Giving a Forgotten Visionary His Due
The Man Time Forgot:
A Tale of Genius, Betrayal, and
the Creation of Time Magazine
By Isaiah Wilner
352 pages; $26.95
Book review by Carl Sessions Stepp
Carl Sessions Stepp (email@example.com), AJR's senior editor, teaches at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.
Talent sometimes emerges early and expires young. When the creative genius behind Time magazine was in grade school, he told his family, "I'm going to put out a magazine..when I grow up which will tell the truth." By high school, he was running a world news summary in the school weekly, for those "who do not find time to read the detailed accounts in the daily papers."
By 25, this man had masterminded Time magazine. By 31, he was dead, from a virulent blood infection that, in the kind of quirky twist his magazine traded on, he blamed on being scratched by a stray tomcat.
The editor in question was not Henry Luce, the visionary now most associated with Time's empire, but Briton Hadden, Luce's partner, childhood chum and lifelong rival.
"The Man Time Forgot," a first book by a young writer who like Luce and Hadden came to journalism at Yale, seeks to reclaim the limelight for the dimly remembered Hadden.
Using unprecedented access to Time archives, Isaiah Wilner contends that over the years Luce, who outlived Hadden by nearly 40 years, "repeatedly claimed credit for Hadden's ideas" and shoved his onetime partner into historical obscurity.
"Betrayal" is a strong charge, and I don't know that Wilner fully proves the case. But he vividly brings life to this "tortured friendship that ignited a media revolution."
The two were very different, Luce proper and tightwound, Hadden charismatic and saturnalian. Although they are routinely referred to as close friends, the evidence of intimacy or affection seems scant. They were longtime allies, but it's hard to tell whether they actually liked each other.
From the beginning, Hadden dominated. They met in 1913 at Hotchkiss boarding school, where Hadden outmaneuvered Luce to become editor of the paper. Luce settled for the literary monthly. At Yale, Hadden bested Luce by a single vote to head the campus daily. Luce became managing editor.
At Camp Jackson, South Carolina, the two fantasized about founding a periodical to help make sense of the news. Spared military service by the end of World War I, they soon regrouped at the Baltimore News, where they "spent their nights chain-smoking" and hatching their magazine. By 1922, they had raised $86,000 from 69 acquaintances and incorporated. Hadden was president, Luce secretary-treasurer. They agreed to rotate the editorship each year. On a coin flip to see who would edit first, Hadden won.
When Time premiered in March 1923, Hadden clearly was its driving editorial dynamo. He "told the news just as he viewed it — as a grand and comic epic spectacle..flavoring the facts with color and detail..painting vivid portraits of the people who made headlines." Hadden initiated the backward syntax that came to be known as Timestyle, the graphic compound descriptors like "steely-eyed" and "bullet-headed," and the amalgam of fact, analysis and slant. His Time covered personalities as well as events, fashion as well as world affairs, horserace politics as well as issues. It coined and popularized punchy words like pundit, tycoon, socialite, even newsmagazine itself.
Hadden also germinated the ideas that would become Life magazine and Sports Illustrated.
His eccentricities were legend. If a taxi driver didn't name Babe Ruth as his favorite baseball player, Hadden wouldn't get in the cab. But he also had a darker "wild streak" characterized by alcoholism, loneliness, melancholy and a fearsome temper. On his death, friends wondered whether his dissolute lifestyle had kept his body from fighting off the offending infection.
Hadden's death liberated Luce to flourish on his own. Wilner calls Luce "a brilliant editor," less creative than Hadden but an inspired story doctor who improved Time's writing and added depth and breadth.
Wilner also documents Luce's speedy move to consolidate power and credit as Hadden's memory faded. Although Hadden's will left his Time stock to his family with instructions that it not be sold for 49 years, Luce succeeded in gaining the stock "at a bargain basement price" within a year.
In hundreds of Luce speeches examined by Wilner, Hadden's name is mentioned only four times. Luce's son, Henry III, could not recall his father ever bringing up Hadden in conversation. In 1963, at Time's 40th anniversary celebration, Luce never spoke Hadden's name.
Whatever the complexities of their relationship, Luce and Hadden clearly fed constructively on each other. Together they changed journalism. As Time itself might write, they proved again that better than one are two heads. ###