Nearly a year ago Esquire's smart Publisher David Smart and Editor Arnold Gingrich set out on an eight months' job of launching a new magazine. It was to be a semimonthly, called Ken, and was to give the public the "lowdown" on world events as "insiders" see them. Last week, about four months late, some 500,000 copies of Ken were finally being whirled off the presses.
Knotty problems had caused the delay. Mixed up with the idea of a magazine for insiders, Publisher Smart had another idea of a magazine for the underdog, militantly antifascist. First editor hired was Jay Cooke Allen, whose scoops as a foreign correspondent of the Chicago Tribune qualified him to edit a magazine for insiders. Off to Europe he hustled last summer to rake up new background, returned and began to gather a staff of militant liberal writers.
His idea of Ken apparently savored too much of historical study, and not enough of gumshoeing to suit Messrs. Smart & Gingrich. So he, virtually his entire staff and all their works were scrapped. To take Jay Allen's place came another onetime Tribune correspondent, George Seldes, iconoclastic author of You Can't Print That! and Sawdust Caesar. But another snag turned up. Prospective advertisers balked at taking space in what they regarded as a pinko magazine. Ken became anti-communist as well as antifascist, some of its bright young liberal contributors were alienated and George Seldes, while retained as a contributor, was asked to do his work at home.
Meantime the names of two others, Bacteriologist Paul de Kruif (Microbe Hunters) and Novelist Ernest Hemingway (A Farewell to Arms) were accounted as working editors. But de Kruif had plenty on his hands helping Franklin Roosevelt fight poliomyelitis, and Hemingway spent almost all of Ken's, eleven months' gestation visiting the war in Spain. Home from Spain and somewhat alarmed when friends pointed out to him that a Manhattan gossip sheetster had called Ken a "liberal-phoney," Hemingway asked Publisher Smart to explain in the first issue (on a page with Hemingway's story about Italian battalions in Spain) that Ernest Hemingway was a contributor, not an editor. By last week Ken's direction had largely devolved on Messrs. Smart & Gingrich with the assistance of Messrs. Hemingway, Seldes, John Spivak (Europe Under the Terror), Raymond Gram Swing (Forerunner of American Fascism), Critic Burton Rascoe, Manuel Komroff, Sportswriter Herb Graffis.
Offering $100 to $1,000 an article (although the higher fees were rare), Editor Gingrich warned contributors: "An inside story of how a baby-carriage factory works would be dull and of no interest. But an inside story of a baby-carriage factory that is actually making machine guns on the sly that's more like it." When it appears, March 31, Ken is to be a large, slick-paper magazine of Esquire flamboyance, liberally daubed with color and sporting "a full size picture magazine as just one of its several sections."