Thursday, July 15, 2010

Breaking the Color Barrier in 16 Magazine

I recently purchased a photo lot from a teen magazine archive and got a jolt when I came across this image:

I knew immediately what it was -- the photo from which they had extracted Michael's head for the cover of the December 1970 issue of 16 magazine. When I turned over the photo, it confirmed my memory.

And here it is on the cover itself:

But why the jolt, you may ask? Well, believe it or not, this was the first time a member of the Jackson 5 had appeared on the cover of a U.S. teen magazine. December 1970. (Okay, actually more like October because for some reason the teen mags always had a cover date two months ahead of real time. But still.) Keep in mind that the Jackson 5 had been riding the top of the pop charts for almost a year, and were playing to sold-out concert venues around the country. And here was a group with five attractive, clean-cut, talented teenagers, all of whom were perfect fodder for the teen idol machine.

16, what the hell took you so long?

That single photo with Michael's head outlined in white took me back to those long months in 1970 where I recall rushing to the news stand each month to look through all the magazines, desperately searching for articles and photos of the Jackson 5. We didn't have TcB! yet, or Right On! We had Soul which had great photos of the Five and offered extensive coverage. Thank heavens for Soul. But Soul is a publication I've come to appreciate with age.

When I was a young teen, I wanted the J5 to get the complete teen idol treatment. I wanted to see their faces on my teen magazines. I wanted the hyperbolic, over-the-top reporting, the lurid -- and mostly false -- details of their love lives, and the color posters. I wanted, more than anything, the larger-than-life color centerfold poster.

I wanted the fantasy that only a teen magazine can give you.

So I about died right there in the corner Rexall store when I saw Michael on the cover of 16 magazine. My Michael. Not Michael Cole, the white guy on Mod Squad who was big in 16 at that time. It was Michael Jackson, trick or treating with Danny and Keith Partridge, and some other white guy who looked just like every other white teen idol.

I probably didn't realize at the time that I had just seen the Jackson 5 break down a color barrier in the pop culture world. I have no idea what it took on the part of the Motown publicity department or the management team at 16 magazine to make this happen. But I know it must have been a struggle because, even as a 13 year old, I could feel it. And I could feel the importance of that one small photo, and can feel it again today as I hold the original production art in my hands. I am so thrilled to have it.


  1. Kudos for writing this blog entry J5Collector. it is a very interesting read.

  2. Thanks for bringing that to us, fun to read! ---And then shortly the Osmonds come along, aping EVERYTHING the J5 did and THEY get the bulk of the coverage. ... Oh well. What a magic time. For some reason, comic books were always dated FOUR months ahead. Interesting to see other mags were dated ahead too.

  3. Anon @ 11:31: It was a magic time in some ways, and definitely, in retrospect. But it was also a painful time, going for months without the J5 getting their due, and the recognition and respect they deserved.

    And don't get me started on the Osmond Brothers. They'll be the lead-off group during Wannabe Week -- coming up!

  4. Oh I have this magazine, and I had no idea that it was their first cover!
    I have some 16 and spec magazines (very few) and always thought I had the 'wrong' magazines, as the brothers seem to have so little 'press' compared to, why yes, the Osmonds (whom I had never heard of btw)
    Very interesting entry indeed.