Back in January, I shared a list of my New Year's resolutions for 2019, one of which is to read two books per month (24 total). I was on a roll - two books in January, two books in February, three books in March - but that streak came to a dead stop in April.
At the start of the month, I selected a book called The Vanity Fair Diaries. It's based on real life journal entries by Tina Brown, during her time as the editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair. She would go on to become editor-in-chief of The New Yorker, and then in 2008, found the media site The Daily Beast.
I learned of this book on an episode of one of my favorite podcasts, The Literary Life, hosted by Mitchell Kaplan, the owner of Books & Books in Miami, FL. Kaplan interviewed Brown about her career in the magazine industry, and why she decided to share her personal journey in this way. I found Brown to be highly entertaining and after the episode ended, I ordered the book on Amazon.
When I unboxed it, I was startled to discover the book was 419 pages of tiny font with tight line spacing. I knew right away it would be a challenge to read the whole thing in under 30 days. That said, I was optimistic that the behind-the-scenes dirt would keep me hooked.
Well, it took me six weeks to finish this memoir - all of April and half of May. I was pretty bummed about the setback to my pace.
Though it took a while, I did learn some pretty interesting things along the way. In a journal entry dated October 25, 1984, Brown is describing her pride over the upcoming holiday issue and she writes, "Best Annie pics are of Aaron Spelling in bed, Springsteen against a sheath of fire, and the black-and-white-attired decorator Andrée Putman against a wall of checkered tiles. Also the sulky, Elvisy Donald Trump 'because he's a brass act. And he owns his own football team. And he thinks he should negotiate arms control agreements with the Soviet Union.'"
How creepy is it to read that about Donald Trump now, nearly 35 years later?!
I really enjoyed hearing about the very first Vanity Fair party during awards season in 1987, which is now a staple every single year. Brown shares, "I'm sitting in my hotel room at the Bel-Air in Beverly Hills. Tomorrow we'll give a VF party at Spago to woo Hollywood. If it goes well I want to make a Hollywood party an annual thing because our power base for covers is here. Si might not understand what glamour events can do for business, but I am convinced they work."
That same year, Anna Wintour was hired in the number two position at Vogue. "All the press of Anna's arrival is positioning her as the future ed of Vogue, which must make Grace Mirabella shake in her shoes. This press is already hoping for a rivalry between us. Anna is to frontal for feuds and Vogue has never interested me. I suppose catfights are the cliché that always dog (as it were) powerful women working in the same business. Actually her presence upstairs is a bit like suddenly having a sleek-haired race-horse pawing the other side of the fence."
In 1991, under Brown's leadership, the Vanity Fair team would publish one of the most famous magazine cover images of all time featuring actress Demi Moore. "When Annie and I first discussed doing Demi, I thought how great it would be to show her pregnant instead of doing the normal thing with stars who are over three months gone and cheat the cover with a head shot or some other disguise. But being Annie, she went on better. She did Demi in profile, yes, full body, yes, but also . . . naked!"
She continues, and reveals that the cover was so much more than a provocative maternity photo, "We have wanted so much to do a story that moved Vanity Fair decisively on from the eighties, that made a statement of modernity, progressiveness, freshness, openness, after the heavy Trumpy glitz of that decade. I have been beating my brains out looking for the social commentary that would achieve it. And now, in one simple, dazzling image, Annie has the home run. This it it. This what a celebrity looks like in the nineties. Not just a natural but au naturel! And it's a wonderful feminist statement at the same time."
If you have been a long time Vanity Fair reader, certainly you'll enjoy the stories behind the stories.
I wish I could say I loved this book, because I really thought I would, but sadly, it was just a long slog of name dropping.