Marriott Alumni Magazine

Spring Summer 1977 Exchange

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Page 17 of 51

EXCHANGE: PROFILE/HOBART LEWIS Running a "Word Business" The ad was simple. "Young writer wanted for Reader's Digest...." For a Philadelphia copywriter making $5,000 a year in 1942, the chance to earn $8,000 was worth competing with a thousand other fledgling journalists. It took six months to work through the list, but the magazine hired the aspiring writer, who went to work drafting promotional letters. As an advertising man, Hobart D. Lewis felt that nearly every copywriter is a writer-journalist at heart with printer's ink running through his or her veins. Hobart Durbin Lewis has never lost that urge to write, and as chairman of the board and chief executive officer of the world wide Reader's Digest publishing empire, he retained his connections with the "word business" -as he calls it-serving as the magazine's editor-in-chief. Like the ad, he makes it sound easy: "I was interested in ideas. I was selling ideas by mail, and then as an editor, I was working with ideas. I don't think I would have been very good at selling soap." After 34 years at the Digest, Lewis retired in December 1976, having run its vast magazine, book, film, and travel interests. Spanning six continents, the magazine's reading audience alone is an estimated 100 million. "Bible of America" After Mom, apple pie, and the flag, fourth place has to be a tie between chocolate chip cookies and the Reader's Digest on just about anyone's All-American list The bedside companion to nations, it is unquestionably the most widely read periodical in the world, with 25 foreign editions. In this country it has been tagged the "Bible of America." When Lewi s arrived at the Digest, he brought with him some notable credentials-Princeton class of '34; English teacher at Mercer Junior College, New Jersey; and by lines in such magazines as American Mercury and Story. Born in New York City, he had been at Philadelphia's N.W. Ayer advertising agency for four years before the move to the magazine. By 1942, the 20-year-old Digest had entrenched itself into the nation's reading habits. It's cofounders, DeWitt and Lila Acheson Wallace, had taken a good idea and turned it into the kind of success story the magazine itself actively promotes. In the early 1920s DeWitt Wallace had decided that people would be interested in spending less time reading the same information currently available in popular magazines. He would sit in the New York Public Library with a yellow legal pad and condense 10,000-word articles-

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