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Elkin native helped transform Esquire Magazine

Anthony Gonzalez

April 4, 2013

“Smiling Through The Apocalypse,” directed by Tom Hayes, makes its way to the RiverRun Film Festival in Winston-Salem.


Tom Hayes tells the story of how his father, Elkin-born editor Harold T.P. Hayes, transformed Esquire Magazine into a stable of fearless, brash, and irreverent journalism in the turbulent 1960s.


The 98-minute movie celebrates the value of excellence in editing and writing, while showcasing the nurturing of young journalists by Hayes.


According to the Palm Springs Film Festival, “for a decade from the early 1960s through the early ’70s, Esquire Magazine became the voice of an era. Forging its pop-cultural capital on the basis of provocative cover art, intellectual audacity and riveting articles by the preeminent and cutting edge writers of the time, the magazine captured the zeitgeist of America in the crucible of the ‘60s.”


The chief architect of this revolution through the power of ink was Harold Hayes, described as a “brilliant and tenacious” editor who granted Esquire’s contributors unprecedented journalistic freedom.


According to the film website,”Hayes’ fearless instincts provided a haven for writers like Gore Vidal, Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, Nora Ephron, William F. Buckley and Norman Mailer, and nurtured the iconoclastic talents of art director George Lois. By making it possible for writers and artists to bring novelistic techniques into reportage Hayes fostered what became known as “New Journalism.”


The indelible cultural contributions captured in this enthralling documentary by his son, Tom Hayes, provide a vivid context for nothing less than the rebirth of American aesthetics.”


“Elkin is where my father was born,” said Tom Hayes when asked to reflect back to his father’s birthplace. “It’s definitely not a place that is unfamiliar to me.”


“Elkin has been kind of a legend to me. Your call prompted me to color it in a little better. There was a book that was written by ‘Esquire’ that stated my father was born in Beckley, W.Va., but I thought that was wrong. I am in possession of his baby book, and in the baby book it states that my dad was born in Elkin Hospital,” continued Hayes.


“My grandfather was the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Elkin, 1924-1927. A year later, the family needed to move to Beckley. However, we have a very large family that had remained in Elkin, and clearly I verified the information,” Hayes reinforced.


Hayes also indicated that the Hayes name and McNeil name throughout Elkin run deep in his family. He even has a cousin named Hayes McNeil.


In a tone that was reflective of one missing his parents who are both deceased, Hayes said that being the son of an editor and his mother an actress, he witnessed the fusion of showbiz meets journalism.


Tom Hayes grew up in New York City. He said he had selective impressions on what his father wanted to show him.


“There were parties and premiere shows that I was taken to by my father,” said Hayes.


“We eventually moved to upstate New York, and that’s when I left to go to off to Wake Forest, the school my father and grandfather also attended,” he said.


“My father was not a good student at Wake Forest. As a matter of fact, years later after his success he was invited back to the school and did a convocation speech that was titled ‘confessions of a C student.’ So after being a c student myself in high school and being rejected from a number of different universities … I actually thought for a joke to send my SAT to Harvard. I think Wake Forest was the only place who would take me,” said Hayes.


“I was on academic probation for one summer,” he said, laughing.


In contrast, Hayes indicated that his dad had a bit of military blood in him.


“He was in the Marines and U.S Navy. He certainly had a sense of humor, but how can he not be with so much irony and satire going on in that magazine. His humor was subtle and kind of dry, though,” said Hayes.


“My dad’s flexibility was to make people shine their best and his kids. He would try to bring that out of you instead of try to suppress it. That’s how he handled his writers and photographers. You never felt that you were being strong handed. He was always focused on what was best, and he simply knew what that was,” he said.


Tom Haynes naturally fell into media. After graduating from Wake Forest University in 1979, Hayes assisted Academy Award nominated film director Peter Bogdanovich on the film “They All Laughed” starring Audrey Hepburn. “Peter Bogdanovich, who directed movies like “The Last Picture Show”, “What’s Up Doc” and “Paper Moon” , got his start at Esquire,” says Hayes.


According to Hayes, “Smiling Through The Apocolypse” was a home-spun production, but the production was more of a calling.


“I had made a tribute to my mother on Youtube when she passed in 2007. … I felt it was one of the best things I had ever produced, and since the family had never memorialized him in any way, no grave site etc., I felt I could apply the same skill sets I had used to memorialize my mother for something about him. Realizing I needed to do this somehow, combined with a 19-page article about his years as Editor of Esquire that appeared in a 2007 Vanity Fair, signaled me to action.


“It took over three and half years, 45 people…it is kind of a fast moving 98-minutes that will make you laugh and cry even at the same time,” he said.


The RiverRun International Film Festival will be held April 12-21, 2013 in Winston-Salem, screening 143 films (66 shorts) from 35 countries in 10 days. Smiling Through The Apocolyse screenings are held at the a/perture cinema located at 311 West Fourth St. on April 17 at 11 a.m. and April 21 at 12:30 p.m.


Reach Anthony Gonzalez at 336-835-1513 or email at agonzalez@civitasmedia.com.