Clay Felker, the magazine mogul who revolutionized the city magazine genre as founding editor of New York, died Tuesday in new York after a battle with throat cancer. He was 82.
New York magazine, filled with gossip on the city’s social scene, inside knowledge of its business and politics, and endless “best of” lists, was relentlessly imitated following its creation in 1968.
Editors across the country adopted Felker’s formula — co-founder Milton Glaser’s bold layout designs and the equally non-traditional “new journalism” writing style of contributors like Tom Wolfe.
Felker’s editing at New York fostered the careers of such influential writers as Ken Auletta, Jimmy Breslin, Gloria Steinem and Gael Greene.
“During the seventies and eighties, the Times (and much of the rest of mainstream media) thoroughly Felkerized itself. Practically every species of insidery, smart-ass Web journalism carries bits of his DNA,” said New York magazine contirbuting editor Kurt Anderson in a tribute in the magazine.
Among New York’s most influential features were Wolfe’s “Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s,” on the Black Panthers benefit party thrown by conductor Leonard Bernstein in 1970, and Nik Cohn’s “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night,” which served as the basis for the film “Saturday Night Fever.”
When publishing titan Rupert Murdoch forced Felker and Glaser out in a hostile takeover in 1977, New York’s staff walked out in solidarity with their departing editors, leaving an incomplete issue three days before it was due on newsstands.
Steinem, whose first issue of Ms. magazine was sandwiched inside the pages of New York thanks to Felker, once said of her former boss, “I can think of no other editor who inspires the same combination of creativity, loyalty, and excitement in writers.”
Felker published, edited and wrote for dozens of publications including Life, Time, Esquire, the Village Voice, Adweek, Daily News Today, Manhattan Inc. and U.S. News and World Report.
In 1995 the University of California at Berkeley named its magazine journalism program after Felker, and he and his wife, wrtier Gail Sheehy, moved west.
Felker was born in Webster Groves, Mo. He graduated from Duke University in 1951, where he edited the student newspaper.
His first journalism job out of college was as a sports writer at Life magazine, where he got the scoop on a Brooklyn Dodgers scouting report of the New York Yankees that highlighted Joe DiMaggio’s ailing arm.
New York magazine began as a Sunday magazine supplement in the New York Herald Tribune newspaper. In 1968, Felker and Glaser molded it into a standalone weekly glossy.
Felker bought the Village Voice in 1974 and created New West magazine in 1977 — a westernized version of his original creation, based in California. Both publications met the same fate as New York magazine, landing in the hands of Murdoch.
Felker’s New York is credited with helping invent the “new journalism,” a style that blended literary technique with factual accuracy, widely recognized in the writing of Wolfe, Truman Capote and Hunter S. Thompson.
After reluctantly leaving his magazine, Felker served as editor and publisher of Esquire from 1978-1981, but none of his later publications had as much impact as New York.