“Whoa – look at this place!” whispered HT production director Elise McDonough as she, art director Frank Max and I entered the upscale restaurant Cipriani’s on 42nd Street. “Whoa” was right – the opulent Renaissance decor and 65-foot ceilings made it clear to every guest who entered: When Quad Graphics throws a 35th anniversary party, they don’t fool around.
Quad Graphics is one of the largest printing companies in the world and has been printing High Times since its very first issue. Even during rough times in our history – when the company fell into debt, came under attack from the government or caused controversy – Quad stood by us and kept us rolling off their presses. This was Elise’s first Quad party; I, however, had attended many such elegant soires over the years, but none so memorable as my first. Over 10 years ago, when I was fresh out of college and just hired by HT full time, I’d been invited to a dinner party on Quad’s private railcar, parked in Grand Central Station (right across the street from where we now stood). It was unlike any train I’d ever seen, with walls and furniture of dark, polished wood, lush carpeting and drapery – it was like the Rolls-Royce of the railways. Our account rep at the time, a beautiful young lady named Julie, greeted me at the door and invited me to have a drink until she could join me.
I sat down at the bar and was served by a kindly, white-haired gentleman wearing a bow tie. When he looked down at my name tag, a big grin came across his face. “I see you’re from High Times,” he said amusedly. Great, I thought – even the bartender is getting a laugh at my expense. But I was anxious to represent HT professionally, and not play into people’s expectations that we were a bunch of stoners. “Yes, I just started there recently,” I replied proudly. “It’s a great place to work.” “Quite right.” He smiled and nodded approvingly. “Do you know about Tom Forcade, the man who founded your magazine?” Of course I knew about Tom! Granted, at that point I’d only heard various rumors and legends about him – about his outlaw lifestyle as a drug smuggler, his daring political antics and bizarre professional habits – but I’d already come to admire him greatly as a personal hero. The question was, how the hell did this bartender know about him? “Let me tell you a story,” said the bartender. “One time, back in the late ’70s, there was an issue of High Times that had been shipped to the plant, was prepared, plated and ready to print. The only problem was, Quad had never received payment for the job, and without payment, it would not go to press that day as scheduled.
No one had heard from Tom – it was down to the last hour, and the situation was pretty tense. Then suddenly, with only minutes until printing was set to commence, in he charges and dumps a duffel bag full of cash onto the desk. ‘Here!’ he yells. ‘HereÃs the money! Now print my magazine!’ Which of course I did.” Who the hell was this guy? Just then, Julie sidled up to me at the bar. “Oh, good, I see you’ve met Mr. Quadracci,” she said. The ‘bartender’ I’d been chatting with was none other than the owner, founder and chairman of the company, Harry Quadracci. I couldn’t believe it – here was this multimillionaire, behind the bar at his own party, serving martinis to a kid barely old enough to drink and speaking jovially to me as an equal! I later learned that this was characteristic of his personable, whimsical nature. Over his career, some of his eccentric behavior included walking a tightrope above the floor of his factory, staging elaborate showtune performances at company functions and arriving at those functions riding such things as a motorcycle or an elephant. So it makes sense that he would have found a kindred spirit in HT founder Tom Forcade – an anti-establishment activist known for radical stunts like pieing government officials in the face. It was Harry’s passionate belief in the First Amendment that led him to support this young drug smuggler and his controversial, upstart magazine some 30 years ago. Sadly, that would be the only time I’d have the pleasure of his company.
In 2002, Harry Quadracci passed away at the age of 66. Now, as I stood in this grand ballroom enjoying the fruits of all that he’d built (a scrumptious buffet dinner, unlimited top-shelf drinks and a performance by Three Dog Night), and watching the touching video tribute that his family and colleagues had created to honor him, I was powerless to stop a few tears from dripping down into my martini. Harry – like Tom’s, your proud memory and legacy will live on for generations to come. “Heaven, watch out for Harry,” said his brother Tom to the thousands in attendance at Harry’s funeral. Well, I imagine he’d be hard to miss, coming through the pearly gates atop an elephant.