By Jeff Truesdell,
Guild Member and People Magazine Reporter
Bill Hooper's grasp on Time Inc.'s history is more than personal. It's almost paternal.
The soft-spoken Texan, a 36-year Time Inc. employee and a Guild member since 1995, is the last man standing among the staff charged with overseeing the company's archives — a priceless, one-of-a-kind collection of letters, reporting and artifacts documenting the 20th Century and the start of the 21st through the sharp eyes of the company's founders, editors contributors and staff members.
So when a senior VP deemed the collection trash to be tossed in the purge ahead of Time Inc.’s move from the iconic Time & Life Building last year, Hooper put his foot down. "I was furious, because it's not," he says. He went to Norm Pearlstine, the company’s chief content officer, who embraced Hooper's appeal to save the treasure. It is now preserved with the New-York Historical Society while Time Inc. pays Hooper's salary to help maintain it.
Hooper felt empowered by his Guild affiliation to make that call. It's not the first time he credits the Guild for making a difference. More than 20 years ago, it appeared the archives staff might be dismissed in a reorganization, until they were shuffled from Administrative Services to Editorial Services and became Guild-eligible in 1995.
"If they had the opportunity then, it would have all been outsourced," says Hooper. "I think the hoops that, as Guild employees, they had to go through to justify getting rid of us made it more difficult for them."
Hooper, now 63, was in his mid-20s when he pulled the plug on a "soul-destroying" job in Houston and moved in 1979 to Manhattan, sight unseen, flying standby on Pan Am. "I wanted glamour," he says. Growing up, his images of the city — indeed, of the wider world beyond his hometown of College Station, Texas — had been shaped by Time Inc.'s brands. He vividly remembers LIFE's "Cleopatra" cover featuring Elizabeth Taylor, and his eagerness to share it with his second-grade classmates during show-and-tell. "Mother nixed that," he says. "Too racy."
He arrived at Time Inc. in March 1980 as an Olsten's temp, hired to photocopy the papers of Hedley Donovan, Henry Luce's hand-picked successor as editor-in-chief, who had just left to become an adviser to President Jimmy Carter. "It was just fascinating material," says Hooper. Four months later he joined the eight-person archives staff full-time, floating between organizing and collecting the company’s historical records.
"From the very beginning Henry Luce thought of it as a special company, and that it should operate as a service to the public," says Hooper. "We existed certainly to make money, but to also be good citizens."
And while it holds a vital business history, the collection's invaluable eyewitness perspective brings it to perpetual life. It's a job Hooper loves.
"There's a contact high when you're dealing with historical records, and you're holding correspondence with Winston Churchill, or a fan letter from J. Edgar Hoover where he talks about how much he and Clyde just loved New York's 8 Million Yankees, one of the March of Time newsreels," he says. "We're one of the more important journalistic organizations of the 20th Century. It's where, for good or ill, I've learned my 20th Century history."
Change on the job has been constant: The archives staff was shrunk through downsizing, and a shared role with the Time Inc. research department was lost when the latter's functions were outsourced. But Hooper is hopeful that the collection's donation to the historical society has kept it safe. A five-year cataloguing effort is now under way. "Once it's catalogued and the finding aids are up on the Historical Society's website, it will be a major destination for scholars," he says. "And that's exciting for me."
"I've been proud to be associated with the company," he says. "It's important to remember how much the Guild has influenced the benefits that all Time Inc. employees are still lucky enough to be on staff enjoy. We want to bargain for humane working conditions, humane wages, some semblance of job security. It's important to have a strong base."
As his own efforts have proven, he says, "With solidarity is strength."