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I think over the years, it legitimized sports. All of a sudden, you could read a sports magazine, and still be considered able to read, for starters. -- Ray Cave
Sports Illustrated magazine is one of the great publishing success stories of the past 50 years -- a pop cultural phenomenon that has grown into a financial monolith, generating profits of more than one billion dollars since 1984. But if its success seems inevitable in retrospect, you don't know the whole story.
Launched by Time Inc. patriarch Henry Luce in 1954, SI was for years dismissed by many mainstream sports fans as a snobbish, upper-crust magazine. One writer called it a slick cookbook for the two-yacht family. But in the late '50s and early '60s, SI's prose was altered and enlivened by a new breed of smart, irreverent sportswriters, who were unapologetic about the central role of sports in modern society. They worked under legendary managing editor Andre Laguerre, the hard-drinking Frenchman who instilled SI with a breadth of vision that no sports magazine had ever possessed. From that collaboration emerged the blueprint for modern sports journalism, as well as the quintessential middle-class American magazine of the postwar era. The period also saw the debut of the controversial swimsuit issue, still the highest profile special issue in American magazine publishing.
Laguerre's transformation of the magazine -- which largely took place in a series of small, untrendy bars in midtown Manhattan in the '60s and '70s -- is one of the great untold stories of American journalism. It features a superb team of larger-than-life sportswriting legends like Dan Jenkins, George Plimpton, Frank Deford and Roy Blount, Jr., as well as cutting-edge photographers like Walter Iooss, Jr. and Neil Leifer.
The Franchise: A History of Sports Illustrated Magazine is the first book to tell the story, documenting the development of one of the most fascinating and dominant franchises in all of American sports, from its obscure beginnings to its present-day prominence. Filled with never-before-told inside stories about the game behind the games, it's a book for anyone who cares about sports, good writing and the high stakes world of modern media business.
Michael MacCambridge worked for eight years as a columnist and critic at the A ustin American-Statesman, writing about movies, music, and popular culture. He lives in St. Louis with his wife, Danica Frost.