Marshall McLuhan in People Magazine – Sept. 20, 1976


Sept. 20, 1976 issue (Vol. 6, No. 12)

If the Media Didn’t Get Marshall McLuhan’s Message in the ’60s, Another Is on the Way

By Barbara Rowes

At 4 a.m. Herbert Marshall McLuhan, hip prophet of the ’60s for whom “the medium was the message,” awakens in his Toronto bedroom and slips into an ancient green bathrobe. He hurries into the kitchen not for breakfast but for a taste of biblical scholarship. For an hour he pores over scriptures in Greek, Latin, French, German and English, while gnawing on an orange.

Then he shifts to research for a new book, reading and scribbling notes. It will be called Laws of the Media, a sequel to his landmark Understanding Media. This year he also will publish a media textbook for high schools, one book on Canadian identity and two more on literature. McLuhan is returning to public prominence after a fallow period of nearly five years.

Just as Sigmund Freud is the father of psychoanalysis, Marshall McLuhan is the pioneer in media sociology [now the term is media ecology], the study of the effects of electronic information—TV, radio, stereo and cassettes—on society. Understanding Media created a storm of controversy when it was published in 1964, but now it is used in nearly every university on the North American continent and has been translated into 15 languages.

At 5:10 a.m. the 65-year-old scholar reaches for a white wall telephone and dials. “Barry, I think I’ve discovered something,” he booms in an imperious English accent. Barrington Nevitt, a consultant to the Ontario government like many of McLuhan’s friends, is accustomed to predawn calls. McLuhan plunges on. “I ran across a phrase just now which said that a scientific hypothesis can be disproved. Not proved. Disproved. I realized I might be able to use this in media study. It’s really quite enraging that nobody has ever thought of this before.” McLuhan apparently means that he will ask media students to consider what society would be like if radio and television did not exist. He hangs up abruptly and returns to his reading. Before he has breakfast he goes back to bed for a while. Second only to his devout faith in Catholicism is his belief in the catnap. He returns to the kitchen at 8 a.m., wearing a Hawaiian shirt and slacks. Corinne McLuhan, his wife of 37 years, is preparing his breakfast. He alternates between rare beefsteak and organic whole wheat bread, honey and an egg.

For years, while he waited for breakfast, McLuhan read the New York Times, until he suddenly decided it was obsolete. “The complicated layout of the Times is 19th-century. To get through the whole damn thing would take at least a week. In the electronic age people want information quickly.” He now picks up the news of the day from the Toronto Globe and Mail.

He is reading the society page aloud to his wife when George Thompson, his middle-aged assistant, walks in. “Good morning, George!” McLuhan bellows. “Did you get a chance to look at the glorious sky? There’s not a cloud in it. Why in the world would anyone want to do anything serious on such a beautiful day?”

McLuhan picks up his battered briefcase and marches across the lawn of his English manor house to Thompson’s vintage Chevrolet. He has driven McLuhan to his office at the University of Toronto for the past three years—ever since McLuhan gave up driving. “It was the least I could do for the environment,” McLuhan explains. Hidden from the road is a 19th-century carriage house which the university converted into the Centre for Culture and Technology to honor McLuhan in 1963. At 9:30 a.m. McLuhan bounds up the spiral stairway to his office. Poised stiffly with dictation pad in hand, Margaret Stewart, his secretary, runs down the messages. Woody Allen wants him to act in a film. After speaking to the comedian, McLuhan agrees. (Shooting took place two weeks later at 7:45 a.m. in a movie theater in New York. McLuhan plays himself.) Gov. Jerry Brown wants McLuhan to speak at a political conference in California. The vice-president of Televisa de Mexico asks McLuhan to a media conference in his country. Will he give hour-long interviews to Radio Québec and the BBC? Does he have time to fly to Denver to address a convention of computer executives? A Michigan educator has heard of the forthcoming textbook on the media. Can he order a thousand copies, even though it is not yet in print? Would McLuhan and his wife like to be the guests of the Smothers Brothers while they are performing in Toronto?…
Read this interesting Day in the Life of Marshall McLuhan at

This 3.5-minute segment of a televised interview of Marshall McLuhan on The Today Show on NBC TV with journalists Tom Brokaw and Edwin Newman show what McLuhan looked like in 1976. In it McLuhan criticizes a recent televised presidential debate between Democrat Jimmy Carter of Georgia who that year defeated incumbent Republican President Gerald Ford from Michigan.

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