Saturday Review, a journal of arts and letters, "suspended" publication yesterday, apparently ending a 58-year history.
Publisher Robert Weingarten announced to his staff Monday afternoon that they were being "furloughed," although he told them he was still "actively discussing the sale of the magazine with several interested parties."
"I don't know how serious these people are," Weingarten said later in the day. "Names are coming out of the woodwork. I'm giving these people a very short string, a matter of days. After that, we'll offer our subscribers a choice of several other magazines to fulfill their subscriptions.
"The only real financial obligation in buying the magazine is to me, and I don't want anything. I've written it off. In the matter of ongoing obligations, everybody sees that differently. I thought I needed to put in $500,000, and I put in $3 million."
Saturday Review is not to be confused with The National Review, The Nation, The New Republic, The Atlantic, or Harper's--which it often was. And therein lay the magazine's major problem. Over the last decade, it never really differentiated itself on the newsstand and consistently lost money. Its blend of politics, culture and arts was virtually the same being offered by both Harper's and The Atlantic in particular; all three magazines found themselves in financial turmoil.
Saturday Review was the most volatile of the lot. Editor Norman Cousins left in 1971 over policy disagreements with his publisher. The magazine was sold to a new group which attempted a bizarre arrangement whereby four different magazines, each with a specific theme, were published once a month under the collective title Saturday Review, offering a range from Mozart to Mao, Truffaut to truffles. The magazine was sold yet again. Cousins came back. Weingarten bought Saturday Review in May 1980, converted it to a monthly and announced that the magazine would return to its original arts focus. He said, "I am the Saturday Review reader. I am the market."
This from a guy who plays the violin, met his wife in an orchestra, spends most of his free time reading and regularly attends concerts and the theater. Weingarten once was offered the women's magazine Redbook at an attractive price and turned it down. "I'm not a Queens housewife," he said. "I can't understand a Queens housewife. I want to be interested in what I'm producing."
But apparently, not enough other people were.
The last issue of Saturday Review has a June cover date and contains articles on film, theater and literature, including a piece on James Joyce by Anthony Burgess.
Gone are the days when Norman Cousins would drop into each April 1 issue a foolish item: a letter to the editor about pending tax revisions that would abolish golf courses (this one touched off letters to a nonexistent member of Congress and an editorial in "Golf World"); an announcement of a reunion for streakers who needed to apply by mail and "include photographs to establish authenticity"; and an infamous classified ad informing readers that "UNFORTUNATE COMPUTER ERROR HAS RESULTED IN 118,000 bra cups in rectangular shape . . ."
Gone, too, now are covers planned through the October issue, which was to be fronted by a portrait of writer Ann Beattie and her dog Rufus illustrating a story on the trend toward minimalism in fiction.
Old legends and new legends alike die hard. Beattie, who has been called the new spokesperson for a generation, said, "How appropriate that my cover has been killed."