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Founder's Report

The Man Behind the Mirror: The Fascinating Story of the Founder of Vanity Fair Magazine

by Editorial Staff 08 May 2023

Vanity Fair is a magazine that needs no introduction. It has been a mainstay of American culture for over a century, covering everything from politics and entertainment to fashion and business. But do you know the man behind the magazine? The founder of Vanity Fair, Frank Crowninshield, was a fascinating character who played an integral role in shaping American culture in the early 20th century.

Early Life and Career

Frank Crowninshield was born in 1872 in Paris, France, to an American father and a French mother. His family moved back to the United States when he was a child, and he grew up in Boston. Crowninshield attended Harvard University, where he studied English and art history. After graduation, he moved to New York City to pursue a career in journalism.

Crowninshield worked for several publications before landing at Vanity Fair. He wrote for the New York Times, the Boston Evening Transcript, and the Boston Traveler. He also worked as an editor for McClure's Magazine and Collier's Weekly. In 1913, he was approached by Conde Nast to become the editor of a new magazine he was launching: Vanity Fair.

The Early Years of Vanity Fair

When Crowninshield took over as editor of Vanity Fair, he brought with him a wealth of knowledge and experience. He was a man of refined taste and culture, and he quickly set about making Vanity Fair the most sophisticated and stylish magazine of its time.

One of Crowninshield's first moves as editor was to hire a stable of talented writers and artists. He recruited some of the most famous writers of the day, including Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, and Edna Ferber. He also worked with some of the best illustrators, including Miguel Covarrubias and John Held Jr.

Under Crowninshield's leadership, Vanity Fair became known for its witty and irreverent tone. The magazine covered a wide range of topics, from politics and business to fashion and entertainment. It was filled with sharp-tongued satire and clever cartoons, and it quickly became a must-read for the smart set.

Crowninshield was a man of impeccable taste, and he used Vanity Fair to promote the best in art, literature, and culture. He championed modernist artists like Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, and he helped to popularize jazz music in America. He also introduced American readers to the works of James Joyce and T.S. Eliot, among others.

Vanity Fair Goes Hollywood

In the 1920s, Vanity Fair began to shift its focus to Hollywood. Crowninshield recognized the growing importance of the film industry, and he made sure that Vanity Fair was at the forefront of the trend. He sent writers and photographers to Hollywood to cover the stars and the studios, and he began publishing more and more articles about the movie business.

One of the most famous stories Vanity Fair ever published was a profile of silent film star Rudolph Valentino. The article, written by Marie Louise Haskins, was a sensation when it was published in 1923. It helped to cement Vanity Fair's reputation as the magazine of the moment, and it helped to make Valentino a major star.

Crowninshield continued to push Vanity Fair into new areas. He introduced the concept of the celebrity interview, and he was the first editor to put a movie star on the cover of a magazine. He also helped to launch the career of photographer Edward Steichen, who became famous for his portraits of Hollywood stars and other luminaries.

The End of an Era

Despite Crowninshield's success, he faced challenges in the 1930s. The Great Depression hit America hard, and many magazines struggled to survive. Vanity Fair was no exception. In 1936, Conde Nast decided to fold the magazine, citing financial difficulties.

Crowninshield was devastated by the news, but he didn't give up. He continued to work in the magazine industry, writing for The New Yorker and other publications. He also became involved in the art world, curating exhibitions and serving as a trustee of the Museum of Modern Art.

Crowninshield died in 1947, but his legacy lived on. Vanity Fair was revived in the 1980s, and it remains a popular and influential magazine today. Crowninshield's vision of a magazine that was smart, stylish, and sophisticated still resonates with readers.

In Conclusion

Frank Crowninshield was a man ahead of his time. He recognized the importance of art, culture, and entertainment in shaping American society, and he used Vanity Fair to promote those values. He was a true tastemaker, and his influence can still be felt today.

Crowninshield was also a man of great personal style. He was known for his impeccable taste in clothing and his love of fine art and literature. He was a member of high society, and he mingled with some of the most famous and influential people of his time.

But perhaps most importantly, Crowninshield was a man who believed in the power of journalism to change the world. He saw Vanity Fair as a platform for ideas and opinions, and he used it to challenge his readers and make them think. He was a true journalist and editor, and his legacy is an inspiration to those who follow in his footsteps.

So the next time you pick up a copy of Vanity Fair, take a moment to remember the man behind the magazine. Frank Crowninshield was a true visionary, and his impact on American culture is immeasurable.

Hey there! I'm Chuck, the Editor-in-Chief at Local Threads. We’re on a mission to showcase founders of start-ups and help them shine and tell the world about themselves, their products, and their vision in life. We see value in the stories of big brands and their founders as well. Their success can be a source of inspiration for start-ups.

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