We're Number One
Judith Davidsen -- Interior Design, 3/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
For the longest while, we called editor-publisher Harry Anderson our International Man of Mystery. He invented this magazine, reinventing this profession, but that's all we knew. As we searched volumes of back issues, we began running across bits and pieces of Anderson, notably his 1963 comment that he'd spent 32 years committed to a profession he didn't practice.
Born in 1902, Anderson graduated from Michigan's Olivet College and started his career as a salesman for Architectural Forum, then one of five magazines devoted to architects. There was none, however, for interior designers—and no professional organization comparable to the American Institute of Architects either. According to our best source, himself, he mentioned this lack to the president of the Women's Decorators Club of New York in 1930. The following year, the American Institute of Interior Decorators was formed in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with Harry very much in attendance. Less than a year later, he founded the Decorator's Digest, which he used to educate, defend, and goad.
He encouraged decorators to call themselves interior designers and colleges to take interior design seriously. He showcased the work of students along with the credentials of their schools. He also exhorted designers to use their talents on the homes of World War II defense workers, low- and moderate-income families, and welfare recipients.
He featured planes, trains, and Madame de Pompadour. Proclaiming that the interior designer created the "stage upon which the drama of living is to unfold," he published the homes of Hollywood tycoons David Selznick and Darryl Zanuck, actors Mary Martin and Tallulah Bankhead, and television personalities Arlene Francis and Barbara Walters. Elizabeth Ashley's dressing room for Barefoot in the Park made an appearance, as did movie sets including one for a film about an exiled Austrian prince who becomes an interior designer. Late in his tenure, an article on a French hotel carried the prescient headline "Paris Hilton."
Anderson retired in 1969. His legacy is not only this magazine but also the fact that succeeding editors—in both senses of the term—have had to devote less energy proving the legitimacy of the profession and could instead spend more time recording the efforts of what he called the "greatest non academic cultural force in America." Long may it wave.