A Confessional Memoir
Perfect Bound Softcover
The first woman publisher of a national magazine.
“Such a slim volume for someone who’s led such a long and interesting life (after all, Miley Cyrus’s autobiography is 288 pages)—then you realize Pure Moxie is no doubt just like the author: smart, funny, candid, to-the-point and, of course, slender.”
—J.E. Vader, “Citizen Moxie,” Pacific Sun, January, 2011
“Money, power, sex. Pure Moxie tells the tale of one woman’s journey from bored housewife to trendsetter in the magazine publishing industry. This is a story few women experience but every woman fantasizes about.”
—Cheryl Russell, Editorial Director of New Strategist Publications, Former Editor-in-Chief of American Demographics
“Sexy, sassy and sensational, Pure Moxie is a memoir that reads like a best-selling novel. The world of American magazine publishing was a frontier in the 1970’s and Leda was one if its leading pioneers. A business success story, an adventure, and a racy read all wrapped in one, Pure Moxie is a page-turner, with an inspiring moral.
—Michael Rybarski, Co-Founder of Age Wave Target Marketing, Author, StartUp Smarts
The impetuous Leda Sanford abandoned secure suburbia in the 1960s in exchange for a life on the edge as a top magazine editor and publisher in the competitive and male-dominated Manhattan publishing world.
Unorthodox entrepreneurs hired Leda at a time when women rarely occupied corner offices. Leda’s memoir, Pure Moxie, recreates a world of jet-setting opulence—private planes, five-star hotels, and a state dinner at the White House—plus a headline-making affair. Leda became the first female publisher of American Home, a major U.S. magazine with a circulation of more than one million. She focused on the emerging liberated woman’s demanding lifestyle and challenged the traditional formula of women’s magazines.
From her American Home launch pad, Leda pushed the industry’s standards as she directed the creation and reinvention of magazines that included Chief Executive, Attenzione, Modern Maturity, and Get Up and Go! In the early 1990s, Leda shifted focus to promoting a new attitude toward aging, emphasizing that it’s never too late to explore new horizons and enrich one’s quality of life. With wit and candor, Pure Moxie provides a unique glimpse into Leda’s career and offers insight into women’s changing roles as key players in the magazine publishing business.
Swaying slightly from side to side in my first executive armchair, with the backdrop of Manhattan visible through my corner office windows, I leaned over the New York Times, which was spread open on my desk, and reread Phil Dougherty’s advertising column. “Leda Sanford Named President and Publisher of American Home” I felt thrilled, proud and scared. I wasn’t prepared for this challenge. Dougherty’s column kicked off the start of each new day for most publishing and advertising executives in the seventies. It was read at the breakfast table and on trains and buses that brought them to Manhattan. For many, “Did you see Dougherty’s column today?” was part of the opening greeting. Today’s column, with my name in the headline, would create a buzz. It would confirm rumors that had been circulating for weeks, and prompt this question: Who is Leda Sanford? It had all happened so quickly and in such an unorthodox way. Five years ago I was a bored housewife in suburban Westchester. Now, here I was on the fourth floor of the Downe Building, sitting in an oversized executive leather chair behind an equally oversized walnut desk, which I had inherited from John Mack Carter, the former occupant. Through the angled windows I could see down Lexington Avenue. I swiveled away from the paneled office and looked across 51st Street to the Hudson River. I swiveled to the left to contemplate the sideboard with a silver coffee service. I’d learned earlier that morning the coffee service would be maintained by Mabel, the staff maid, who also ran the American Home kitchen where the magazine’s recipes were tested. This was 1975 and publishers were treated like princes, with all the accoutrements of a royal lifestyle. I had inherited two secretaries and my own private bathroom. John Mack Carter also maintained a car and driver, who was even now parked down front, waiting for me. This was not where I expected to be when I’d met with John Mack Carter, the guru of women’s magazines, in his new headquarters at Good Housekeeping magazine in the Hearst Building. Staring out of the window, I sipped my coffee and thought back to three months before. After two years at MensWear magazine, I was bored with trade journalism and eager for a new challenge, although working as the publication’s editor had been an enlightening whirlwind. I had landed that job via a meeting with MensWear Publisher Mort Gordon, after working as editor of Teens & Boys magazine (my first job in the industry) for three and half years. My friend, Allen Boorstein, president of the Rob Roy Company, warned me that although he was married, Mort was a ladies man. “Promise you won’t fall in love with him, and I’ll get you a meeting,” Allen said. “I promise.” I lied, knowing I was already infatuated with Mort—I had seen him at a few industry functions. Mort was tall, with a strong, classic Greek profile (although he was Jewish), and a beautiful head of wavy gray hair. When he was formally dressed, in a tuxedo and black tie, he fit my fantasy of a classic 1940’s movie star. His reputation as a womanizer, with a great sense of humor, made him a hero to most of the men he dealt with. The bond between us was forged while I worked for him at MensWear and when my need for men was at its peak. It was the beginning of an on-again, off-again relationship that spanned decades. But as time at MensWear passed, I felt uncomfortable with the growing number of people who suspected Mort and I were having an affair. And I was tired of the celebrity focus that dominated women’s magazines, (and still does after fifty years), the boring, copycat graphics that made one issue indistinguishable from the other; the constant parade of movie stars, inappropriate role models for trapped housewives. I was ready to move on. Through a friend I obtained an appointment with John Mack Carter, presenting myself as a candidate for his editorial team. I thought Good Housekeeping could use a face lift and had the temerity to tell Carter that the very term “good housekeeping” would soon become irrelevant. (Thirty-five years later it still exists.) Carter listened as I passionately described my vision of a magazine for the “new American woman,” one that would help her juggle her myriad demands in this new world. One of my themes was “simplicity,” finding ways to simplify life rather than complicate it with high-maintenance décor and time-consuming recipes. Since John Mack Carter, a devotee of the Colonial lifestyle, had imprinted that concept on the magazine, he seemed leery. It didn’t stop me. “John, women today are trying to redefine themselves. They need help coping with the demands of homemaking and the guilt that comes from their inability to meet unrealistic standards at home. They need ‘permission’ to do less housework and invest more in their personal fulfillment.” I related to these women. I had been suffocating in the suburban life I had fled. Carter, who had been forced to sell American Home, teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, to the Charter Company, was intrigued with my ideas. Perhaps it was the fire in my speech, perhaps it was the words I chose to paint a picture of who the new American woman might be that prompted him to lean back in his chair, tap his pipe, and declare, “You’re an editorial animal.” He was right. To this day, I have a visceral response to the marriage of words and pictures in print. With that, he referred me to Jacqueline Brandywine, a consultant to the Charter Company who had been hired to screen candidates for the new management team at American Home. We met in her office at Rockefeller Center. She was an attractive brunette, spilling over with self confidence, New York style. Elegantly dressed and coifed, she deliberately spread out copies of recent issues of American Home. She paraded back and forth behind her desk pointing at the covers, then stopping to flip pages and shake her head. “Uh oh . . . no, no . . . this must change.” “Do you agree the only hope for this magazine is repositioning?” she asked. “I agree. That’s why I’m here.” “Good. Look at Cosmopolitan.” She touted Cosmopolitan as an example of a successful turnaround and lauded Helen Gurley Brown as the architect of this success story. Cosmo was a magazine that had identified the newly liberated woman, with the help of Brown’s best-selling book, Sex and the Single Woman. Brandywine believed that only similar radical surgery would save this patient, though she recognized that repositioning a magazine was one of the most dangerous maneuvers in the business. Nevertheless, she directed me, challenged me, to develop an editorial plan for repositioning American Home. She wanted a table of contents, a graphic philosophy, and a reader profile. Charter wanted to launch the new look by January 1976. We had eight months. (I never knew if there had been any other applicants for this position.) Within a week I delivered my outline for the new American Home. It consisted of a total revision of the editorial content. We would head in a more modern direction, away from the American colonial emphasis and the Campbell Soup casseroles, emphasizing, for example, interior decoration for easy maintenance and recipes that stimulated the imagination as well as the appetite. The new American Home would appeal to a new kind of woman, someone who was looking for practical solutions to the challenge of home management without abdicating her responsibilities. “This won’t be our mother’s magazine anymore,” I said as I made my presentation to Brandywine. She liked my plan and a few days later I received a call from Raymond K. Mason’s secretary, asking when I would be available to meet with Mason. I had no idea who he was until, while waiting in the reception area, I perused the company’s annual report. He was the chairman of The Charter Company, a Jacksonville, Florida based oil conglomerate. As I walked into his austere and sparsely furnished office on the fourth floor of the Downe b
Leda Sanford was born in Tuscany, raised in the Bronx, and married at nineteen. She reinvented herself fourteen years later and rose to top magazine publishing positions. Elder’s Academy Press produced a collection of her columns, Look for the Moon in the Morning, in 2006. She lives in Sausalito, California.
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