Life in the fast lane
Charles Whittingham’s journey from Loyola to LIFE magazine
By Aaron Cooper
Editor's note: Charles Whittingham passed away on March 4, 2017. The following article appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of Loyola magazine.
Charles (Chuck) Whittingham (BS ’51) built an illustrious career in publishing, eventually becoming the publisher of LIFE magazine, traveling the globe, and meeting some of the most famous people in the world. But before all that, he grew up in Rogers Park and attended Jesuit schools, including St. Ignatius Grammar School and Loyola Academy, all within a few blocks of his home.
Whittingham attended Loyola University Chicago on a full athletics scholarship to run track under the guidance of former Olympic champion and coach Alex Wilson. Thanks to Wilson’s coaching, Whittingham set a school record in the 100-yard dash that still stands today. Whittingham majored in English and credits his interest in publishing to the guidance of Professor James Supple.
After graduating from Loyola with honors in 1951, Whittingham joined the Navy and served on the USS Salem, the flagship of the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean. He served for three years, moving through Greece, Turkey, France, Italy, and other countries, recalling the rare treat of dancing with Grace Kelly in Monaco. After returning home, Whittingham remembers standing on the corner of Sheridan and Kenmore in front of Mundelein College, watching General MacArthur come back from the war in his open motorcade.
Whittingham’s magazine career launched in 1956, when he went to work for Redbook. Three years later, he moved to Fortune magazine, where he stayed for the next 20 years. It was at Fortune—a publication at the pinnacle of its field—that Whittingham earned his self-described “business degree,” as he learned the ins and outs of the business world and rubbed elbows with top-notch business journalists like Max Ways.
During his tenure as associate publisher at Fortune, LIFE (both magazines are owned by Time, Inc.) had won the 1967 National Magazine Award, published a feature on America’s mission to the moon in 1969, and received great accolades. It was among the best-loved and most famous magazines in the world. But like Colliers, the Saturday Evening Post, and other major publications, LIFE couldn’t maintain its large circulation base because they were all competing with television viewership.
The weekly magazine, as it was circulated at the time, published its last issue in 1972. For the next six years, the magazine produced fewer than a dozen intermittent “special” issues to preserve its copyright. In 1978, Time, Inc., selected Whittingham as the founding publisher of the “reborn” LIFE magazine, which returned as a monthly publication.
During his tenure at LIFE, Whittingham was surrounded by some of the most celebrated writers and photographers of the day.
“At LIFE, when I walked out into the halls each day and went down to the editing floor, I was surrounded by some of the most famous photographers in the world... . There was no job like it,” Whittingham says.
“We held a lunch event one day featuring Tom Wolfe, whom I consider a good friend. He wrote an article for LIFE on the ‘70s that was one of the best-written, most fabulous things. People were fighting to get in the door of the Four Seasons Restaurant to listen to him here in New York. It’s that type of thing—whether they were photographers or writers—I was surrounded by these people.”
Whittingham was acquainted with people famous outside of publishing as well. In the late 1970s, he hosted a lunch honoring Sophia Loren, who asked him to take her on a tour of Studio 54.
“Studio 54 was probably the most famous place in the world at that point,” Whittingham says. “Nobody could get in unless you had special connections. So I took [Loren] there, and you have never seen a scene like that. At LIFE, stuff like that happened every week.”
Right before he left Time, Inc., after three decades of service, Whittingham helped organize LIFE’s 50th anniversary party in Radio City Music Hall, attended by Muhammad Ali, Bob Hope, Sophia Loren, representatives from the families of Ernest Hemingway and Martin Luther King Jr., and many more. The celebration was broadcast as a two-hour TV special on ABC and hosted by Barbara Walters.
Whittingham has maintained his friendship with Time, Inc., during retirement. He just finished producing a book for family and friends called Life Legends Revisited, which highlights the 50th anniversary of the magazine. Early in retirement, he served as the senior vice president of the New York Public Library, and he has collaborated on several TV documentaries about the library and American presidents.
Whittingham is also a lifelong supporter of Loyola. In the 1980s, he hosted gatherings of alumni at his Time, Inc., offices in Rockefeller Plaza. In recent years, he set up the Charles A. Whittingham Endowed Scholarship Fund, supported Loyola’s Center for Textual Studies and Digital Media, and designated a bequest for the University. Whittingham also recently supported the bell project at Madonna della Strada Chapel and was present at its groundbreaking.
“I have nothing but wonderful things to say about Loyola and a liberal arts education, and the campus today is exquisite,” he says.
In 2010, Whittingham received the Damen Award from the College of Arts and Sciences at the annual Founders’ Dinner. In addition to monetary support, he donated to Loyola’s library a valuable collection of first-edition rare books from Chiswick Press, a London-based publishing company founded in the 18th century.
In 2012, Whittingham was asked to deliver the keynote address at Loyola’s track and field banquet in front of 200 student athletes and supporters where he recounted his glory days of running for his alma mater. At the close of that address, Whittingham told the audience: “The great treasure you will take from your days at this marvelous university is of course your records and your performance in your sport. But really the education you receive here and for which your parents have sacrificed will be your real treasure. It will be with you all your life wherever you go and whatever you may do.”
Whittingham and his late wife, Jean, are the parents of four children and grandparents of five grandchildren. He lives in New York City.