Samuel Irving “Si” Newhouse Jr. was remembered Sunday as a media titan whose open checkbook propelled Condé Nast to a position of editorial excellence and who created a system of star editors that transformed the magazine industry in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Newhouse died early Sunday at age 89 after a long illness.
Born Nov. 8, 1927, he was the son of Mitzi and Samuel Irving Newhouse Sr. Among the many roles he played throughout his life were heir to the Condé Nast media empire, art collector and philanthropist.
Unlike his father, whose passion was newspapers, S.I. Jr.’s was magazines. He launched Self magazine and relaunched Vanity Fair, a Condé Nast property that had been shut down during the Great Depression, along with GQ and Details, both of which he purchased and reconfigured. He did the same with The New Yorker.
Newhouse died following a long illness. On Sunday, three family members who operate different divisions of parent company Advance Publications, Donald Newhouse, Jonathan Newhouse and Steven Newhouse, paid tribute in a statement to the family patriarch.
“Today is a day of emotion, of genuine loss for our family and for S.I. Newhouse’s extended family at Condé Nast. S.I. loved Condé Nast. He was proud to publish the finest magazines in the world, and to offer exceptional content on every digital platform.”
They said the elder Newhouse “was always the first person to come to the office, arriving well before dawn and bringing to each day visionary creative spirit coupled with no-nonsense business acumen. Those who worked with him remember him as fair, thoughtful, modest and intensely curious, with a sense of irony and the ability to laugh. He single-mindedly pursued an ambition — to create the best content. And he inspired those around him to do so.”
They said one of the late Newhouse’s favorite words, which he used as the highest praise, was “extraordinary. It is a word which describes what he achieved and who he himself was. S.I. took great satisfaction in Condé Nast’s business success and he believed, as we do, that its best days lie ahead.”
The statement continued: “On behalf of everyone in our family, we look forward to celebrating S.I.’s legacy by continuing his passionate support for Condé Nast and for your extraordinary work. For Condé Nast, perhaps the best way to honor S.I.’s memory is to sustain and advance his vision of excellence in every photograph, video, design and story and to continue to inspire audiences around the world. All of us are thrilled to travel with you on this important journey.”
Newhouse Jr. went to Horace Mann School and Syracuse, dropping out after three years. Although he ran the school newspaper, the Daily Orange, college held little allure for him. He wanted to get to work. He went to work for the Patriot in Harrisburg, Pa., then worked for a radio station, KGW, in Oregon, and later the Newark Star-Ledger. He worked for the Globe-Democrat. Then his father gave his oldest son the Condé Nast stable so that he could learn the business.
The company their father founded, Advance Publications, owned newspapers in 26 American cities, along with Condé Nast Publications, Parade Publications, American City Business Journals, the Golf Digest Companies, Newhouse News Service, Religion News Service and bright House Networks, which served 2.4 million cable system customers in Florida, California, Michigan, Indiana and Alabama, one of the Newhouse family’s largest sources of revenue. The company also owned Advance Internet, which operated more than 100 web sites servicing its print publications and cable systems.
Advance newspapers included the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Oregonian and the Post-Standard of Syracuse, N.Y. Advance magazines were published in six countries, and they included Vogue, W, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Glamour, GQ and Parade.
In 1964, the Newhouse Communications Complex was launched with Newhouse 1, the I.M. Pei edifice which housed the School of Journalism. It was opened with an event attended by President Lyndon B. and Lady Bird Johnson.
Newhouse was married to Jane Franke from 1951 to 1959 and they had three children, S.I. 3rd, Wynn and Pamela, and to Victoria Newhouse, the former Victoria Benedict de Ramel, who wrote and edited books on architecture, from 1973 to the end of his life. He is survived by Victoria, along with his brother, Donald, two of his children, Sam and Pamela, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“As a person, he was unassuming, soft-spoken and had a sense of irony, including an ability to laugh at himself. He was always fair in dealing with people. He rarely lost his cool and never raised his voice. He treated everyone, from the highest ranking person to the lowest, with courtesy. He paid attention. In the days before the word became trendy, he was ‘mindful.’ He had a keen sense of aesthetics, especially visual and became a renowned art collector. And as if he possessed an inner Google map, he had an uncanny sense of physical space; while walking in an unfamiliar city of an office labyrinth he never got lost,” Jonathan Newhouse said in a separate note.
“In early 1981 we had lunch in his office (I was a 28-year-old trainee) and he told me about how Vanity Fair had been published by Condé Nast from 1914 to 1936, closing down in the depths of the Great Depression. He said, ‘It has always been the dream of this company to bring back Vanity Fair.’ That was the word he used — dream. That’s how it was in those days. Before there was a business plan, a marketing strategy, a mission statement, there was….a dream. S.I. Newhouse was a dreamer, and he made those dreams a reality,” Jonathan Newhouse went on to recall.
“Today, we lost a giant,” said Bob Sauerberg, president and chief executive officer of Condé Nast. “S.I. embodied creativity, curiosity and a commitment to excellence unlike any other, and he will forever be remembered as the man who built the most influential media empire in the world. We are honored to work in this incredible business he created, and will strive to emulate his courage and wisdom.”
An article by Steve Fishman in New York magazine in 2009 quotes Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter comparing Newhouse’s empire to the old MGM studios, with Newhouse himself cast as MGM chairman Louis B. Mayer. It’s an intriguing thesis, and one Fishman made by leading with a depiction of the beginning and end of Portfolio magazine, one of Newhouse’s few failures.
Fishman calls him “one of the great media entrepreneurs of the past three decades,” noting that he started Self magazine in 1979 for what he refers to as “a new generation of restless, body-proud female readers” and also purchased GQ “for a new style-empowered man.” Newhouse revived Vanity Fair in 1983, then brought in Tina Brown to advise on its relaunch, then, in 1984, named her its editor. It was Brown, a young magazine star from England, who gave the new Vanity Fair (part of the original Condé Nast stable, first launched in 1936) its trademark mix of glossy photography and satirical writing, a blend she had created herself when, at 25, she resurrected the English society magazine Tatler.
Newhouse then sent Brown to revamp The New Yorker, which some felt had stagnated under its longtime editor William Shawn. At that point, he hired Graydon Carter to head Vanity Fair, despite the fact that Carter had written about him satirically in Spy.
In 1998, writer Stanley Crouch analyzed Brown’s tenure at The New Yorker for Salon magazine, saying, “The most important thing, I think has been [her] effort to bring together the intellectual material and the streets. When she was in charge, despite all the complaints from the old New Yorker crowd, one got a much stronger sense of the variousness of American society than one did under the editorship of perhaps the rightfully sainted Mr. Shawn.”
Then there was Newhouse’s relationship with Anna Wintour, daughter of prominent English newspaper editor Charles Wintour. As Kevin Haynes wrote in the Nov. 10, 1989 issue of WWD, “’The gospel in our house was the newspaper,’ Wintour says, but as a teenager she religiously read the British fashion magazines and her favorite, Seventeen. ‘I just thought that was the most sophisticated magazine I had ever seen in my life.’”
Newhouse wooed her from New York Magazine in 1983 by offering her a job as Vogue’s creative director, a new position. Three years later, he sent Wintour to England to head British Vogue and then, in the fall of 1987, called her back to New York to edit House & Garden.
“He stood by Wintour as she revamped the magazine, filling its pages with celebrities, giving it a more streamlined look and conducting a thorough housecleaning — six of the top editors listed on the masthead in January 1988 were gone by March. Wintour even abbreviated its name to HG. The overhaul was so dramatic that some critics dubbed the once staid book ‘Vanity Chair’ and ‘House & Garment.’
In June 1988, Newhouse plucked Wintour from the controversy and placed her atop the loftiest throne at Condé Nast, editor of Vogue.
Since then, of course, Wintour has gone from strength to strength, and now combines the dual roles of editor in chief of Vogue and artistic director of Condé Nast. The latter is a position originally held by Russian-born magazine editor, publisher, painter, sculptor and Newhouse whisperer Alexander Liberman, who played that role from 1962 to 1994, and had a major influence on Wintour.
“Wherever he led, we followed, unquestioningly, simply because he put the most incredible faith in us. S.I. never looked at data, or statistics, but went with his instincts, and expected us to do the same,”said Anna Wintour Sunday. “He was quick to encourage us to take risks, and effusive in his praise when they paid off. There was nothing showy about the way S.I. led, though. This humble, thoughtful, idiosyncratic man, possibly the least judgmental person I have ever known, preferred family, friends, art, movies and his beloved pugs over the flashiness of the New York media world, and his personality shaped the entire company; it might have been a huge global entity, yet one felt a deep, personal connection to it, all because of him.”
“S.I. Newhouse wasn’t incidentally in the magazine business,” David Remnick, editor in chief of The New Yorker, said. “He loved magazines, he loved everything about them — from the conception of new publications to the beauty and rigor of the latest issue — and that passion, that commitment to excellence, free expression and imagination radiated in every direction.”
“With S.I.’s passing, the big chapters in the history of magazines — as written by men like S.I. and Henry Luce — will have come to an end,” said Graydon Carter. “S.I.’s vision, and the soft manner in which he executed it, will be long remembered in these hallways and on newsstands around the world. He was a one-off in an age of carbon copies.”
“I wish we could, you know, row back and play that time again,” she added.
Many in the fashion world also expressed their condolences and shared memories of Newhouse:
“The whole point about S.I. Newhouse was how much he was involved with people. He was not somebody who had grand plans and let somebody else sort it out. For each and everybody — even me, who he didn’t know so well because I only joined Condé Nast recently, although I was around, of course, for many years before — but it was that feeling that he was interested in people. And, you know, it’s pretty hard to get that now today. I think it’s really his legacy in a way,” said Suzy Menkes.
“It is very difficult for me to imagine that S.I. Newhouse has passed away. I still remember his charming mother,” Karl Lagerfeld said. “He did a great job for Condé Nast, I am very sad for his widow.”
“He was an incredible media man. He had a great vision for the Condé Nast group. It’s yet another loss of a generation that was an engine for fashion — I’m thinking of Vogue, of course, and of everything he did for the Condé Nast group,” said Sidney Toledano. “I remember the last meeting with Bernard Arnault and him, they talked about art and painting all evening.”
“S.I. Newhouse embodied continuous energy and restless quest for excellence. His many entrepreneurial talents have raised the Condé Nast group to its current global leadership. Through the media he managed, he magnified European fashion and fostered its creativity and dynamism. I am deeply saddened by his death and express my sympathy to his family and his teams,” said Bernard Arnault.
“It is with great sadness that I learned of the passing of S.I. Newhouse. For many decades, he truly embodied innovation and boldness in the media industry, making Condé Nast what it is today,” said François-Henri Pinault. “He was an extraordinary leader, admired and loved by those who were lucky enough to work with him. I address my deepest condolences to all those who loved him and to the whole Condé Nast family, but especially to S.I.’s own family, who represent a unique name in the media industry and will, no doubt, remain a strong supporter of the press and particularly the fashion press.”