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"The real reason he started the magazine," Forbes says, "was that he could not stand wasting any items he could not fit into his newspaper column."
The third of five sons, Malcolm at 14 was putting out his own newspaper, The City of Dunc News. "A five-cent weekly," he says. "It reported the happenings of a cardboard and cellophane city that my brother Gordon and I constructed in the basement of our Englewood [ N.J.] home. The town had a population of 250 lead people, about 60 toothpick automobiles and several factories. Every evening we became part of that town, living out its activities and problems. It really came alive to us." That same year Forbes won first prize in the school district for an essay on fire prevention; was Student Council President of Englewood Junior High; was voted most humorous, best-dressed and best host; and became editor of The Scout Eagle, the first of three Eagles he edited, for the Boy Scouts, the Hackley School and Lawrenceville. "My journalistic outpourings at Lawrenceville extended so far into the night," he recalls, "that at the request of my roommates I finally wrote home for a noiseless typewriter."
From Lawrenceville, Forbes went on to Princeton. There he founded a literary magazine, was president of Elm, won letters in boxing and gymnastics, graduated with honors from the Woodrow Wilson School of International Affairs and was awarded the university's gold medal for "having done the most for Princeton as an undergraduate."
"I then had the choice of going to work for my father or doing something on my own," Forbes says. "The latter was infinitely more appealing, so I borrowed the money to purchase a small weekly newspaper in Lancaster, Ohio."
Those who knew him during this period remember him as an indefatigable worker who spent days, nights and weekends at the paper, living on $15 a week. In December 1942, having been turned down by the Marines, the Navy and three times by the Army because of bad eyesight, he was finally reclassified and accepted as a private in the infantry. For the next two years he continued to send his column, One Fellow's Slant, back to the paper in Ohio, first from training camp, then from battlefields in France, Holland and Germany, and finally from a military hospital where he spent 10 months recovering from combat wounds.
From these columns emerges a young man filled with wonder and curiosity about everyone and everything; a serious, idealistic, introspective young man. There is a poignant, ingenuous quality in his accounts of Army life, in his innocence, in his devotion to the little Ohio town he chose for his stage.
The stage is bigger and the props more spectacular today, but the man has not significantly changed. The curiosity and the eagerness are there still. He remains a restless dreamer, a tireless doer impatient to get on to the next challenge. He continues to immerse himself totally in whatever happens to catch his fancy.
For a period in the 1950s it was politics. "For 10 years," he says, "politics was everything." After a term as borough councilman, he ran for the state legislature, boldly opposing the political machine in Somerset County, N.J. "I rang 18,000 doorbells and was bitten by 13 dogs," Forbes says, "and I won with the largest margin ever recorded."
His whirlwind political style prompted the press to label him "The Fearless Freshman," "Fabulous Forbes," and not infrequently "too big for his britches." In his subsequent unsuccessful bid for the governorship of New Jersey in 1957, he frequently quoted Shakespeare to emphasize the deficiencies of his Democratic opponent. "One day," Forbes says, "I got a postcard in the mail which read, 'Since you are so big on Shakespeare, do you know this one: Thou art an ass'?
"When I lost the race for governor," Forbes adds, in a more serious vein, "I found that the business called for more of my time."