One question—maybe the most pressing question—is how the public feels about that brutal ratio of one targeted death to five or six unintended. The evidence so far is that the public is more or less okay with it.
Hayes mentioned that we were going to have a spread of Floyd Patterson, the boxing champion of the world, and Sonny Liston, the challenger, and Patterson was an 8–1 favorite. I knew right away what I was going to do, because I knew that Liston was going to kill him. So I called the photographer, and I said, “We’re going to get a guy with the same body as Patterson, we’re going to lay him flat on the ring, and we’re going to show him killed, knocked out by Liston. Leave him for dead.” I wanted to show a metaphor for boxing – if you’re a loser, you’re left for dead, which is also a metaphor for life. So we get the shot and I sent it to Hayes.
“George, I never saw a cover like this in my life! You’re calling the fight – suppose you’re wrong? Everybody says you’re wrong.” I told him we had a 50/50 chance of it working, but if it does, it shows we have balls. It hit the newsstand a week before the fight, and it was roundly laughed at in the sports crowd. But a week later, of course Liston kills Patterson, just like I thought. And Esquire got tons of publicity and the best sales since the start of the magazine. And Harold said to me, “You gotta keep doing my covers.”