12 Iconic George Lois Esquire Covers

Throughout the ’60s, Esquire’s creative genius not only created covers with iconic images but ones that also made powerful (sometimes controversial) social statements.

George Lois was the art director for Esquire throughout the 1960s, creating a total of 92 covers for the magazine. He created a visual tone for the publication that is still emulated to this day.

1. October 1963

“Bizarre Harper’s Cover”

According to Lois, the cover was a swipe at magazines like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. His focus was on showing real versus imagined glamour.

2. December 1963

Sonny Liston, “The First Black Santa”

Sports Illustrated summed it up: “Four months after Liston won the title, Esquire thumbed its nose at its white readers with an unforgettable cover. On the front of its December 1963 issue, there was Liston glowering out from under a tasseled red-and-white Santa Claus hat, looking like the last man on earth America wanted to see coming down its chimney.”

3. June 1964

“A Nation’s Tears”

Published seven months after JFK’s assassination, the cover, according to Lois, “…showed the opposite symbolism-of Kennedy himself, crying for his lost destiny.”

4. March 1965

“Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man?”

The slowly growing feminist movement served as an inspiration for the cover. Lois said he wondered, “Was there a point where sexual equality would end and confusion begin?”

Many people mistake the actress on this cover with Marilyn Monroe; she’s actually Italian actress Virna Lisi. Marilyn had died almost three years before this picture was taken.

5. September 1965

“The Face of a Hero”

Lois created a composite image of the leading four heroes to American college students at the time: Bob Dylan, Malcolm X, John F. Kennedy, and Fidel Castro. Their faces were all joined together by the crosshairs of a rifle sight.

6. October 1966

“A Premature Indictment of The Vietnam War”

In 1966, as the war continued escalate in Vietnam, Americans were still largely unaware of its horrors. The words on the cover were from an article written by John Sack, who reported on a U.S. soldier’s reaction upon discovering they had killed a Vietnamese child during a search-and-destroy mission.

7. May 1967

“Tamest Event on Kids TV That Day: Ruby Kills Oswald”

For Lois, the cover represented “the moment [Nov. 24, 1963] when an all-American kid started to grow up with live violence in his carpeted den, complete with an all-American hamburger and Coke.”

8. July 1967

“My Battered Beauty”

Bond girl Ursula Andress posed as a symbol of domestic violence. At the time it was still a taboo topic.

9. April 1968

“Showing Muhammad Ali As a Martyr for Refusing to Fight in a Bad War”

After converting to Islam, Muhammad Ali refused to be drafted into military service (based on religious grounds). Subsequently a federal jury had sentenced him to jail for draft evasion. He was stripped of his heavyweight title and prohibited to fight by the boxing commissions.

The public viewed Ali as draft dodger and a traitor.

In this iconic cover, Lois posed Ali as St. Sebastian, a Roman solider who survived execution from arrows by converting to Christianity.

10. May 1968

“How I Taught Nixon to Use Make-Up and Become President”

For Lois, the cover was a commentary on Nixon’s evolution as a politician: He was TV-ready (a different Nixon than the one who debated JFK in 1960).

11. October 1968

“Apotheosis!”

Esquire’s 35th anniversary issue cover featured JFK, Robert Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. watching over Arlington National Cemetery.

Lois said of the cover, “We pay homage to an idealized, saint-like John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in this dream-like epitaph on the murder of American goodness.”

12. May 1969

“Andy Warhol Drowns in His Own Soup”

A celebration of the Pop art movement, the cover featured Warhol ironically in a Campbell’s soup can. According to Lois, “When this article came up, I decided to show him drowning in his own soup. He knew it was just a friendly spoof on his original claim to fame.”

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