Academic journal article Journalism History

Beverly Rae Kimes

Academic journal article Journalism History

Beverly Rae Kimes

Article excerpt

Automotive Journalist Under the Hood

In 1963, young journalist Beverly Rae Kimes, who had dreamed of a job writing about New York City theater, settled for a pay-the-bills job at the fledging Automobile Quarterly magazine, and by 1981, she had become the top editor of the elegant hardcover publication. In a career spanning more than four decades, she wrote hundreds of magazine articles and authored or edited twenty books on the automotive industry as she set high standards for future automotive historians while deftly navigating the male province of auto writing in the 1960s and 1970s. Gaining recognition in this era required trade-offs. This article argues that Kimes succeeded partly by masking her female identity, working longer hours than male colleagues, and carving out a freelance niche in the auto publishing world.

It was 1963 and young midwesterner Beverly Rae Kimes had big plans: she would finish graduate school in journalism at Penn State and land her dream job writing for a New York City theater publication. But, as she told a reporter in 2002, "No one told the magazine to stay in business long enough for me to get out of college."1 She headed to the Big Apple anyway. With rent and other bills due, she scanned the New York Times Help Wanted section, noticing that ads lor editorial jobs for women ran half a column in length while those tor men were more than two columns. When she spotted an assistant to the publisher position at Automobile Quarterly, she applied. After all, she could type.

Kimes pounded the keys "like a bat out of hell," the magazine's founder and editor, L. Scott Bailey, recalled in a phone conversation. But her portfolio of theater clips also caught his attention along with her lively master's thesis on H. L. Mencken's American Mercury magazine. The job was hers.2 She was among the early staff members hired at the one-year-old magazine, a hardcover whose masthead read, "The Connoisseur's Periodical of Motoring Today, Yesterday and Tomorrow."3 By the spring 1964 issue, her name had inched up the masthead to assistant editor and a year later to associate editor. She became managing editor in 1 967 and the top editor in 1975.'

She stayed until 1981 . The pay-the-bills job evolved into a lifelong career writing about automobiles and the people who made and drove them. For twenty-six more years, she edited publications for the Classic Car Club of America, freelanced for magazines such as American Heritage and Road & Track, provided commentary for classic car meets, and mentored other automotive historians. All together, Kimes wrote or co-authored twenty books, hundreds of articles, and copy for museum exhibits. In 1983, just midway through what would be a forry-five year career in automotive journalism, Life called her "the nation's foremost automotive scholar."1 A recipient of dozens of awards given by automotive history organizations and the Automotive Hall of Fame's distinguished service citation, she died on May 12, 2008, at sixty-eight.'1

This article examines Kimes' rise to the pinnacle of automotive journalism in a time when sex discrimination and gender conventions virtually excluded women from the field. With her emphasis on people over pistons, she set the standard for automotive history in popular car magazines and books. It also is the story of a smart young woman from the Midwest who was determined to prove that she could succeed in the big city.

Her career shows how a woman could successfully navigate the male province of auto writing in the 1960s and the 1970s. She started work in 1963, the same year that Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique sparked the contemporary women's movement. When Friedan reviewed several women's magazines from the late 1950s, she did not find "a single heroine who had a career, a commitment to any work, art, profession, or mission in the world, other than 'Occupation: housewife.'"'1 Kimes overcame cultural assumptions, however, about a women's place. …

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