He had the right Look

Look magazine had a man and a message for Hitler Youth during World War II. The man was Don Hay. The
Donald Hay was the strong example of America’s work force in this photo that appeared on the cover of Look magazine during World War II. Hay received letters from admirers after the magazine hit the stands on April 21, 1942.
Donald Hay was the strong example of America’s work force in this photo that appeared on the cover of Look magazine during World War II. Hay received letters from admirers after the magazine hit the stands on April 21, 1942.

Look magazine had a man and a message for Hitler Youth during World War II.

The man was Don Hay. The message for young associates of the Third Reich was something like: “Step outside, tough guys.”

Donna Hart of Glenville has always appreciated the photograph of her father that became Look’s cover shot for its April 21, 1942, issue. Amsterdam native Hay had just turned 24, and holds a fire poker in both hands. He wears a short-sleeved red T-shirt, wide black belt, brown slacks and a determined expression.

Hart said the Look cover is a favorite family story. Some people around the country — mostly young women — thought so much of Don’s heroic stare and stance that they began writing him letters.

The fame began earlier in 1942 when Look representatives visited the General Electric Co. in Schenectady. Hay and others were producing marine and power plant turbine parts for the armed forces. Look, an oversized magazine that featured photos and feature stories from around the country, had been hitting newsstands every two weeks since 1937. Writers and photographers were always looking for subjects.

Singled out

“This group from Look — I don’t know if they were looking for a model — they wanted to do an article on men who weren’t in the service but were working for the war effort,” Hart said. “They were walking through, they saw him working on the machines. They approached him and asked: ‘How would you like to come to New York and pose for our cover?’ ”

Hay said yes. He received $25 from Look for his train trip and meals. The magazine didn’t pay anything for the film-and-flash session.

Look photographers used smoke effects to suggest Hay was stoking a furnace. There was a trace of sweat on his face; his lips were pursed, his arms tense. A small, circular GE photo identification badge was pinned on his shirt. Lights used during the shoot made it appear Hay had blond hair. It was actually black.

Missing piece of info

“The inside cover explained who he was and where he lived, but failed to mention the fact that he was married,” Hart said. Don had married Jean Singleton of Scotia on June 25, 1941.

“Shortly after the release of the magazine, he started receiving letters from women all around the country wanting to meet him,” Hart added. “My mother saved them all wrapped in a pink ribbon, which we still have today.”

Some letters arrived at General Electric. At least one letter was sent to Look, which the magazine forwarded to Schenectady. A couple of writers asked for autographs. Others seemed to be asking for love. Hart can see why — she thinks the 1940s version of her father resembled actor Leonardo DiCaprio. The rough-and-ready pose probably helped sell some magazines, too.

New pen pals

“I think it was your bright red shirt that first attracted me,” wrote Gail Borges, 20, of Salinas, Calif. “Where can I find a shirt that will look that good on me? I’ve never done anything like this before, I mean writing to a picture of a gentleman, quite a handsome one, too. . . . You can call me a fan if you like, but my friends all call me Gail.”

Betty Alden Pifer of Winchester, Va., became a fan. She asked for Hay’s autograph and later sent him a colored drawing of the Look cover. Hay wrote to some of his new friends. They wrote back.

“Right off the bat, I will try to describe myself,” wrote Miss Borges on May 23. “I’m not tall, in fact kinda short, about 5-feet-2, I think. I weigh about 125, my hair is brown my eyes are ditto. That doesn’t sound very exciting, does it?”

Gail had an exciting sense of humor. “My favorite color is red,” she continued. “I have a horse which I seldom ride and a cocker spaniel which I never ride. Do you have a nickname? I don’t and darn, I’d sure like one. My mother gave me a short name because she didn’t like nicknames, but that’s the way it goes, I guess.”

A male also mailed. “Dear Don,” wrote a man from Madison, Wis. “I thought you might like to know there are two of us. I was rather surprised to see that the fellow on the cover of Look magazine is named Donald C. Hay because my name is Donald Clopp Hay.”

Sending a message

Hart believes Look wanted to convey an image to readers in the U.S., and maybe to people in Germany and other parts of Europe who might see the magazine. It had only been four months since the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor, and pushed America into World War II. Hart thinks the Look cover was meant to say that while most U.S. soldiers were overseas, there were still guys at home working hard for the war. And they could handle a fight.

Hart added that a pre-existing medical condition had kept her father out of the service. The April 21 Look included an article titled “Life, Love and Death in Nazi Germany,” pieces on Hollywood star Rita Hayworth, singer Dinah Shore and Brooklyn Dodger Dixie Walker. Photos of Diana Sherman, then a 17-year-old high school student in New Rochelle, were also part of the issue.

Hay never modeled again. He remained at General Electric, and eventually became manager of plant-union relations. He was involved in contract negotiations for the company and retired in 1978. He passed away in 2005 at age 86.

Look was last published in 1971.

Right place at right time

Hart said she and her brother Terry thought their father — who retained his dark hair and later wore glasses — resembled actor George Reeves in his Clark Kent guise on the 1950s “Adventures of Superman” television show. For at least one day, Hay portrayed a different type of hero.

“He was just in the right place at the right time,” Hart said. “They liked his look.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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