Obituary: Si Newhouse

Billionaire publisher who transformed Vogue into a photo-news magazine.


The publisher and high-society aficionado Samuel Irving (S.I.) Newhouse was at the time of his death reckoned to be worth well over $9 billion. In 2014 Forbes magazine had proclaimed him the 46th richest American. A university drop-out, he learned his publishing skills from his father, Samuel Irving Newhouse.

Solomon Isadore Neuhaus was the youngest of eight sons born to poor Jewish immigrants living in a tenement in Manhattan. His wife was Mitzi (née Epstein). In 1949 Newhouse senior had established a holding company for his expanding newspaper and magazine empire, Advance Publications. Ten years later Advance purchased Condé Nast publications, whose portfolio included Vogue, Vanity Fair, the New Yorker, Glamour and House & Garden, an empire that Newhouse junior came to control.

Newhouse attended the Horace Mann school in The Bronx but dropped out of Syracuse University and joined the Newhouse family business. There, following the purchase of Condé Nast, he came under the wing of the brilliant but eccentric Ukrainian-Jewish artist and photographer Alexander Liberman (1912-99), who was in the process of transforming Vogue from a glitzy women’s coffee-table magazine to a dramatically serious photo-news medium. (It had carried the first photographs of Buchenwald). Liberman and Newhouse instantly bonded, the former providing editorial direction, the latter making sure that the best people were hired.

Newhouse became chairman of Condé Nast in 1975. With his brother Donald he inherited Advance Publications on their father’s death in 1979. Newhouse wanted to buy the New Yorker, but as it was not then for sale he concentrated on successfully revamping Vanity Fair. The New Yorker was, however, purchased in 1985. No expense was spared in hiring the best people to run each of the magazines in the portfolio. But while Newhouse was no micro-manager, he did expect untrammelled success. In 1962, for example, he had famously hired as editor of Vogue the iconic Diana Vreeland; nine years later she was summarily dismissed, apparently on the grounds that she was no longer keeping up with the changing tastes of her readership. The first that Grace Mirabella knew of her dismissal as Vogue editor (June 1988) was when her husband saw it on TV.

Newhouse led an extravagant lifestyle, and expected his editors to do the same, but he is widely described as being inherently shy. He paid million-dollar salaries and gave out interest-free home loans to his staff. But in the 1990s over half the Condé Nast portfolio was found to be in deficit, leading to a period of very significant retrenchment, including the sale of the Random House publishing arm. An art collector and generous patron, Newhouses’s charitable donations included a gift of $15 million to the Syracuse University from which he never graduated.

From 1951 to 1959 Newhouse was married to Jane Franke. In 1973 he married the architectural historian Victoria Carrington Benedict de Ramel. He is survived by his second wife and two children from his first marriage (a third having predeceased him), five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.


Si Newhouse: born: November 8,1927. Died October 1, 2017




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