Princess Diana, Donald Trump, Nancy Reagan, and other newsy icons come in for critical assessment by a sharp-tongued London transplant who remade two leading magazines.
Brown (The Diana Chronicles, 2007) arrived in New York in 1983, in the thick of the Reagan era, and set about revamping a magazine that was off just about anyone’s radar. Recruited by Si Newhouse, a tycoon of a literary bent (“Si doesn’t know what the fuck is going on on the VF floor,” she writes, a tad unappreciatively), she did just that, filling the magazine with serious journalism while chasing after the pop-culture evanescent. This diary is a blend of high and low and in between, especially on the high gossip front, as with her fixation on a certain cluster of royals: “No one is more dismayed about this apparently than Diana, who signed up to marry the royal James Bond.” Amid the fluff and the constant fretting about money—possessed of a healthy sense of self-regard, Brown is also keenly attuned to matters of dollars and pence—readers learn a lot about how a high-toned magazine is put together, work involving schmoozing, partying, and ego-stroking as much as blue-penciling, all of which Brown is clearly very good at. A typical day, she reveals, might involving talking a recalcitrant author into a piece he or she might not really have wanted to do, dealing with one’s handlers (“How does two million dollars sound to you?” says superagent Swifty Lazar, shopping a novel by Brown that exists only in the ether), and slotting the David Nivens and the Ahmet Erteguns in for supper. The narrative ends with an upward move to another Newhouse property, the New Yorker, where, as at VF, Brown upset dozens of boats (“I replaced seventy-one of the 120 New Yorker staff with fifty outstanding new talents”) while casting a cultural institution in her own image.
Entertaining if sometimes mean-spirited and full of valuable lessons in how—and sometimes how not—to run a magazine.