Between the years 1962 and 1972, art director George Lois produced Esquire magazine covers that showed Virna Lisi shaving her face, Norman Mailer as King Kong holding a pleased Germaine Greer, and Richard Nixon‘s face being powdered and made-up. But his favorite would have to be Muhammad Ali as St. Sebastian pierced with arrows on the cover of the April 1968 issue.
“It’s hard to understand now, but he was hated,” Mr. Lois told the Transom as he signed copies of the his new book, George Lois: The Esquire Covers @ Moma, at the Plaza on Thursday night, March 11. “He became a Muslim and then he came out against the war and was called a traitor. Ninety-nine percent of America hated this wonderful man, a heroic figure. So I came to his defense by showing him as a martyr.” During the shoot, Mr. Ali and Mr. Lois shared an exchange.
“Hey Jowdge,” said Mr. Ali.
“What do you want Muhammad? Just pose!” Mr. Lois recalled saying.
“Hey Jowdge!” Mr. Ali repeated.
“What the fuck do you want Muhammad? Come on, do your job.”
Here, according to Mr. Lois, Mr. Ali pointed to the arrows in his chest and one-by-one began reciting the names of his enemies: “Lyndon Johnson, Hubert Humphrey…”
Mr. Lois doesn’t like the sort of covers that Esquire comes out with now. “They’re just as bad as everybody else’s,” he said. “They all believe in showing the most famous actor and that’s incredibly stupid. You go to the newsstand and all the magazines have headshots with ten or twelve blurbs all over it. It’s a cacophony of celebrities and blurbs. It’s terrible. They don’t even try to do anything great.”
And what does he think about reading a magazine on the soon-to-be-released iPad? “It’s okay, I guess,” he said. “But magazines will never die because there is a visceral feeling of having that thing in your hands and turning the pages. It’s so different on the screen. It’s the difference between looking at a woman and having sex with her.”