Monday, June 25, 2012

The Best There Is

Since I wasn't there for fame or fortune, at my last (part-time) job with the Mechanicsburg library I did a lot of extra tasks upon request, just for the challenge, which had not much to do with my duties.  Two of the regular librarians often asked for graphic displays for events or promotions, and I regularly spent weekends on the garage floor cutting, spray-gluing and assembling two- and three-dimensional themed creations.  I also identified coins for patrons and helped people find obscure items (often digging in my own huge collection which is being slowly weeded out over the years).   But one incoming phone request was of the type I had been instructed to turn down:  picking up books and magazines for donation to the regular sales (a nice source of income and a fine recycling effort).  The people had a garage full and seemed old and in need of help; it all would have gone to the trash otherwise.  So I loaded my small SUV to the top with magazines and books that were, unfortunately, tainted with mildew and mostly fated to go into our dumpster anyway.  I should have looked for something, though:  copies of the defunct Holiday magazine.  But I didn't, because I had forgotten all about it, like everyone else.
Back in the 50s and 60s, you would occasionally see it in doctors' offices, but with its long-form articles on subjects too exotic for the suburban clientele, it was usually old and ignored.  I saw several in the living room of my friend Bob Freeman's house, and was struck by the frivolity of the title in contrast to the striking cover art and heavyweight content.  But that was the educated, well-traveled and urbane Freemans, whose presence in our boring-as-a-moonscape exurb was inexplicable yet lucky for me.  I only glanced at a few copies and was too shy to ask to borrow one.  Again, I should have, but I was probably too deficient in knowledge, contexts and vocabulary to understand it very well.  One internet commenter echoes what I vaguely felt at the time:  "Growing up in a rural area of northeast Texas in the 1950s, Holiday was a ticket to a different life."
They don't make them like that any more.  At 10"x12", hefty with about 220 pages of quality glossy paper, it was produced at the level of  a museum catalog.  The covers during the glory years (up to a million circulation at its peak) were icons of the international modernist style, hitting you full-on with Mediterranean gusto or minimalist German expression.  Italian-American George Giusti did several in the mid-60s, and they are classics.  Artwork inside included that superb photography of the era and the best of classic advertising, still much admired today.   The items being sold were aspirational, not mass market: Lincolns, color TVs, mink coats.  The kinds of things people who knew what pesto was and actually went to Europe would consider essential.  People who had garages, and a nice dark-blue set of Encyclopedia Britannica.
Unlike other magazines of the genre, the articles weren't  tedious fact-filled guides to hotels, restaurants and shopping: the writers were the best.  Paul Bowles (on hashish, of all things), V.S. Pritchett and Lawrence Durrell (both in the January 1961 issue), Steinbeck and Hemingway, Joan Didion, Ray Bradbury and Alfred Bester (one reknowned and one forgotten science fiction writer, both great), E.B. White and John Cheever, even Jack Kerouac (on riding the rails).
Launched at the very beginning of the postwar boom (March 1946), Holiday merged with Travel in 1977 and disappeared, along with elegant air travel.  That was our golden age, and Holiday was its record.

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