The Dummy issue of Henry Luce's proposed sports magazine, 140 pages of practice journalism, was completed in January 1954, and copies were distributed to a select list of people within and outside the company. It resembled The New Yorker, the editorial embodiment of class, yet it was unlike anything else. Unlike, some critics quickly decided, a magazine at all.
The fundamental problems remained. The coverage of spectator sports could please no more than a handful of readers in any one week. There were 16 major league baseball teams, but they were all in the eastern half of the country. Same with pro basketball, but it had just nine franchises. There were only four U.S. cities involved in professional hockey. Pro football had 12 clubs, 10 of them east of the Mississippi. And even if there were fans who were so indiscriminate as to read about games a continent away, what were they going to read about in the dead of winter, when there were gaping holes in the sports calender?
The dummy issue did not attempt to address any of these problems, publishing a hodgepodge of fox hunting and wrestling, among other topics. Ernest Havemann, trying not to say "I told you so," wrote, "I still think it merely proves—by being no better than it is after all the effort that has gone into it—that you just can't lick the problems. I further think that to compose a critique of the dummy would be like trying to pick the deadest fish on a mackerel boat."
Barron's wasn't much more impressed. "Somewhat disappointing," it said. Luce's confidants, meanwhile, were assuring him that it was getting good reviews from other quarters.
The second dummy—titled Dummy—was brought out in April, and it was marginally better, although the cover story on the Masters included a picture of Pebble Beach, not Augusta. The Washington News said it was "doomed to failure" and especially didn't care for the style of writing, which ventured too far from the "labyrinthine and rococo" prose the sports reader was used to. The rather normal English that was used in a story on bowling, for example, was "as out of place in a sports journal as a chaste, crisp radish would be atop a super deluxe banana split."
In other words, agreed a prospective ad buyer, it was "too snooty." He advised editors to "get down to the level of the common man and not be so New Yorker-ish."
There's little evidence editors were listening, else they wouldn't have hired Herbert Warren Wind, he of The New Yorker, to cover golf. They did, however, arrange to have baseball columns from Red Smith, of the more down-to-earth Herald Tribune, and vigorous boxing coverage from Budd Schulberg, fresh off writing the screenplay for On the Waterfront.
The ideal mix of stories was still elusive. Managing editor Sid James sent Luce a 54-page prospectus for the magazine but did not seem ready to be pinned down. On the one hand he proposed columns addressing the major sports, on the other a department called The Footloose Sportsman, a kind of travelogue. His idea included everything from World Series coverage to a memoir by Winston Churchill "on My Thirty Seasons of Polo? All that, and the Matchwit crossword puzzles.
Yet there was something about this project that was stirring interest. Maybe not among magazine critics or ad buyers, but among readers. The Time Inc. circulation department sent out a test mailing to gauge reader response, and the result was surprising, twice what would have been considered successful. Later, when it came time to sell charter subscriptions, the response was again flabbergasting, allowing the magazine to guarantee advertisers a readership of 450,000—twice what LIFE had started with, highest ever, for that matter, for a magazine with a cover price of 25 cents.
There was still the matter of a title, of course. Luce couldn't get together with MacFadden on the purchase of Sport, so it was Dummy or MNORX until, lunching at the Plaza one day, the magazine's new publisher, Harry Phillips, ran into an old friend, Stuart Scheftel. "By the way," Scheftel said, "I own the title of the magazine Sports Illustrated, and if you want it, I am willing to talk about it." It was the title of two previous start-ups, both unsuccessful, and had now been dormant many years. Time Inc. offered $5,000 for the name. "I had hoped you would offer $10,000," Scheftel said, "but I'll take the $5,000 provided I get a free subscription."