Reconstruction 8.1 (2008)


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"Telling the Truth in the Headquarters of Lying": Intellectuals Writing for Fortune Magazine in the 1930s/ Robert Vanderlan

 

Abstract: Fortune, a magazine intended to chronicle American industrial life, evolved from employing broadly apolitical writers who were critical and disdainful of his business readership, to drawing upon "interstitial intellectuals", pursuing their own literary, political, and intellectual interests from the spaces they created and defended within corporate organizations. Fortune's assumptions provided concrete support for the New Deal and its expansive new role for the government, sometimes legitimating more radical demands. Crucial to Fortune's success was the self-identification of its journalists as intellectuals. Luce could not impose his own vision for Fortune's journalism on his writers. In contrast their primary commitment was intellectual and they held a commitment to their own intellectual independence, yet unlike later intellectuals who turned this independence into a fetish, they believed they could act unimpeded from within the interstices of large institution. They were willing to fight to see their vision represented in the magazine, and their success was crucial in making Fortune what it was.

 

<1> During the 1930s, Fortune magazine was written and edited almost entirely by liberal or leftist poets and intellectuals. The most significant included Archibald MacLeish, Dwight Macdonald, and James Agee. These and others played a crucial role in turning Henry Luce's business magazine, designed to chronicle and celebrate America's "business civilization," into a penetrating critic of American capitalism and a pioneer in a new form of literary journalism. They participated in the peculiar politicization of the decade, part of a stream of left intellectuals who produced important work from inside the burgeoning culture industries. Yet the work of these intellectuals has long been dismissed, not the least by the writers themselves.

<2> When asked later in life why they had worked for Fortune, most of these writers fell back on instrumental reasons, arguing they needed the money during the tough times of the Depression. Archibald MacLeish, for instance, made exactly this argument, conveniently forgetting that he joined the staff in 1929, before the stock market crash and the Depression that followed. Dwight Macdonald went one better, arguing in a postwar essay titled "On Selling Out" that he finally left Fortune in 1936 because "I kept falling asleep in the very act of prostitution" (Macdonald 171). This pithy dismissal made Macdonald's journalism for Fortune seem both boring and corrupt, but as a statement for why he quit, it was a lie. Macdonald left Fortune after losing a political struggle over his harshly negative, and very influential, critical analysis of U.S. Steel. Nevertheless, biographers and scholars have long accepted these flimsy explanations, despite the convincing evidence that each writer entertained high aspirations for his journalism. Scholars do so, I argue, because they accept a series of assumptions about the acceptable location of the intellectual.

<3> These assumptions arose in the postwar era, both as a reaction to the failed political hopes of the Depression years and as a conscious attempt to preserve an intellectual role against the growing power of mass culture. In the years following World War II, intellectuals insisted that they needed to remain independent of institutional ties to both the state and the corporation. Paid employment in the cultural industries, therefore, was necessarily a species of selling out. The power of these assumptions has been such that they have implicitly informed most scholarship ever since.

<4> Until recently. A decade ago Michael Denning took the first substantive step towards understanding the contributions these intellectuals made to what he labeled The Cultural Front. In the political struggles of the 1930s, Denning glimpsed "a space - always compromised and always under siege - in which populist, laborist, and anti-fascist productions appeared" (84). This space included the publications Time, Fortune, and Life (frequently referred to at the time as the "Lucepress" after founder Henry Luce). Denning takes the aspirations of these intellectuals seriously, but he exaggerates their identification with a cultural front more self-conscious in Denning's book than in the messier reality of Depression-era America. More precisely, writers such as MacLeish, Macdonald, and Agee can be described as interstitial intellectuals, pursuing their own literary, political, and intellectual interests from the spaces they created and defended within corporate organizations. They were able to create these spaces in the interstices of institutional locations and use these locations to push their own agendas. They contributed to the strength and success of left politics during the decade, from a location at Fortune magazine that seems as odd place to look for left politics but proved a crucial voice of support for liberal and radical criticism. Fortune's articulation of "populist, laborist, and anti-fascist" political views was part of a new landscaping of the political field, legitimating left-liberal political possibilities while undermining the assumptions that could underscore renewed business legitimacy. Politics is not the whole story, however, and these interstitial intellectuals also found at Fortune the space both to create a new form of literary journalism and to advance a compelling critique of mass market journalism. Their experiences serve as a necessary rebuttal to the idea that intellectual and political commitments are not reconcilable with mass cultural employment, and a useful insistence that mass cultural production could be every bit as contested as its reception. They also suggest that the success the left enjoyed in the 1930s was due to the success with which its assumptions - about the causes of capitalist failure, and about the necessity and possibility of creating a more secure, just, and democratic society - penetrated the entire society. Intellectuals at Fortune played an important role in achieving that success.

 

Fortune: The Tycoon's Own Magazine

<5> By 1928 Henry Luce wanted his own magazine. He and his partner Briton Hadden had created Time magazine, the first weekly newsmagazine, in 1923. Time had brought Fordist impulses to journalism, organizing the news for easier production and consumption. Breaking the week's news into twenty-two easily-absorbed departments, Time was designed to provide busy middle class readers with a summary of everything they needed to know about the world, in a form that could be read in an hour. By mid-decade it was a success, with climbing circulation and increasing advertising revenues. The son of missionaries, Luce had envisioned Time as part of an educating mission. It would help provide middle class Americans with the knowledge essential to self-government. But the actual magazine little reflected Luce's grand aspirations. Its pithy content, and the flippant tone developed by Hadden, left the more serious-minded Luce cold. Luce wanted to be Walter Lippmann; Hadden's magazine often seemed closer to Walter Winchell. Fortune, a magazine intended to chronicle American industrial life, better fit Luce's aspirations [1].

<6> Fortune positioned itself instead to capture the attention of the corporate world, to reach the growing numbers of upper managers and executives. Setting out to "portray Business in all its heroic present-day proportions," Fortune was seeking to be the "Tycoon's own magazine" ("Picturing Business" 1). Luce and his staff built their magazine around the idea that business was now the "prime determinant of society" (Jessup 223). The original name for the magazine, POWER, put this as plainly as possible. Given that it was "a generally accepted commonplace that America's great achievement has been business," as Fortune's pre-publication advertising announced, there was a pressing need for a magazine that could reflect business "in ink and paper and word and picture as the finest skyscraper reflects it in stone and steel and architecture" (Time, 10/28/29 38-40). Fortune set out to celebrate business in all its gaudy late twenties excess. Formatted like an over-sized art magazine (an imposing 11½ by 14 inches), printed on heavy, "wild wove antique" paper, hand sewn between heavy board covers, and needing twenty-seven separate presses to assemble the letterpress, offset and gravure sections, each Fortune weighed in at over two pounds an issue. The monthly magazine was priced at an outlandish dollar an issue, at a time when the other business magazines cost less than a quarter.

<7> Here again Luce had a serious purpose in mind. Viewing business as the real power in U.S. society, he wanted to see business leaders wield that power, but to use it with a sense of public responsibility he saw lacking in 1920s America. Previously business exalted competition and success, but it rewarded no higher purpose than serving the bottom line, expected nothing beyond amassing more and more wealth. The result, Luce argued, was that "we got an undifferentiated plutocracy and babbitry - a plutocracy without any common sense of dignity and obligation" (Luce, "Education and Aristocracy"). Luce looked for a new class of socially responsible business leaders, and he hoped to train them in the use of their power. America must find a way to make corporations "develop a deep sense of responsibility to the public," Luce argued, " . . . to find a way to develop a place for public conscience and public responsibility in all so-called private business." A necessary corollary to this project was the idea that private business was in fact a public interest (Note Luce's "so-called"). In essence, this was the core of all New Era economic thinking: the need to instill a new class of managers and corporate technicians with old values of social responsibility and stewardship. Fortune, by celebrating examples of progressive corporate leadership and criticizing irresponsible corporations, could help bring about this new "business aristocracy." Fortune must sit as "highly interested judges and critics of the leaders in so-called private business" (Luce, "Indispensable Men").

<8> What about this magazine was likely to appeal to the intellectuals Luce recruited? To understand the attraction, assumptions about each intellectual must be set aside. In 1930, neither MacLeish nor Macdonald was politically or artistically what he would become. MacLeish had spent the 1920s writing poems in Paris while befriending Hemingway and Fitzgerald. By 1929 he was a successful modernist poet, but he was also dissatisfied with a literary life that left him cut off from power and influence. He returned to the States looking to pursue the influence that his literary success had not provided, but for which his education and class position had prepared him. Macdonald was fresh out of Yale, determined to be a writer, but also attracted to the success and power of the business world. By the end of the 1920s, he deemed literary figures impotent in the face of business leaders such as Henry Ford. If MacLeish, Macdonald, and other similarly inclined young writers were pushed towards Luce's magazine because of their dissatisfaction with literary life, they were also pulled by the prospects of writing for a powerful audience [2].

<9> Early writers at Fortune were not politically radical (or even, frankly, very political). But neither were they apologists for corporate power. Their primary commitments were intellectual: they were ambitious young men interested in grappling with the world. They had no commitment to Luce's vision and they were critical and disdainful of his business readership. They did, however, hold ambitions for their journalism. When James Agee arrived at Fortune, for instance, he was working on a long poem, the professed goal of which was "a complete appraisal of contemporary civilization" (Fitzgerald 15). Agee found that he such ambitions were compatible with Fortune's expansive vision. Intellectuals such as Agee, MacLeish, and Macdonald understood themselves to be intellectuals first and journalists second. For them, this meant they were interested in understanding the world and in setting down their understanding in print (or as Agee later put it, they were committed to the "effort to perceive simply the cruel radiance of what is") (Famous Men 11). Their first loyalties were always to their own understanding. This intellectual identity proved crucial to the magazine's critical development.

 

Searching for a "Radical Capitalism" Men Can Believe In

<10> Within a year of its 1930 inaugural, Fortune began to distance itself from its more celebratory content and engage the economic crisis more directly. It featured business liberals such as Owen D. Young, the head of General Electric, and championed his drive to maintain wage levels and to articulate a public responsibility for private business. But Fortune soon went beyond Young and other business liberals, beginning in the August 1931 issue.

<11> That number was centered on a sixteen-page spread featuring the "American Workingman." Ostensibly an attempt to explain industrial workers to readers ("Who Is He? What Is He? How Does He Work and Live?" ran the subtitle), the piece instead juxtaposed representations of the worker in bronze, paint, and pictures with Fortune's elucidation and justification of a "new capitalism." As with many Fortune articles, the artwork dominated the presentation, assembling an assortment of pictures by Margaret Bourke-White and paintings by Reginald Marsh, Thomas Benton, and the "artist-economist" Gerrit A. Beneker. All celebrated idealized industrial workers and farmers.

<12> Rather than examine the worker as it promised, the opening essay instead explained what the magazine meant by what it labeled the "new capitalism." MacLeish, who wrote the essay, called it the "Doctrine of High Wages" after what he took to be its most important feature. MacLeish seized upon the fact the wages had not been immediately rolled back when Depression struck, as in previous slumps, as his primary justification for announcing the triumph of new capitalism and laying out its principles. Denying Ford's claim that high wages were merely a doctrine of economic expediency, MacLeish claimed its effects were necessarily social: "to replace a capitalistic class with a capitalistic society, a society in which labor, by virtue of its share in the profits of industry has a stake in the existing order. And its ultimate consequence must be the joint control of industry by workman and employer." Calling the new capitalism as radical as Stalinism, MacLeish concluded,

The economic duel so generally prophesied for the next generation will not be fought between Communism and Fascism . . . . The economic duel will be fought, if it is fought at all, between a radical capitalism with its purpose to make men productive in order that they may be free, and an experimental Communism with its purpose to enforce men in order than they may be productive. And the judge of the outcome will be American labor (131).

<13> Appearing in the summer of 1931, when the Hoover administration's attempt to enlist major industrial leaders in a cooperative effort to keep wages steady was beginning to crumble, the article was clearly an attempt to intervene directly in this debate. Fortune presented business with an image to fear - organized industrial workers. The article, with its huge reproductions of red-tinged radical workers, threatened business and tried to goad it into adopting the sort of industrial policies Fortune now openly advocated. Fortune advanced a vision of a radically altered capitalism, a capitalism of shared risk ("One of the smuggest platitudes of the old capitalism was the contention that capital took all the risks . . . . There are workman who have reason to know from their [sic] own experience that they also take a risk [66]") that would yield shared benefits; a capitalism that could compete with communism on its own terms by offering industrial workers a stake in the system. Fortune again quoted Young: "No man . . . with an inadequate wage is free (131) (a sentiment MacLeish later improved upon: "Ask yourselves what reason there is in heaven or earth or out of it why a man earning five dollars a day should believe in capitalism in any of its forms" ["To the Young Men" 454]).

<14> The maintenance of wages proved to be a thin reed on which to hang a radical redefinition of capitalism. When corporate leaders such as Ford and Young joined other corporations in slashing wages, Fortune pushed further to the left. By 1932 Fortune's ambitious new journalism of exposure and interpretation had emerged in full. Departing from the standard journalism practice, urged by Hoover, of minimizing the effects of the Depression, it repeatedly exposed its severity. Government efforts to react to the prolonged economic slump soon came under Fortune's expanded purview, with articles appearing on Congress, the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, and the Fourteenth Amendment. The magazine grew increasingly impatient with business, excoriating the housing industry in a six-part expose. Finally, Fortune added international coverage with a lengthy consideration of the Soviet Union, announced with a striking Diego Rivera cover depicting a Soviet train.

<15> Previous explanations for Fortune's change of direction have attributed it entirely to Luce. Macdonald, for instance, claimed the change occurred because "Luce was journalist enough to see that the New Deal was news and that big business, temporarily, wasn't" ("Fortune Magazine" 528). MacLeish, looking back years later, believed there must have been an editorial conference, guided by Luce, that resulted in a radical reconstruction of Fortune's mission, an expansion of its scope from business to American industrial civilization, broadly conceived (Writing for Fortune 7). There is no evidence, however, of any such conference or explicit change in policy. Fortune's new direction, revealed in its searching analysis of the magnitude of the Depression, its favorable reception of the New Deal, its increasing skepticism of the leadership of corporate America, and its openness to the labor movement, emerged piecemeal over time and was largely the result of the collaboration between the intellectuals who wrote and edited the magazine (Ingersoll, "High Times").

<16> MacLeish played the dominant role. His poetry and Fortune's journalism developed along parallel paths in the early thirties. In retreat from the introspection of the twenties, with its tight focus on the individual, MacLeish's early work at Fortune showed him how industrial life snared the individual in larger social forces beyond his control or influence. For poetry to remain central to human experience, MacLeish concluded, it needed to reflect this new social reality. He observed that the two major poetic responses to industrialism had been glorification of the machine and a retreat into extreme individualism. Both were dead ends, MacLeish declared. Instead, he advocated a poetry not of man but of mankind, "Not myself, my soul, my glycerine-dropping eyes, but these unknown and nameless men, anonymous under this sky, small in the valleys and far-off and forever there" ("Debt" 214-215). Having caught a "refracted glimpse" of a "new image of man" in Diego Rivera's Mexico City frescoes, MacLeish hoped to provide "an image of mankind in which men can again believe" (Donaldson 188; MacLeish, "Debt" 216).

<17> In his widely misunderstood 1932 poem "Invocation of the Social Muse," MacLeish sought a new social role for the poet. Published in the New Republic, MacLeish's inflammatory labeling of artists as "Whores" following the troops, and the obscurity of his ultimate position, sparked a controversy over the proper role of the intellectual (Collected Poems 93-95). Critics consistently miscast MacLeish as defending the extreme independence of the artist, a view that has prevailed among historians. Richard Pells, in his generally reliable survey of thirties intellectual trends, attributed to MacLeish the view that writers embracing social causes had "invariably compromised their talent, trying to turn literature into a vehicle of mass expression at the expense of personal creativity" (Pells 183). What MacLeish objected to, however, in his invocation and elsewhere, was the poets' subsuming of his art in the specific political struggles of Europe, the revolutionary ideologies of the right and the left.

<18> What was needed, MacLeish claimed, was a new vision of the just society. Luce's vaunted business leaders were not up to the task. "A sadder, stubborner, more timorous, whistle-in-the-graveyard lot never before lived on earth," MacLeish wrote to a friend, characterizing the American capitalist class (Winnick 240). The task fell more properly, MacLeish believed, to the poet, whose currency was the imagination or, equally, to the poet in the guise of the journalist. Thus, in the early thirties, in both his poetry and his journalism, MacLeish worked to develop a vision of America in which workers and capitalists alike could believe. MacLeish's interests fueled Fortune's expansion of its field of analysis.

 

Facts: "Telling Them What the Hell's What"

<19> MacLeish's field of vision was legitimated by Fortune's managing editor, Ralph Ingersoll. A bright young writer, who would later found and edit the left daily PM, Ingersoll provided a rationale to legitimate the magazine's new critical edge. With the Depression of paramount importance, business seemingly helpless to respond, and calls for government intervention growing, Ingersoll cannily decided to turn Fortune into what he called a "journal of free inquiry." No longer an appendage of business, Fortune would stand "on the sidelines, simply writing history." As he put it in an internal memo in 1934, " . . . our function should be neither that of prophet nor of expounder but that of the stern complete factual authority giving the reader the material with which to answer the questions the politicians will be batting back and forth over his head. They will be talking about 'liberty lost' and 'the forgotten men.' We will be telling them what the hell's what" ("My Years With Luce;" "High Times;" Hoopes 96).

<20> This progressive-era faith in presenting the facts and allowing them to dictate the response provided the foundation for Fortune's new approach. Arousing an audience to action through a careful marshaling of facts had been the characteristic technique of the turn of the century muckrakers, and Fortune led the way in updating this technique in the documentary mode that later emerged as the decade's characteristic form of expression. "Truth," Roy Stryker said, "is the objective of the documentary attitude," and Ingersoll claimed truth could be discerned through the investigation and presentation of information. Like the muckrakers, however, this emphasis on facts often served to camouflage the emotional dramatization that accompanied it (qtd. in Stott 14).

<21> Fortune's famous March 1934 article "Arms and the Men," an expose of the European munitions industries that helped prompt the Nye hearings in Congress, demonstrated this technique to great effect. The magazine used the cold justification of financial numbers to launch a moral inquiry. The article began:

According to the best accountancy figures, it cost about $25,000 to kill a soldier during the World War. There is one class of Big Business Men in Europe that never rose up to denounce the extravagance of its government in this regard - to point out that when death is left unhampered as an enterprise for the individual initiative of gangsters the cost of a single killing seldom exceeds $100. The reason for the silence of these Big Business Men is quite simple: the killing is their business (113).

The article then went on to inquire into what became of the $25,000 per dead soldier: who profited, by how much, and why. This became a common trope in Fortune, as the magazine laid a factual basis for what ultimately became a critical, and highly politicized, form of analysis. It underlay the magazine's groundbreaking reporting on the suffering brought by the Depression, on the abject failure of the housing industry to adequately meet the needs of millions of Americans, on the consistency with which corporate America sacrificed public welfare for private profit.

 

Facts Made Real in the Imagination

<22> The necessary corollary of Fortune's factual content was its packaging of information as forcefully and effectively as it could. In so doing it experimented with a wide range of techniques for conveying reality more directly, immediately, and effectively. From the very first issue its visual presentation had been almost as important as its text, and in Fortune's early forays into political issues the pictures often carried the emotional content left out of the article [3]. In 1933, however, MacLeish led a drive to push the limits of Fortune's fact-inflected prose, seeking a more forceful melding of information and literary presentation.

<23> MacLeish suggested what the writers had been trying to accomplish in a series of lectures delivered at the University of Minnesota in 1958. Speaking a few years before the emergence of the "new journalism," MacLeish attacked what he viewed as the increasingly strenuous separation of journalism and literature. Journalists, he claimed, strove "towards an admirably dispassionate objectivity which presents the event in the colorless air of intellectual detachment at the cost of its emotional significance (15)." The resulting journalism failed to engage the reader. Poetry, on the other hand, reacting against this tendency "turns more and more to the emotional significance divorced from the event." Taken together, MacLeish concluded, "we are deluged with facts, but we have lost, or are losing, our human ability to feel them. Which means that we have lost or are losing our ability to comprehend the facts of our experience as poetry comprehends them, recreated and made real in the imagination" (17).

<24> MacLeish's words provide a good summary of what he and his allies sought to accomplish in the middle thirties. In part, this had always been Fortune's mandate - to provide business with its own literature. But as the magazine became more piercingly analytical, the meaning of that literature changed. No longer merely an accouterment of business life (bringing culture to the busy businessman), it now sought to employ literary technique to make its description of America more compelling. Fortune's effort to "integrate journalism and literature," in Ingersoll's words, became an effort to represent American civilization in a way that facts alone could not ("My Years With Luce" 33).

<25> MacLeish inaugurated the literary turn in a multi-part expose of Swedish match king Ivar Kreuger, one of the more notorious examples of 1920s corporate duplicity. MacLeish began his long investigation of Swedish Match with an evocative imagining of the moments leading up to Kreuger's suicide. The article began "The stair smelled as it had always smelled of hemp and people and politeness - of the decent bourgeois dust. After the linoleum smell of the ship and the harsh, acrid, dampish smell of the boat train the air had a friendly, almost an intimate taste. Mr. Kreuger breathed it softly . . . "

The piece continued through Kreuger's last moments, conveying them from his perspective, complete with his final observations as he lay on the bed to shoot himself ("Looking up he saw the fat, gold stucco cherubs in the ceiling corners of the room. Odd witnesses!"). It was a tour-de-force of imaginative journalism, and it demonstrated how Wall Street had enabled and profited from one man's corruption (Fortune, May 1933).

<26> Articles such as these gave Fortune's gifted writers free reign to exercise their talents. But there was also a serious purpose behind the literary flourish. Describing the Tennessee Valley Authority, James Agee began with a long, lyrical description of the river, culminating as, "in one wide glassy golden swarm the water stoops forward and continuously dies into the Ohio" (81). Agee then detailed the rich natural resources of the valley, their wasteful depletion, and the deep poverty that enveloped the region. Only after pages detailing the natural and human world of the Tennessee valley did he move on to a consideration of the TVA and the vexing questions of private versus public power. The effect was profound: political questions receded as readers were reminded of the ultimate stakes: the people and the land they inhabited. The article did not slight the factual analysis Fortune required. Instead, it deepened it by placing it in a human context.

<27> The mixture of journalism and poetry practiced by the writers at Fortune contained the same tension between factual presentation and emotional manipulation that characterizes all documentary effort. The writer's description and dramatization of the material became paramount, resulting in more overtly political content as the writers were radicalized. Ingersoll never admitted to the tension, claiming a naive faith in Fortune's objective pursuit of the truth. In later years he described his vision of what Fortune in the thirties had been in typically grandiose terms: "The essence of the dream . . . was the dream of freedom in the enquiry, freedom to tell it as it is - or at least, as honest men saw it - to go wherever the truth should lead, whatever shibboleths it might challenge, and not ever to take sides when battling in such corrupting arenas as the political" ("My Years With Luce" 34-35). Ingersoll was a skilled political infighter, however, and an editor widely disliked for his deviousness. His use of this get-the-facts discourse was consciously constructed to legitimize the magazine's travels to the left.

 

Taking Sides in the Class War

<28> For Ingersoll and his writers, the "plain facts" as they were presented in the magazine increasingly tended to point toward a specific conclusion. Economic collapse was far worse than Hoover or business wanted to admit. American industry was too chaotic and unorganized to marshal the necessary response, and continued to mouth the same tired platitudes from the past. Republicans had no effective response to the problem. As MacLeish wrote in an analysis of the hatred of Roosevelt, "the Republican Party has displayed the minimum of intellectual activity consonant with continued life" (Fortune, December 1935, 102-107), a sentiment that echoed Luce's own statement that conservatives "had not had an idea since the Civil War" (Jessup 224). Ingersoll summarized the conclusion the magazine reached: "the great corporations of America were responsible for the American economy but they had proved themselves helpless or irresponsible or both when the heat had come on" ("High Time" 10).

<29> Once examining the causes and consequences of the Depression and the government response was established Fortune policy, guided by Ingersoll's documentary approach and the experimental impulses of the writers, the other writers quickly followed MacLeish's path of politicization. As Fortune pushed to examine the reality of corporate America, it began to radicalize writers that had remained personally inured to the effects of the Depression. The more the magazine paid attention to management's labor policies, the more it found itself in sympathy with labor. As Ingersoll remembered, "It was in these contacts that we rich boys learned for the first time what a Hell of a time the working people of America had had - and were still having - in the depression" ("High Time" 10). Wilder Hobson, for example, mild-mannered and genially conservative, came back from covering a strike in a company owned coal town completely horrified. Politically awakened, he soon helped lead the unionization drive at Time Inc. and became the first head of Time's Newspaper Guild branch.

<30> Though Luce was never radicalized, he walked along the same path to the left for a while. He, too, saw the failure of corporate America to respond effectively to the crisis. Though he retained hope that the necessary corporate leadership would emerge, he was not optimistic. He briefly flirted with fascism, championing its interest in reviving such "ancient virtues" as "Discipline, Duty, Courage, Glory, Sacrifice," but soon acknowledged the brutality of Mussolini's Italy (Fortune July 1934, 45). He supported the early New Deal, since its early emphasis on industrial organization and cooperation seemed like extensions of his New Era economic beliefs. In 1934 Luce listed two minimum principles conservatives must acknowledge if they were to be taken seriously: "a livelihood must be guaranteed to every man," and every "man, woman, and child" must live in a dwelling that "conforms to some minimum standard of decency" (Jessup 225). He fully expected the government to establish and enforce the necessary standards. Though later a harsh critic of the New Deal, in the middle thirties his major complaint was Roosevelt's criticism of business. Luce asked that "the President should lead Big Businessmen as he leads others by courage and hope" (Jessup 28). He supported Time Inc.'s own unionization. In 1933 and 1934, Fortune's belief that corporations were public institutions with public responsibilities and its corollary conviction that they had failed to meet their responsibilities, erected a tent big enough for Luce, Ingersoll, MacLeish, and the other writers to all stand under comfortably.

<31> It took Dwight Macdonald longer to begin this radicalization, but he eventually followed this path furthest to the left. As late as January 1932 Macdonald wrote a piece on the Berkshire Knitting Mills and their fight against union pickets in Reading, Pennsylvania, a city then under socialist administration. The story Macdonald submitted was openly skeptical of the union's aims and admiring of the company's intransigence. The company managers "are obstinate, no question about it. They run their mills exactly as they think best, which, as we have seen, is very admirably indeed" (Fortune January 1932, 110). But by 1934 Dwight had met his future wife Nancy Rodman, and she soon exposed him to radical political circles.

<32> He put his new interest in radical politics to work in Fortune's September 1934 profile of the Communist Party. Macdonald produced a long overview of the party and its opponents, before venturing a typical Fortune conclusion: "the Reds are 'trouble makers' and 'fomenters of rebellion,' but they can make trouble and foment riots only when the capitalist system has done gross injustice to some social group. By leading the oppressed classes and making their grievances articulate, the Communists force the capitalist system to adjust its most glaring inequalities" (159). The overall tone of the article was superior and amused, excoriating the Communists for their fealty to Moscow, their addiction to theoretical wrangling, and their relentless factionalism. He denounced the Communists' enemies in less amused tones, ridiculing their apocalyptic reaction to a nonexistent threat.

<33> Writing the article did nothing to shake his developing conviction that Communism offered the only "way out of the mess our society is in" (Letters 49). He was skeptical of Stalin from the first, but convinced of the failure of liberal democracy to reform itself and of the contradictions within capitalism that made its continuance impossible, Communism appeared as the only possible alternative.

<34> By 1935, sporting a red Trotskyesque beard, Macdonald was caught up in the increasingly political atmosphere of the magazine. With the New Deal under increasing pressure from the left and organized labor asserting itself, the writers at Fortune continued to push their critical project. Macdonald began to think he might turn his Fortune work into something worthwhile. He knew he wanted "to analyze, to discriminate, even to think if necessary, and to put it all down in writing as skillfully as I can." For the first time he considered whether he could do this at Fortune, and determined to make the attempt (Macdonald Papers, Box 59, Folder 1386). During his leave he had read Berle and Means' The Modern Corporation and Private Property for the first time. He soon put it to work in his next big assignment, a profile of Republic Steel that ran in December 1935. The piece was a typical Fortune corporation story, until the conclusion. Macdonald began his summary section by noting "an indictment cannot be drawn against Republic and its management by anyone unwilling also to draw an indictment against the whole U. S. corporate system" (152). He then proceeded to indict American corporate management for overstepping their legal role as trustees of the stockholders. Managers like Girdler acted like earlier capitalist owners, making decisions for the corporation, and then engineering the necessary stockholder approval. The hopes of liberals like Berle and Means, that the divorce of ownership from managerial power would make management more "disinterested," were misplaced. Corporate management's power remained unchecked.

<35> Macdonald pushed his politics further in his next assignment, a corporation story on the company a previous generation of muckrakers had made their names assailing, U. S. Steel. It was the most ambitious and important corporation story Fortune ever attempted. Macdonald was forthright in his goals, seeking to utilize Fortune's distinctive journalistic technique in a pursuit of a political agenda. Writing to a friend, he boasted, "I hope to so buttress my extremely unfavorable opinion of the Corporation with fact and analysis that even the average pachyderms of steel won't be able to topple it" (Macdonald Papers, Box 59, Folder 1386).

<36> "The Corporation," a "critical analysis of the world's biggest industrial enterprise," began in the March 1936 issue. For the first time, Macdonald experimented with the literary mode favored by other Fortune writers. He offered himself as the voice "who will sing the terror and power of American industry," penning a long poetic invocation of the steelmaking process. The piece, while not as deft as the best work of MacLeish or Agee, effectively emphasized the ugly, destructive force of steel making, dwelling on its capacity to remake the world. Macdonald invoked "streams running bister brown around Pittsburgh," "the lichen of rust spreading over the stacks of steel," the molten iron "twisting and roaring through sanded channels, glutinously gobbling, bearing on its surface black rafts of slag" (59-60). Where the accompanying photographs, by Russell Aikins, celebrated the scale of steel production, Macdonald brought out the terrible power.

<37> Turning to analysis, Macdonald proposed to measure U. S. Steel by two standards: as a machine for making money and as a machine for serving society. The conclusions he reached were unequivocal: U. S. Steel had not made money and it had not served the interests of its stockholders, its employees, or its customers. The company was too big, it favored the status quo over innovation, its pricing policy was "the words are measured - artificial, wasteful, discriminatory, and noncompetitive" (Apr. 1936, 126).

<38> The first two installments of the article, where Macdonald pressed these points, were widely read and discussed. Felix Frankfurter, who had recently written for the magazine, was appreciative, and sent the article on to Louis Brandeis, who also thought well of it. Fortune received more mail for the Steel articles than any previous work. Steel and its Chairman of the Board Myron Taylor, were of course angry. The Morgan interests, who still controlled the Steel Board, had pressed Luce hard to cut the criticism, but the first two parts had run much as Macdonald wrote them.

<39> The third installment, covering the corporation's labor policies, was assigned to Robert Cantwell at Macdonald's urging. The author of the fine proletarian novel The Land of Plenty (1934), Cantwell seemed a good choice to continue the critical tenor of the article. Cantwell, however, Macdonald claimed, "lost his nerve, for complex personal reasons, and turned in a piece that was so diplomatic . . . that Luce saw it wouldn't do" (Macdonald Papers, Box 191, Folder 20). The piece was rewritten, and the published article pushed Macdonald's line of criticism further. Fortune ridiculed the welfare policy of the company for its proud boasting of furnishing employees with toilets and sinks. It claimed an "industrial democracy" was better served by the "strength and protection of a steelworkers' union" than such welfare work (May 1936, 92-97, 134-147). Macdonald's criticism, implicit in the first two pieces, that the corporation had defaulted on its social responsibility, was made explicit. U.S. Steel's great power brought responsibilities it had failed to uphold.

<40> At this point the series was slated to end. Macdonald pushed for a final summary installment, weaving together the threads previously examined individually. He received the go-ahead, and produced a lengthy analytical draft pushing an interpretation he signaled by leading the piece with a quote from Lenin: "free competition is the fundamental property of capitalism . . . Monopoly is the direct opposite of free competition . . . Monopoly is the transition from capitalism to a higher order." Macdonald concluded, "The problem of the United States Steel Corp. is the problem of a quasi-monopolistic power in an economy based on the free market. The syllogism of Lenin quoted as the beginning of this article admirably expresses the paradox: competition logically leads to its antithesis, monopoly, and with equal logic monopoly leads to Socialism. It is the supreme contradiction of capitalism that its mightiest children are also its most dangerous enemies. Communism is being prepared more effectively at 71 Broadway [U. S. Steel headquarters] than in Union Square" (Macdonald Papers, Box 130, Folder 714).

<41> This essay prompted an internal fight inside Fortune. Ingersoll, the editor for the entire story, had been fighting a running battle with Macdonald over each installment of the series and did not think the piece should run as written. He did try to broker a compromise, however, by giving Macdonald a byline for his critical interpretive essay, telling Luce that Macdonald's viewpoint was "an informed and intelligent one" (Elson 254). Luce shot down this idea, being opposed to any interpretive articles or "any conclusion which might be construed as a letting of Macdonald or any other individual member of the staff draw critical conclusions from our Steel series" (Macdonald Papers, Box 130, Folder 714). In the end Ingersoll rewrote Macdonald's piece, eliminating all the interpretive and speculative material and substituting a summary that kept faith with the tenor of the previous articles but pushed the conclusions no further. If the published piece little resembled the "rosy Valentine" to Steel that Macdonald bitterly described, it was a curiously tepid conclusion to the sustained critical analysis that preceded it (Macdonald Papers, Box 84, Folder 253). Nevertheless, the articles had been extremely influential. It bolstered criticism of large corporations and it encouraged growing support for industrial labor's new offensive. Indeed, officials of the CIO later credited the series, and the shift in public opinion it precipitated, with pushing Taylor the Steel to agree to the landmark 1937 labor deal with John L. Lewis (Elson 254).

<42> The struggle over the Steel series at Fortune clarified the political divisions between the writers and editors. Luce had monitored the series throughout, pressed by the Morgan interests, Steel management, his own editors, and Macdonald. The flap over the final installment convinced him that Fortune's position as independent critic of business was no longer tenable. He was bolstered by increasing outside criticism of Fortune as "paid with Moscow's gold." Even the Fortune advertising salesmen were up in arms, frankly asking Luce whether it was ethical to solicit advertising from business if the magazine was biased against it (Elson 254-256). Luce considered all this before meeting with Ingersoll and declaring "What is going on in the steel industry and maybe in the whole country is war - war between capital and labor." If that was the case "then I've got to tell you there simply can't be any question about whose side Fortune magazine is on. Fortune has got to be on capital's side" (Ingersoll, "My Years With Luce" 323). It was clear to Ingersoll the Steel series meant a permanent change for the magazine.

<43> Macdonald was the first casualty. Even after the fight with Ingersoll and Luce, he had remained, hoping to patch together a compromise that would allow him to continue. Macdonald had invested a lot of himself in the Steel series, more than he ever had working for Fortune. Despite taking a "bad beating at the combined hands of J. P. Morgan, U. S. Steel, and Fortune" it was still difficult to leave a job he had only recently come to view as important (Wreszin, Letters 76). That he was making $10,000 a year made the decision even harder. Overcome by "a state of psychic impotence," however, he left Fortune in June for a leave of absence that later became permanent

<44> Macdonald fired a parting shot in a series of articles on Time Inc. published in the Nation. He described his old magazine as "a social phenomenon as bristling with contradictions as the capitalist system for which it speaks." Like Luce, he felt those contradictions could be resolved only if the magazine openly declared itself. He characterized the magazine as driving "madly ahead on its mysterious course, all sails set and the steering gear out of order" (Macdonald, "Fortune" 527). Luce and Macdonald both wanted to impose a steering gear on Fortune. Luce wanted to tack to the right by acknowledging Fortune's fealty to business. Macdonald attempted to steer it left by viewing the economy through the lens of Marxist economics. Ingersoll's big tent of journalists, engaged in the disinterested search for truth, collapsed when the stakes were raised to the level of the class war in which both Macdonald and Luce believed the country was engaged. The time had come, both believed, for choosing sides.

 

Whither Fortune?

<45> By 1937 Luce worked this feeling up into a major reconsideration of Fortune. He now wanted an explicit acknowledgment of Fortune's "bias in favor of free enterprise" printed in the pages of the magazine. But Luce could not win his band of intellectuals over to this view. As one writer put it in one of the flurry of memos that discussed Luce's proposal, "An artistic conscience (Fortune's should be that) does not have to 'believe' in the profit system any more than it 'believes' in the Chrysler Building. The profit system is a fact, not a cause." MacLeish followed up, claiming that "a truly objective journal," as Fortune had striven to be, could not have a preconceived commitment to any outcome of its research. "The advocacy of the point of view of the owners of big business is incompatible with the journalism FORTUNE has developed," MacLeish argued and Fortune risked making itself a "journalistic joke" by operating from such a position. Fortune must remain a magazine of business, not for or against business (Davenport Papers, Box 54, Folder 41).

<46> In the face of this opposition, Luce backed away from his hopes to see the magazine print his acknowledgment of subservience to business. Despite Luce's failure, MacLeish, Macdonald, and Agee all left by 1938. The magazine remained an important voice of business liberalism, but was both less expansive and less critical than in its mid-1930s heyday.

<47> What, ultimately, is the significance of the efforts made by these intellectuals to turn Luce's business magazine into a vehicle of political and artistic experimentation? Fortune during its mid-1930s peak was an extraordinary magazine. MacLeish like to boast to his radical friends that Fortune was a better social historian than the New Masses, and most of the time he was right. The magazine consistently produced incisive, provocative, compelling, and influential journalism. This journalism reached a powerful and influential audience. The magazine played a significant role in pushing political opinion to the left. Fortune accepted and propagated a series of assumptions - that business must place the public good above private ends, that social rights to housing and employment existed and must be met, that organized labor was a legitimate expression of the just needs and demands of workers, that free markets were but one means, and not necessarily the best means, to achieving a more democratic, more fair, more just society. These assumptions provided concrete support for the New Deal and its expansive new role for the government. They also helped legitimate more radical demands.

<48> Historians have long attributed Roosevelt's "Second New Deal," beginning in 1935, to the "thunder on the left," including labor, socialist, and political movements (Leuchtenburg, McElvaine). Too often overlooked is the crucial legitimacy granted Roosevelt's program from elements of the mainstream that could have been expected to resist any such moves to the left. Recent analysts have dismissed Fortune as part of the "new corporatism" (Smith), or as articulating a coherent ideology of corporate leadership (Augspurger), or of being part of a new "historic bloc" of capital intensive corporations that seized control of the Democratic Party ( Ferguson). All of these interpretations necessitate ignoring the political struggles over Fortune's content, the political views of the intellectuals who produced the magazine, and the assumptions that structured its content. That the political road to the left in the United States proved a mild left rather than a sharp left, that the U.S. never achieved the social democracy (or, more problematically, communism), longed for by many, should not eclipse the achievement of the New Deal or the role of Fortune's band of intellectuals in its execution and legitimation.

<49> Crucial to Fortune's success was the self-identification of its journalists as intellectuals. Conceivably journalists could be expected to pursue the type of journalism expected by their editor and publisher. But Luce could not impose his own vision for Fortune's journalism on his writers. Their primary commitment was intellectual: to exploring, understanding, and depicting the world they found. They held a commitment to their own intellectual independence, yet unlike later intellectuals who turned this independence into a fetish, they believed they could act unimpeded from within the interstices of large institution. They were willing to fight to see their vision represented in the magazine, and their success was crucial in making Fortune what it was.

<50> The 1930s were an especially propitious time for this sort of experimentation. Denning recognizes this better than most, situating Luce's journalists inside a broad effort to turn the cultural industries into voices of political aspiration. But Denning is too ready to subsume Fortune into the cultural politics of the popular front. More accurately, the field of cultural production during the decade contained overlapping memberships and constituencies (Bourdieu). The walls dividing mainstream journalists, modernist artists, and newly politicized radicals, were shifting and permeable. This flux and mobility allowed for fruitful travel between cultural and political worlds. It also provided a crucial mechanism transmitting ideas across boundaries.

<51> These walls became steadily less permeable over time. Ironically enough, the key figures in Fortune's experimental phase played important roles here as well. The hardened wall that segregated intellectuals from the wellsprings of power left MacLeish on one side, Macdonald on the other, and Agee trapped inside, invisible from the outside.

<52> MacLeish had done the most to create Fortune's distinctive journalism. His Fortune years were also the key moments in his transition from modernist poet to public intellectual. In addition to writing more words for Fortune than anyone else, during the decade he published his Pulitzer Prize winning play Conquistador, the radio plays Fall of the City and Air Raid, the play Panic, collections of poems including Frescoes for Mr. Rockefeller, and his word and picture books, America was Promises and Land of the Free. Add to this his many essays and his very visible campaigning for the Spanish Republic.

<53> All of MacLeish's work had been driven by his desire to see a more democratic society evolve, but by the late 1930s these interests were partially eclipsed by his growing anti-fascism. His conviction that fascism posed a mortal threat to civilization (and to intellectuals) drove his deepening belief that the intellectual was compelled to be a public figure. It was, in the words of a collection of his essays from 1940, A Time to Speak. It was this that led to his controversial 1940 essay, "The Irresponsibles," in which he criticized artists who sought to stay on the sidelines of history.

<54> MacLeish soon got the chance to act in pursuit of his beliefs. He was named Librarian of Congress in 1939, the first of a number of positions in which MacLeish strove to balance his political commitments with his conception of the intellectuals' vocation. In retrospect, MacLeish seems to have been successful in this perilous balancing act. Though some have criticized him as a "nervous liberal," MacLeish consistently acted, in accordance with his beliefs, to move America closer to the democratic, just society he envisioned ( Gary). As a public servant, an academic, a poet, and an essayist, MacLeish consistently sought to explicate and dramatize his vision of American democracy. He was a staunch advocate of human rights, an equally staunch and vocal opponent of McCarthyism.

<55> MacLeish's public intellectual identity, however, came with significant costs. Public influence seemed to be inversely related to intellectual respect. MacLeish's standing as an artist and poet steadily fell as his public role expanded. Once intellectually respected, later merely well-known, MacLeish is now mostly ignored. Leading the charge to discredit MacLeish was his old Fortune colleague Dwight Macdonald.

<56> Upon leaving Fortune, Macdonald moved for a while in Trotskyist political circles before becoming part of the editorial team that relaunched Partisan Review in 1937. Beginning there, from perches at Partisan Review, his own magazine politics, and free lance placements in magazines such as the New Yorker and Esquire, Macdonald developed into a formidably influential cultural critic. He emerged as the most trenchant critic of mass culture, and especially of its pernicious off-spring, middlebrow culture (or, as he called it, "midcult"). If mass culture offered up fare carefully calibrated to appeal to the lowest common denominator, midcult served up trite ideas under a veneer of culture and art. In his relentless and pitiless dissection of midcult, Macdonald regularly singled out MacLeish for criticism.

<57> More than artistic animosity drove Macdonald's attacks. He had in mind not just the content of MacLeish's writings, but the social role MacLeish sought to adopt. Under the threat of mass culture, Macdonald believed the only viable intellectual position was one of privileged independence. To work within institutions was necessarily a form of selling out one's convictions, and therefore one's claim to be an intellectual. Go ahead, Macdonald advised, "sell out if you can, since if you can you don't have anything of value and you might as well cash in on it" ("On Selling Out" 173). Macdonald's insistence upon independence - like his cataloging of the ways middlebrow institutions such as Time Inc. corrupted intellectual values - were widely accepted. They made it difficult for public intellectuals such as MacLeish to retain any standing in critical circles. And they made it difficult for later scholars to take seriously the active involvement of intellectuals in the production of mass culture.

<58> Yet Macdonald's good friend and colleague, James Agee, put the lie to precisely these assumptions. Agee's hopes for his writing at Fortune, and later Time, were tightly bound up with his view of the artist's place in society. Committed to an artistic avant-garde, critical of mass culture, and suspicious of acceptable art, Agee nevertheless remained fascinated with mass cultural media. "A good artist is an enemy of society," Agee wrote, and he fully expected society to try to disarm its enemies. Writing to Walker Evans about Evans' 1938 photographic exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, Agee claimed, "The world has not the slightest idea what to do with these productions . . . can neither throw them away nor have them around, and so has invented a sort of high-honorable day nursery or concentration camp for them, so that they will not be at large" (Rathbone 163). Unlike Dwight Macdonald, who sought to cultivate an appreciation for high culture, Agee distrusted any social acceptance art managed to win.

<59> The trick, therefore, was to avoid making art that would slide gracefully into the strangling embrace of polite society. Agee intended his work as a constant rebuke, a steady prick to the conscience of readers. Fighting the "emasculation of acceptance," Agee's goal was to create art and keep it "at large." (In Famous Men he explained why "we make this book and set it at large" [15, 9]). If art was to have political and moral resonance, it needed to reach and to provoke an audience. It needed to confront the world on its own messy ground. Agee took the project MacLeish had begun at Fortune - to combine poetic technique and language with searching moral inquiry in the hopes of better representing the world - as far as it could be taken in the magazine, and a then a great deal farther.

<60> His opportunity came with the Fortune assignment that later became Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Paired with the photographer Walker Evans (on loan from the Farm Security Administration), Agee headed south. The story of their trip south and the long road from research to the final publication of Famous Men in 1941 has been told repeatedly. Struggling to find the right sharecroppers to study, then staying for weeks with a family in Alabama, Agee spent two months collecting material (while Evans took somewhat less to make his pictures). Returning to New York already a month behind schedule, Agee spent months writing an article that Fortune refused to publish. After sitting on the article for a year, Fortune released it to Agee, who found an interested publisher (Harper and Brothers). After long revisions, Agee delivered a manuscript in 1939. Harper decided not to publish it, however, when Agee refused extensive changes designed to make the book more palatable to readers. Finally, in 1940, Houghton Mifflin agreed to publish the book if Agee would delete a small number of objectionable words. Agee relented, and the book appeared in 1941 (Bergreen 158-261; Hersey 55-62; Stott 261-66).

<61> Let Us Now Praise Famous Men is a book without peer in American literature. Though it grew organically out of Agee's writing for Fortune, it also contained an explicit repudiation of the magazine's journalism. A study of poor, southern sharecroppers, the book joined a long list of such documentary efforts from the thirties. Yet, as William Stott showed, "it epitomizes the rhetoric in which it is made, and explodes it, surpasses it, shows it up" (266). Where documentary tended to be pragmatic and progressive, Agee was elegiac and pessimistic. Emerging from a socially meliorative genre that tended to view individuals as, in Agee's words, "social integers in a criminal economy," Agee wrote in a religious idiom that emphasized the divinity of each human being. His book contained exhaustive descriptions of the ephemera of human life, the houses, clothes, and meager decorations of the Gudger family, far exceeding any other such record. Yet it also featured astonishingly long flights of Agee's lyrical fancy, prose poems that continued page after page. Agee went to extraordinary lengths to establish the irreducible humanity of the families, and to protect them from the pity, condescension, and ultimate scorn of the reader. Nevertheless, he subjected them to his own relentless self-interrogation, weaving his own thoughts through their lives, even to the point of making them complicit in his sexual fantasies. Let Us Now PraiseFamous Men was many things, but perhaps chiefly, it was a strenuous moral inquiry into the nature of confronting ourselves as we in turn confront others.

<62> In addition to his extraordinary attempts to record the material world the tenant farmers inhabited, and his insistence on foregrounding his own filtering presence, the other distinctive element of Agee's text was its vituperative attack on journalism. Of the many beginnings in the book, one started:

It seems to me curious, not to say obscene and thoroughly terrifying, that it could occur to an association of human beings drawn together through need and chance and for profit into a company, an organ of journalism, to pry intimately into the lives of an undefended and appallingly damaged group of human beings, an ignorant and helpless rural family, for the purpose of parading the nakedness, disadvantage and humiliation of their lives before another group of human beings, in the name of science, of "honest journalism" (whatever that paradox may mean), of humanity, of social fearlessness, for money, and for a reputation for crusading and for unbias, which, when skillfully enough qualified, is exchangeable at any bank for money . . . and that these people could be capable of meditating this prospect without the slightest doubt of their qualification to do an "honest" piece of work, and with a conscience better than clear, and in the virtual certitude of almost unanimous public approval (7).

This passage was not in the original Fortune draft. Yet the sentiments it expressed were implicit in Agee's journalism all along. And his terror did not prevent him from prying into the lives of these appallingly damaged human beings. Agee had different reasons than Fortune, and was filled with doubts about the purity of his intentions that the magazine was unlikely to entertain, but he pried into the lives of the Gudgers, Ricketts, and Woods families just the same.

<63> Stott's argument about Agee's relationship to documentary - that "it culminates the documentary genre and breaks its mold" - applies with equal force to journalism (266). "The very blood and semen of journalism," might be, as Agee famously characterized it in Famous Men, "a broad and successful form of lying" (235). Nevertheless, the struggle to make journalism speak the truth was still necessary. The simplification, sensationalism, and condescension that Agee abhorred in other documentary efforts necessitated the response he gave in Famous Men. The "lying" he found in journalism made telling the truth (contingent, subjective, radically filtered through the writer's consciousness, but closer to the truth because of this) all the more necessary.

<64> Even after the break with Fortune, Agee still hoped to pursue his exposure of the manipulative coerciveness of journalism in the pages of Luce's magazine. The closest he came were his years writing for Time. In his movie reviews for the Nation and Time, Agee worked to sift through the rote, familiar, unthinking, and accepted in order to glimpse those moments when film succeeded in getting close to the natural, the real, and the true. In an appreciation of filmmaker Preston Sturges, Agee argued the director's artistic success stemmed paradoxically from the restrictions Hollywood imposed on him. Agee speculated that given freedom, Sturges "would become a relatively helpless, perhaps melancholic, distinctly mediocre artist." Instead, working within the studio system, "his films are invariably and resourcefully, built in reference to a corrupt and half-mad environment" (Agee Papers, Box 11, Folder 17). This might serve as a suitable description of what Agee attempted as a journalist working for Time Inc. It was only by working within the corrupt and half-mad world of journalism that Agee could see and define what it was he opposed. John Hersey described Agee's journalism as an attempt at "telling the truth in the headquarters of lying." It is an apt description of the efforts made by the interstitial intellectuals of the cultural front at Time Inc. and throughout the culture industries.

<65> By the time Agee was composing film pieces for the Nation, Time, and Life, the attempts to infuse mass market magazines with sustained criticism and a left politics were drawing to a close. The culture front was under assault in the dawning days of the Cold War, and intellectuals were arguing that mass culture employment was inimical to serious intellectual life. The experiences of MacLeish, Macdonald, Agee and their intellectual colleagues serve as a useful reminder that there was a world of possibility and a great deal at stake in the production of mass market magazines. The success of the left was predicated on many things, but in addition to the obvious contributors, its success had something to do with the proliferation of intellectual values throughout corporate environments. The willingness of intellectuals to allow their values to collide with the messy realities of the world, and their willingness to fight for their beliefs at Time Inc. rather than cede the field to those willing to take the easier path of political and professional obsequiousness, mattered.

 

Works Cited

Agee, James and Walker Evans. Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. 1941. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1941. 1960.

Augspurger, Michael. An Economy of Abundant Beauty: Fortune Magazine and Depression America. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004.

Baughman, James L. Henry R. Luce and the Rise of the American News Media. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987.

Bergreen, Laurence. James Agee: A Life. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1984.

Bourdieu, Pierre. The Field of Cultural Production. New York: Columbia University Press, 1993.

Busch, Noel F. Briton Hadden: A Biography of the Co-Founder of Time. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Company, 1949.

Cummings, Robert James. "The Education of Dwight Macdonald, 1906-1928: A Biographical Study." Stanford University, 1988.

Russell Davenport Collection, Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress.

Denning, Michael. The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture in the Twentieth Century. London: Verso, 1996.

Donaldson, Scott. Archibald MacLeish: An American Life. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1992.

Drabeck, Bernard A. and Ellis, Helen E., ed. Archibald MacLeish: Reflections. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1986.

Elson, Robert T. Time Inc.: The Intimate History of a Publishing Enterprise, 1923-1941. New York: Atheneum, 1968.

Ferguson, Thomas. Golden Rule. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1995.

Fitzgerald, Robert, ed. The Collected Short Prose of James Agee. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1968.

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Fortune Magazine, ed. Writing for Fortune. New York: Time Inc., 1980.

Gary, Nelson. The Nervous Liberals: Propaganda Anxieties from World War I to the Cold War. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999.

Halberstam, David. The Powers That Be. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1979.

Hersey, John. Life Sketches. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989.

Hoopes, Roy. Ralph Ingersoll: A Biography. New York: Atheneum, 1985.

Ralph Ingersoll Collection, Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center, Boston University.

International Center of Photography, "Picturing Business: the Photography of FORTUNE, 1930-1965."

Jessup, John K., ed. The Ideas of Henry Luce. New York: Atheneum, 1969.

Leuchtenburg, William E . Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal. New York: Harper and Row, 1963.

Luce, Henry R. "Education and Aristocracy" Henry R. Luce Collection, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Box 74.

---. "Indispensable Men" Speech in W.A. Swanberg Collection, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University.

Dwight Macdonald Papers, Sterling Library, Yale University.

Macdonald, Dwight. Against the American Grain: Essays on the Effects of Mass Culture. New York: Random House, 1962.

---. ""Fortune" Magazine." The Nation. (1937): 527-30.

---. "On Selling Out." Discriminations: Essays and Afterthoughts, 1938-1974. New York: Grossman Publishers, 1974. 171-73.

McElvaine, Robert S. The Great Depression: America 1929-1941. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1993.

MacLeish, Archibald. Collected Poems, 1917-1952. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1952.

---. Land of the Free. New York: Harcourt Brace and Co., 1938.

---. "Nevertheless One Debt." Poetry 38.4 (1931): 208-16.

---. Panic: a Play in Verse. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1935.

---. "Poetry and Journalism." Poetry and Journalism. Ed. University of Minnesota. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1958. Vol. Poetry and Journalism.

---. A Time to Act. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1943.

---. A Time to Speak. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1940.

---. "To the Young Men of Wall Street." The Saturday Review of Literature 8.26 (1932): 453-54.

Pells, Richard H. Radical Visions and American Dreams. New York: Harper and Row, 1973.

Rathbone, Belinda. Walker Evans: A Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1995.

Smith, Terry. Making the Modern: Industry, Art, and Design in America. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1993.

Stott, William. Documentary Expression and Thirties America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973.

Swanberg, W. A. Luce and His Empire. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1972.

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Vanderlan, Robert J. "Time Inc. and the Intellectuals." PhD. Dissertation: University of Rochester, 2004.

Wilner, Isaiah. The Man Time Forgot: A Tale of Genius, Betrayal, and the Creation of Time Magazine. New York: Harper Collins, 2006.

Winnick, R. H., ed. Letters of Archibald MacLeish, 1907 to 1982. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1983.

Wreszin, Michael, ed. A Moral Temper: The Letters of Dwight Macdonald. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2001.

---. A Rebel in Defense of Tradition: The Life and Politics of Dwight Macdonald. New York: Basic Books, 1994.

 

Notes

[1] For background on Time and Fortune, see Baughman (1987), Busch (1949), Elson (1968), Halberstam 1979), Swanberg (1972), Vanderlan (2004), (Wilner (2006). [^]

[2] For MacLeish, see Donaldson (1992), Drabeck and Ellis (1986), and Winnick (1983). For Macdonald, see Cummings (1988) and (Wreszin (1994). For both together, see Vanderlan (2004). [^]

[3] For a different characterization, but one that ignores the majority of the magazine's content, see Smith, Making the Modern, 190-93. [^]

 

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