It’s hard to actually call Ralph Ginzburg a mentor of mine. I’m not sure he talked to me more than once, and after a few months on the night shift at his magazine Moneysworth, he had me fired. But a mentor to me he indeed was. Without either of us knowing it, the path I started at Ralph’s would continue for 15 years.
By the time I went to work for his publication in the summer of 1976, Ralph was on his last publication. He was notorious for being convicted and jailed for obscenity relating to his hard cover magazine Eros (though there were some who said he was less obscene than just completely annoying). Moneysworth was to be his last hurrah.
I worked in the production department. Ralph was around often, talking loudly and smartly about everything from design to circulation to advertising. All I had to do was absorb it all. It was the place I saw first hand and up close how design, language, marketing, and promotion worked in the real world.
Ralph showed me (inadvertently) the practical meaning of graphic design (the only things I knew were from reading my girlfriend’s book about Milton Glaser); he talked so much, and so eloquently about Herb Lubalin, I felt like I’d actually worked with him myself. And watching him lay out his trademark full page New York Times ads (like the ones above and below) was an education by itself, about design and typography.
But, it was really in the area of writing, strategy, and direct selling that I got my Ginzburgian education. I won’t belabor the details, but let me tell me you… He’d sit down directly at the typesetting machine (like a big IBM Selectric) and, in real time, type out the kind of ad that’s posted here. He’d intone the sentences out loud as he thought of them. He’d explain why he was writing what, even as he was typing something else entirely. He’d explain his philosophy of selling, direct selling, through the ads, why certain words worked better than others to grab subscriptions, and why he used the extra thick dotted lines around the return coupon.
I made a lifelong friend at Moneysworth. And I learned a lot. It doesn’t get any better even though I was fired. Ralph Ginzburg was a MF, in every way.