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The Betrayal at the Heart of Time Magazine
Posted on Oct 10, 2006
By Blair Golson
Truthdig: Why do you think Luce went out of his way to make sure Hadden didn’t enjoy his full share of credit? Vanity? Insecurity? Harboring a grudge?
Wilner: Luce had finished so close behind Hadden for so long—they were rivals ever since Hotchkiss [prep school], where they had competed to be the editor of the newspaper, and Luce had finished behind Hadden. Then what really hurt Luce was losing the chairmanship of the Yale Daily News to Hadden by just one vote. It’s clear from reading his letters that Luce never really got over that loss: Those letters display the rawest emotions he ever wrote.
But the thing was, Hadden really picked Luce up after that and offered him the chance to write half the editorials, and told him they were a team—50/50. Hadden really inspired Luce and helped him to become a stronger person than he was. So Luce’s love for Hadden and his admiration for Hadden were always bound up with a sense of envy and a strong desire to beat Hadden in the end.
And that was amplified during the founding years of Time. Hadden insisted on remaining the editor for the vast majority of the time, and Luce badly wished to edit, but he was forced to basically balance the budget. Luce was balancing the budget for four and a half of the first six years, and didn’t get an extended crack at editing until 1928. So there was a lot of bound-up hostility, and in fact, they weren’t speaking during the last year before Hadden’s death.
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So as the book progresses, you see Luce climbing higher, becoming stronger, becoming a better writer; you see him learning from Hadden, becoming more polished socially, marrying a beautiful socialite, so he’s just inching closer and closer and closer to Hadden, until the moment of Hadden’s death, when Luce is just about to surpass Hadden, and Hadden, by dying, robs Luce of the chance to beat him.
So his erasure of Hadden’s legacy was born out of a deep-seated sense of rivalry and a weak ego.
Truthdig: What about in after years? Why didn’t he ever set the record straight?
Wilner: Once the lie got started going, it was very difficult for Luce to manage it. Once he began to stand on stage and take credit for that achievement, he couldn’t very easily stop that train, and say, “Wait a minute, everybody. Actually, Time was my friend Brit’s idea.” And the reason he couldn’t do that is because he was traveling the world as a media missionary, giving stump speeches, especially on America’s role in the world, and he became an extremely controversial public figure. And what propped all this up, what maintained his status, was the fact that he was known as the creative genius who had envisioned and brought about the Time Inc. empire.
Once he arrived as a great man, Luce had a difficult time admitting to himself that he wouldn’t have been who he was without the influence of Briton Hadden. His whole personality and direction had been swayed by someone who, for a time, anyway, was a greater man than he. That’s a very difficult thing for a great man to admit to himself, and something he might want to bury.
Truthdig: As this angle developed, and the truth began to become clear about Luce’s squelching of Hadden’s contributions, were you afraid that if Luce’s heirs or Time magazine found out they’d cut off your access to the family papers or the Time Inc. archives?
Wilner: The archivists at Time were actually really glad that somebody was finally telling Hadden’s story. And the Luce family was extremely helpful. I thought my job was always to be fair, and that if I could tell the story of this amazing friendship, it would do justice to both men.
Look, people aren’t perfect. And it’s unfortunate that Luce couldn’t bring himself to do the right thing, but at the same time, that shouldn’t outweigh what they accomplished together.
Truthdig: Knowing, as you must have, how much that success of the book was going to depend on your ability to bring this betrayal to life, did you have to resist the temptation to interpret the facts in a way that would make Luce’s actions seem even more dramatic?
Wilner: No, because I basically just read every public statement that Luce ever made and anything I could find that he said on the TV or the radio. So the question was: How did Luce treat Hadden’s legacy?
In other words, when I came in, I didn’t know Luce had buried Hadden’s role in history. But what happened was, when I went back and read Time magazine, I noticed that Luce had taken Hadden’s name off the masthead within two weeks of his death. This shocked me, because it had never been reported before. And then as I explored the topic further, I learned a lot of other things that made plain just how deep this betrayal had gone.
Truthdig: It’s a truism that the history books are written by the winners. Did your exploration of this topic lend you a deeper understanding of that?
Wilner: History and what people think is history are two entirely different things. What I learned after working on this book is that history is a dialogue between the present and the past. And our view of the past changes with the decades, but it also gets more accurate. The hope is that history becomes more accurate with each year. Perhaps we lose some documents over time, but the hope is that more documents will become available to give us a fuller picture of the past.
I think that’s the case here. The prevailing view was that Time was Luce’s idea, and nobody even thought about Hadden. Nobody had any specific information about what he contributed to the partnership. I hope that my book simply corrects the record.
Truthdig: You spent almost five years working on this book. That’s almost as long as Hadden spent working on Time. Did it feel at times that you had lost your bearings under the weight of so much material and so much time spent as basically a solo operation?
Wilner: One of the reasons it took so long is because I read every document that related to Hadden’s life. There’s no stone left unturned. And I had to process all that information before I could get it into a narrative. So when the writing process began, I had to teach myself how to write a book, and I discovered it over a couple of years. I ended up boiling down an 850-page manuscript to about 350 pages.
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