(1903 to 1976)
Claim to fame: Founding editor of Esquire, buddy of Fitzgerald and Hemingway, and, in the estimation of the New York Times, “one of the greatest living fly fishermen.”
Quote: “The hardest part of an editor’s job is just this: to learn the trick of not letting what you do know keep you from finding out what you don’t know.”
Another quote: “He edits best who edits least.”
Still another: “We wanted, always, to feel that the reader could never feel sure, as he turned from one page to the next and one issue to the next, of what might be coming up.”
OK, one more: “[E]diting, unlike anything else that I can think of offhand, is a thing that you can learn to do too well. This is one field in which experience can be a handicap.”
Life in 300 words or less: Michigan-born and bred Arnold Gingrich began his magazine career editing a fashion trade title, Apparel Arts, which he and longtime business partners David A. Smart and William H. Weintraub soon transformed into Gentleman’s Quarterly, today’s GQ.
In 1933, they conceived of a new men’s quarterly “dedicated to the enjoyment and improvement of the new leisure.” Their timing may not have seemed ideal: 1933 was one of the darkest years of the Great Depression, and the only “new leisure” many men were experiencing was unemployment.
They considered calling the magazine Trend, Stag, Beau, Trim, and Town and Campus, but settled on Esquire, supposedly inspired by the “Esq.” on the stationery of the lawyer hired to check whether those other titles were taken. Esquire was a success from its first issue and went monthly the following year.
Gingrich and his partners launched other titles, including Ken, a progressive current events magazine, and Coronet, an artsy digest-size number, but none would achieve the same success or longevity as Esquire. Its breakthrough editorial mix of men’s fashion, scantily clad women, and name-brand authors would also inspire a young writer in Esquire’s promotion department named Hugh M. Hefner to fantasize his own magazine. When Esquire moved its headquarters from Chicago to New York City in the early 1950s, the Hef stayed behind and soon begat Playboy.
For more: Gingrich wrote or edited nine books in all, at least two of which are autobiographical: “Toys of a Lifetime” (Knopf, 1966) and “Nothing But People” (Crown, 1971). Esquire's blog also offers this timeline of the magazine's history. -- Greg Daugherty, 11/08