The Animated Magazine Comes to Life

By Mary Seymour ’80

Photos courtesy of Rollins College Archives and Special Collections

Rex Beach

The authorial lineup for the inaugural edition included Rollins’ own Rex Beach (Class of 1897, pictured here) along with novelist Irving Bacheller, poets Cale Young Rice and Jessie Rittenhouse, humorist Opie Read, and journalist Albert Shaw.

For Rollins students and Winter Park residents, Animag provided the kind of cultural exposure they might never experience again. Though not required to attend the event, most students joined the audience or worked as ushers and parking attendants. “I remember being on the ground with my little Brownie, and I got to take a picture of Greer Garson when she spoke [in 1946],” said alumnus Eugene Simmons ’50.

Kenneth Murrah, a Winter Park lawyer, moved to the community with his family in 1944, when he was 11. He attended every Animag for the next seven years. “It always started with the singing of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ led by Madame Homer, a rather large Metropolitan Opera singer who had retired to Winter Park,” he said. “The magazine was a highlight for the community—even though sometimes a little more lengthy than viewers would have wanted.”

Although the Animated Magazine was open to the public for free, every program contained an insert inviting contributions to a scholarship fund. During World War II, the program described Gold Star Scholarships created in memory of Rollins alumni who died in the war. In 1946, the total “price” of the magazine was $4,025, designated for these scholarships.

World War II, which distracted public interest from frivolous cultural pursuits in general and the magazine in particular, marked a slow decline in its popularity. Attendance gradually dwindled from its former glorious heights, despite programs tailored toward wartime topics and studded with Army brass. In 1949, Holt retired from Rollins, and Grover followed suit in 1951. The heyday of the magazine passed with them, but its run was not yet over.

Under the administration of President Hugh McKean ’30 ’72H (1951–69), the Animated Magazine took a slightly altered form. Held in Knowles Memorial Chapel, the program featured six presenters and centered on a general theme. Examples of themes during this period include “The Future Expedition to Mars,” “Free Enterprise and the American Tradition,” and “The Endless Resources of Florida.” The magazine was a subdued version of its former self—well intended and distinctly unshowy. As television brought celebrities into every American living room, the Animated Magazine grew increasingly anachronistic. The crowds of thousands were decades gone, and Animag bore less and less resemblance to its original blueprint. In 1970, newly appointed Rollins President Jack Critchfield ’78H decided to cease its publication.

But the magazine had more editions in it after all. Sentimentally resurrecting Holt’s creation for Rollins’ centennial celebration in 1985, President Thaddeus Seymour ’82HAL ’90H worked hard to assemble a stellar lineup of contributors. “The College did not have any spare money in those days, so we couldn’t pay speakers,” Seymour recalled. “We called in every chip we could imagine. I wrote a letter to every person who had ever appeared in the magazine and invited them to come down. I got no replies, but not that many were still alive.”

When all the chips were in, Seymour had assembled a lineup that included sportscaster Red Barber ’69H, whose daughter was a Rollins alumna; Barber’s friend, radio host Bob Edwards; and golfer Arnold Palmer, another Rollins parent. Seymour and the contributors sat on an outdoor platform, just as in the glory days. About 500 subscribers gathered to listen. “It was a shadow of its old self,” said Seymour, who wielded the famous blue pencil throughout the proceedings, “but at least we re-created it.”

Last September the Animag appeared yet again—this time as The New Animated Magazine—to mark Rollins’ 125th Anniversary celebration. Poet Billy Collins ’08H, senior distinguished fellow of the Winter Park Institute at Rollins College, happily played the role of editor and primary planner. “This magazine is more than what you find in your mailbox,” Collins told the audience assembled in Tiedtke Concert Hall. “It is composed of flesh and blood and will happen only once. Either you were here, or you missed it.”

Rollins President Lewis Duncan served as publisher and presented the “preface.” A clutch of notable contributors spoke, including Wall Street Journal drama critic Terry Teachout and former U.S. Senator Mel Martinez ’09H. Collins, a former U.S. Poet Laureate, concluded the event with a reading of “A Handful of Poems”—a literary flourish worthy of Hamilton Holt and his showman’s instincts.

Despite its occasional rebirths, the Animated Magazine exists primarily through programs and photographs in the Rollins Archives, as brief paragraphs in out-of-date Florida guidebooks, and in the memories of those who attended. The contributions themselves—words spoken to assembled thousands under the warm Florida sun—do not exist in print. They were part of a magazine that was never really a magazine, a golden era that cannot be duplicated, and a vision that, much like its creator, was both fanciful and unique.

Wenxian Zhang, Head of Archives and Special Collections, and Thaddeus Seymour ’82HAL ’90H, President Emeritus of Rollins College, contributed to the research for this article.

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