Milton Glaser Remembers Clay Felker

(AP Photo).jpg“Clay Felker, who you may not have heard of, but who was the last great magazine editor of the 20th century, was a strange amalgam of exuberance, innocence, and pragmatism,” writes Peter W. Kaplan in this week’s New York Observer. The paper also spoke with friends of Felker (pictured at right), who offered a series of vignettes that range from writer Ken Auletta’s discussion of Felker’s unique management style (i.e., yelling) to veteran editor (and painter) Byron Dobell’s recollection of moving into Felker’s former office only to discover his abandoned tap shoes. Milton Glaser, with whom Felker founded New York in 1968, offered a memory with a French twist:

We were once in Paris. We had been called to redesign Paris Match. The guy who owned it asked me to do it for him in two days—absurd. Anyhow, the crew at Paris Match was resentful that two guys from New York had come in to meddle with their legacy. It was late in the afternoon and we asked them to direct us to dinner. They guided us to the most expensive restaurant, and it looked very seedy. The first thing Clay did was order a cup of black coffee. The waiter got so confused because he didn’t know if we finished the meal or started it. And then he was told Clay always drank black coffee before dinner, especially in France. And the bill was for $80 and Clay said that wasn’t bad. I looked at it again, and it was $800.

Glaser goes on to recall his constant tussling with Felker, “about the stupidest things—what color should something be, what the headlines look like. He had this egalitarian idea—such as to make every color brighter and every headline bigger.” The result was a magazine defined by “the combination of high and low,” concludes Glaser. “We wanted to know both spectrums. The rich people and how they were hustling, and how the ordinary people were concerned with buying underwear cheaply.”