Post, Undaunted

A “Revelatory” “Riveting” Life Magazine Exhibition in Boston With a Few Additional Revelatory Research Tidbits

October 25, 2022

This Washington Post review of a “revelatory” “riveting” exhibition devoted to Life magazine at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, titled “The Power of Photography,” prompted me to take to Twitter with an early seven-post share of revelatory Life tidbits that emanate from the research for Undaunted, consolidated here.

  • Henry Luce hired Margaret Bourke-White in 1936 as one of Life‘s first four photographers. Four years later, he would describe his research department as “a modern female priesthood, the veritable vestile virgins whom levitous writers cajole in vain and managing editors learn humbly to appease.”
  • Life ballyhooed Shelley Smith Mydans and Carl Mydans as its “first and most brilliant photographer-reporter team.” From 1940-42 they covered 45,000 miles and four wars until Japan interned them in Manila for 21 months. In an much-later interview with Nancy Caldwell Sorel, Shelley Mydans was frank about her role. In New York, her title was researcher. Overseas, she was a correspondent and during the war, a war correspondent. And yet in every case, she told Sorel, her duties stayed the same.
  • During the Korean War, Carl Mydans wrote and photographed a four-page spread for Life about Marguerite Higgins of the New York Herald Tribune. The piece, titled “Girl Correspondent” (Higgins was 30), made much of her HerTrib colleague Homer Bigart’s vicious rivalry with her on site. Bigart badly wanted Higgins gone but did not prevail. Noway, he said years later to Betsy Wade, could he make his behavior toward Higgins sound better than it had been. In 1951, each won one of the six individual Pulitzer Prizes for reporting from Korea. (Take a look at the individual citations for each award. They are revelatory, too.) Hers was the second to go to a woman reporter in the 42 years since the first  prizes were awarded in 1918. It came 13 years after Anne O’Hare McCormick of the New York Times won, also for foreign correspondence, but not until 1937.