progressive counter-culture journalism (including newsprint tabs like Rolling Stone, The Berkeley Barb and the San Francisco Oracle) shocked and awed the world.
But even more threatening to the established order for their guile and grit were two monthly magazines that went head to toe with the status quo: Ramparts (1962–1975) and Scanlan’s (1970–1971). Both challenged notions of “fair and balanced” journalism by reporting on what the mainstream dailies and weeklies were afraid to cover.
Originally a liberal Catholic journal, Ramparts magazine was founded by Edward Keating, a respected lawyer. The title referenced the national anthem lyric “the ramparts we watched.” The earliest issues were poorly designed, somewhat like a college literary magazine, with dreary illustrations and an undistinguished layout. Keating was a reformer who simply wanted a vehicle by which to challenge conservative Catholicism. Nonetheless, Ramparts evolved into a fearless independent investigative magazine, uncovering government and corporate hypocrisies, promoting civil rights and social justice, while lashing out at communist witch hunters and CIA interventions at home and abroad.
Ramparts was considered the “soft left” until its renegade promotion director, Warren Hinckle II, and Howard Gossage, a San Francisco ad man with activist passions, pushed Keating into the shadows. Hinckle became Ramparts’ crusading editor-in-chief, and a ballsy investigative journalist named Robert Scheer was hired as the publication’s investigative editor.
Dugald Stermer (1936–2011), Ramparts’ art director from 1964–1970, once explained that he designed a deliberately restrained bookish format because it “lent more credibility to what must have seemed then like hysterical paranoid ravings of loonies.” Hinckle never succumbed to partisan politics, but he uncompromisingly saw all sacred cows as moving targets. Scheer was skeptical of all -isms and reported the earliest stories about CIA involvement in the Vietnam War.
The magazine published what would now be called underreported stories, including the confession of a Green Beret sergeant who, years before The New York Times published the Pentagon Papers, disclosed the U.S. government’s lies about Vietnam War policies. Stermer said Ramparts’ goal was to “raise hell,” and among the magazine’s bêtes noires was the hypocrisy of liberals who claimed to support social justice but nonetheless maintained a status quo relationship to power. Ramparts’ targets included Lyndon Johnson for the Vietnam War build-up, and Robert Kennedy, who was never forgiven for an earlier relationship with Senator Joseph McCarthy.
Ramparts was a maverick that refused to blindly follow leftist dogma and never took anything—“not even their own side”—at face value, said Stermer. Scanlan’s was also a Hinckle brainchild. Hinckle was known as a tough intellectual hombre who wore a menacing black eye patch; he was a hard drinker, egotist and publicity hound. He resigned as Ramparts’ editor and president on Jan. 29, 1969, and the Ramparts’ board of directors declared bankruptcy soon after. To their surprise, however, Hinckle immediately announced that a new magazine, Barricades, would appear a month later on Feb. 25—though it actually took another year before it reached newsstands. With co-editor Sidney Zion, a savvy muckraker, Hinckle had struggled to find investors for the magazine, raising only $50,000 during that timeframe.
So instead of looking for individual backers, they decided to raise the money through a public stock off ering. The first day Barricades’ stock was issued, its price jumped from $3 to $4.50. In November 1969, the magazine’s underwriter gave Barricades’ editors a check for the sum of $675,000. “Our deal with the underwriter was that the editors have absolute and dictatorial control of the magazine,” they wrote in their initial manifesto. And the first act was to change the title to Scanlan’s (purportedly after someone named John Scanlan, a pig farmer described by some IRA men that Zion and Hinckle met while touring Ireland as “the worst man who ever lived”). In late February 1970, the premiere issue showed the $675,000 check on its front cover, along with the editorial/manifesto printed large in Helvetica on the front and back covers.
Scanlan’s was distinct from, yet editorially similar, to Ramparts. Both included investigative and muckraking journalism, literary criticism, film reviews and photographic essays, but Scanlan’s took no advertising in order to maintain its editorial independence. It did, however, run fake advertisements, like a parody for Lufthansa Airlines featuring a photograph of saluting Nazis with the slogan, “This year, think twice about Germany.”
The first Scanlan’s did not look at all like Ramparts, from its masthead to its typefaces. At Ramparts, Stermer used classical Times Roman and bookish formats. He relied on smart satiric illustrations from the likes of Ed Sorel, whose “Sorel’s Bestiary” caricatured famous and infamous personalities as animals.
Stermer also commissioned Seymour Chwast, Milton Glaser, Robert Grossman (who did one of his best Johnson caricatures for Ramparts, featured above) and Paul Davis, who executed a cover of South Vietnam’s First Lady (technically, the president’s sister-inlaw) Madame Nhu in a cheerleader costume, for an investigative report into CIA recruitment of operatives in Vietnam. Stermer also hired Ben Shahn and Norman Rockwell and ran photomontages by Carl Fischer, who at the time was collaborating with George Lois on covers for Esquire.
Scanlan’s, designed by San Francisco’s supergraphics pioneer Barbara Stauffacher Solomon, was decidedly more modern-minimalist in the International or Swiss style—which is just what Hinckle wanted. Solomon had known Hinckle socially before he asked her to be art director of Scanlan’s. Her friend June Oppen Degnan (sister of the poet George Oppen) introduced them. Degnan had also given Hinckle $25,000 to help start the magazine.
“Warren and I meet at her political/socialite dinner parties,” Solomon recently recalled. “There were lots of parties in those days.” Hinckle’s office was bedlam back then. So to be able to work without constant interruptions, “Warren and I worked mostly at my office at 1620 Montgomery St. Warren arrived with piles of copy and loose photos and we put it all together, page after page, on my desks and floor.”
Solomon’s Scanlan’s design was unique for counter-culture publications at the time. Although Swiss Modernism was a common corporate design language, it was foreign in this context. Solomon said she practiced “Swiss graphics as I learned from Armin Hofmann in Basel. Warren was familiar with the work I did,” which included the SFMOMA monthly bulletins, books for Lawrence Halprin, brochures and covers for New Directions. “He had a sharp eye for design but never told me what to do.” And then there was the Scanlan’s logo, with its distinct apostrophe: “It was intentional,” she says. “I always designed big punctuation marks. I think I drew it for some reason and Warren said, ‘That’s it.’”
Ultimately, Scanlan’s became best known for featuring articles by Hunter S. Thompson, who invented gonzo journalism (later a mainstay of Rolling Stone). It was also known for its banned “Guerrilla Issue,” which included a picture of President Nixon having lunch with a group of businessmen, each with an alleged criminal record. The issue was eventually released by a small printing company in Canada.
While Scanlan’s folded in 1971, Ramparts hobbled on until 1975, when the counter-culture in San Francisco went into hibernation—ending a raucous, thrilling and key moment in publishing and design history.
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