Felker, Clay 1925–2008

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Felker, Clay 1925–2008

(Clay S. Felker, Clay Schuette Felker)


See index for CA sketch: Born October 25, 1925, in St. Louis, MO; died July 1, 2008, in New York, NY. Magazine executive, publisher, editor, reporter, educator, and author. Felker possessed the ideal combination of traits for a magnate of the magazine publishing industry of the 1970s and 1980s. He had an inexhaustible source of energy, an uncanny instinct for attracting the best journalists in the business, an unerring recognition of what magazine readers really wanted to read about, and a love for the fast-moving lifestyle of the city he had made his own—New York. As the president of the New York Magazine Corporation, beginning in 1967, Felker turned a newspaper supplement of the former New York Herald Tribune into a slick, glossy magazine for the elite of Manhattan. The popular magazine New York would overtake the more mature New Yorker in popularity among young readers. It would also become a model for a new style of literary journalism that was to sweep the country. Felker's tenure ended badly in 1977, when he lost a bitter takeover battle with Australian newspaper mogul Rupert Murdoch. It was not his first defeat. Felker had been a reporter for Life in the 1950s when he became the editor of Esquire. In the five years he spent there, Felker's talent for discovering headline stories blossomed into a genius for spotting cultural trends. One of these trends was the ascent of television and tabloid journalism, which, he believed, would result in a decline of magazine readership among all but the educated elite and urban sophisticates. He focused on that audience, working with writers who could produce lengthy, literary stories that could be read as if they were fiction. He tailored the magazine to the urban trendsetters who were most likely to read it. And he lost the helm of the magazine to a rival in 1962. That was how he ended up at the Tribune, where he remained until 1967, when the paper ceased publication. Felker purchased the name of its Sunday supplement, turning it into the independent New York. The seventies seemed to herald new heights for the bold entrepreneur, and Felker expanded his empire. His corporation purchased the Village Voice newspaper and created New West magazine as a West Coast counterpoint to New York. In 1977, that empire was gone. Felker returned to his roots at the helm of Esquire, a venture that lasted only two years. He attempted several other editorial ventures, but New York remained his crowning glory. In his retirement years he taught classes in magazine publishing at the University of California in Berkeley, which dedicated the Felker Magazine Center in his honor in 1995. Felker was mentor to a host of journalists who went on to stellar careers, such as Tom Wolfe, Gloria Steinem, Jimmy Breslin, and his own wife, Gail Sheehy, but he never claimed any personal talent as a writer. He did publish one book, Casey Stengel's Secret (1961).



Chicago Tribune, July 2, 2008, sec. 2, p. 10.

Los Angeles Times, July 2, 2008, p. B6.

New York Times, July 2, 2008, pp. A1, A16; July 9, 2008, p. A4.