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The type of Rolling Stone

We didn’t know it at the time, but this was a golden era

Mary Shanahan and Nancy Butkus reflect on their time working with Rolling Stone in the late 1970s.

Mary Shanahan was art director 1978-1980. Later art director of GQ, French Vogue, and Town & Country, she now lives at a ranch on the coast of Southern California.

Nancy Butkus worked all over the RS art department, and then became the first production manager of Outside. She was art director at Manhattan inc and creative director at WWD. Nancy lives on the North Fork with her dog Bowie who has two different-colored eyes, “like David did.”

IT WAS THE LATE 1970’s in a brick warehouse south of Market Street in San Francisco, pre-gentrification and post-Summer of Love. There were about a dozen of us twenty-somethings working in the RS art department. We were a passionate and hardworking crew and Roger was our fearless captain.

The art department was a mixed bag—Bohemians from Bolinas, Midwestern transplants, even Catholic schoolgirls. But Roger was sui-generis. He arrived bright and early every morning from Berkeley—in a suit and tie! But wait, he blasted music all day (whoever was on the cover was on the turntable) had amazingly strong pot that he generously shared with all and had a beautiful sprite of a wife named Pinkie! A true style icon for us young women, Pinkie was famously quoted in a magazine saying “never look in the mirror when applying lipstick,” and her sophisticated street style was ahead of the curve (Hello, Comme des Garcons!) Everyone adored her. 

Roger’s office was super cool with its skylights, great stereo system, and impressive collection of old type specimen books—even his rubbery yellow Olivetti calculator was covetable! He hosted thés dansants (mais oui) at their house and used his expense account to take us all out to lunch, often squeezing way too many in his vintage Porsche Roadster. His spending habits eventually became a joke around the office, and when Jann decided to sell Outside magazine in 1979, it was rumored that Roger would buy it and put it on his expense account.

MORE IMPORTANTLY Roger knew how to lead. After closings, Roger would present a slide show of the issue, coupled with a lecture on, say, Aldus Manutius and his 15th Century type foundry. He held us all to exacting standards—like his invisible descender rule, his rules about letter spacing, his rules about rules! In this time of labor intensive Rapidographs and Typositors (Google away, young people), he sent pasted-up boards back for points-off letter spacing corrections or inked hairlines he deemed not worthy.

The paste-up crew, working seemingly round the clock in the bullpen, was also extraordinary. Pat Koren read Russian novels—in Russian—during down time. Jeanne Jambu, supposedly a model for R. Crumb’s solidly-built-yet-feminine women, was Roger’s designated helper, endlessly slicing up headlines with her X-acto. Susan Hemphill, Roger’s office assistant, was devoted to him and floated above the manic fray of deadlines with her abiding smile. Vincent Winter, with his exotic French wife Martine, became a true devotee, carrying Roger’s message of World Domination Through Type (yes, true!) all the way to Paris.

We would be remiss if we failed to mention the venerable group at Mackenzie & Harris, the typesetters who knew no bounds, providing a steady presence—up all night, inking proofs, working their noisy Monotype machines. Big Pete, owner of M&H, could set type in four or five languages and was assisted by RePete, also a whiz at the antique keyboards that spit out the hot metal for the magazine. Coiffed and perfumed Helen manned the office while Bob, who worked there for a gazillion years, delivered the proofs to our office a block away. After hours, one of us would take over the type run, often stopping at Connoisseur Wines, for a fine French wine to accompany the late night hand corrections.

ROGER EASILY STOOD UP to the formidable editors, successfully arguing for cutting copy to run the art larger—setting a standard that that was hard to match as we both learned later in our own careers as art directors. He talked Jann into paying for a Rolling Stone typeface and new logo. He hired great and quirky talent, like Virginia Team and Mary “Velveteen” Robertson who inspired us younger women to stay at it. He created an atmosphere where we thought all things were possible.

We didn’t know it at the time but this was a golden era. We all went on to other jobs, projects, or studios as Rolling Stone its big move to New York, forever changing its DNA. Looking back now, it’s easy to see how that heady time and motley group impacted our lives and careers. Armed with expertise and attitude, we had a template for running a first class art department. Roger went on to conquer the magazine world of course, and, naturally, succeeded in his campaign of World Domination Through Type. Thanks for everything, Roger. —Mary Shanahan & Nancy Butkus

The type of Rolling Stone

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