Princeton Personality by Jean Stratton
Editor and Writer Landon Jones Is Long-time Princeton Resident
Landon Jones is on his way to Florida this week to visit the St. Louis Cardinals in spring training. An annual ritual, this journey reflects not only Mr. Jones' attachment to his favorite team and home town, but in a wider sense, his loyalty to places and people who were and continue to be a part of his life. Lanny Jones has many friends, and he keeps them.
And, as befits a writer and editor, he is a man of many interests. He is engaged in the world today's and yesterday's whether in his community of Princeton, more broadly as an observer of national social and cultural issues when he was editor of People Magazine, and most recently, as a writer of history, bringing the American west to life through the journals of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition of the early 1800s.
"I don't know anyone as consistently optimistic about journalism and life in general as Lanny," says his childhood friend Mike Witte, now a cartoon illustrator for major publications. "He has a very active and lively mind and a high energy level. Lanny is omnivorous in his interests and in acquiring knowledge. It is one of the reasons he was so successful as an editor."
Their friendship began in the seventh grade at the St. Louis Country Day School, continued when they attended Princeton University, and endured as they both pursued successful careers in journalism.
Landon Jones, Jr. was the oldest of three sons, including Charles and Byron, born to Landon, Sr. and Ellen Edmonson Jones. The St. Louis ties remain strong, and Mr. Jones has happy memories of his boyhood there.
"I was born in Georgia in 1943 during the war, but I grew up in St. Louis," he recalls. "My father was from there, and later became an executive with the Pet Milk Company, headquartered in the city.
Despite being diagnosed with a moderate hearing loss when he was four, he had a happy childhood. "The hearing problem was probably the result of a severe case of mumps," he explains. "I even learned to lip-read, although that was not necessary. It really wasn't that bad.
"Almost more than anything I loved to read," he continues. "I remember in the fourth grade my teacher, Mrs. Gerling, encouraged us to read a lot. She had a lasting impact on me."
Lanny also liked going to St. Louis Cardinal baseball games with his father, and admired their star player Stan Musial. Summer vacations were often spent in his mother's family home in Georgia "like something out of To Kill A Mockingbird," recalls Mr. Jones. "It was a little Gothic southern town." There were also trips west to Utah.
"I really enjoyed going to the St. Louis Country Day School, a private boys' high school," he adds. "It made us feel good about who we were."
While there, he participated in sports, including football, soccer, baseball, and track and field. A good student, he also wrote for the school newspaper and yearbook, and was head of the student council.
A fan of Ray Charles, Mr. Jones recalls that "probably the first time I crossed the Mississippi was when I went to a rhythm and blues club in East St. Louis, Ill. to hear Ray Charles.
I grew up in downtown St. Louis," he adds. "We later moved to a more suburban area, but I saw both sides of urban life, including the less affluent. I had a great appreciation of my life there. It is said that St. Louis is never quite sure whether it's a northern city in the south or a southern city in the north, but it is certain that it's midwest!"
Lanny had great admiration for his mother and father as role models and parents.
"My mother was very active in St. Louis, and still is at the age of 87! She was on the board of various organizations, including the Art Museum and the Junior League. She is very well known in St. Louis for being on a preposterous number of boards," says Mr. Jones, laughing.
In 1962, he enrolled as a freshman at Princeton University, and took his first trip east. "Some of my teachers and the headmaster had gone to Princeton," he remembers, "and we had been channeled toward Ivy League schools."
It was a happy choice. He enjoyed all four years, making many friends, and graduating with high honors. He has only one complaint: "I loved Princeton I just wish it had been co-ed when I was there."
Continuing his interest in sports, he played freshman soccer, "but I wasn't too good," he confesses, "so I decided to concentrate on the Daily Princetonian, for which I wrote features and a column, and I also wrote an undergraduate column for the Princeton Alumni Weekly."
Majoring in English literature and minoring in history, he admired many of his professors. "English literature was really a strong interest, and I was especially influenced by Professors Bob Fagles, who has become a friend, and John Fleming."
One month after graduation in 1966, Lanny was in New York City, working for Time Inc. (now Time Warner) as an editorial trainee. He went on to become a writer for Time Magazine, where he remained until 1969.
In 1967, he was also a member of a special Life Magazine investigation of the assassination of President Kennedy that received the Sigma Delta Chi Award for Public Service.
Princeton graduates always seem to find a way to return to Old Nassau, and when he was offered editorship of the Princeton Alumni Weekly, he accepted.
"It was the height of the Vietnam War," he explains, "and I had felt Time was then too pro-war. There was so much going on in the country a lot of anti-war feeling. It was an interesting time to be in Princeton. There was active student unrest due to Vietnam and other issues, and the University was becoming co-ed.
"I very much admire Bob Goheen, President of the University when I was an undergraduate and also when I was editor of the Alumni Weekly," continues Mr. Jones. "His performance as Princeton University President was really courageous. He had to deal with student unrest on campus, and he implemented co-education in the face of a lot of alumni opposition."
This was a time of change in Mr. Jones' own life as well. He had met Sarah Brown in New York, and they were married in 1970.
"She was just passing through New York on her way to Europe," he says, with a smile. "But friends suggested she call me. I was so happy to have a girl call me, I married her!"
Subsequently, three Jones' children were born in Princeton Rebecca, Landon III, and Cassie.
After five years at the Princeton Alumni Weekly, he returned to New York for a new Time Inc. venture, the introduction of what would become the most successful weekly publication in the world: People Magazine.
"Some of my colleagues from Time had gone to People," recalls Mr. Jones, "and I was hired as a junior writer. It was exciting and a lot of hard work."
During the next 10 years, he worked long hours at People, and also took some time off to write a book Great Expectations: America and the Baby Boom Generation, which coined the phrase "baby boomer", and was nominated for an American Book Award in 1981.
"I just missed being a baby boomer," observes Mr. Jones, "but my brothers were, and their lives were different than mine. The music, drugs, the life-style, war protest this was all different.
"Also, when I was with the Princeton Alumni Weekly, I had come to understand the work of the Office of Population Research, then run by Charles Westoff, and the importance of demography and how our lives are shaped by this. All of this led to the book."
Seemingly always at the forefront of new Time Inc. publications, Mr. Jones was named editor of yet another new magazine, Money, in 1984.
"I loved that," he reports. "I found that I was a pretty good manager. I didn't know a thing about money, so I relied on people who did. I necessarily learned to delegate, and it worked well."
During his five-year editorship, the financial monthly won three consecutive National Magazine awards, including one for General Excellence, the top honor in the field.
In 1989, it was back to People, where he had first signed on as a junior editor. This time, it was as managing editor, and during his stewardship, the magazine broadened its purview.
"It was a stimulating time," he recalls. "We were ambitious, and expanded stories to include subjects such as the Aids crisis, teen pregnancy, and racism in Hollywood. I am proud to have taken People into an area that was socially conscious within the context of a popular culture magazine.
"We also did stories on professors there was a lot of interest in academic stories then. It wasn't just articles on celebrities, and we got awards from the NAACP and suicide survivor organizations, among others."
Under his leadership, People's circulation and profitability both reached record highs. In addition, he expanded the reporting staff, and directed the editorial planning and launching of four new magazines within the People division: Who Weekly (1992), the magazine's first international edition in Australia; In Style (1994), the extraordinarily successful celebrity, fashion, life-style monthly; People en Español (1996), the first general-interest magazine published for the U.S. Hispanic market; and Teen People (1998), now the leading title in the teenage market.
Those were productive years, he recalls, made even more illuminating by the extensive Time Inc. information and research resources.
"It was like being on the bank of 'The Mississippi of Information' and dipping a cup in," says Mr. Jones. "You could find out about anything or anyone."
He frequently traveled for interviews, most often to Los Angeles and England, where he met and reported on such people as Elizabeth Taylor and the late Princess Diana. The latter appeared on the cover of People more times than any other subject.
"I was never that anxious to meet celebrities," he points out, "but overall, I enjoyed it. Elizabeth Taylor was fun and unpretentious, a jolly earth mother! I also met several U.S. Presidents, including Reagan, Bush (41), and Clinton. They were all warm and cordial."
Current People managing editor Martha Nelson remembers working with Mr. Jones as a pleasure, and she underscores his generous support and help to his colleagues.
"When I started at People, they were thinking about launching a new magazine, and Lanny asked me to write up my ideas. This became In Style, which is now a huge and roaring success. But that wasn't always the case, and Lanny is the spiritual godfather of In Style. He was a big champion of it and me, especially in the early, wobbly years before it caught on. He was always a believer.
"Lanny is a very creative editor and a very ambitious one," continues Ms. Nelson. "He was just a terrific boss and friend and mentor, and someone who was always pushing the magazine to be better and expand its horizons.
"He has such a strong eye on the culture and is such a thoughtful observer. In addition, he has really eclectic tastes in people and all kinds of subject matter. He was sort of 'high/low' before it became the buzz word.
"One thing I always remember about Lanny at People is that he had this marvelous assistant, Susan Baldwin, and every evening, he'd be having a meeting and talking, and she'd stand in the doorway, saying, 'Lanny, Lanny you'll miss that train!
"Then, he'd load up two immense battered briefcases, crammed with papers, put one over his shoulder, the other in his hand and run to the station. Lanny's commuting life is a world unto itself!"
Mr. Jones has mixed memories of all those Princeton-New York train rides. "I can't say I actually miss them, but they were made palatable by all the good friends I met while commuting."
Moving on from People in 1997, he became Vice President for Strategic Planning, working in magazine development and identifying and shaping significant new ventures.
After three years, he was beginning to think in another direction, however. Specifically, an idea for a book on a subject long close to his heart began to take hold.
"Ever since I played in the Lewis and Clark Memorial Park as a little boy in St. Louis, I had become interested in their famous expedition," he explains. "One night, I was talking with friends about possible writing projects, and I said, 'the only thing I'm really interested in and know about right now is Lewis and Clark.'"
One step led to another, and he edited The Essential Lewis and Clark, a compilation of their journals, which was published in 2000.
The success of that book stimulated his interest even further, and last year, his biography, William Clark and the Shaping of the West, was published.
"I realized there wasn't a biography of William Clark," notes Mr. Jones. "There were several on Lewis and 10 on his dog, Seamon! Clark's life was significant, however. He was influential in opening and shaping the west."
The book received critical acclaim, was proclaimed a "triumph of research and storytelling," "a full-length comprehensive study of the life of one of American's most overlooked heroes," and "a full treatment of this distinguished American, written with sparkle and insight."
A frequent public speaker from his days as editor of People, Mr. Jones is now often called upon to speak about his book. He recently was guest speaker at a Time Life Alumni luncheon in New York, and he has also addressed groups at the Princeton Public Library and at the University's Firestone Library.
It is no surprise that the adventures of Lewis and Clark hold such interest for Mr. Jones. He has had a love affair with the west since he worked one summer at a ranch in Montana when he was in college.
"40 years ago this summer!' he reports. "I loved Montana right away, but I didn't get back for 30 years, until my brothers and I started going river fishing. Then, six or seven years ago, Sarah and I built a house there, and we go every summer. My kids come, too, and my brothers. We hike, fish, read, and I write.
"I really feel I have the best of both worlds," he adds. "I appreciate both Princeton and Montana. I look forward to going to Montana when I'm in Princeton and coming back to Princeton when I'm in Montana."
Certainly other than Montana there is nowhere he would rather be than Princeton.
"I love everything about Princeton," he states emphatically. And unlike some residents, he thinks it has improved.
"In many ways, I think it is better now. It's a better place. There are more good restaurants now and lots of movies. Princeton University is extremely strong. Of course, the downside is traffic. But people always find things to complain about."
His ties to the University are strong, and he serves on the Graduate Advisory Council to the English Department. He and his wife, who recently retired from the Woodrow Wilson School as a computer technician, enjoy the cultural and scholarly opportunities at the University, as well as the plays and dance performances at McCarter Theatre.
The Joneses do leave Princeton from time to time to visit their two grandchildren in New York. In town, he is a supporter of the Arts Council, and involved with the Princeton Public Library. "Do you know that 2000 people use the library every day?
"Princeton has great variety," he points out, "and Sarah and I have a wide range of friends here. Some people are more sequestered they have friends from the University, or the Institute For Advanced Study, or the town. We have friends from all areas we have several feet in a lot of camps!"
Mr. Jones' long-time friend and college roommate, Jim Merritt recognizes the inclusiveness of his friend's personality.
"There's a lot of self-segregation in Princeton," says Mr. Merritt, former editor of the Princeton Alumni Weekly. "The corporate community, Princeton University, and within the University, different sub-sets faculty, administration, etc.
"Lanny is an exceptionally outgoing and gregarious person, who is genuinely interested in people. He has the widest range of friends that I know. If you go to a party at the Joneses, you will see members of the faculty, people from the administration, people in corporate life, writers, independent scholars everyone! It is always a very interesting and stimulating mix. "What's more, Lanny is no shrinking violet. If he knows of someone in Princeton who he thinks is interesting, he'll contact them and get together for lunch and conversation."
Adds Mr. Jones: "I feel lucky to live here and have such a rich group of friends. I really admire them all. They are an amazingly accomplished group of people, and I am constantly discovering new people as well."
Mr. Jones also continues his life-long interest in sports. Not only does he regularly attend Princeton University basketball games, he plays tennis once a week. He is also proud of the all-girls' soccer team he established in the 1980s.
"I founded the first all-girls' traveling soccer team, which lasted for many years," he says, enthusiastically.
A picture of the group, which includes members of the U.S. women's national team, is on display at Mr. Jones' home, along with framed letters from former President Bush and Princess Diana.
Looking ahead to continuing his literary endeavors, Mr. Jones says there are more books in his future. "I am proud of the books I have written, and I am looking forward to writing the next one. It has to be right, though; it has to be important, and I have to follow my interest and love it!"
His friends and colleagues share his enthusiasm and anticipation of his next book. His friend Mike Witte expresses the views of many, as he says, "I have enormous respect for Lanny's ability and integrity as a journalist. He is extraordinarily creative and productive. I really feel that he is a brilliant writer, and now he can allow his literary brilliance to flourish."