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“The way it worked,” says Whiteman, “was that for each magazine you sold you got to keep about a penny, as well as what was called a ‘greennie’—a kind of play money. For every ten brownies you got a ‘greenie.’ Then you’d send in your greenies for a prize. I got my first catcher’s mitt selling Liberty.”
His reacquaintance with Liberty came about purely by accident in 1964, by which time Whiteman was a successful businessman and Liberty had long since disappeared. As he tells it, he was reluctantly following up on a merchandising prospect called “Bobo the Hobo”—reluctantly because merchandising doesn’t work awfully well if nobody has ever heard of the merchandisee— and found himself going to see the ill-fated Bobo’s producer, Lorraine Lessner. “I told her there was nothing I could do with Bobo, thank you very much, and started to leave. But then I noticed that there against the wall of her office were hundreds of copies of Liberty magazine. I said, ‘What are you doing with all these? I used to sell it as a kid.’ And she said, ‘Oh, we outbid NBC in 1950 and bought all the rights and copyrights—the whole thing.’ She went to the safe and started to pull out all these contracts. Agatha Christie, Somerset Maugham, Budd Schulberg, Irving Wallace—unbelievable names.
“I said, ‘You’ve got something here that intrigues me,’ “laughs Whiteman. “Ultimately, I made a deal with her to become the administrator of the library. I was willing to work for nothing. I figured I’d do it in my spare time.”
He smiles wryly. “Two years later, I’d gone through all twenty-six years of the magazine—120,000 pages—and organized it as best I could at the time. Mrs. Lessner was beginning to think I was a bit of a kook because, after all that time, I hadn’t sold a single story.