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Magazine She Started in '37 Really Clicked

February 06, 1988|ROBERT LACHMAN | Times Staff Writer

When Grace H. Spivack was 18, a fortuneteller predicted she would always be happy. What wasn't in the crystal ball, however, was the image of Spivack helping to create Popular Photography, one of the most successful magazines of its kind ever published.

Mrs. Spivack and her second husband, Winton F. Kelley, belonged to the Fort Dearborn Camera Club in Chicago. He was a commercial photographer and teacher.

"A publisher came to us and suggested we start a photography magazine. My husband said, 'Let's see if we can get one out.' So, I said, 'Sure.' Winton was the editor. We worked like dogs. The first issue was published in May of 1937.

"We went to members of the camera club and asked them to give us some of their photos. But they said they wanted to wait and see how it (the magazine) comes out. We asked other people to write articles, and my husband wrote some, too. It was a terrific situation, especially later on when they flooded us with photos.

"The magazine sold like crazy. It was only in Chicago at first, but it spread in a hurry. It went over big."

Mrs. Spivack, who will be 89 in June, was born in Buffalo, N.Y. She moved to Chicago when she was 7, after her mother died, to live with an aunt.

She was an avid amateur photographer for years, taking a camera with her everywhere and shooting everything in lens range.

"I preferred different subjects," she says. "We never had a set thing. Because when you're competing with a lot of people (the camera club), you have to take anything and everything and do the best you can with it.

"We would have a prize every month (for the best picture). I'd win lots of them. My husband did, too. It was a wonderful group of people; it was a big part of my life.

"There was only one other woman in our camera club. Then, most women would only be taking family (snapshot) pictures."

Her husband edited the magazine for three years before leaving in 1940 to pursue other business opportunities, eventually in California. They continued, though, to shoot pictures and exhibit their work throughout the United States.

Mrs. Spivack now indulges her hobby only as a spectator. "I don't take pictures anymore. I'm too old to chase around. But I think people are more interested in it now than they were before," she said.

Has Popular Photography changed a lot between now and when she helped start it about 50 years ago?

"Well, not too much," she said. "I really don't (see a big change). The subject matter has changed, but it is still a pretty nice magazine."

The biggest change may be the price. In 1937, the magazine cost 25 cents and had 76 pages. Today, the newsstand price is $2.25 and the magazine averages 130 pages.

The May 1937, Volume 1, No. 1 issue included articles entitled: "Candid Shots by the Editor," "Experiences of a News Photographer," "How to Pose Your Subject," "Fast Action with a Miniature," "How to take Cave Pictures" and "Building a Portable Enlarger."

But almost as noteworthy as the debut of a new magazine was the controversy attending what passed for a risque cover in the 1930s. It showed a woman emerging from a shower, holding only a towel in front of her, one shoulder conspicuously bare. Publicity at the time included a news story saying the woman was going to sue the magazine for $25,000 over use of the photo.

"We laughed about it because we knew it was silly," Mrs. Spivack said. "It was part of the fun."

Today, more than 600 issues later, the magazine boasts a circulation of 750,000.

Mrs. Spivack, who now lives in Seal Beach, keeps busy by playing bridge four times a week. And what about the fortune teller's prophecy she would always be happy? Mrs. Spivack has taken care of that herself.

"The reason people live longer today is because they laugh. I have fun no matter where I go or what I do," she says.

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