By Andrew Romano
Glance at the back cover of a Newsweek nowadays and you’re bound to see an ad for a bank. Or a TV show. Or maybe a fancy watch. But if you’d turned over a copy of the magazine back in 1964, you probably would have seen a promotion for one of two products, neither of which appears in our pages very much (or at all) anymore: cigarettes or alcohol.
The gradual disappearance of Old Grand-Dad whisky and Winston king-size lights from Newsweek’s back cover reflects a larger shift in U.S. society. Early episodes of Mad Men wrung nostalgic, knowing laughs from the smoking and drinking habits of Kennedy-era Americans: the obstetrician who lights up during an exam; the executive who slumbers on his office sofa after a three-martini lunch. The boozing and puffing was so prevalent, in fact, that younger viewers—inhabitants of the big Bloombergian no-smoking zone that our country has become—thought it must have been exaggerated for effect. These vintage Newsweek covers remind us that it was not.
The front-cover/back-cover pairings are also revealing: you’ll notice that each lovingly photographed drop of honeyed Scotch was only a flip of the magazine away from a story of national or international “news-significance,” per the publication’s original parlance. The Kennedy assassination. The rise of Brezhnev. Race relations in Harlem. And so on. It’s almost as if the changes of the 1960s were so sudden, and so serious, that our ancestors had no choice but to kick back with a snifter of Chivas Regal at the end of yet another long week.
Don Draper would have been right there with them.
Smooth! ‘Mad Men’-Era Newsweek Covers & Accompanying Ads (PHOTOS)
By Andrew Romano