Many years ago a young sports illustrated writer was sitting in a theater in Greenwich Village, where he had just watched a closed-circuit-TV boxing match, when he heard the unmistakable voice of Muhammad Ali call out: "G-i-i-i-l Rogin, world's greatest spoatswritah!" Over the years Ali said that about lots of sports-writers, but that night The Greatest was very close to the truth.
On Feb. 1, two of Time Inc.'s most distinguished journalists, Dick Stolley and Gil Rogin, will be retiring as, respectively, editorial director and corporate editor of the company. For close to four decades Dick and Gil have written for and edited, created and overseen a varied array of Time Inc. magazines. Though as different in style as, say, the butterfly and the bee, Dick and Gil have always shared a passion for quality and a far-seeing vision.
SI owes a profound debt of gratitude to Gil in particular. He joined our staff in 1955 as a newspaper clipper, for the princely wage of $59.50 a week. Four months later he was made a reporter. Then, because he wrote constantly and superbly for such now-defunct departments as EVENTS & DISCOVERIES and PAT ON THE BACK, we had no choice but to make him a writer.
Gil had a few rules of thumb when doing a story: 1) get as close to the subject as possible; 2) never fill up more than six notepads; and 3) use the best line as the lead and the second best as the ending. Those guidelines led to memorable profiles of, among many others, Maurice Richard, Chicago White Sox manager Al Lopez, a then-unknown motorcycle daredevil named Evel Knievel and, of course, Ali. Gil's insistence on proximity to his subjects sometimes put him on a team's bench. Once, just before a spring training game, Gil was sitting with the White Sox. "Suddenly," says Gil, "over the crest of the field appears this bandy-legged old man, Casey Stengel, and he's yelling at the umpires that he's not going to let the Yankees take the field until I leave the bench. Then Lopez yells back, 'He's not going anywhere. He stays.' And I did."
As a writer Gil set a high standard for prose not only at SI but also at The New Yorker. (Of Gil's fiction, John Updike has said, "His short stories were like a rocket streaming through The New Yorker of the '60s and 70s.") As an editor he lifted SI's writing to new heights. With his magic pencil he could trim or reshape a story as well as anyone ever has. Gil could, with an "Ugh!" or a "Barforama plus" penciled into the margins of stories, infuriate writers. Yet he also inspired fierce devotion in the many writers he discovered and nurtured. While Gil was managing editor, from 1979 to '84, SI became the first all-color weekly magazine. But his legacy is the high quality of writing to be found in our pages. Even though Gil and Dick are retiring, they will still be serving Time Inc. as consultants. It's a comfort knowing that if anything is barforama plus in SI, Gil will let us know.
Stolley (left) and Rogin: voluminous contributors.