It seemed like a good idea. For a magazine to reach the age of 75 is close to miraculous. So when Time announced that it was throwing itself a party, playing host to as many of its past cover subjects as possible, readers made ready to raise a glass.
And then came the February night when the fête was accompli. Time rented Radio City Music Hall, and hundreds of well-known faces circulated around the vast arena. Certain incongruities were pleasant: Joe DiMaggio and Henry Kissinger, Mikhail Gorbachev and Sophia Loren, Patricia Nixon Cox and Mel Brooks (never a cover subject, but a funny guy, so what the hell).
But gradually, other, less pleasant, faces appeared: Jack Kevorkian, a.k.a. Doctor Death, and the Rev. Louis Farrakhan, known for leading the Million Man March and calling Judaism a "gutter religion." Still, these newsmakers had been the subjects of recent Time articles; why not have them along for the ride? Besides, selected members of the press were in attendance; they would surely give the party lots of ink and air time (and so they did).
But then another face swam up—a face nearly as old as the century. To the general public Leni Riefenstahl, 95, is unfamiliar; Hitler's favorite filmmaker hasn't directed a feature for almost six decades. She's been in denial for the same length of time. Frau Riefenstahl's mendacious memoirs try to explain away her war years, when the Nazis rewarded her with money and honor for her films in what critic George Steiner accurately calls "the official whorehouse of 'Aryan Culture.' "
But her protests of innocence should deceive no one except the willfully ignorant—which is to say, the hosts of the Time party. On their next trip to the Beltway, they might stop at the Library of Congress, where they can find an album of photo stills from Olympia, Leni's documentary celebrating the 1936 Olympics. It bears Hitler's bookplate and the inscription, "Dedicated to my Führer, with inextinguishable loyalty and deeply felt gratitude." The signature: Leni Riefenstahl.
If simultaneously extending invitations to Riefenstahl and Steven Spielberg, the maker of Schindler's List, was thoughtless, inviting her and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel, survivor of Auschwitz and Buchenwald, to the same party speaks of a moral abyss so deep you could throw in a copy of Time and never hear it hit bottom. The New Republic weighed in: "Why Leni Riefenstahl? Perhaps Time couldn't locate Martin Bormann's address."
The New Yorker also refused to jump through the hoop. "What was next?" they asked, "Saddam Hussein singing `Mame'? It was not to be. Saddam, like his fellow cover subject O. J. Simpson, had been deemed `unlikely to attend' by the editors of Time and was not invited." Perhaps the party's hosts had another reason for not requesting Simpson's presence. When news of the Brentwood killings first broke, his face was on the cover of Time, darkened for the occasion. This raised ugly charges of racism, best forgotten at the Music Hall.
So here was the 75th anniversary party's bottom line: to invite the propagandist for the century's most notorious mass murderer is history; to invite the accused killer of two people would be tacky. Speaking of tacky, The New Republic mentioned another Time, Inc. publication. It advised readers to "Pity Time, which went to all this trouble to prove that it is just the company's beard for People."
Talk about Wag the Dog.