Cover story: Vanity Fair, March 1983

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Our second contribution from Ian Birch looks at the return of Vanity Fair. Closed in 1936, Conde Nast brought the title back to life in March 1983 with this issue.

The editor-in-chief was Richard Locke, art director Lloyd Ziff and picture editor Esin Ili Goknar. Strangely, there was no editor’s letter announcing the return. Locke was replaced by Leo Lerman later that year, but the magazine still didn’t catch fire. Then on 1 January 1984 Tina Brown famously took over, gradually transforming it into a high-low-culture powerhouse (UPDATE: Ziff’s launch issue was based on an earlier prototype designed by Bea Feitler)

Time to look again at these pre-Brown issues.

The cover art is by Milton Glaser, one of America’s most important graphic designers: the Greek god Pan blows on his pipe and creates a new tune, a new magazine.

The seeds are all there: exceptional photography and illustration, quality writing but the pacing is heavy and the number of turn pages overwhelming. We see DeNiro and Streep drawn by Mick Haggerty and Ronald Steel on ‘America’s New Self-Interest’ with a painting by Philip Burke which discusses, with contemporary relevance, US isolationism, how it has become ‘a dirty word’ but that ‘it shimmers just beneath the surface, seeming to offer an escape from the disappointments and costs of internationalism,’(both above)

And Gore Vidal visits Mongolia.

Performance artist Laurie Anderson is photographed by Annie Leibovitz.; her ‘Big Science’ album had come out the previous April.

Walter Clemons on Alfred Hitchcock with paintings by Andy Warhol.

‘Chronicle of a Death Foretold’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez illustrated by Fernando Boyer. And, to keep a link with the old magazine, ‘Flashback’ (below) shows highlights from Vanity Fair 50 years ago.

Ian Birch is the former editorial director of Hearst magazines. Follow him on Instagram for more cover stories, and look out for his new book ‘Uncovered—Revolutionary Magazine Covers’ (ISBN-13: 9781844039043) which will be published 4 October.

Further reading: ‘The Vanity Fair Diaries’ by Tina Brown – the astonishing story of Brown’s successful development of the magazine in the heady days of eighties Manhattan publishing.

UPDATE: Read Vanity Fair’s own account of its eighties return; and a takedown of the magazine’s latest iteration.

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