Gardner A. (Mike) Cowles, founder of Look magazine and a member of the Cowles publishing empire, died Monday of heart failure at 82.
Cowles, who died in a hospital here, had suffered numerous complications following abdominal surgery last October, according to Nancy Stephens, his secretary for 34 years.
He had no publishing interests at the time of his death, she said. But he was president of the Cowles Charitable Trust, which made contributions to education, hospitals, the art and charities.
Cowles was born in Algona, Iowa, on Jan. 31, 1903, the son of banker Gardner Cowles Sr. and Florence Call Cowles. That same year, the family moved to Des Moines, Iowa, and purchased the Des Moines Register and Leader, which became the nucleus of the Des Moines Register and Tribune Co. The Register had been in the Cowles family until last week, when it was purchased by the Gannett Co. newspaper group.
First Love Was Look
The younger Cowles served as a chief executive officer of the Register. But his first love was the general-interest picture magazine Look, which he founded with his brother, John, in 1937.
"Look was his life," recalled Bill Arthur, the last editor of the magazine, which went out of business under economic pressures in the fall of 1971. The magazine made a brief comeback under different ownership in 1974 but lasted only a few months.
"He was determined to make Look a meaningful magazine," Arthur said, "and he achieved that goal, especially in the golden years between 1954 and 1960."
Arthur said that Cowles was most proud of his association with Wendell Willkie, the Republican presidential candidate in 1940.
Helped Willkie With Strategy
Cowles helped form the strategy that won Willkie the GOP nomination, although Willkie was defeated that year by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Roosevelt later dispatched Willkie on a world tour, and Cowles went along. He helped Willkie write the book "One World," a best seller.
Cowles is survived by his wife, Jan, four children and a step-child.