One of the few Esquire magazine covers created by George Lois ever to be killed was this one inspired by a James Baldwin article in the November 1970 issue. The mechanical was lost until last week when it surfaced at Lois’ home.
“Baldwin was always pissed, totally militant,” Lois explained. “To me, he was, along with Malcolm X, at a time when the Jim Crow South still was at its most vicious, a black guy who had a real sense of Black Revolution. I went all out depicting that militancy (wittily) by rubbing the Aunt Jemima stereotype into White America’s face, bringing the logo to life with her ‘real’ hand wielding a cleaver (i.e., Eldridge Cleaver), and wearing a Black Panther cap.”
Courtesy George Lois
Whenever Lois created a cover for editor Harold Hayes that was obviously controversial (in this case, with a chance the magazine would lose its Southern advertisers), Lois would call him and say, “‘Harold, this one is really gonna cause trouble!’ And he always replied, ‘Yeaahhh.’ He said ‘Yeaahhh’ when I sent him [Sonny] Liston as Santa—the last black motherfucker America wanted to see coming down their chimney. He said ‘Yeaahhh’ when I depicted Calley with a shit-eating grin, sitting with kids he murdered. And he said ‘Yeaahhh’ to Virna Lisi making like a man, commenting on the coming Feminist Movement.” Yet on this one, Lois assumes he had “WWIII with [publisher] Arnold Gingrich and Esquire‘s chicken shit ad sales department.”
Under Hayes, and the covers Lois did for him, Esquire went from being in the red with a 400,000 circulation to being a giant success with over 2,000,000—”but they continually complained about the covers.”
Lois does not think there would have been a problem with the Aunt Jemima brand if it had run: “Quaker Oats figured it out themselves by continually re-drawing their logo so Aunt Jemima looked like a school teacher.” And if Hayes were still alive, “I think he would change his mind and say ‘Yeaahhh!’ But there are no Harold Hayes’ alive today (unless it was David Remnick okaying the same image in a Barry Blitt drawing).”
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