A few weeks ago, Kurt Andersen tweeted the following: “Google’s digitized every issue of Spy magazine. Half up now, the rest soon. (The internet has justified itself).” Media nerds and pop culture junkies rejoiced. Spy, which Andersen co-founded in the mid-1980s with current Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter and publisher Tom Phillips, maintains a hallowed place in magazine lore. And, as the Google trove reveals, Spy’s reputation for excellence is well deserved.
Editors and writers love Spy foremost because it overflowed with great ideas. It specialized in snarky commentary, hyperdetailed charts and lists, celebrity takedowns, and pre-Photoshop image-manipulation shenanigans. The publication’s legendary front-of-book section, “Naked City,” was an embarrassment of riches—it included “Letters to the Editor of The New Yorker” (at the time, The New Yorker refused to print readers’ letters), a section delineating the scope of health-code violations at New York City restaurants (with accompanying icons to signify roaches, rats, etc.), and a chart on the number of times Liz Smith mentioned Brooke Astor, George Hamilton, and others in her New York Daily News column.
Naked City’s biggest hit, though, was its “Separated at Birth” photo pairings. The idea is as brilliant as it is simple: This public figure seems to look like this other public figure (or, as the case may be, like a cartoon character). Let’s put them side by side and take a closer look. “Separated at Birth” confirmed that, in 1987, Mick Jagger sort of did look like Don Knotts; Tammy Fay Bakker, when seen from the correct angle, resembled an Ewok; and Sarah Ferguson looked like the maid from The Brady Bunch.
Nearly 25 years after the first “Separated at Birth” photos appeared in Spy, do the original pairings still hold up? Twenty-five years is a long time. People age differently, and in unpredictable ways. It seems only fair to test the continued strength of those old Spy pairs via the same method the magazine used in the 1980s: side-by-side headshots. Here are some of the best pairings from Google’s first batch of Spy uploads, along with new, modern versions. You make the call: Does Bob Costas still look like Katie Couric?
Launch a slide-show essay on Spy’s “Separated at Birth” pairings, 25 years later.