Graydon Carter is ending his quarter-century-long turn at the helm of Vanity Fair, leaving large shoes (or, more precisely, a large, probably smoky, corner office) for whomever inherits the post to fill.
Michael Grynbaum at the New York Timesbroke the story of Carter’s departure, recounting a conversation held over Carter’s West Village kitchen table, in a room that is, of course, “adorned with a stuffed perch fish from the 19th century (an idea Mr. Carter said he borrowed from the Earl of Snowdon, ex-husband of Princess Margaret), a ‘Resist’ poster and a “Dump Trump” illustration by their 8-year-old daughter.”
I spent a recent weekend at my grandparents’ house on Long Island with my friend Alexis, who noticed a basket in their living room holding decades of back issues of food magazines, as well as a well-curated archive of Vanity Fair issues dating back to the mid ’90s. My grandmother had kept every issue featuring British royals (particularly Princess Diana, whose death marked the only time I’ve ever seen my grandmother — who lost her own mother very young — cry) or Kennedys (American royals) on the cover. The only outlier was a “Game of Thrones” cover (also royalty, technically). We spent the weekend poring over all of them, gleefully reading aloud to one other from regular features like Dominick Dunne’s Diary (my favorite included a defense of Martha Stewart, at the time both a felon and a friend, and an excoriation of a Kennedy who had spoken ill of Dunne on television) and noticing a delightful formula that seemed to serve as the architecture of each issue: a luxurious profile of some obscure royalty or old money scion; a less flattering look at some arriviste nouveau riche; a true crime story, ideally committed by someone wealthy or pretending to be wealthy; a glowing writeup of a new Hollywood darling; a reverent paean to a worthy Old Hollywood icon. These tropes were the bones of each issue and they held up well, decades later. Read more…
No one burns the elite quite like Vanity Fair, and Sarah Ellison’s recent profile of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump is a perfect example. The duo come off as bratty and inept, not just powerless to make an impact on their presidential patriarch, but fundamentally incompetent to do much at all. Ellison reveals that Ivanka’s big idea for how to save Planned Parenthood was to suggest the organization stop providing abortions. Another notable anecdote involves Reince Preibus asking Kushner what he and his best friend Reed Cordish, who Kushner employs at the White House seemingly just to keep him company, are up to work-wise. Kushner snaps, “Reince, we aren’t getting paid. What the fuck do you care?” (Honestly, did you ever expect you’d be Team Reince in any fight, ever?)
Ivan Reitman and his crew didn’t have a solid script for the screwball 1979 summer camp comedy Meatballs. They didn’t have Bill Murray. They had a few months to film, and most of the camps they asked to use as sets thought they were nuts. Yet the movie they made stands as one of Hollywood’s enduring comedies, a surprisingly sensitive look at one teenager’s rite of passage through summer camp. At Vanity Fair, the always spicy Eric Spitznagel talks with cast and crew in a revealing oral history of the making of Meatballs. As they say in the movie, “Are you ready for the summer?”
Goldberg: We had our cast, but there was still the matter of Bill [Murray]. “Is Bill going to do it? Will he show up?” I didn’t know if he ever read the script. Then he kind of committed, but not really. Three days before we start shooting, we have no idea if it’s going to happen.
Banham: Dan Aykroyd was supposed to play the part. That’s what I heard. And that’s what we all believed. Most of us in the cast, we would talk about it. “Can you believe we’re in a movie with Dan Aykroyd?” Everybody knew who Dan Aykroyd was. And then we show up for the movie, and there’s Bill Murray. And we’re like, [deflated] “Oh. It’s the new guy from S.N.L. [Sighs] O.K.”
Blum: Bill turned up in this Hawaiian shirt and red shorts, wearing an alarm clock on his wrist, which eventually found its way into the film.
Reitman: I remember how amazing he was that first day he showed up. I handed him the script—I think it was the first time he was reading it—he flipped through it and said, “Eh.” And he very theatrically threw it into a nearby trash can. [Laughs] That’s kind of terrifying to see an actor do that just minutes before you’re going to shoot your first scene with him.
If you already don’t trust the ways some big banks invest your money, Wells Fargos’ treatment of customers won’t increase your confidence. At Vanity Fair, Bethany McLean reveals the widespread corruption among Wells Fargo salespeople, and the way staff high up the corporate chain tolerated it. Between 2011 and 2015, bankers created over 1.5 million deposit and 565,000 credit-card accounts without customer approval. Employees blamed the company’s intense culture, and internal complaints made little difference. In 2016, Wells paid a $185 million fine, yet it admitted no wrongdoing, and it didn’t immediately eliminate its retail product sales goals. So what changes have been made to protect its customers? And why should anyone trust them again?
Guitron says that customers began coming to her, complaining about getting mail from Wells Fargo on accounts or services that they had never authorized. “People knew me and knew I could fix the problems,” she says. A common denominator, according to Guitron, was that most of the customers were Spanish-speaking, like her, so they didn’t feel comfortable going to management in English.
“All the tellers and staff knew it, but no one else would complain,” Guitron says. “People needed the job. So did I, but I knew right from wrong.” On September 19, 2008, she sent an e-mail to her branch manager. “I have come across instances where I’ve opened accounts and shortly after they are closed and new sets of accounts are opened,” she wrote. “I find NO banker notes to explain why this is happening. I am very concerned as I know this to be GAMING!!!” She collected approximately 300 printouts of accounts that were problematic in various ways, she says, such as a minor having more than a dozen accounts. But, according to Guitron in legal documents, her manager would say only, “It’s a misunderstanding.” Or “You need to mind your own business.”
Nothing changed, so Guitron requested meetings with more senior executives. Overall, she claimed that during her tenure at Wells Fargo she raised concerns on more than 100 occasions, including about a dozen calls to the Wells Fargo EthicsLine, and on no fewer than 37 occasions she provided records that supported her complaints. Guitron alleges that her managers began to retaliate, making it harder for her to meet her sales goals. She was fired in January 2010.
For Vanity Fair, Evgenia Peretz profiles 83-year-old iconic editor Nan Talese, who rose through the ranks of one publishing house after another before being given her own eponymous imprint at Doubleday in 1990. Aside from being one of the most powerful women in publishing, Talese is also known as one-half of one of the most interesting and curious marriages in recent history. One of the underpinnings of her union with famously non-monogamous New Journalism pioneer Gay Talese is a pledge she made to him early on that she wouldn’t ever impinge on his “freedom”—an agreement that allowed him to have many affairs, some supposedly in the name of “research” for his book about the loosening of sexual mores in the free love era. The profile comes just as Gay plans to write a book about their marriage.
In 1981, when Thy Neighbor’s Wife came out, something discomfiting was starting to happen to Nan and Gay: their power in the world began to shift. Gay’s book was critically panned, not for the substance, which reviewers barely paid attention to, but for the salaciousness of its author. “What was alleged was I was doing frivolous research. Getting my jollies, hanging around massage parlors, getting laid, getting jerked off, all that,” says Gay, whose reputation dimmed. An active member of the writers group PEN, he’d been on the verge of becoming its next president. But in light of Thy Neighbor’s Wife, the women of PEN revolted, and he resigned. Nan’s career, meanwhile, was skyrocketing. In 1981 she was named the executive editor of Houghton Mifflin, the old-line publishing company based in Boston; she’d commute there while still running the New York office. Gay believes her rise was at least partially tied to his downfall. “She started getting a lot of publicity about Thy Neighbor’s Wife . . . . What about this guy’s wife? This guy’s wife is Nan Talese. She’s this terrific, revered editor, and she’s married to this disgusting guy.”
But, for Nan, who still saw herself first as Gay’s champion, the power shift hardly felt like comeuppance or victory. His bad reviews, and his fallen reputation, were as devastating to Nan as they were to Gay. She defended him publicly, as she does today. “I think most of the press told more about the reporters than it did about Gay,” she says. And so, for the next few years, life continued as it had before, in keeping with the pledge—only, now the pressure had intensified for Gay, as he was looking to recapture literary greatness. There continued his long periods of absence, notably in Rome, where he went to research Unto the Sons, about his ancestors in Italy. There continued romantic entanglements on the road. “I don’t want to degrade people by representing the whole all-star cast of women. I could, but I won’t,” says Gay.
Last week, on February 18th, Norma McCorvey — aka “Jane Roe,” the plaintiff in the 1973 Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court case that legalized abortion — passed away. Four years ago, in February, 2013, Vanity Fairpublished this fascinating profile of of her. McCorvey, who wasn’t able to actually have the abortion she fought for because of the timing of her pregnancy and the drawn-out case, famously had a change of heart many years later, becoming a pro-life activist. Through most of her adult life, regardless of whether she was fighting for or against women’s reproductive rights, McCorvey managed to monetize her position, not only publishing two memoirs, but forming one sketchy foundation after another, on either side of the argument. Author Joshua Prager had to write around the subject — whom he and all those interviewed portray as mercenary — because she refused to be interviewed without payment of her $1,000 speaking fee.
Young Norma McCorvey had not wanted to further a cause; she had simply wanted an abortion and could not get one in Texas. Even after she became a plaintiff, plucked from obscurity through little agency of her own, she never did get that abortion. McCorvey thus became, ironically, a symbol of the right to a procedure that she herself never underwent. And in the decades since the Roe decision divided the country, the issue of abortion divided McCorvey too. She started out staunchly pro-choice. She is now just as staunchly pro-life.
But in truth McCorvey has long been less pro-choice or pro-life than pro-Norma. And she has played Jane Roe every which way, venturing far from the original script to wring a living from the issue that has come to define her existence.
“I almost forgot i have a one thousand dollar fee,” she texted in August in response to a request for an interview. Told she could not be paid, she texted back: “Then we wont speak.”
At Vanity Fair, Allen Salkin examines the downfall of Pure Food & Wine proprietor Sarma Melngailis. It all seems to stem from her involvement with Anthony Strangis, an ex-gambler she met on Twitter and then married, and whose alleged “coercive control” may have led the vegan icon and Wharton graduate to destroy her business and become a fugitive from the law:
A source close to Melngailis describes a scenario in which Strangis resorted to cult-like techniques, including gaslighting, sleep deprivation, and sexual humiliation, to control her. (Strangis, through his court-appointed attorney, Samuel Karliner, denied all these allegations but did not elaborate on his denials in responding to 80 questions from Vanity Fair.) Perhaps if you can understand how a sane, successful businesswoman comes to believe the insane idea that her dog can live forever, everything else snaps into focus—how that person might be accused of bilking her investors of $844,000, owe her employees more than $40,000 in unpaid wages, financially strip her restaurant, and now find herself awaiting trial, with a potential 15-year sentence. She had thought all harm would be magically reversed, just as Leon’s life span would be extended, according to her camp.
KAHANE CORN COOPERMAN(field producer, later co-executive producer, 1996-2015):
I produced a field piece, with Stacey Grenrock Woods as the correspondent, about a guy, Alexander P., who had been a rock star in Ukraine and came here and was now a waiter in a hotel restaurant in Grand Rapids, Michigan. This piece may well have been in the works before Jon arrived. But it airs, and after the show you have a postmortem. And Jon was not happy. He said, “Your targets are just wrong. They shouldn’t be people on the fringe. Our targets need to be the people who have a voice, and that’s politicians, and that’s the media.”
STACEY GRENROCK WOODS(correspondent, 1998-2003):
I heard Jon was very unhappy with that piece, and I don’t blame him at all. I didn’t like it, either, but it was given to me. I think it ended up being a policy-changing piece.