March 17, 2018
The Post & F. Scott Fitzgerald
On this day in 1821, the first issue of The Saturday Evening Post appeared. This was the first use of the new name, coined by new owners, but the weekly was begun in 1729, by twenty-two-year-old Benjamin Franklin. His Pennsylvania Gazette was one of five regular publications in the colonies, and itself a purchase from a previous publisher who had struggled on for ten months under the title, The Universal Instructor in All Arts and Sciences and Pennsylvania Gazette. The Post inherited Franklin's type, and was first published in the same print shop Franklin used, where a jingle written by Franklin still hung over the door: "All ye who come this curious art to see, / To handle anything must cautious be....
Franklin's Gazette aimed for a window on the world, as opposed to local news, and had a rule that there should be an article of literary merit in every issue. The new Post kept this goal, so beginning their tradition of publishing some of the best writers of the day: stories and serializations by Poe, Fenimore Cooper, Crane, O. Henry, London, Lardner, etc., as well as British authors such as Conrad, Christie, Conan Doyle, and H. E. Bates. But the literary mandate did not always or easily square with the magazine's other mandate, that of being the voice and guardian of Middle America. In one issue near the end of 1899, new editor George Lorimer announced that the newly expanded Post would continue "to present the best and worthiest of contemporaneous literature," and then went on in the next sentence to give his own caution:
There is nothing worthy or permanent in life that is not clean, and in its plans and purposes the new Saturday Evening Post preaches and practices the gospel of cleanliness. It appeals to the great mass of intelligent people who make homes and love them, who choose good lives and live them, who seek friends and cherish them, who select the best recreations and enjoy them.
F. Scott Fitzgerald sold his first mass-circulation story to Lorimer and became "a Post writer," churning out the clean things his client wanted in order to enjoy his own recreations, and to finance the writing he wanted to do. His fourth Post story, "Bernice Bobs her Hair," appeared in the May 1, 1920 issue; this featured a cover by Norman Rockwell, who was also in the first years of his Post career, and who would soon symbolize the Post gospel as much as Fitzgerald would symbolize the Jazz Age and all things anti-Post. Bernice turns devilish at the end, having been tricked into her new hairstyle by her friends and her need to be accepted. Fitzgerald later said that the story came from a letter of advice written about 1915 to his younger sister, he nineteen or so and Annabel five years younger. Among Fitzgerald's prescriptions for the modern girl trying to balance propriety with making a splash, especially towards the boys: use one-liners that work ("How about giving me that sporty necktie when you're thru with it?") and avoid those that don't ("When do you go back to school?"); become a good dancer ("...it is important to hold yourself well and remember to dance hard"); get a winning, mirror-practiced smile ("Practice doing it when you don't feel happy and when you're bored.... That's when you'll have to use it in society...as a good weapon in tight places"); learn to "conform to your type" in fashion, to "Cultivate deliberate physical grace," and to "always be careful about such things as underskirt showing."