Henry Luce's titanic magazines -- Time, Life, Fortune and Sports Illustrated -- started to decline about 20 years after his death, in 1967. And this downward trajectory was punctuated with the recent announcement that Time-Warner would spin off the remaining Time Inc magazines to survive on their own in the internet era.
Yet the power and prestige of the magazines in the middle decades of the 20th century was unparalleled. For those who lived through their domination or want to engage in a bit of media archaeology, a good place to start to understand their remarkable place in U.S. culture is Alan Brinkley's The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century.
On the slightly lighter and shorter side is Maureen Dowd's recent column,"As Time Goes Bye," reminiscing about working in Time's Washington and New York offices in the early 1980s. These were still "glory days," when Time was a posh place to work, money flowed like wine, and it had "a Mad Men aura of whiskey, cigarettes, four-hour sodden lunches," and limos would drive you to the moon. Being a reporter was like being a member of a Yale secret society (unless you were a woman). Says Dowd: "a plummy time."
For many years, as Dowd suggests, the symbol of Time Inc's power in the journalism profession was the uninhibited spending by its writers and executives. No ink-stained wretches there. My initiation into these rites of excess was in 1966, when I was a summer intern in the London office headed by bureau chief Henry Luce III, son of the founder. I had worked on the college newspaper (no money) and was studying in England (subsistence stipend above tuition).