|Art Cooper is dead at 65.
Also see column:
FOREVER DINING AT THE BEST TABLE
Jim Brady Remembers Art Cooper
GQ'S ART COOPER ON LIFE SUPPORT
'Gravely Ill' After Serious Stroke
CONDE NAST NAMES EDITOR FOR 'GQ'
Magazine's No. 2 Editor Jim Nelson Replaces Retiring Art Cooper
A GENTLEMAN EDITOR BOWS OUT OF A 'MAXIM' WORLD
An Interview With GQ's Retiring Art Cooper
'GQ' EDITOR ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT
Art Cooper to Step Down in June
Mr. Cooper had suffered a severe stroke at a lunch with Men's Health editor in chief Dave Zinczenko on June 5, at Manhattan's Four Seasons. Mr. Cooper passed away as the final issue GQ that he edited was still available on newsstands. He was stricken at his favorite haunt, and in the company of a next-generation editor who had been a top contender to replace him.
"Art was always a big-moment guy," said David Granger, who left the No. 2 position to Mr. Cooper in 1997 to become editor in chief of Esquire. "He was one of the last editors who was larger than life." As such, Mr. Cooper embodied the brand of his magazine to an extent that few editors past or present did.
Conde Nast staffers were informed of Mr. Cooper's passing in a four-paragraph memo from Samuel I. Newhouse Jr., chairman of Conde Nast, that concluded, "Art's wonderful life and his love of publishing will remain in our memories for a long time to come."
20 years ago
Mr. Cooper took over as editor in chief of GQ in 1983. At that point he was editor of Family Weekly, a now-defunct second-tier competitor to newspaper supplement Parade. He arrived at Family Weekly, somewhat improbably, after a stint editing Penthouse. He got his start in journalism at the Harrisburg, Pa., Patriot-News in 1964, and also served on the staffs of Time and Newsweek.
"Where Parade would pay $5,000 or $10,000 for an article," recalled Kate White, the editor in chief of Cosmopolitan who worked with Mr. Cooper at Family Weekly, "we paid $500 for a cover story." But, she said, "Art just always threw down the gauntlet and tell you to go after these big-name writers. ... We were just a scrappy little crew, and he made you think you were working at the most exciting place in America."
At the time, GQ was a significantly more marginal men's title than it is now. Mr. Cooper set out to graft Esquire's general interest approach of yore atop GQ's fashion-centric DNA.
"If I could get that magazine," Mr. Cooper recalled during a recent interview with Advertising Age about GQ in the early 1980s, "I could put Esquire out of business." That didn't happen, but under his tenure the creative mojo among men's magazines clearly shifted to GQ.
Early on, he signed on name-brand writers such as Mordecai Richler and David Halberstam. Soon Mr. Cooper's approach, which yoked his tastes for a fashionable and luxe life with top-tier literary ambitions, proved a perfect fit with the other upper-crust titles at Conde Nast. The combination worked so well that GQ's ad pages last year virtually doubled those of Esquire.
During Mr. Cooper's tenure, GQ received 27 National Magazine Award nominations and won three "Ellies," as the awards are called. In January 2003, Mr. Cooper was inducted into the American Society of Magazine Editors' Hall of Fame.
An editorial archetype
Beyond the editorial accomplishments of his run at GQ, Mr. Cooper also proved an archetype of a certain kind of modern-day magazine editor -- in his case, a bon vivant living out a fantasy life down to having his own banquette at the Four Seasons.
"He made being a magazine editor feel like a romantic, dashing career," said Linda Wells, editor in chief of Conde Nast's Allure and a friend of Mr. Cooper. "He turned it into this adventure, rather than it being sitting there editing stories and figuring out budgets and making sure you sell magazines."
Despite all the plaudits and his unique status in the magazine world, the final years of Mr. Cooper's tenure at GQ were met with widespread whispering he'd lost his touch. Newsstand sales -- the de facto arbiter of heat in the magazine world -- declined in six consecutive six-month periods leading up to the last half of 2002, according to Audit Bureau of Circulations.
The new 'lads'
That period coincided with the meteoric rise of the "laddie" titles such as Dennis Publishing's Maxim, which reset the cultural landscape for men's magazines. While Maxim stopped short of unseating Playboy as the largest-circulating men's title, it currently triples GQ's circulation, and newcomers like Dennis' Stuff and Emap's FHM substantially outsell GQ (and Esquire) as well.
For good or ill, those magazines' successes put Mr. Cooper's magazine, with its lengthy articles and seemingly bygone ideal of "The Good Life" -- Mr. Cooper's final Editor's Note quoted at length from the Frank Sinatra chestnut "My Way" -- looking slightly behind the cultural curve. Mr. Cooper was all too aware of this perception, though he disputed its wisdom.
"I never thought I'd live to see the day when an editor is criticized for trying to do good work, trying to promote elegant writing and sound journalism and sophisticated, classy fare," Mr. Cooper said in his final Ad Age interview. "To say 'if that's what he wants to do, he is certainly at a time that's really out of place' ... I'm sorry, I don't agree with that. I don't agree with that at all."
Worried for industry
Toward the end of his tenure, during his famous lunches at the Four Seasons -- which his former No. 2 Mr. Granger said typically involved martinis, a bottle of wine, "a heightened sense of reality" and perhaps a subsequent need for a lengthy nap -- he privately rued what he saw as a shrinking coterie of magazines willing to publish ambitious, long-form articles. Mr. Cooper believed the trend would be disastrous for the medium's health and future relevancy if it would not engage in the national conversation.
Just as figures were released that showed GQ's newsstand sales rose in the last half of 2002, Mr. Cooper left a Feb. 24 meeting with Mr. Newhouse with a June 1 retirement date. After a search that drew widespread media attention, Jim Nelson, a GQ executive editor, was tapped to replace Mr. Cooper.
Mr. Cooper is survived by his wife, former Mademoiselle editor Amy Levin Cooper.