BROOKE GLADSTONE: March 3rd, 1923, was the date stamped on the first issue of Time Magazine - for some, a new dawn in American journalism, for others, a day that will live in infamy. In either event, it was the culmination of the dream of two prep school pals at Hotchkiss, who became college co-conspirators at Yale, who became increasingly warring partners as they toiled to change the way ordinary people consumed the news. One of those partners became one of the most powerful men of his day - Henry R. Luce. The other was nearly erased from history. His name was Briton Hadden, an eccentric, electric visionary who first dreamed up the idea of a news digest written in short, punchy prose. Without Briton Hadden, there might never have been the great Henry Luce. For that, Luce loved and hated him in equal measure, and made sure the world forgot him. Their story is chronicled in a new book by Isaiah Wilner, called The Man Time Forgot. In it, Wilner describes how the idea for Time Magazine was taking shape when Hadden was still a boy.
ISAIAH WILNER: Hadden went off to school one day in Brooklyn Heights, and he spoke with a friend who was a Democrat. He'd never really spoken with a Democrat before. [BROOKE LAUGHS] He thought the Republicans were in the right. And so he came home from school that day, completely shocked, and he told his parents, you know, when I grow up, I'm going to start a magazine that will tell the facts for once and for all, and then there won't be all this confusion about who's right. Then the idea continued to develop throughout Hotchkiss, and that's where he met Luce. Luce had traveled all over Europe, you know, before the age of 15. He was the son of missionaries. He was very shy, lonely. He stuttered. And he was attracted to Hadden almost instantly, because Hadden was this glamorous boy who was always cracking jokes, always in the center of the action. So they struck up this rivalry, and the rivalry was what really caused them to get together and ultimately fall in love. They became very close working partners.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: They were fighting for the editorship of the paper, just as they went on to fight for the chairmanship of the paper, when they were students together at Yale.
ISAIAH WILNER: When Luce lost the chairmanship of the Yale Daily News to Hadden, it really hit him hard. And, in fact, he never really recovered from it. From that moment on, he was quite envious of Hadden, and yet he was still sucked into Hadden's aura. The First World War interrupted their collegiate experience. They were sent down south to Camp Jackson, and it was there, when they were training to become officers, that they started training some younger, less educated men. It was in the experience of training these men that Hadden and Luce realized, for example, that many Americans were illiterate, that they knew very little about the world. And that was when they got together and decided it would be up to them to solve the problem of human ignorance. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Not the problem of illiteracy, but of ignorance.
ISAIAH WILNER: Yeah, well, I think it played into ideas that Hadden had already, you know. He didn't want to be a teacher. He wanted to be a journalist. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Luce wanted to be a teacher. He wanted to tell people not just what the news was but how they ought to think about it and what conclusions they ought to draw.
ISAIAH WILNER: Luce had inherited a world view from his father being a missionary. And Luce, in fact, became a kind of media missionary. Time was his vehicle. More than a method of distributing the news, it was a way of getting his opinions out, you know, his view of what America's role in the world should be.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What do you think ultimately the impact of Time Magazine was on American journalism?
ISAIAH WILNER: Well, I think it was Time more than any single publication that turned the news into a form of entertainment. There were certainly others before, such as, you know, Hearst and Pulitzer. However, you would have the tabloids and sensational newspapers on the one hand, and on the other hand, you'd have something like The New York Times, which was pretty complicated, a lot of big words, and really only the elite of the elite would read it. So what Time was able to do was have an entertaining writing style, similar to a Hearst newspaper, a little classier, and more for the middle class. And then at the same time, they were able to get across everything that you truly needed to know, at least to appear informed.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The original idea, as you describe it, was to create a new voice, a new kind of syntax for news - short sentences, double-barreled adjectival phrases drawn from Homer. In fact, you note that a volume of the Iliad was always on Hadden's desk.
ISAIAH WILNER: [LAUGHING] That's right. And one of the things that really attracted him was the Homeric epithet, such as, you know, the phrase, "helm-quivering Hector." So Hadden picked this up as a way of getting Americans to remember, you know, who was Winston Churchill, so he would use the phrase "ruddy as a round, full moon."
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And he called Russian revolutionary Gregory Zinoviev "the bomb-boy of Bolshevism." If you didn't know [WILNER LAUGHS] who he was [LAUGHS] when he first mentioned him, after that little epithet, you were absolutely caught up.
ISAIAH WILNER: Oh, it was just seared in the mind, yeah. And this was the age before television, you know. Back then, people couldn't really see these far-off places that they had never been to, and so these epithets were a way of getting people to see the news in their mind's eye.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What were some of the most significant differences in perspective between Hadden and Luce?
ISAIAH WILNER: Well, Hadden, you know, he was an eccentric guy, and he had a critical view of the business society of the 1920s. And so he actually started another magazine called Tide, which was critical of the whole advertising industry. Luce was very uncomfortable with Tide. Luce wanted to do a different type of business magazine, which later came to be called Fortune.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Which Hadden was against.
ISAIAH WILNER: Oh, he was totally opposed to Fortune. He thought it was just business boosterism. And at the end of their life, they were really coming to a final confrontation over this.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Hadden died in a Brooklyn hospital, age 31, maybe because of a strep infection that damaged his heart, maybe because of alcoholism, some said. Someone in your book even suggested that he died, at least partly, of boredom.
ISAIAH WILNER: It was clear that Hadden was wasting away. The doctors were desperate to help him, but they had no idea what they could do. And it was at this time that Luce came to Hadden's deathbed, and the rumor that went through Time in later years was that Luce came at that moment and asked Hadden to sell him enough shares in Time Inc. to ensure Luce's majority control of the company. All that we know is that Hadden, at that moment, brought in his roommate and asked him to write up a will. He was so weak that he could only sign with a hash mark. And he said that none of his stock in Time Inc. should be sold for 49 years, because Hadden believed the company would be a success, but if his will were to be followed to the letter, Luce would never really be able to run the company. Well, actually, when Hadden died, there was a black notebook that was found among his things, and on one page, titled "Expansion," he had written all of his ideas for the future of the company. This included the idea for Sports Illustrated, Life, to expand Time onto the cinema and onto the radio. All of these ideas were followed through on in the next several years, and yet this black notebook was folded into Time's archive, and nobody really knew that it existed.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How, in the end, did Henry Luce bury - and I mean really bury - Briton Hadden?
ISAIAH WILNER: Well, Luce was heartbroken by the loss of Hadden, but within two weeks of Hadden's death, Luce had actually taken Hadden's name off the masthead of Time Magazine. Within a year, Luce had broken Hadden's will. He kept a lot of the stock for himself, but he distributed many shares to his closest friends and allies, so that ensured his permanent control of the company. And then, for the next 19 years, he never said anything about Hadden. Finally, after 20 years, he did publish a book about Hadden, and that's when the fiction began to spread that Henry Luce was equally responsible for the idea for Time. He never really talked about Hadden's genius. Hadden had not only come up with the idea, he had hired all of the writers, developed the writing style, and it's strange that this would happen, because they were such great friends.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: All right. Isaiah, thank you very much.
ISAIAH WILNER: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Isaiah Wilner is the author of The Man Time Forgot: A Tale of Genius, Betrayal and the Creation of Time Magazine.