Glossy Talk: Paper Giants? The birth of the ACP girl

Glossy Talk: Paper Giants? The birth of the ACP Girl

"We decided that you’re an intelligent woman who’s interested in everything that’s going on, the type of person who wants a great deal more out of life. Like us, certain aspects of Women’s Lib appeal to you but you’re not aggressive about it. And again like us, you’re all for men – as long as they know their place!" - Ita Buttrose, Cleo, 1972

Flanked by an energetic, ambitious and fashionable young team of writers, Ita Buttrose is cut from the fabric of the model ACP editor: confident, assured, intelligent, dignified, sophisticated, supportive. Stoic in the face of the mercurial Kerry Packer's dressing downs, shouldering his anguish as much as her husband's, she is caught between the realisation of the Women's Liberation movement and her sense of duty to both her male 'superiors' at work and at home. "Keep Calm and Carry On" is her motto. And it helps her realise her ambitions.

Perhaps the print publishing legacy of Ita Buttrose, played to perfection by Asher Keddie in last night's debut of the ABC telemovie Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo, is as much on paper as it is in the model of The ACP Editor.

Not a hair nor accessory out of place, even as she carries a baby through the fledgling stages of birthing Cleo magazine, with her quiet resolve and unmitigated self-belief, Buttrose refuses to go into meltdown mode, fastidiously pulling her team together, addressing issues as they arise and presiding over editorial meetings all the while taking her morning sickness to the bathroom and asking her husband, Mac, if he'd like Parmesan cheese on his dinner.

Her indefatigable professional self, and Cleo's message for the liberated woman, is very much at odds with her private self, worn out by the dual demands of motherhood and wife-hood. Thus Buttrose is driven by the desire to help her readers navigate the expectations of tradition and Women's Liberation, occupying a middle ground that very much reflects her personal experience. Drawing further on the experiences of her wide-eyed underlings, she hones an offering that is instantly appealing and popular: the debut issue of her magazine is a sell-out. But we are made keenly aware of the personal cost this comes with; namely the strain on her marriage and herself.  

And, forty years on, we are still here, are we not?

Without the fervour of starting something shiny and new, the sheen has somewhat worn off the gloss. Despite those gains made with the provision of maternity and equal pay, the women's publishing game is very much about compromises, very much about winning the game in the face of insurmountable odds. With the added pressures of the digital age, sympathies must be awarded to those stalwarts of print who continue to Keep Calm and Carry On in the Ita tradition... rain, hail or shine.

See also:
Power and the passion: when women come of age (The Age)
Media Satchel: The Global Report on the Status of Women in the News Media
Retro Review: Cleo 70s style

Girl With a Satchel


Louise, Raspberries In Winter said...

I was watching this last night and thought it was such a great film. It was really interesting to see how things were in Australia in the '70's. (I'm a 90's girl).

Mrs Press said...

And such believable performances. The guy who plays Packer is stunning. Go the first Australian drama to cut it in a long while. Ita is my new role model. Who knew?!

Anonymous said...

Loved the show..used to be a magazine junkie but now I don't buy any. With the Internet, I can now pick and mix exactly the kind of articles I want to read. There's nothing new for magazines to do. I would rather read a 1975 issue of Cleo than a current one!

MyIdeaLife - Nicole said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one in awe of Ita. I wrote about her too, not as eloquently as you but I'd love you to take a look and any feedback would be much appreciated.

Cheers and hope to see you online,