Cigarettes, Scotch on the Rocks, and Searching for Someone Special

By Jack Limpert

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When local magazines had lots of ads and plenty of money for writers.

With Jim Webb exploring a run for President in 2016, I went back to re-read his 1979 Washingtonian article about women in the military. The headline: “Women Can’t Fight.” The deck: “A Naval Academy graduate, a combat veteran of Vietnam, says the country’s fighting mission is being corrupted, with grave consequences to the national defense. One of the main problems, he says, is women.”

Webb got a lot of flak for the article—he had to explain it when he was confirmed as Secretary of the Navy in 1987 and elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008.

For an editor, what was striking about that November 1979 Washingtonian was how different magazines were then. That issue had 324 pages, with 182 pages of ads and 142 pages of editorial. A golden age for magazines—all those ads, all that money for writers and space for stories.

The ads:

There were nine full-page ads for cigarettes: a two-page spread for Benson & Hedges plus full pages for Now, Salem, and Merit. Phillip Morris ran a spread advocating for the arts, also mentioning Marlboro, Benson & Hedges, Merit, Parliament Lights, and Virginia Slims. The Tobacco Institute ran a spread: one page was “A word to smokers” and the other was “A word to nonsmokers.” The message to non-smokers: Be open-minded and don’t build walls that separate us and don’t get in the way of “solutions that bring us together”

There were four full-page ads for scotch whiskey (J&B, Ballantines, Black & White, Teachers), five full-page ads for other hard liquor—bourbon, brandy, and vodka. Plus a full-page ad for “The Apple Disco”—”Every night the Apple’s live deejays spin a gossamer fabric of romance…”

There were more than a hundred In Search Of ads—they were paid ads but readers loved reading them. There were ISO parties where singles drank and laughed about who at the party should respond to what ad. Most the ads were serious attempts at finding a mate, but some had what seemed like code words for sex: Good-looking adventurous professor, 34, looking for an earthy woman with domestic tastes and Bohemian desires. Business executive, 35, attractive, honest, discreet, looking for ladies for afternoon meetings. Sincere SWM, 28, seeks an imaginative, uninhibited female for sharing mutual interests.

A fair number of ISOs were looking for same-sex relationships: GWM, intelligent, discreet, editor, 41, trim, handsome Nordic type. I’m masculine appearing but totally gay and completely adaptable.

As for the stories, along with Jim Webb’s “Women Can’t Fight” the issue had:

David Broder: How He Got to be Number One – Martin F. Nolan profiles the high priest of politics.

Networks: Yes, Virginia, It’s Who You Know. Without such networks, the individual stands naked. With the right sets of networks, everything is possible. By Laurence Leamer.

Broken Heart: Sidney Friedberg tells about the heart operation that saved his life.

Homecoming: Fiction by John Rolfe Gardiner.

Nights to Remember: Flood, fire, and wreckage have all taken their toll on Washington. Paul Dickson on our most memorable disasters.

There also were 13 pages of photos of Washington from the air: The Capital, Washington Monument, Pentagon, Watergate, the Mall, RFK Stadium. In those pre-9/11 days, a helicopter could take photographers and writers up over the city to cruise all over the friendly skies.

Plus lots of service stories: How to Find Good Household Help, The Washingtonian Home Design Guide, A Car Owner’s Survival Guide, Readers Pick the City’s Best Restaurants, The Joys of Bird Feeding.

And there was a lot of gossip and inside stuff: Margaret Trudeau doesn’t always don a full wardrobe before going dancing. When will Don Graham stop letting Sally Quinn ruin the Style section? And this from sources inside the Carter White House: “Teddy Kennedy got a note from his mother giving him permission to run for President, but what he really needs is a note from his wife telling him where he can find her.”

The cover story? Are Your Parents Home? Everything You May or May Not Want to Know About Your Teenager’s Sex Life. Cover price: $1.75.
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Jim Webb, aside from his life in the Marines and politics, is a very good writer. His 1978 novel, Fields of Fire, is one of the best books about the Vietnam war and he has written seven other books. He wrote the story and was executive producer for the 2000 film, Rules of Engagement, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Samuel L. Jackson. I don’t remember his Washingtonian piece needing much editing but when the issue came out, he called and asked why we had put such a provocative title on it. Jim, that’s how editors earn a living.
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Another explanation for the 182 pages of ads: Back in the 1970s almost all of the businesses in Washington were locally owned. As an editor, I went to meetings and events where I talked with the men who owned or ran the city’s banks, department stores, restaurants, clothing stores, car dealerships. They knew the Washingtonian—they read us, they talked with us, they often ran ads. When I went out to lunch with advertisers, most of them ordered a drink—often an old fashioned, manhattan, or martini, which may help explain all the magazine’s liquor ads.

The ad counts began to change in the late 1980s when the national chains—Macy’s, Nordstrom’s, Home Depot, Bank of America—began moving in, buying out or killing off the local businesses. Where we once sold ads to people who lived in Washington and who knew the magazine, the change from local to national meant we were trying to sell ads to Macy’s headquarters in New York, to Nordstrom’s in Seattle, to Bloomingdale’s in Cincinnati. The digital revolution allowed the big chains to manage stores all over the country and then the Washingtonian was just another magazine they probably didn’t read.

The computer also killed off all those In Search Of ads. Why wait for a monthly magazine when you can meet someone tonight through match.com?

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