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Among Liberty’s familiar idiosyncrasies was its custom of printing “reading times” at the beginning of every article—say, “18 minutes, 32 seconds” to read a piece by Albert Einstein. Carefully timing himself, one member of the editorial staff would read the piece at a comfortable pace, and then double his own time.
Liberty had another peculiar ity, however, that would prove far more significant to its future. Whereas most magazines, then as now, did business with its contributors on the basis of first North American rights—meaning that the magazine could print the material once, after which it belonged to the author or artist— Liberty’s founders established a policy of paying a little more up front and receiving all rights to the material in most cases or, with a few exceptions, at least the rights to any future magazine and newspaper reprints. As a result, the Liberty archive, instead of gathering dust in the library like so many older magazines, is now the Liberty Library Corporation, a “mini-conglomerate” which controls the rights to some 17,000 texts and artworks, any of which may be purchased for adaptation into motion pictures, advertisements, books, or collectibles.
The man who owns Liberty today is Robert Whiteman, a self-described creative entrepreneur who produced the board games for two early television game shows, Beat the Bank with Bert Parks and Masquerade Party. He then went on to pioneer the licensing and merchandising industry in Hollywood and television. (He has also controlled the rights to “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” for forty-four years.)
At his home in Westchester, where Liberty Library Corporation keeps its offices, Whiteman explains how his connection with Liberty goes back to Depression-era Savannah, Georgia, where he sold the magazine door-to-door as a six-year-old “Liberty Boy.”