Vanity Fair editor Tina Brown's move to the New Yorker this week conjured up some fanciful images from Hollywood cynics. "More pregnant stars, only they'll be drawn in pen and ink," said a studio executive. "Catwoman takes over musty Gotham rag," said a publicist. Not unlike "giving the keys to the Vatican to the devil," said a writer.
But most industry power brokers expressed delight that Brown is moving from Vanity Fair to the New Yorker: There'll be another national magazine where they can read about themselves and their friends. And she won't be threatening to take anyone's job in Hollywood. Besides, many of the same people who derided Brown's move from the glossy, glitzy, celebrity-oriented Vanity Fair might subscribe, but generally don't read, the more wordy and weighty New Yorker.
"I've been out of touch with the New Yorker for 10 years," said a studio boss who is considered one of the more learned of his peer group. Does he read Vanity Fair? Absolutely. And subscriptions in Los Angeles County confirm his example: As compiled by the Audit Bureau of Circulations, Vanity Fair readers outnumber New Yorker readers by nearly 3 to 1--91,600 to 32,800.
"Our loss is the intellectuals' gain," said Barry Diller, former Fox Inc. chairman who does read the New Yorker and is a longtime fan and friend of Brown's. "Any fool who will think that what she'll do is try to make (the New Yorker) into Vanity Fair isn't her readership anyway," he said.
Reaction to the naming of Spy co-founder Graydon Carter to replace her was decidedly muted in comparison--from silent horror to mystifying.
Spy, which Carter left nine months ago to become editor of The New York Observer, is the antithesis of balanced journalism. Its claim to fame is satirizing the very things Vanity Fair celebrates. Ironically, Tina Brown was the focus of a scathing Spy profile that claimed her magazine was little more than a glossy showcase for Hollywood puffery.
While some very powerful industry executives claim to loathe Spy (which means they also read it--and fear it), they believe Carter won't bring the same mean sensibility to Vanity Fair.
"I doubt he'll be allowed to tinker too much with what's already a winning formula," said a Disney executive.
Vanity Fair had become the star vehicle in the print world since Brown took over as editor nine years ago, much more than Premiere, which is devoted solely to newsfeatures about the film business, the national news magazines Time and Newsweek--"They can pull the cover (story) at the last minute"--or the arts sections of major newspapers.
"Appearance on the cover is almost stardom by fiat," said John De Simio, vice president of publicity for Castle Rock Entertainment.
Case in point: Luke Perry, lead actor in the hit Fox television series for teens, "Beverly Hills, 90210," might otherwise have remained just a name to Vanity Fair's core readership of well-heeled, well-educated adults--until he was on the Vanity Fair cover this month.
But as 20th Century Fox Film Chairman Joe Roth says, "Many times (the contents are) more about culture than the movies. There's a lot of insightful reporting in it." Pat Kingsley, a publicist whose clients Demi Moore, Goldie Hawn and Jessica Lange have each had at least one Vanity Fair cover, said: "No matter whose photograph is on the front, it's eminently readable. And they are always breaking news."
If there's any other fallout from this week's most interesting executive shuffle, it's that Brown now won't be coming to Hollywood, a long-speculated scenario. The editor is on a first-name basis with all those interviewed for this story. Some of them thought she was angling to become a film producer or studio executive. At least one sought to hire her.
"I know when I first took this job, she thought she could do it," Roth said. "Now it seems she's more interested in being an editor and in control than she would if she were a Hollywood producer."
Diller, Roth's former boss, says Brown could never be persuaded to make the move west. "I tried to get her to do it. I offered her as many things for as much money as it was possible. She turned me down every time," he said.
A rare occasion indeed, to anyone who's dealt with Diller.