GREAT MOMENTS, NO. 2. One of SI's editorial staples in the early years was JIMMY JEMAIL'S HOTBOX, a question-and-answer feature by Jemail, who was the inquiring photographer of the New York Daily News. In the Feb. 28, 1955, issue, Jemail asked several sports figures, "There's been a lot of talk about anti-intellectualism. Are you an anti-intellectual?" Yogi Berra, catcher for the New York Yankees, had this to say: "Anti-intellectualism? Never heard of it. Am I an anti-intellectual? Who cares?"
GREAT MOMENTS, NO. 3. In a Feb. 9, 1959, article, Ingredients for a Faster Mile, runner Herb Elliot recommended a breakfast that included fried eggs and two whole potatoes, French fried.
SI's initial circulation was 450,000, compared with our current figure of 3.5 million. We struggled financially and editorially. At first a good many of our stories came from free-lance writers, but we soon realized that relying on free-lancers was a mistake for two reasons: 1) We ended up throwing away a lot of articles that we had paid for, because they weren't good enough, and 2) we needed to forge our own identity. In the meantime, we showed a fondness for animals as cover subjects. In all of 1955, for instance, only one pro football player, Doak Walker of the Detroit Lions, made the cover, but four dogs did. In our first four years we devoted 15 covers to horses, eight to dogs, five to birds—counting one that was dead and in the mouth of one of the dogs—four to fish and one each to a seal, a monkey and a lion.
Inside the magazine we often called on literary lions. We had William Faulkner at the 1955 Kentucky Derby and at a hockey game earlier that year, Ernest Hemingway on bullfighting, Robert Frost at the 1956 baseball All-Star Game (one can imagine a sportswriter sitting next to the poet and asking, "Who you covering for?"), Carl Sandburg on putting and John Steinbeck on fishing. Even before we published our first magazine, we let a big one get away. A young writer joined the staff, and his first assignment was to write a caption about a horse hurdling a fence. After several days of frustration, he quit, leaving behind this caption in his typewriter: "The——horse jumped over the——fence." So much for the SI career of Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
We struck suntan oil in our third issue, when we put a bathing beauty on the cover, in the surf off exotic Jones Beach, in New York. Years before our first true swimsuit issue, in 1964, we were on to something. That third issue also featured our first letters to the editor section, with praise from the likes of Thomas Dewey, Samuel Goldwyn, Clark Griffith, Hank Greenberg and Sandburg, who wrote, "The new magazine is a honey. Good writing, high readability, illustrations pat and high-spot."
Our first cancellation notice, from Walter Greenblatt of Dallas, also appeared in that first letters column. "I have received my first copy of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED and wish to cancel my subscription." We recently tracked down Greenblatt, who's now a 62-year-old insurance broker in Dallas. "Please tell your editor I'm sorry I canceled the subscription and that I think the world of your magazine," says Greenblatt, "though I'm afraid I still don't subscribe." But 17,109 charter subscribers are still with us.
GREAT MOMENTS, NO. 4. Of the 1961 home run race—Roger Maris versus Mickey Mantle versus Babe Ruth—we wrote in our July 31 issue of that year: "A season is a season, no matter how many games are played, and if Mantle hits 61 home runs this year, the answer to the question of who has hit the most home runs in one season will be Mickey Mantle. Besides, no crowd watching Mantle's 61st home run sailing out of the park will be talked out of the conviction that it has just seen a new record being set."
SI's first managing editor, Sidney James, was in many ways the ideal man for the job. "He had an unbounded enthusiasm," says Robert Creamer, a writer and editor for the magazine and, other than Henry Luce, our founder, the only person whose name appears on the masthead of both the first issue and this one. "Every issue was the greatest issue we'd ever put out, and we needed that kind of optimism in those days."
While circulation was strong from Day 1, Madison Avenue viewed sport as a blue-collar preoccupation whose followers could not afford the products the agencies were selling. "The advertisers considered sport a medium worthy only for sports equipment and hemorrhoid remedies," says James, who later became publisher of SI.
Peter Carr, one of the magazine's advertising salesmen at the time, concurs. "Sport is smart today," says Carr. "It wasn't at all in the early days of SI." The tough sell translated to weak ad revenues, and the result was a negative balance sheet for the first 10 years.