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Storytime with Geroge Lois, Part 3

Juxtapoz // Thursday, 02 Dec 2010


We continue our bonus coverage of our December issue feature on advertising guru and former Esquire Magazine cover art director, George Lois. Today, Mr. Lois recalls one of his most controversial covers, the Novemer 1970 Esquire featuring Lt. William Calley, who was awaiting trial for his part in the My Lai Massacre.

A book was to be released around the same time, titled, The Confessions of Lietenant Calley, and Esquire was to print an excerpt. George felt it was the right cover, and had his idea set to go. Editor Harold Haynes felt that Calley was the scapegoat for an atrocious war, and Lois had the idea to shoot Calley with a group of Vietnamese kids. The rest is history.

That was an unbelievable fucking shoot. They said they wanted to do an excerpt from the book, Confessions of Lt. Calley and I said okay, “Can I talk to him?” And they said sure. I said I want to get him into the studio, but I don’t want to bullshit him, and I want to tell him that I want to take a photograph of him posing with 3 or 4 Vietnamese kids.

It could mean, “I’m posing with Vietnamese kids, I feel no guilt, I’m guiltless. I’m a good guy.” But if you have half a fucking brain, you look at it and say you fucking psychotic motherfucking killer. Yes, he was sent there by terrible people, and he was put in harms way, but that doesn’t mean that you become psychotic and listen to everybody around you and kill 4 or 500 people, which he did.

So I thought, let him take the photo with the kids, and he will think it’s a sympathetic thing. And so everyone said, “George, are you kidding?”

They get back to me about the shoot and say “You can try to talk Calley into it, so maybe you should be ready with the kids, but I don’t think so.” I felt is was well worth a shot. Calley comes in, and I go to the dressing room and just went for it, told him I was a Korean veteran, I’ve been in plenty of fire fights, and gave him some war stories. I was basically saying I’ve been through what you had been through, and I understand, and sometimes you got to do what you got to do. In fact I think I used those exact term. And I convinced him. And I said people are going to look at that and say, “Now that’s a good kid, he’s not a killer. The fact that he is sitting there posing with Vietnamese kids means he has a good heart.”

His nickname was Rusty. I even said Rusty to him a couple of times. I never bullshitted anyone into any of the shoots, but this one I had to with a vengeance. So he poses, and I say, “Not somber now,be serious. Click click click. The kids, I just left them alone and they were somber enough in their own ways. Then I say, “Rusty, that’s great, that was really friendly. Now give me a shitty grin… c’mon baby.” And that was my shot. And when I showed everyone else they were like, “I don’t believe it, how did you fucking get him to do that… unbelievable. Doesn’t he know what that says?” And  I said, “I guess he doesn’t’…”


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