Paging Through History
Magazines from the past
photo courtesy of The William Russell Jazz Collection at The Historic New Orleans Collection, acquisition made possible by the Clarisse Claiborne Grima Fund
“I remember Gypsy Lou Webb standing on a corner in the French Quarter with her art hung on a window – and Sister Gertrude Morgan on the other corner singing and preaching!” Jo Ann Clevenger smiles at that mental image of Webb, often seen hawking her artworks and selling copies of the magazine she and husband Jon Webb produced in the 1960s: The Outsider.
Although it only lasted four issues, The Outsider was important in New Orleans literary life in the beat era. Webb had served prison time for an unsuccessful robbery; Louise, otherwise known as Gypsy Lou, was a free-spirited artist. She handset the type for the publication, printed on their own press and filled with contemporary poetry including the first published work of Californian Charles Bukowski. Appropriately, Bukowski was later the subject of a movie titled Bar Fly.
Through the years, New Orleans has been home to a collection of interesting magazines that have long been gone from city newsstands.
Dixie Roto, the Sunday magazine of The Times-Picayune 1946-’94, was folded into the Sunday paper. The pages were filled with local history, features, recipes and lots of color photos. Betsy Petersen, now on the faculty at Metairie Park Country Day School, had worked at The Boston Globe. She applied and was accepted for a writer’s position at Dixie Roto and was there 1965-’70.
Petersen recalled a favorite Dixie Roto story: “They tore down the Dauphine Theater, took out a wall and found a place where an earlier generation of actors had signed their names.”
One signee was Dottie Fay, a dancer billed as “The Golden Girl” for her body paint. “I found a relative of hers who remembered going to that theater,” Petersen recalls. “I think my lead was ‘It took Ricca Demolition Company to bring down the house at the Dauphine Theater.’”
Another long-gone New Orleans-based magazine was titled simply Southern Insurance. For 39 years. Alvin J. Davis was editor and publisher.
Davis had come here from Louisville, Kentucky where he worked on The Courier-Journal. His daughter, Maria Davis Baisier, now chair of the Drama Department at Holy Cross School, says her father had been hired by the magazine when it was titled Risk, bought it in 1947, renamed it and published it until ’86. “In its day it was considered one of the premier insurance journals in the country,” she says.
While insurance is a serious topic, jazz might be considered a bit frivolous. But, the New Orleans Jazz Club had its own magazine filled with material about New Orleans musicians and music. The Second Line began in 1950 and ran through 53 volumes (the last in 2009 – there was a hiatus after ’02.) Jazz researcher Jack Stewart still consults The Second Line: “It always has some tidbits that other publications don’t have,” Stewart insists.
Perhaps the best known defunct New Orleans magazine was a literary comet that blazed through four years of the 1920s: The Double Dealer. Joe Friend’s father, Julius Friend, was a World War I veteran and loyal New Orleanian. He and some fellow local vets decided to prove northern writer H. L. Mencken wrong in his description of the South as, “almost as sterile culturally as the Sahara Desert.” That was the impetus for The Double Dealer’s founding.
“My father was the editor. He loved what he did. He hung around writers and interesting people all his life. He was friends with Sherwood Anderson. Not many of us started a little magazine that became famous,” Friend proudly describes his father’s accomplishments.
“The Double Dealer was the first journal to publish Ernest Hemingway, and the first to publish William Faulkner.” Friend says. “There was a submission by Hemingway of a poem they published, and they took a poem by Faulkner with the comment ‘this is a poem by a writer in France who shows promise.’”
The Double Dealer finally faced reality. “It only lasted four years and it never made any money, so they had to quit doing it.” Friend says.
But, as with all remembered magazines, it sure was fun while it lasted!