The gentlemen at Time Inc.—and they were all gentlemen—were as flummoxed as they were determined when it came to inventing this new magazine. Nobody could get a handle on it, and the buzz outside the building echoed their confusion. A survey of admen predicted trouble: "Do baseball and boxing fans mingle with fox hunters in pink coats? A hard book to sell ad space for with the audience all over the lot.... Looks like a sure money loser."
But Henry Luce's enthusiasm for the project seemed to inoculate the staff against these toxic misgivings. Ernest Havemann, who couldn't imagine a way to meld ad-friendly sports like badminton with orphan pastimes like boxing, had excused himself from the enterprise. In his place was Sid James, a veteran magazine editor whose career had apparently stalled at LIFE. James was a good candidate in that he didn't suffer much in the way of doubt or despair. "He refused," one of Luce's executives wrote to his publisher, "to get bogged down in the swamp of semantics and theory."
He did not seem likely to get bogged down in the swamp of sports, either, at least not at first. Nobody on the staff, with an exception here and there, was much more expert in the genre than Luce, although at least somebody corrected him when he reported seeing the Globemasters play in Rome. "Globetrotters," that somebody demurred, no doubt mildly.
Sports was sort of incidental to this project anyway. At the moment, in August 1953, the impetus seemed wholly financial, a way to tap into America's new leisure class and its huge but highly unpredictable appetite for pleasure. In a prospectus from the publisher it was suggested that we were in "a new time of good living" and that "for the first time in a generation, many a man found that it was possible to look beyond the doings of soldiers and statesmen into the world of sport, of leisure, of adventure."
The prospectus also said, "The pedestrian fact of more leisure time, more families, more young people, the increase in middle income and the move to the suburbs have today created a spectacular market for sports goods and leisure goods." And if you didn't believe it? "Sales of croquet sets have increased 1,000 percent since 1948."
There was no question American consumers were flexing their muscles. FORTUNE had already discovered that the "moneyed middle-class" of the 1950s was devoting $18 billion a year to "leisure-recreational expenditures." For Luce's new sports magazine, this amounted to bullish market research.
There were lots of decisions to be made, from naming and staffing the new magazine to defining the scope of its content. Jim Murray had been called to New York from doing celebrity profiles in Los Angeles for LIFE (it was Marilyn Monroe—"Five feet, six inches of whipped cream" is how Murray described her—who introduced him to Joe DiMaggio, not the other way around), and he lobbied for the title Fame. Luce said no to Fame. There was serious discussion about buying the monthly Sport, just for its name. Luce said in a memo that he'd be willing to pay $150,000 for that name. Sentences later, in the same memo, having sold himself on the notion, he wrote, "Okay with me to pay $200,000."
MacFadden Publications, Inc., the owner of Sport, wanted $250,000.
Luce was meeting often with the editors and conducting frequent forays into the sports world, getting staff escorts to baseball games during which he would pester the help—Who is that man standing by the base? His involvement was reassuring on the one hand, but it was not helpful in clarifying the editorial vision.
"The genius of our magazine," he wrote in March 1954, "if it has one, will be to get bowlers and beagles, baseballs and beavers under the same big tent." This would be quite a tent. One list of potential stories prepared early that year read like this: "Life of a bush league player, bullfight hospital, poodles, girl skin diver (cover possibility), micromidget racing in El Centro, champion swimmer Gail Peters (cover possibility), Irish sports, Canadian football, Billy Martin and...Bavarian boar hunt."