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New York and L.A. Women: A Case of Mutual Envy

July 13, 1987|BEVERLY BEYETTE | Times Staff Writer

When "The Other Coast" column debuts in the September issue of New York Woman magazine, readers will not be treated to yet another takeout on "movie moguls or breakfast at the Polo Lounge," editor-in-chief Betsy Carter promises.

Rather, West Coast columnist Merrill Markoe, former head writer for "Late Night With David Letterman" (and currently Letterman's "good friend") will serve up conversations with drag queens at the Queen Mary and La Cage Aux Folles clubs on their views of femininity.

Now, former New Yorker Markoe--whom Carter describes as "very quirky"--will tell you, "I don't think there are more drag queens in L.A. than there are in New York."

But, then, she says, "I just honestly don't believe in my heart that L.A. and New York are such basically different places . . . the real difference is here you spend a lot of time alone in your car."

She observed that "everyone I know in New York is from somewhere else and everyone in Los Angeles is from New York."

Indeed, Markoe added, "The difference between L.A. and Indianapolis is show business. Remove show business from L.A. and it's the same Mrs. Fields' Cookies you have in Ohio."

Yes, but what of the storied rivalry, the war of the trends between Manhattan and Malibu?

Well, Markoe said, "I guess people in New York probably go to the theater more and get in fights more and wait for elevators more, and I guess maybe they don't swim as much. But they're watching the same TV and they're eating the same Kentucky Fried Chicken."

Well, not all of them are eating the fried chicken. Markoe observed, "I don't know of any women in New York, either, who are not obsessed with diet."

Carter, a New York Woman by birth and inclination, was in Los Angeles last week "sort of looking around." She knows that Los Angeles, like New York, is full of "all these hidden stories. Something starts and we're told it started in L.A., but we don't get to the sensibility that breeds all these new things."

Although she was formerly editorial director at Esquire, Carter is quick to say that New York Woman is not Esquire for women, that what they share is "a real passion for good writing." She seems pleased that newsstands have not consistently been able to "slot" her magazine, to display it routinely between Ms. and Vanity Fair, for example.

With its seventh issue, in September, it will become a monthly, rather than a bimonthly, and will introduce "The Other Coast." Why a California column? One factor is the '80s phenomenon of bicoastal living. Carter is convinced that "New York women and L.A. women aren't all that different. I think of L.A. as kind of the flip side of us. It's like looking at what the other team is doing."

Rivalry?

"No," Carter said. "I think there's mutual envy, probably a certain snobbery." While Angelenos boast about gardens and beaches and sunshine, New Yorkers "boast about our intellect and our energy. I think probably each of us wants a little bit of the other."

What do New York women feel toward L.A. women?

"Envy," Carter said. "You get to lead the relaxed, outdoor life we're all breaking our necks to get to on weekends."

If there is a big difference, she added, it's that New York women are "more nervous and hyper and we talk twice as fast. Someone asked me why New York women are so thin--'Is it that you have to squeeze into smaller spaces?' "

Carter is a New Yorker through and through, save for a temporary dislocation to Miami with her family in 1955 when she was 10.

"I was out of place," she recalled, "a tough New York tomboy" among a legion of sexy blond girls "in pointy-toed Capezios."

After graduating from University of Michigan, Carter headed back to Manhattan to be a big city journalist. The best offer was from Air and Water News. Carter said, "I was reporting from sewers and sewage-treatment plants." Later, she moved to Newsweek and, in early 1980, to Esquire.

OK to Hire Staff

Dismayed that there wasn't a so-called women's magazine of comparable quality to Esquire, in May, 1985 Carter proposed New York Woman. That September she took a leave of absence and in February got the go-ahead from the parent Esquire to start hiring staff.

Then along came Hearst Corp. to buy Esquire. New York Woman, only two issues old, was sold to American Express. Carter admits to moments of what turned out to be unfounded misgivings about how the keepers of the Gold Card Set would react to journalism, New York Woman's style, complete with four-letter words and bare-breasted women.

The magazine reflects Carter's conviction that "the real bond" among New York women is a certain sense of humor--"call it dark, or call it coping."

Sometimes, Carter said, reflecting on the major upheavals in the publication's infancy, "I think putting out the magazine is an example of dark humor."

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