The Esquire Cover That Changed Everything

The wonderful design podcast “99% Invisible” regularly gets its cross-posting due at Slate. The publication embeds each weekly episode together with a summary of the latest discussion.

Episode #101 was a humdinger. Producer Avery Trufelman welcomed design legend George Lois, Esquire design director David Curcurito and former Rolling Stone art director Andy Cowles. At one point, the program revisited the early 1960s juncture during which Lois engineered a lightning-fast transition from the days when the magazine would feature on its cover mascot Esky, a mustachioed ladies man:

In 1962, Harold Hayes, the newly hired head editor of Esquire, asked [ad man] Lois to do a cover for him. As Lois tells it, Hayes was desperate and needed a cover in three days.

Hayes gave Lois a description of 20 contents in the upcoming issue, including a spread of Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston, who were about to go head-to-head in the upcoming heavyweight fight. Everyone was predicting that Patterson would win, and the magazine was going to be released before the fight.

Three days later, Lois delivered a cover of a Patterson doppelgãnger laying flat on his back, dead in the ring. The message was clear: Esquire was calling the fight for Liston.

It was a bold cover move, but Lois was right. Over the next two decades, Lois would go on to design 92 Esquire covers, include one featuring Muhammad Ali that is considered by many to be the greatest such artifact of all time. See it again here.

@hollywoodspin Richard Horgan is co-editor of Fishbowl.