I’ve collected a lot of things during my lifetime.
My parents started a stamp collection for me when I was little, snipping colorful stamps off envelopes of flowers, places and famous people; that’s how I first learned who Grace Kelly was.
Then in high school I started writing to living film stars and collecting their autographs. To date, I have 30 signed photographs from stars like Deanna Durbin, Paul Newman and Joan Fontaine.
But most recently, I’ve decided to mix my love of history, American culture and film by collecting the best American magazine ever published: LIFE.
Published weekly starting in November 1936 to December 1972, over 1,800 issues of LIFE magazine was printed. It may be crazy that I want to collect the majority of these magazines, but let me explain how LIFE is special compared to other gossip rags.
From its first issue in November 23, 1936, there is an emphasis on film and entertainment with a four page feature on film and stage actress Helen Hayes. But outside of the footlight parade world are photographs of a mangled car that was hit by a train in Wisconsin, a man hit on the head with a blackjack in Philadelphia and a Louisiana couple holding a baby a bulldog carried to their doorstep.
LIFE didn’t just focus on celebrity like People or ridiculous ways to catch a man like Cosmopolitan. The focus of the magazine was much more broad and encompassing of all topics.
Prior to 1936, LIFE was a humorous magazine until Henry Luce obtained the name rights and turned LIFE into a photojournalism magazine. The magazine showed Americans what life was like around the world outside of what they were used to: a Wyoming winter, Metropolitan Opera ballet dancers or Greek soldiers.
Some of the most famous film stars originated in LIFE such as Rita Hayworth picnicking on the beach, Marilyn Monroe jumping and looking backwards and old Clark Gable’s portrait during his last film in 1961.
But other than stars, LIFE wasn’t afraid to show horrors and realism such as a dead soldier on the beach of Normandy or somebody injured after a car accident; photos that today would be considered too sensitive.
Each decade went through different transitions:
-Pre-War: Featured several movie stars but also focus on life around the world with pictures of Wyoming winters and Greek soldiers. During this time period the United States was suffering from economic struggles in the Great Depressions and the magazine offered escapism.
-World War II era: The magazine changed again with the start of World War II featuring soldiers, airplanes, factory workers, and General MacArthur on the cover of the magazines- evoking patriotism as well as a look at what was going on in the European and Pacific theaters.
-1950s to early-1960s: Covers focused on glamour, sophistication, and fun. Fashion, the English royal family, Marilyn Monroe and UCLA homecomings were some of the covers-all typical of happy-go-lucky consumerism post-war America.
-Mid-1960s to 1972: Covers interpret rapid world changes and the anger during Vietnam era. The covers feature political figures, threatened orangutans in the Rain Forest and Apollo 11 footprints on the moon.
From reading about the making of “Gone with the Wind” to a German shepherd dog nursing tiger cubs, LIFE had it all. No magazine will ever again give American readers the variety that LIFE offered.
To date I have 30 LIFE magazines, so I have a ways to go. But it will be an interesting journey through our past, regardless of how long it takes.
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