MORT GLANKOFF    
(1900 − 1986)

The Overview of a Life:  Family, CUE Magazine, Artist

 

For eighty-six years Mort Glankoff was awed by the art in everything.  Creating the world’s first “City magazine” fifty-three years ago was to him more an artistic pursuit than a business endeavor.  Today, Mort Glankoff's body of art, is as naïve and original as was the notion of CUE magazine, in 1932.

To understand the art of Glankoff one must look to Africa, the Mayans and Aztecs, Haiti and 112th Street and Lenox Avenue where Mort Glankoff grew up at the turn of the century.  He remembers, sitting on his mother’s lap, his two brothers and sister at her feet, while she read and translated from German to English the poetry of Goethe and Schiller.  His mother, Yetta Glanckopf had come to the United States from Latvia in the late 1880s.  With no formal education, she had a profound, inexplicable reverence for art, music and literature – particularly the Romantics and the Russians.

Yetta took Mort to see his first play, Hauptmann’s “The Weavers,” in 1909.  She took him to see “L’Aiglon” with Sarah Bernhardt.  Together they watched Pavlova and Nijinsky dance, listened to Fritz Kreisler at his New York performance in 1914 and witnessed the mastery of piano giants de Pachmann and Cortot.  He frequented Carnegie Hall:  50c a ticket to sit on the floor.  There he witnessed the premier of Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” while the the audience hissed and booed.  It was the time to see Stravinsky, Ravel and Respighi conducting their new music.

In 1920 he returned from two years in Chicago where he had experienced his “first cigarette, first drink and first girl”.  Thus began his “bohemian” days in Greenwich Village living with his older brother, Sam, an artist, in a five-story walk-up at the corner of Bleecker and MacDougal streets.  During this period, The Provincetown Playhouse introduced Eugene ONeill’s Emperor Jones and Hairy Ape. Glankoff was friends with Sidney Gilpin who created the role of the Emperor Jones and ran an elevator on the side.  He attended the Lunt-Fontaine Theatre Guild performances and saw modern dance come into being.  The Village in the 20s before radio and TV was the place to be.

In 1924, Glankoff’s father died leaving behind a failed business (rare feathers for hats, Jacob Glanckopf’s specialty had been banned the year before), no insurance and a long list of creditors.  Suddenly, heavily in debt, Glankoff moved to the Upper West Side to take care of his mother and somehow forestall pending bankruptcy.

Between 1924 and 1932, Glankoff worked frantically to pay off the creditors and support himself and his mother.  He typed envelopes, was a shipping clerk for a dress manufacturer, and sold printing for $20 a week.  Finally he landed a job selling advertising space for a movie equipment trade magazine.  He figured this would bring him closer to a favorite art form, film.  He was terrified that he would never be able to sell enough to justify his whopping new $35-a-week salary.

To cover himself, he discovered he could sell a clever little device that when hooked to the film reel, told the projectionist the precise playing time of each reel.  Using this gadget, the projectionist would know exactly how much time he had to doze off before changing reels.  Then, without warning, his trade magazine employer went belly-up leaving him out of work, with no prospects, at the very height of the Great Depression.  But from having gone from movie house to movie house, an idea occurred to him that was to change his fortunes forever.  It was the proverbial right idea at the right time.

CUE IS BORN

In 1932, the movie theaters were showing double features, charging 25c and giving away dishes as an incentive.  Neither newspapers nor magazines carried listings or advertisements of what movies were playing at any given time.  Glankoff reasoned that by obtaining information in advance about what movies were to play where, consolidating that data and offering it to the public, both moviegoers and the theaters would benefit.

Thanks to a six-month course he had taken in copy and layout, he was able to make a dummy of the idea.  He then lined up listings of a dozen movie theaters, each one giving him fifty free passes a week. Right away, he sold $400 of advertising on contract at $100 a page; $50 a column and $25 the half column.  One of the first advertisers was the Central Savings Bank on Broadway.  And Glankoff didn’t even have a bank account yet!

He then obtained the voting registers from the City, listing every building and its tenants in the target area from 59th Street to 110th Street, from Central Park West to Riverside Drive.  And on Saturday, November 5, 1932, Glankoff and a young boy in a broken-down borrowed car, delivered bundles of the first 12-page issue of CUE magazine to each building on the list.

The doorman got a free pair of movie passes to put a copy in front of each tenant’s door.  Free copies were also given to restaurants, drug stores, stationary stores and other retailers in the district.  The first page featured a coupon which, when filled out and sent to Glankoff’s desk at the printer, would guarantee them free issues for the next year.

On Monday, November 7th, 300 completed coupons arrived, and The Naborhood Theater Guide (soon called CUE The Weekly Magazine of New York Life), was off and running.

A SUCCESSFUL ENTERPRISE

Over the next 35 years, CUE experienced explosive growth. Sections were added covering all of Glankoff’s interests – film, music, dance, theatre, museums and galleries, ultimately FM radio and by popular demand, TV.  Major advertisers came on board recognizing that CUE was the first magazine ever to target the most upscale demographic group in the world’s most affluent market.  Soon there was a London Today, Followed by similar magazines in every major European and American city. Having it’s own “CUE” became the measure of the city’s status and cultural importance.

By 1962 CUE had four editions, one for each region in the New York tri-state area.  By the time CUE became part of New York Magazine in 1980, it had reached a circulation of over 300,000 – and the stature of entertainment “bible” for sophisticated New Yorkers.

Glankoff, known to many as “Mr. New York”, attributed CUE’s success to his own brazenness, “ignorance of the realities of business,” and undying passion for the arts and New York.  “CUE was an extension of everything I was ever interested in,” he says.  In 1977, Glankoff was honored by the City of New York for his contribution to making New York the Cultural Center of the World.

BEYOND PUBLISHING

CUE is only part of the Glankoff story.  He was equally committed to discovering and nurturing talent, getting involved in world affairs and pursuing his own nascent artistic ambitions.

In 1936, Glankoff insisted that CUE feature the little know Martha Graham on its cover.  Scores of other up-and-comers like Jason Robards, Jr., Barbra Streisand and Geoffrey Holder, got their first break in the pages of CUE.  Struggling artists, dancers, musicians and actors, many famous today, enthusiastically acknowledge the help and encouragement Mort Glankoff proffered in the early days of their budding careers.  Many top writers and editors as well got their start at CUE.

While immersed in the microcosm of New York culture and entertainment, Glankoff was actively involved in humanitarian causes. In 1938, on a visit to Spain, he came across a refugee camp in Biarritz filled with the orphaned children of Spanish Loyalist parents.  He and his wife, Jill, who had helped in the early years of CUE, (and had thought up the name) conceived of the “Foster Parent Plan” to provide care and feeding for these children.  Eventually, the “Foster Parent Plan” became the leading international program of its kind in the world. Glankoff has been outspoken in a range of causes throughout his life, from freedom of speech issues to civil rights to nuclear disarmament.

AN ARTIST AT HEART

Mort Glankoff “discovered” early Hassidic dancers, Sufi Dervishes and the Kabuki when these cultural emissaries made their first New York appearances.  He collected the first Folkways record pressings and studied the music of the Yoruba, the Nez Perce Indians and the American Chain Gang.  He immersed himself in shaman art from Africa, the Pacific Islands and the Americas.

Glankoff isn’t quite sure where his long-standing fascination with Native American and African tribal art comes from. “Perhaps my roots are a lost tribe that got lost before the others,” he suggests.  Whatever the explanation, trips to Taos, New Mexico in the early 1930s and to Haiti in the 1950s fueled the fires.

Whenever he walked along a beach in Westport or through a quarry in Massachusetts, he would pick up shells or stones.  Not necessarily because they were colorful or wondrous, but because within the forms he would see a face, perhaps an eye or a nose.  Before long, he was assembling these fragments into forms or simply highlighting with paint, the figure that needed only a nudge to jump out.  He would rummage through his vast hardware collection: hinges would become eyes; screws would become nostrils, arms or legs, springs and nuts, genitalia. Before long, he had created a menagerie of faces, figures, totems and animistic forms.

Traditional religion is a central theme.  Throughout his work are representations of various saints and saviors.  An oyster shell, a stone, shell fragments, matchsticks, a bobby pin, a curtain ring and oil paint became St. Francis of Assisi.  The story of Adam and Eve is retold in pasteboard, clay, shell fragments, insulated wire, screw and paint.  The FAR Gallery held a one-man exhibition of these creations in 1952.

A NEW DIRECTION

Glankoff experimented with various materials over the next few decades.  A package arrived one day in 1983 that set another new course.  Cradling and protecting a piece of hi-fi equipment were two extraordinarily shaped and molded Styrofoam forms.  As far as Glankoff was concerned, a cathedral had popped out of a carton.  The new amplifier was secondary.

With uncut Styrofoam forms as his base, Glankoff applies acrylic paint and adds clay figures or his traditional found objects and hardware, as he has done for decades past.  One wall of his studio is hung floor-to-ceiling with “raw” Styrofoam moldings, the other with his finished works.  One is surprised to see the one side; a wall of white packing material, and then on the other; a collection of brilliantly colored sculptures, which have moved through Glankoff’s eye.

Glankoff’s world of totems, figures, edifices and miniatures transform Styrofoam, the epitome of a synthetic castaway society, into a celebration of basic drives, symbols and unspeakable good fun.

Peter Glankoff, 1986

 

 

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