Memories of New York Magazine (Part 2)

What a rollicking and enervating environment and collegial atmosphere we enjoyed in the mid and late 1970s at New York magazine, the prototype (and the best) of all the city magazines. My colleagues were the smartest, wittiest, most original and creative personalities I had ever met.

So many of New York’s editors later moved on to top editorial positions at other publications: Shelley Zelaznick and Fred Allen to Forbes, Jack Nessel to Psychology Today, Ellen Stern to GQ, Peter Devine to Vanity Fair, Laurie Jones to Vogue, Dorothy Seiberling, Nancy Newhouse, Joan Kron, and Suzanne Slesin to the New York Times, David Owen to The New Yorker, Elizabeth Crowe to Parents, Corky Pollan to Gourmet, George Gendron to Boston Magazine, Quita McMath to Texas Monthly, and assistant art director Tom Bentkowski to Life.

The contributing writers and illustrators included a Who’s Who in magazine journalism: Tom Wolfe, Nick Pileggi, Nora Ephron, Mimi Sheraton, Julian Allen, Gloria Steinem, Ed Sorel, Richard Reeves, Mario Puzo, Gail Sheehy, John Bryson, Robert Grossman, Steven Brill, Dan Dorfman, James McMullan, Jimmy Breslin, Pete Hamill, David Levine, Gael Greene, Anthony Haden-Guest, and others. The design director and art director were, respectively, the inimitable Milton Glaser and Walter Bernard.

The star power was not limited to the masthead. It was not uncommon for the mayor of New York, or other local politicians, to visit our office. Paul Newman stopped by our Christmas party one year. Joel Grey, a good friend of Best Bets editor Ellen Stern, occasionally popped in.

During the course of a publicity tour in April 1976, a fresh-faced body builder and would-be actor newly arrived from Austria, came by to introduce himself after New York ran a story on the documentary Pumping Iron and the feature film Stay Hungry he appeared in. Arnold Schwarzenegger charmed Ruth Gilbert, an original New York staffer and the editor of the Around Town listings, and she in turn charmed him right back. After he gave her a black-and-white publicity glossy from Pumping Iron of himself, she did an impromptu photoshop (before there was Photoshop) by attaching a head shot of drama critic John Simon onto Arnold’s pumped-up physique.

For New York’s fall preview issue in 1975, there was a feature on Barry Lyndon that I edited. What I remember most about the assignment was the near impossibility of verifying some of the facts in that story (including the statement that Kubrick had used 10,000 candles to illuminate one scene in the film). The reclusive and secretive Kubrick simply could not, or would not, be reached.

Exactly one year later I got my first professional byline in a short piece about the city’s professional sports teams. In the two subsequent years I wrote capsule previews of the new fall theater offerings in New York, including a line in the 1978 edition about a promising new actress, “the soon-to-be-ubiquitous” Meryl Streep, who would be appearing in the title role in Elizabeth Swados’s production of Alice in Wonderland at the Public Theater.

The New York staff rubbed elbows after work at the New York Film Critics Circle awards with the year’s leading actors and directors and at private parties in Tavern on the Green with the original casts from both Saturday Night Live in 1975, after the magazine ran a story on the new show, and of the Broadway hit Annie in 1977. A bowtie-wearing Sandy, the canine cast member, sat politely at a table with young Andrea McArdle, the original Broadway Annie, during dinner. Before that, Jim Kamish, a member of the New York staff, stood in line outside the restaurant with Paul Simon, John Belushi, Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, and others. He was directly behind Farrah Fawcett and leaned forward to sniff her hair. “What conditioner do you use?” he asked her.

New York published a story in 1976 by British writer Nik Cohn, Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night (on which I had first read), about a group of young people in a Brooklyn disco. The story was the basis for the film Saturday Night Fever. The staff later attended the film’s premiere, after which we all went once again to Tavern on the Green to celebrate with the cast and the Bee Gees, whose music enlivened the soundtrack.

To be continued

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