The first issue of New Orleans Magazine, known then as the �Official Monthly Publication of the Chamber of Commerce of the New Orleans Area,� also billed itself as �Le premiér numero� for its publication month of October 1966, Volume I, Number 1.
There were stories on New Orleans music, red beans, the business climate, the Riverfront Expressway, the Louisiana State University Tigers and a photo feature on nuns. There was a section titled �The New Orleans Guide� with events and reviews. There were ads with photos of Buddy Diliberto and Nash Roberts.
Appropriately, there�s a fleur-de-lis on the front; and, it�s a cut-out of a Frank Methe photograph of a jazz musician, �Frog� Joseph, playing his trombone at Preservation Hall, illustrating a story on jazz greats by Danny Barker, himself a famed stalwart of the music. Methe was also a giant in his field, best known for his photojournalism for the Catholic Clarion Herald newspaper.
Thumbing through the pages, turning back the calendar on the two score years since the stories were written, a reader is struck by what an apt snapshot of the city this one magazine captured. The first item in the �Around the Belt� news roundup concerns the effort to popularize the city flag, a banner of three red, white and blue stripes with three gold fleur-de-lis on the central white strip. The magazine chose the fleur-de-lis for its signature because of its �symbolic significance,� � just as today the post-Katrina city is dotted with fleur-de-lis flags, stickers and jewelry.
Joseph B. David, III, headed the Franklin Printing Company, whose mammoth color presses were responsible for the high quality of print and photo reproduction of the magazine.
Franklin Printing had been founded by Joe David�s father and two other printers in 1921. The elder David had become the sole owner of the firm in 1926, and had set a precedent for his son by his policy of civic involvement � such as Franklin Printing�s production of the program for the Sugar Bowl, which the firm had undertaken annually since the game�s first appearance in 1935. The idea of a city magazine, a voice for the activist, business community of New Orleans, was something that intrigued the younger David when it was presented to him by his public relations advisor, David Kleck.
The magazine that Kleck and David envisioned was not simply a propaganda tabloid. There was a regular Chamber of Commerce editorial column of expected boosterism, but Kleck and David wanted more: A magazine that was an informed, new voice in a city where both the morning and afternoon newspapers were owned by The Times-Picayune � the New Orleans Item having folded a few years back. There was also a sense that, in 1966, New Orleans was on the cusp of revitalization, the outgrowth perhaps of the steps toward recovery that had been taken since Hurricane Betsy�s destruction of the city in 1965.
In that first issue, one article stood out as controversial, or at least as providing an overview of a topic on which The Times-Picayune had already taken a stand. Ed Planer, then at WDSU-TV and later to move to the NBC television network, wrote a piece on the Riverfront Expressway. �The proposed $30 million elevated highway which will run at the very edge of the French Quarter has stirred up the greatest controversy since they took the streetcars off Canal Street [in 1964],� Planer noted. The illustrations included a drawing of a remarkable plan to build a third �Pontalba Building� on Decatur Street to mask the roadway. Planer also noted The Times-Picayune�s strong support of the highway � the idea that the riverfront could be landscaped and the docks removed was an impossible dream, �a case of the laudable smashing against the realistic,� Planer quoted the paper as saying. In the years after Planer�s article appeared, support for the project crumbled under the onslaught of preservationist opposition. The Riverfront Expressway (except for the tunnel under the old Rivergate, now used as parking by Harrah�s Casino) was never constructed.
The corporation formed to publish New Orleans Magazine was named Flambeaux Publishing Company, with Joe David as president. Also on the board of Flambeaux were David F. Dixon (best known for championing the Superdome); Edward B. Poitevent, (attorney); Henry Zac Carter, Jr., (Avondale Shipyards); Hugh McCloskey Evans (D. H. Holmes, Co., Ltd.); Richard L. Hindermann (Pan American Life Insurance); Shepard M. Latter (real estate); A. Louis Read, (WDSU-TV); Joseph W. Simon, Jr., (Chamber of Commerce executive); Frederick R. Swigart, (advertising); George Westfeldt, Jr., (freight forwarders); and James L. Townsend. All board members except Townsend were stalwarts of New Orleans civic life � representatives of the business establishment of the city. All, including Townsend, were white. Townsend came from Atlanta to head up the new city magazine, and in the first issue he describes his first meeting with his new employers �in a small room next to the wine cellar at Antoine�s,� when Joe David and Fritz Swigart cemented plans for the new venture.
�We will try to be professional in our approach. We have sought, and are seeking, the best writers in the area, the best photographers, and the best artists � We believe that no other city in America offers so much editorial promise as this one, and we hope to reflect the vigor, excitement, and promise of New Orleans and this whole area � We will never be petty, never negative. We will do our best to publish a magazine that is worthy of this great city,� Townsend promised in his editorial comments.
When James Townsend died in 1981, his obituary noted that Time magazine once called him �the founder of city magazines.� The city magazine movement exploded in the 1960s, and was characterized by concentration on the local area, local advertisers and local stories � but the magazines were quality publications, meant to be saved. Many of them, like both Atlanta Magazine and New Orleans Magazine, were at first affiliated with the Chamber of Commerce (although less than 5 percent are today.) Townsend began in Atlanta, then came to New Orleans and then started a magazine in Cincinnati. At the time of his death he was an editor of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution�s Sunday magazine. His tenure at Atlanta Magazine is fictionalized in the 1994 novel Downtown, by Anne Rivers Siddons, who worked as an editor under Townsend and was well aware of his eccentricities.
By the second issue of New Orleans Magazine, Townsend was delivering on his guarantee of good writers. One, William Diehl, he brought with him from Atlanta. Diehl, still writing fiction today, is best remembered for a novel called Sharkey�s Machine, made into a Burt Reynolds movie in the 1980s. For New Orleans Magazine�s local writers, Townsend soon enlisted David Chandler, an investigative reporter who did remarkable work for Life magazine. Chandler began with a story on �The Devil�s D.A.� Jim Garrison would be the subject of several New Orleans Magazine stories over the years, and Chandler�s first one records the controversial District Attorney�s roller coaster career for the years before the Kennedy assassination became the D.A.�s obsession.
The second issue also has an article by Richard Schechner, of the Theater Department at Tulane University. An editor of the well-regarded Tulane Drama Review. Schechner�s piece heralds the start of the New Orleans Repertory Theater. The Theater would last in the city only for a few years, but it had a longer tenure than Schechner�s at Tulane, since the university�s administration would soon stop supporting both the review and the Theater Department.
My first story for the magazine came in the December 1966, issue. I thought Townsend�s editing was clumsy, but I enjoyed working on the story. The article, on the Irish Channel, included an interview with Richard Burke, then Assessor of the Fourth Municipal District and always the consummate politician. Burke defined the Channel�s boundaries: �If you�re in the police reports you�re from the Irish Channel, but if you�re on the society page, you�re from the Garden District.� I still have a St. Patrick�s Day Proclamation Burke gave me, framed and hanging on the wall next to my desk.
SQUIRREL WITH A CRUTCH
Townsend may have wielded his red pencil with a heavy hand, but his editorial instincts were good on the whole. The first Mardi Gras cover story, in an issue bursting with classic color photographs, was by Mel Leavitt. The magazine was a strong supporter of the yet un-built Superdome. There was a story on Lee Harvey Oswald and his local media appearance debating Ed Butler of the fiercely anti-communist INCA (Information Council of the Americas.) There was a full feature in January 1967, on Louisiana�s offshore oil revenue problems with the federal government, an issue still not fully resolved today. Reviews covered art films, British TV imports (The Avengers) and the local art and theater scene.
Then there were the ads. There was the classic Pan-American Life Insurance Company ad picturing a squirrel with its paw in a sling leaning on a twig/crutch: �Who�ll Gather the Nuts Now?� Not to mention the �Nobody Likes a Smartass� ad for the comedy revue, with its cartoon rear view of an ample-bottomed lady running and waving, and the black and white drawings of giant machinery stylishly arranged in an Avondale Shipyards ad. The ads looked as good as the rest of the well laid-out publication. Initial art director Robert Daniels (who came with Townsend from Atlanta and would go on to be an art director at Esquire magazine) would be soon replaced by George Bacon, who continued producing a good looking product. Bacon would eventually serve as editor, too.
In April 1967, Townsend was gone from the masthead and James A. Autry (�Jim�) became editor. (Townsend and Associates were listed as �Magazine Consultants.�)
An Ole Miss graduate, Autry would make a career in magazines, ending as head of a group that included Better Homes and Gardens. In New Orleans, Autry plunged the magazine straight into controversy with an issue devoted to Jim Garrison�s investigation of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The magazine stories detailed how the first reports appeared in February in the New Orleans States-Item and how the international media had jumped in. A story, by writer Liz Bennett, profiled Garrison�s wife, another Liz. Another story was an interview with Sen. Russell Long and businessman Joseph Rault. Both had been on an Eastern Airlines flight with Garrison and heard his early ideas on the topic.
Under Autry, news coverage � of the Garrison investigation, of the new Saints football team, of the business sector � continued, but lighter features began to appear, including �The Lovely Laborers� with glamour photos of young women (Saints owner John Mecom�s secretary among them) in September of 1967, and �Six Gracious Hostesses and Their Favorite Recipes� in November 1967.
Autry reached out to more local writers. Ed Cocke, who had been with a news service, contributed a story on the oyster industry in November 1967. Hodding Carter, Sr., contributed a Christmas memory from the Depression that December.
One of the most prolific writers for New Orleans Magazine in the beginning years was Rosemary James. Originally from Charleston, S.C., James had been a reporter for the States-Item and for WWL-TV. Her first piece for the magazine was a business story on Louisiana and Southern Life Insurance Company in December 1968. While she did business and political stories and the occasional book review, what James did remarkably well was the personality profile. James managed to get her subjects to open up for her, and her interviews usually revealed previously unknown details � a good example was the December, 1970, piece �The Legend of Lucky Loop,� featuring the World War II adventures of real estate magnate Thomas Lupo. However, it was James� topical stories � interviews with Pershing Gervais (the irascible Garrison confidante), Edwin Edwards, Dutch Morial, and other political characters � that were the standout stories.
The early years of the magazine were turbulent times, and the content reflected that. In June 1968, the magazine came out with an issue entitled �New Orleans� Invisible Man.� All the stories were devoted to Black issues, with a long feature by Hodding Carter, Sr., by then the magazine�s publisher. Noting that the issue was conceived before he arrived at the magazine, Carter bemoaned the �near-absence of communication between the white man and the Negro.� The magazine issue, focused on Blacks, was �the first of its kind in the South,� Carter said.
New Orleans Magazine focused another issue on Black citizens in March 1973, after the Mark Essex shootings, in which a Black former sailor went on a killing rampage at a Howard Johnson�s Motel. The twenty-eight-page section, written by Rosemary James, contained a series of no-holds-barred interviews with, among others, Bob Tucker (then an assistant to Mayor Moon Landrieu), Dorothy Mae Taylor, Jim Singleton and Dr. Norman Francis. James still considers it �one of the best things I�ve done,� and recalls that it won the magazine a journalism award. White citizens� views appeared the next month in another section, featuring Moon Landrieu and then-Police Chief Clarence Giarrusso.
Appropriately, the first sell-out issue of the magazine, June 1972, had a cover story by eccentric writer Clint Bolton on local madam Norma Wallace. By the 10th anniversary issue in October 1976, the Chamber of Commerce was no longer involved, and the editor was Tom Fitzmorris (who had begun, predictably, with a food column.) Jeannette Gottleib (Grady) had also spent a year as editor and Carol Flake (still writing for national magazines) became an associate editor.
Fitzmorris was the last editor under the ownership of Joe David. After the publication was sold to Ben Turner, who had some print background but no experience with a comparable publication, Fitzmorris lasted just six months. �I think that must have been part of the agreement � that the staff stayed at least half a year.� Fitzmorris noted �I was twenty-three. It was a very heady time for me � hanging around with all those great writers.�
The early decades of New Orleans Magazine earned the staff a reputation for hard partying � and those years also saw the first stories of many serious writers who are still writing today. Tom Bethell, whose first story ran in January 1975, is still a fixture in American magazine journalism, most recently at the American Spectator. Bonnie Crone (Warren), House and Garden editor for the magazine today, saw her first piece appear in December 1967. Warrren also served as editor at one point, �I wrote for her, and she wrote for me,� Fitzmorris recalls. Dalt Wonk first appeared in 1967.
Supposedly it was an editor of the Turner era, Don Lee Keith, who coined the phrase �editor du jour.� After Ben Turner�s eight year ownership � with 10 different editors � of the magazine, the publication was sold to an investor group that included fitness expert Mackie Shilstone and ophthalmologist Dr. Robert Azar. In three years the magazine again changed hands.
Bill Metcalf, who acquired the magazine in 1987, had founded New Orleans CityBusiness as a biweekly newspaper in 1980. Metcalf intended to form a conglomerate of publications, and New Orleans Magazine was a natural target. Metcalf had begun trying to buy the magazine since 1984. Three more editors later, in 1987, Metcalf completed the purchase and the magazine became part of his New Orleans Publishing Group. By 1989 he made a decision that would insure the magazine�s continuing strength: he named Errol Laborde editor.
Errol Laborde is the writer most identified today with New Orleans Magazine. While he produces and appears on �Informed Sources� news round-up show on WYES-TV, and also devotes considerable time to the Tennessee Williams/ New Orleans Literary Festival, he is primarily a writer and editor, and he and his wife Peggy Scott Laborde, known for her local flavored television documentaries on WYES-TV, are staunch and loyal New Orleanians, and have made their careers embracing the city and its culture.
Laborde�s work first appeared in New Orleans Magazine in 1975, and by 1981 he was an Associate Editor. Laborde had been winning journalism awards since 1972 � more than two-dozen from the New Orleans Press Club alone, with enough plaques and statuettes to fill an office bookcase. He also has had published a collection of his �Streetcar� columns, I Never Danced with an Eggplant, and a history of the Rex organization, Marched the Day God.
Laborde had a vision for New Orleans Magazine. Primarily, he wanted it to be a magazine people would want not only to read, but also to keep. There are newsy feature stories, along with continuing columns; not only is there a monthly guide to the city, there is an alliance with WYES-TV in which station listings appear in a section and contributors to the station�s fund-drives can receive subscriptions. There is an annual Jazz All-Stars issue each April, and an issue devoted to physicians (Top Doctors) each August. There is an annual Awards section, there is a �People to Watch� issue featuring outstanding citizens. Jason Berry, a contributor since December 1973, is one of many music writers. There are dining guides and food news and recipes (from Christopher Blake to John de Mers to current food section veterans Todd Price, Lorin Gaudin and Dale Curry, the magazine�s culinary staff has regularly managed to satiate the gastronomic intensity of readers.)
Laborde added a monthly editorial column, with cartoons by Pulitzer Prize winner Mike Lucovich. The Julia Street column has a knowledgeable archivist cleverly answering arcane queries on local history through the personalities of Julia herself and of Poydras the Parrot. Dr. Brobson Lutz�s regular health column is especially apt in the post-Katrina city. Art director Eric Gernhauser keeps up the tradition of a stylish and slick publication, while managing editor Morgan Packard oversees the writers.
Sue Strachan conducts the Persona interviews. In the back of the book, George Gurtner�s personality profiles come right before Laborde�s last-page editorial column.
Longtime Loyola University journalism professor Liz Scott Monaghan quotes alter ego Modine Gunch who first appeared in a column �Life Wit� Muddah� in April 1987. The topic, �Bosom Betrayal� predictably concerned Modine�s mother-in-law Miz Larda�s underwear difficulties. By 1988, the column was simply �Modine�s New Orleans� continuing over the years with Monaghan�s writing. Monaghan has also had two volumes of her humor writing published.
After the Metcalf era began in 1987, the magazine saw years of stability, and in 1999, when Metcalf sold CityBusiness and his publishing group to another firm, he formed a new company, MCMedia LLC to oversee New Orleans Magazine, Louisiana Life magazine and other publications he retained. Every month an issue of New Orleans Magazine hit the stands and the mailboxes, garnering awards along the way.
All went well � until Katrina.
There was no October issue in 2005. In the November issue, with its award-winning cover featuring the gold-toned Joan of Arc statue under the banner �And Now the Renaissance,� Metcalf published �A Special Statement from the Chief Executive Officer,� in which he noted the havoc Katrina had wrought, preventing one issue from ever being printed, but insisted �I am pleased to assure you that the publication begins its next decade in fine form.� However, change was coming.
On January 18, 2006, Metcalf announced an ownership change. Metcalf was dissolving MCMedia LLC, and the new owner of New Orleans Magazine would be an entity appropriately named Renaissance Publishing, an employee-led group headed by Chief Operating Officer Todd Matherne, with Associate Publisher and Editor-in-Chief Errol Laborde and Executive Vice President and Sales Director Kelley Faucheux as minority owners. President of the new company would be Alan Campbell, formerly Metcalf�s partner. Metcalf commented �this has been a long time dream of mine to see some of our properties taken over by employees. With their expertise, I know they will succeed.� Louisiana Life. New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles and St. Charles Avenue magazines were included in the package.
In his October 1996, �Speaking Out� editorial column, Laborde had remarked on the magazine�s 30th anniversary and noted �While the magazine�s course during most of the past three decades has sometimes been erratic, so too has been the economy it has had to rely on.�
What kept it going was a sure sense of purpose, he felt. �Our niche,� he said, �appeals to the soul as much as to the senses. It is not based on age, gender or lifestyle, but on interest � those who care about living in New Orleans.�
In his March 2006 issue announcement of Renaissance Publishing�s new ownership, Laborde noted, �The spirit of rebirth implied by our company name speaks of our belief in contemporary New Orleans.�
Now, when even living in New Orleans means making a positive statement about the future of the city, it is still good to have New Orleans Magazine to depend on as a sure, strong voice.