Needless to say, Malcolm Forbes the promoter, publicist and pitchman had as much to do with this as Malcolm Forbes the balloonist. With all the resources of
Magazine and Forbes Inc. at his disposal (he is sole stockholder of both), he had inundated the press, radio and TV networks with P.R. kits, films and advance men all touting the wonders of the epic cross-country flight.
The promotion was obvious, but the public loved it. Above the plains and across the prairies, over the mountains of Wyoming and the farmlands of Nebraska, the great, graceful silhouette floated through the sky, bringing with it magic and adventure, frivolity and joy. People everywhere laughed and waved, vicariously soaring with Forbes above the clouds. And wherever the balloon touched down, traffic would come to a standstill. Children were released from school, shops closed, housewives left their laundry for a glimpse of the big man in the flashy flight suit. Resplendent in a fur parka, red leather pants and black calf-high boots, he was Captain Marvel in the flesh.
No one in the almost 200 years that men have been flying balloons has put the sport more squarely on the front pages. The introduction of new synthetic fabrics, making possible production of relatively low-cost balloons, started a small ballooning renaissance in the mid-1960s, but it was not until Forbes' flight that it really began to flourish. Balloon clubs sprang up all over the country, the number of balloons in use quadrupled, schools and instructors found themselves with more business than they could handle. And Forbes found himself thinking about other horizons to conquer. The logical one was the Atlantic.
"It never has been done," he says, "but everything indicates that it can be."
Whether he succeeds or not, one thing is certain: few ego trips will have logged more altitude and mileage. The conventional hot-air balloon in which he bounced and bounded from sea to shining sea has been replaced by Windborne, and, surrounded by scientific equipment, complex communications systems, official-sounding agencies, legions of engineers and space technologists, Malcolm Forbes is the command pilot of a space-age aerostatic creation straight out of Buck Rogers.
There are legitimate justifications for the astronomical expenditures of money, energy and time involved in what is offically dubbed Forbes Magazine's Atlantic Project. On the scientific side, the unique design of the craft will permit a variety of new atmospheric measurements. On the sporting side, at least two world records currently held by Germany, those for distance and duration, are expected to be broken. Economically, the publicity for
and the various enterprises of Forbes Inc. is incalculable.
But over and above all this, Forbes wants to be first. This is his bid for a place in history, his chance at a kind of immortality. It is also his chance, once and for all, to shake the shadow of his father that still falls, though ever more faintly, across his path.
In the foreward to his book Fact & Comment, published by Knopf earlier this year, Malcolm Forbes writes: "Through sheer ability (spelled i-n-h-e-r-i-t-a-n-c-e) I have become Editor-in-Chief of Forbes Magazine...." He then goes on for 296 pages to comment on the art of writing, foreign travel, doctors, politics, wives, movie stars, cars, pets, charge accounts, films, college exams, Congress and just about anything else that has taken his fancy over the years. It has all appeared at one time or another in the two-page feature he writes twice monthly for
, and it is apparent that a fringe benefit of owning his own magazine is that nobody blue-pencils his copy. His work is sprinkled with malapropisms, grammatical errors, made-up words, outrageous opinions and even more outrageous puns. All of which make it some of the most entertaining reading around these days—Hubert Humphrey once called Forbes the Bob Hope of business publications. "My father always said business was originated to produce happiness," Forbes himself observes, "and I took him at his word. I suspect that my antics and activities since taking over the magazine [upon his father's death in 1954] have kept the old man twirling in his grave ever since."
The self-deprecation is only partly genuine, a pet ploy of Forbes' that nobody takes very seriously. Nobody can, considering the growth of the magazine. Forbes did indeed inherit the business, a minuscule one in terms of its scope and success today, but he brought to it an imagination and ingenuity that transformed a lethargic publishing company of limited circulation to what is virtually an international empire.
Journalistically, Forbes was born to the trade. His father, a longtime financial columnist for Hearst, started the magazine in 1917, two years before Malcolm's birth. B. C. Forbes was the epitome of the tight-fisted Scotsman; in his later years a millionaire several times over, he boasted of never having spent more than $55 on a suit.