Johnson spreads out issues of Tiger Beat and The Lovebook and Front Page Detective ("Her Corpse Bore the Marks of a Sadist's Whip"). There's a stack of Midwest Motorist tabloids (July 1968: "Would you trust a very precious cargo to a woman driver?") and a Right On showing Michael Jackson's real nose. A Dell romance magazine sold for 50 cents in 1969, the cover wailing, "My Wife Thinks Sex Is Sinful." Ten years later, Rona Barrett's Gossip frets over Sonny and Cher's custody battle and wonders, "Has Shelley Hack put the sizzle back in 'Charlie's Angels'?"
"The one they tore the most magazines up over was Liz Taylor and Richard Burton," recalls Whitfield. "They were married in the morning and divorced in the afternoon. I had to take the corrections over the phone and reset everything; it was all done in hot metal in those days." Whitfield never did cotton to cold type. His strength was patience: He was the only one who could set the Ladies' Circle Needlework, line after tiny line of twisted stockinette instructions. He pulls out an old strip of cast lead and regards it fondly: one line of type, squirted out at 550 degrees. If the linotype operator transposed a letter, he'd have to reset the entire line, so he finished out the line with gibberish, running his finger down the keys. (They used to use profanity, until the gremlins made sure it found its way into the printed edition.)
Johnson picks up the lead, turns it over in his hand. He's dreading retirement. He nods toward the old brass elevator cage in the hall: "I applied to run it."
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.