If our production manager, Gene UI-rich, should ever have a chance to sell his professional soul to the devil, he might strike the bargain if the inducement were a little more time to close the magazine. For some 20 years one of Ulrich's responsibilities has been to see that final layouts, along with the appropriate pictures and headlines, get to the engraver in time to get onto the printing presses in time to be bound and delivered on time. And through all those years the editors have been pressing him for later deadlines, so that SI might be ever more on top of the news.
To Ulrich, the essence of his job is "making creativity practical." At the moment he's fine-tuning a plan that will make elaborate coverage of the March 15 Larry Holmes-Gerry Cooney heavyweight title fight practical. It will be the most ambitious crash closing in the magazine's history—as many as a dozen color pages and the cover will be allocated to an event taking place 24 hours after our usual deadline and in Las Vegas, 2600 miles from our editorial offices in New York. By comparison, next week's Super Bowl coverage, no small undertaking in itself, will be child's play.
Indeed, in a way, every issue has been child's play since June 1979, when Gene closed down Air Ulrich. Up to that time our main engraving operation was in Chicago, and Ulrich had to send out the late-closing elements of every issue by air each Sunday night from New York. For a time, the last plane to Chicago departed at midnight; then it was 11 p.m., then 9. Sometimes Ulrich had to charter a jet. When the thin red line between a reasonably risky closing and a ruinous one approached, Ulrich might simply seize pictures or layouts from the hands of the editors and say, "That's it. We've got to go." And go he did. Rather, one of his couriers went, because each package was hand-delivered. And not a few times the courier had to walk the last mile to the engraver when his cab from the airport into Chicago got stalled in a blizzard.
Sometimes Ulrich had to use inexperienced couriers. One got himself to Chicago, all right, but left the guts of the magazine behind at the New York airport. Another entrusted the material to a stewardess—who took it home, in Chicago. "We had a hell of a time finding it," says Ulrich. Now SI's engraver is 40 minutes away by cab, and Gene is gratefully out of the air biz.
Not that Ulrich really minded having to operate at such a remove. After all, he's the only man we know who proposed to his wife by mail. In 1952 he and Lorry Bonaguidi were writers for a Chicago-based florists' magazine, after which Ulrich, a World War II Coast Guardsman, found work on a ferryboat in Maine. He got to missing Lorry and popped the question. She said yes by return mail. "Who could afford long-distance calls in those days?" says Ulrich. Today Lorry is the managing editor of the magazine Homeowners How To, and, of course, no stranger to deadlines herself.
When Ulrich is assured that an issue of SI has been properly put to bed, he may be found cruising around on Long Island Sound in his 25-foot sloop, Scrimshaw. The only deadlines out there are the ones he sets for himself.
A SELF-PORTRAIT OF CAPTAIN GENE ULRICH