November 24, 2008
Daily News Record was one of the many trade publications under the Fairchild banner--a small, family-owned trade publisher whose flagship was Women’s Wear Daily. Begun at roughly the same time, DNR and WWD covered the apparel industry, the former being the bible for the men’s wear trade and the latter for women’s wear.
I started my New York career as a secretary to the two editors of DNR in mid-1960s. They were drinking buddies as well as industry scribes—as different as two Jewish writers could be. Mort Gordon was tall, smart and sexy while Herb Blueweiss was short, balding, hyper and sometimes enigmatic. Herb liked to read and attend the theater with Martin Gottfried, Fairchild’s critic, and Mort, a bachelor, was content to attend industry functions and do as much skirt-chasing as time allowed. The two worked so well in tandem that they were referred to by staff as The Bobbsey Twins. It was, all in all, a fun place to work.
At one point Gottfried commented to Pat, my forerunner as assistant to the duo, that it must be great fun to have Herbie as a boss. Pat responded, “You’d think that, but Mort’s better to work for.” Mort was a good editor and a gentle guy with people; he was the one we’d take our stories to if we had a problem.
Fairchild was housed in two buildings, back to back. The front door was at 7 East 12th Street, an entrance into a modern if characterless building where the sleeker publications were produced. A plain lobby housed a front desk and a bank of three elevators. If you took this elevator to the third floor you were in the world of Women’s Wear Daily, full of chicly dressed young women at desks with typewriters, reporting on the future of hemlines, and a few hapless males writing about the business side of the women’s fashion industry.
If you were going to the Daily News Record office, you had to make a trek through these desks on past the fey characters of the art department on the right and through a passageway to the back building. This structure was decidedly old, housing some geezers who wrote columns called “Words at Random,” and “Cotton Grey Goods,” as well as some serious guys discussing such topics as the necktie market, textile machinery, the staying power of the “mod” fashion in the youth market. You would also see a passel of merry pranksters looking for their next big journalism break. As a secretary, I fit cozily into that latter category.
You could also enter DNR the back way, up the stairs or in the creaky old elevator in the shabby 13th Street building. At that end of the room were the financial desk, the legal reporters, and a smattering of other market desks.
I worked at DNR off and on for some six years from the mid-60’s until the early 70’s when I left for good for the greener pastures of public relations, but I left having made the acquaintance of some of the most interesting characters of my life, and having made some friends I still see today. There is a surreal quality to my memories of the place. Every reporter, every editor, even the copy kids—all were distinct in his or her view of their employment. They took their work with a grain of salt, but basically performed it well. It took some doing for an incipient novelist to call on the little knitting mills producing men’s sweaters and report the company’s financial and marketing plans.
We all weren’t incipient novelists, of course, but I think most of us thought of ourselves as writers. Some went on to become well-known as television personalities, drama critics, columnists for New York Magazine or denizens of city’s night life. This was a stopping off place on the way to a big break, and the hilarity of the lunch hours and after-hours imbibing had little to do with the markets we covered. We liked the company, we even liked our jobs, but we approached everything with irreverence and attempts—sometimes quite successful—at wit. We impressed ourselves and each other. We traded quips with members of the art department and Chauncey Howell, who already had a column with his name on it in WWD.
One of our number got promoted to a management position, the ultimate betrayal. He became in our minds—as put by one left behind—a toady for the Establishment, admonishing us to shape up and keep the noise down, that sort of thing. Once when he gave us a dire warning that there would soon be a salary review, we decided this would be a great opportunity to put on an all-company show, “The Salary Revue,” with songs and sketches from all departments. We were occupied for several weeks dreaming up musical numbers for the non-event to come. For George Washington’s Birthday, we thought a historical pageant would be in order. Who would play George? John Pareti wanted to be Cornwallis “because he made out pretty well after the war.” We fulminated on possible casting until that fantasy project faded away only to be replaced by another.
There was an older lady with a personality column who took her job very seriously. She was really interested in the men’s wear industry, and counted many of its executives as her friends and contacts. She was on the phone all day long, usually talking rather animatedly, and once when she was not at her desk someone answered her ringing phone for her and was immediately sorry. This was before the days of the cleaning staff wiping down such instruments, and the mouthpiece of her phone was green with dried slime.
Maybe it was because we were all young and optimistic that it seemed like such fun to work in an atmosphere of controlled chaos and actually produce a daily newspaper just like in the movies. It was a profound experience in a decidely frivolous setting, and those of us who reflect on it now have mostly happy memories. You had great hours, for one thing, arriving at 10 (or later if you had arranged an appointment in the market), went to lunch at noon; and, because your business of learning everybody’s business was so often facilitated at lunch you might not get back to the office until 2:30. To improve your focus you could take a half-hour coffee break and leave the office at 5.
Talk about a great neighborhood to work in! Around the corner, there was a Schrafft’s on Fifth and 13th Streets, and a Longchamps in the middle of the block. I used to spend some lunch hours trying on hats at May’s on Union Square, I can’t imagine why. David Platt, who later went left the company for a long stint as fashion editor of Playboy, used to fret that I wasn’t checking out the chapeaux for little animals that might have been left there by other customers. Usually the office crowd would eat at a place called The Terrace, or one of the many coffee shops surrounding the building, but for a treat we’d try the sweet little Italian joint called Il Bambino at 12th and University Place. None of those places still exists—Scrafft’s became a western-themed hangout, and the other places were gutted and replaced many years ago. Fairchild Publications moved to the old Ohrbach’s building sometime in the last century. Daily News Record kept the name (or initials, anyway), but hadn’t been a daily for years.
A friend from those days now writes a blog on being retired in New Jersey. He sent me a link to a news article that DNR will cease publication with today's issue and the men’s wear market will be covered by WWD in a special section once a week. I’m sure its time had come, but for many years it was a solid little news outlet for an often overlooked industry. And, like Fairhope and Hoboken, it was a great place come from.