September 29, 2014

A TOTAL ORIGINAL

Filed under: Media,Pop Culture — Jamie @ 11:11 am

will-i-amI recently had the pleasure of interviewing Will.i.am for the September issue of Success. He was very different from most interview subjects–he was very relaxed, very confident, seemingly without any canned responses. He was quick to respond to my questions, but every answer was fluid and detailed. I was particularly drawn to one of his answers, where he said “I never wanted to be a leader of a group. I always wanted to be the ideas man, the one who said, ‘Hey guys, let’s try this!’” And from little up he played that role. It shows tremendous self-awareness, and a precocious grasp of group dynamics, to discern that role, and consciously pursue it. I thought this immediately identified him as an unusual intellect. It was a great pleasure to talk to him about his many interests and wide circle of fiends and associates. To read the entire article, click here.

September 9, 2014

BILL MURRAY, PHILOSOPHER

Filed under: Media,Pop Culture — Jamie @ 12:38 pm

bill-murray-day-toronto-film-festivalLast Friday night, Bill Murray appeared at an audience Q&A session at the Toronot Film Festival. As reported in the Vulture column of New York magazine, the night’s final question was “What’s it like being you?” Here is Murray’s answer:

“I think if I’m gonna answer that question, because it is a hard question, I’d like to suggest that we all answer that question right now, while I’m talking. I’ll continue. Believe me, I won’t shut up. I have a microphone. But let’s all ask ourselves that question right now. What does it feel like to be you? What does it feel like to be you? Yeah. It feels good to be you, doesn’t it? It feels good, because there’s one thing that you are — you’re the only one that’s you, right?. So you’re the only one that’s you, and we get confused sometimes — or I do, I think everyone does — you try to compete. You think, Dammit, someone else is trying to be me. Someone else is trying to be me. But I don’t have to armor myself against those people; I don’t have to armor myself against that idea if I can really just relax and feel content in this way and this regard. If I can just feel, just think now: How much do you weigh? This is a thing I like to do with myself when I get lost and I get feeling funny. How much do you weigh? Think about how much each person here weighs and try to feel that weight in your seat right now, in your bottom right now. Parts in your feet and parts in your bum. Just try to feel your own weight, in your own seat, in your own feet. Okay? So if you can feel that weight in your body, if you can come back into the most personal identification, a very personal identification, which is: I am. This is me now. Here I am, right now. This is me now. Then you don’t feel like you have to leave, and be over there, or look over there. You don’t feel like you have to rush off and be somewhere. There’s just a wonderful sense of well-being that begins to circulate up and down, from your top to your bottom. Up and down from your top to your spine. And you feel something that makes you almost want to smile, that makes you want to feel good, that makes you want to feel like you could embrace yourself.

“So what’s it like to be me? You can ask yourself, What’s it like to be me? You know, the only way we’ll ever know what it’s like to be you is if you work your best at being you as often as you can, and keep reminding yourself: That’s where home is.”

May 4, 2014

RUSH RANTS

Filed under: Books & Authors,Media — Jamie @ 8:57 am

MARLO781476739915_p0_v4_s260x420Last year I did some work for Marlo Thomas on a thoughtful, encouraging, positive book called It Ain’t Over. . . Till It’s Over about women reinventing themselves at mid-life. For some reason, the odious Rush Limbaugh decided to shit all over this book, somehow charging that when Thomas encourages the impulse to better oneself, she is being a hypocrite, because she is also a critic of income inequality. Thanks to colleague Bruce Kluger for swinging back at the nasty buffoon in a column in USA Today. “America has always been a place of reinvention,” says Bruce. “From the first explorers to settle on this soil, to the colonists who crafted our government, to the modern wave of entrepreneurs who now help drive our economy, ours is a citizenry that rejects complacency. This is why we’re called the “land of opportunity.” We never stop trying to seize new destinies. And yet Limbaugh denounces the women in Thomas’ book for exercising this freedom. At one point in his screed, he predictably characterized them as “elite,” caustically asking, “Why did they want more?”

March 4, 2014

“DIVE OR DIE!”

Filed under: History,Media — Jamie @ 8:58 pm

get-attachmentMy latest piece is an exciting tale of greed and desperation. “The Lost Silver of Cabalos Bay” is about six daring and resourceful navy divers, pulled from Japanese prison camps outside Manila, who were dragooned into helping Japanese soldiers try to recover a fortune in silver coins dumped in Manila harbor by the Philippine government. It’s a remarkable tale, a manly man’s story, and my first for WW II History magazine.

March 1, 2014

THE WOLF HAS ALL THE GRAVITY

Filed under: Media,Movies,Pop Culture,Uncategorized — Jamie @ 10:54 pm

The Oscars will be presented tomorrow night, and right now smart money for Best Picture is on Gravity, an engrossing and technically advanced film about one of the oldest plots in the book, that of the marooned person who is running out of time and resources. It’s a fine film, very well directed, featuring two ingratiating performances by Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, and like most Republican Vice Presidential nominees, it has, well, no gravity. Next to Martin Scorsese‘s The Wolf of Wall Street, it is wafer-thin and value-free.

The Wolf of Wall Street speaks to the crisis of our times, namely, the control of the economy by finance and the yawning wealth gap between rich and poor. It is a film that responds to the financial crisis, which is odd, because it has nothing to do with the financial crisis per se, and everything to do with the attitudes that fueled the meltdown. Wall Street today operates in a morality-free zone where anything you can get away with is right, and the film nails its subjects to the wall. Critics have chided The Wolf of Wall Street for celebrating the the excesses and emptiness of the traders. I don’t think it celebrates that life at all. I think it exposes its shallownes, its valulessness.

Is this voraciousness such a new thing? Wasn’t this behind the Crash of ’29, the insider trading fever of the late eighties? True enough, greed always has been part of business. Moreover, it’s hard to say that modern business does anything as immoral as slave trading, or using children, or endangering the lives of industrial workers. But the amorality of marketism, the Reagan-Greenspan idolatry of free markets that fight regulation, and wring every cent our of workers and consumers, and use the superpowers of computers to profit from minute fluctuations of the stock market in ways unrelated to productivity or investment, add up to theft on a grand scale from the workers of the world.

Wall Street today is no longer about making money. It is about becoming super rich. In the Times in January, a former trader named Sam Polk wrote about his “addiction to money” that developed after he went to work on Wall Street. “At the end of my first year,” writes Polk, “I was thrilled to receive a $40,000 bonus. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have to check my balance before I withdrew money. But a week later, a trader who was only four years my senior got hired away by C.S.F.B. for $900,000. After my initial envious shock — his haul was 22 times the size of my bonus — I grew excited at how much money was available. Over the next few years I worked like a maniac and began to move up the Wall Street ladder. I became a bond and credit default swap trader, one of the more lucrative roles in the business. Just four years after I started at Bank of America, Citibank offered me a “1.75 by 2” which means $1.75 million per year for two years, and I used it to get a promotion. I started dating a pretty blonde and rented a loft apartment on Bond Street for $6,000 a month. . . .Still, I was nagged by envy. On a trading desk everyone sits together, from interns to managing directors. When the guy next to you makes $10 million, $1 million or $2 million doesn’t look so sweet. Nonetheless, I was thrilled with my progress. . . .[W]orking elbow to elbow with billionaires, I was a giant fireball of greed. I’d think about how my colleagues could buy Micronesia if they wanted to, or become mayor of New York City. They didn’t just have money; they had power — power beyond getting a table at Le Bernardin. Senators came to their offices. They were royalty. I wanted a billion dollars. It’s staggering to think that in the course of five years, I’d gone from being thrilled at my first bonus — $40,000 — to being disappointed when, my second year at the hedge fund, I was paid “only” $1.5 million. But in the end, it was actually my absurdly wealthy bosses who helped me see the limitations of unlimited wealth. I was in a meeting with one of them, and a few other traders, and they were talking about the new hedge-fund regulations. Most everyone on Wall Street thought they were a bad idea. “But isn’t it better for the system as a whole?” I asked. The room went quiet, and my boss shot me a withering look. I remember his saying, “I don’t have the brain capacity to think about the system as a whole. All I’m concerned with is how this affects our company.” I felt as if I’d been punched in the gut. He was afraid of losing money, despite all that he had. From that moment on, I started to see Wall Street with new eyes. I noticed the vitriol that traders directed at the government for limiting bonuses after the crash. I heard the fury in their voices at the mention of higher taxes. These traders despised anything or anyone that threatened their bonuses. Ever see what a drug addict is like when he’s used up his junk? He’ll do anything — walk 20 miles in the snow, rob a grandma — to get a fix. Wall Street was like that. In the months before bonuses were handed out, the trading floor started to feel like a neighborhood in “The Wire” when the heroin runs out.”

That need for ever-increasing amounts of money is what The Wolf of Wall Street dramatizes: Jordan Belfort, the Wolf of the title who is played by Leonardo di Caprio, is hooked on making money. No moral paragon to begin with, he grows more destructive of his family and friends and himself as his need to make money keeps growing, Although he mouths the traditional Wall Street moral spin about investment, Belfort’s game is all about taking the investor’s money, no matter what line of dishonesty is necessary. Scorsese identifies a kind of animal rapaciousness that lives within each of us, a spirit that Wall Street not only unleashes, but provokes to more audacious predations.

In an early scene in the film, above, young Belfort is tuned into this spirit by a mentor played by Matthew McConaughey. It’s a funny scene–McConaughey is kind of over-the-top, but as the film progresses we see that is as prescient as John the Baptist. He is the one who introduces the animal appeal at work here.

By the final sequence of the film, we see that Belfort has infested this spirit in hundreds of others–despite abundant evidence that such greed is manifestly injurious to us. In this masterful sequence, we see Belfort just as he has determined to act against the wise advice of his father and his lawyer, and reject a plea-bargain that would have cost him his firm but preserved ill-gotten his wealth. Instead, he summons the spirits–“the animal spirits” that John Maynard Keynes recognized?–and defiantly rejects the government’s deal. He cannot stop himself.

And what happens? He sort of gets away with it. He receives a a three-year stretch at a country club prison, surrenders much of his money but remains quite rich, and maintains the ability to earn. We see the poor honest FBI agent (an excellent Kyle Chandler) going home on the subway, we see the little people of the world leading their sad and dismal lives, and we see that Belfort remains a rich, widely admired pig. In a masterstroke of understatemnt, the film ends looking into the faces of a room full of aspiring salesmen, people who covet wealth and want the extravagantly indulgent life of Jordan Belfort. As we see their eager faces, the music comes up. Scorsese, not known for his subtlety, picked a a jazz instrumental. The title of the piece is `Cast Your Fate to the Wind.”

It’s still your choice–you’ve been warned.

January 31, 2014

WE HAVE A COVER

Filed under: Books & Authors,Media — Jamie @ 1:03 pm

get-attachment-1

January 28, 2014

KING IGNORAMUS

Filed under: Media,The Economy — Jamie @ 2:27 pm

I don’t know who this toad Kevin O’Leary is, but somewhere in the great media world he has a job opining on the global situation. I don’t know what the rest of his body of work indicates, but this excerpt alone shows that he, and what’s more, whoever hired him, should be sent back to the saloon (or perhaps country club) where he was discovered. When his co-host reports a statistic from Oxfam that finds that the worth of the world’s 85 richest people is equal to that if the world’s 3.5 billion poorest people, O’Leary says “It’s fantastic. This is a great thing because. . . everybody gets the motivation to look up to the one percent and say I want become one of those people. I’m gonna fight hard to get up to the top.”

Think about it: the desperate poverty of billions is fantastic. Surely this is one of the most smug, self-satisfied, and ignorant observations ever made. Clearly the ingredient that is missing in many of those lives is not motivation. Often it is something like water. Or food. Motivation, my ass. This man has never known an instant of this sort of poverty in his life.

January 23, 2014

BEHIND IN HISTORY

Filed under: History,Media — Jamie @ 1:17 pm

jen-selter-photoThe media has been all over itself lately following Jen Selter, a young woman of no particular distinction other than having a nearly perfect butt. As the New York Post reported today, “The ample-curved Long Island native was working at a gym in March 2012 when she started taking photographs of herself working out. Since then, Selter’s gathered 2 million Instagram followers, more than half a million Facebook fans and 200,000 Twitter followers.” She recently signed a sports management deal with The Legacy Agency. “We believe she can be the next Jillian Michaels,” said TLA agent Andrew Witlieb, even though Selter, 20, has no formal fitness or broadcasting training.

alg_kardash_jloWhether Selter has talent talent seems almost beside the point: when the public discovers an ass on a young woman, everything else disappears. Kim Kardashian used her butt to reestablish her family’s fortune; Jennifer Lopez used her shapely ass as the cornerstone of a lengthy show business career. This kind of sensational fascination extends at least back to the story of Saartjie Baartman, the so-called Hottentot Venus. Baartman–perhaps not her real name–worked as a nursemaid in Cape Town. According to African Queen: the Real Life of the Hottentot Venus, by Rachel Holmes, in 1810, when Baartman’s owners ran into financial difficulties, they decided to display Baartman in Europe, where curiosity about Africa was high. Writes Holmes, “a pretty maidservant with notable buttocks and a spotty giraffe skin were a winning combination on which to stake their future.” In other words, like Selter, JLo and Kardashian, she entered show business.

The-Hottentot-Venus-In-The-Salon-Of-The-Duchess-Of-Berry,-1830A trader named Pieter Willem Cesars bought Baartman and took her to Georgian London, where freak shows were a Piccadilly staple. Six days a week, Baartmen was displayed as a kind of “scantily clad totem goddess,” the Hottentot Venus, sex incarnate. She performed suggestive dances while wearing a flesh-colored silk costume that fit her like a second skin. She was a hit. Wrote the London Morning Post, “her contour and formation certainly surpass any thing [sic] of the kind ever seen in Europe, or perhaps ever produced on Earth.” Although British abolitionists helped her achieve freedom, Baartman’s life ended sadly: she and Cesars moved to Paris, where she became an alcoholic and a prostitute, and died at 26, a victim of sexual and racial exploitation. Thankfully, when such things happen today, agents are involved.

January 22, 2014

FRANK LUNTZ’S DISCONTENTS

Filed under: Media,Politics — Jamie @ 11:29 am

62a57dfe5There is a sad, fascinating, hilarious article in The Atlantic about Frank Luntz, a “public-opinion gure” who has been a highly effective servant of the Republican party since the largely content-free, package-rich Contract With America triumph of 1994. In the article, Luntz reveals to Writer Molly Ball that he is having some sort of crisis–in this case, an existential crisis that strikes to the very core of his being. Luntz, who possesses the ad man’s minor genius of being able to come up with a phrase that crystalizes the inchoate feelings of the masses, has come to the conclusion that Americans not longer persuadable–that “America is too divided, President Obama too partisan, and the country in the grip of an entitlement mentality that is out of control.”

Ball captures Luntz deep in a funk of disillusion. Writes Ball, “It was what Luntz heard from the American people that scared him. They were contentious and argumentative. They didn’t listen to each other as they once had. They weren’t interested in hearing other points of view. They were divided one against the other, black vs. white, men vs. women, young vs. old, rich vs. poor. “They want to impose their opinions rather than express them,” is the way he describes what he saw. “And they’re picking up their leads from here in Washington.” Haven’t political disagreements always been contentious, I ask? “Not like this,” he says. “Not like this.” Luntz knew that he, a maker of political messages and attacks and advertisements, had helped create this negativity, and it haunted him. But it was Obama he principally blamed. The people in his focus groups, he perceived, had absorbed the president’s message of class divisions, haves and have-nots, of redistribution. It was a message Luntz believed to be profoundly wrong, but one so powerful he had no slogans, no arguments with which to beat it back. In reelecting Obama, the people had spoken. And the people, he believed, were wrong. Having spent his career telling politicians what the people wanted to hear, Luntz now believed the people had been corrupted and were beyond saving. Obama had ruined the electorate, set them at each others’ throats, and there was no way to turn back.”

I’ve met Luntz on two occasions, and he is impressively smart, the kind of guy who is so much smarter than anyone else in the room that he literally squirms with impatience when his clients are slow to see the end point that he knows they will eventually reach ten minutes ahead. But his disgruntlement is that of a pop tunesmith whose songs aren’t selling ever since thee kids started listening to that damn rock and roll. Luntz is a confirmed free marketeer, and he seems to be having trouble adjusting to the fact that many people have concluded that the free market has not delivered the prosperity it has promised.

Or maybe it does deeper. Luntz is nothing if not a creature of Washington, of the point of view that power derives from finding the right combination of words. But starting with Reagan, and then continuing on through Gingrich, DeLay, Palin, Bachmann, the Tea Party and so on, Republicans have used words to gain power–and then to delegitimate power. And as far as the entitilement culture goes, it is ingrained nowhere more deeply than on Wall Street.

Luntz has a squat build, a big slab of a face, and a mop of light-brown hair. His affect is by turns boyish and hangdog. People meeting him for the first time always comment on the loud sneakers he typically pairs with slacks or a suit. This is by design: He began wearing them, he says, to divert people’s attention from his considerable girth. He found he enjoyed collecting designer sneakers, and now has more than 100 pairs—all of which he wears, even though some are rare editions worth more than $1,000. Luntz is a collector. Before moving to Las Vegas this month, he spent most of his free time in a $6 million mansion in Los Angeles crammed with American political artifacts and politically themed decor. It also has a bowling alley. Luntz’s house in Northern Virginia is similarly crammed, but with pop-culture collectibles. (He also keeps an apartment in New York City.)

Luntz lives alone. Never married, he tells me he is straight (and that no reporter has ever asked him about his sexual orientation before), just unable to sustain a romantic relationship because of all the time he spends on the road. “My parents were married for 47 years. I’m never in the same place more than 47 minutes,” he says. When I point out he’s chosen that lifestyle, he says, “You sound like my relatives.”

Luntz did political polling for Pat Buchanan’s 1992 primary campaign and Ross Perot’s independent presidential bid, but he became truly famous when he hitched his star to Newt Gingrich, helping draft the Contract With America and advising Gingrich’s crusading Republican majority. He considers Gingrich and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, another former client, his most important political mentors. In the ’90s, he became known as the man who could sell any political message by picking the right words. “Estate tax” sounds worthy and the right thing for a democracy to do, but “death tax” sounds distasteful and unfair. “Global warming” sounds scary, but “climate change” sounds natural or even benign. Luntz became a well-compensated speaker, TV commentator, and convener of on-camera focus groups, which he led with manic curiosity to shed light on what the people really thought about political debates and presidential speeches. “It’s not what you say,” goes his oft-repeated slogan, “it’s what they hear.”

Luntz is famous not just on television—he has talking-head contracts with both CBS and Fox News, a rare arrangement—but among the political and business elite. When he walks into the Capitol Hill Club, he is beset by Republican members of Congress wanting to talk to him and soak up his aura of celebrity. He boasts that he speaks to at least one Fortune 500 CEO every day. Yet, in his telling, he is still the little guy, the outsider, the schlub—half anxious, half awed by the trappings of power. He tells of being summoned for a conversation with Bill Clinton and being unable to enjoy the honor of the occasion because of the panic he felt at the president’s vise grip on his shoulder. “This is Bill fucking Clinton, asking me to deliver a message to the Senate majority leader, and I’m about to faint,” he recalls, ruefully. “Because I understand the significance of this conversation, and I am not worthy of it.”

Luntz’s work has always been predicated on a sort of populism—the idea that politicians must figure out what voters want to hear, and speak to them in language that comports with it. He proudly claims that his famous catchphrases, like branding healthcare reform a “government takeover” in 2010, are not his coinages but the organic product of his focus groups. The disheveled appearance, the sardonic wit, all add up to a sort of tilting against the establishment, an insistence that it listen to the Real People.

But what if the Real People are wrong? That is the possibility Luntz now grapples with. What if the things people want to hear from their leaders are ideas that would lead the country down a dangerous road?

“You should not expect a handout,” he tells me. “You should not even expect a safety net. When my house burns down, I should not go to the government to rebuild it. I should have the savings, and if I don’t, my neighbors should pitch in for me, because I would do that for them.” The entitlement he now hears from the focus groups he convenes amounts, in his view, to a permanent poisoning of the electorate—one that cannot be undone. “We have now created a sense of dependency and a sense of entitlement that is so great that you had, on the day that he was elected, women thinking that Obama was going to pay their mortgage payment, and that’s why they voted for him,” he says. “And that, to me, is the end of what made this country so great.”
“It seems like the Democrats are going so far overboard, and the Republicans are going nowhere. So I’m mad at both of them.”

To my ears, this sounds like rather standard-issue up-by-your-bootstraps conservative dogma. But to Luntz, it not a matter of left or right. He periodically comes under attack from the right for not toeing the Republican line, and has been critical of the party’s right wing. “It seems like the Democrats are going so far overboard, and the Republicans are going nowhere,” he tells me. “So I’m mad at both of them.” Increasingly, he says, he seeks to maintain relationships with members of both parties. His closest friendship in politics today, he says, is with a Democrat, Senator Michael Bennet of Colorado (disclosure: Bennet is the brother of Atlantic editor in chief James Bennet). “It’s not weird,” Luntz says. “He’s just a decent guy. We play foosball.”

Luntz’s political ideas, as far as I can tell, amount to a sort of Perotian rich man’s centrism, the type of thing you might hear from a Morning Joe panel or a CEOs’ retreat. We’ve got to do something about the deficit, for our children’s sake. We ought to have universal healthcare, but without forcing people to buy insurance through the government. We need immigration reform, but that doesn’t have to include a path to citizenship. The bankers who contributed to the financial crisis ought to be in jail, but we ought to stop demonizing the financial-services industry. To the tycoons who embrace them, these kinds of ideas are not partisan or ideological at all. They’re the common-sense plans we’d all be able to agree on if Congress would stop bickering and devote itself to Getting Things Done.

Most of all, Luntz says, he wishes we would stop yelling at one another. Luntz dreams of drafting some of the rich CEOs he is friends with to come up with a plan for saving America from its elected officials. “The politicians have failed; now it’s up to the business community to stand up and be heard,” he tells me. “I want the business community to step up.” Having once thought elites needed to listen to regular people, he now wants the people to learn from their moneyed betters.

Luntz’s populism has turned on itself and become its opposite: fear and loathing of the masses. “I am grateful that Occupy Wall Street turned out to be a bunch of crazy, disgusting, rude, horrible people, because they were onto something,” he says. “Limbaugh made fun of me when I said that Occupy Wall Street scares me. Because he didn’t hear what I hear. He doesn’t see what I see.” The people are angry. They want more, not because we have not given them enough but because we have given them too much.

Luntz is not sure what to do with his newfound awareness. He’s still best known for his political resume, but politics hasn’t been his principal business for some time: He still advises his friends here and there, but he no longer has any ongoing political contracts. (Corporations and television networks, not politicians, are his main sources of income.) He goes to as many NFL games as he can, where he sits in the owner’s box courtesy of onetime client Jerry Richardson, the owner of the Carolina Panthers, with whom he has developed a close rapport. “I don’t like this. I don’t like this,” he says, meaning D.C., the schmoozing, the negativity, the division. At football games, “People are happy, families are barbecuing outside, people are playing pitch and toss. A little too much beer, but you can’t have everything. They’re just happy and they’re celebrating with each other and it’s such a mix of people.” The first week of football season, he went to four games in eight days: Sunday night, Monday night, Thursday night, and then Sunday again.

Luntz would also like to break into Hollywood as a consultant, but he can’t get his calls returned. He can’t figure it out. He thinks it must be a partisan thing. In every other industry, he says, 90 percent of his presentations result in a contract. But in entertainment, he pitches and pitches and pitches (he wouldn’t tell me which studios or shows) and things seem to go well, but then there’s some excuse. Not this time. Not the right project.

If he could, Luntz would like to have a consulting role on The Newsroom, Aaron Sorkin’s HBO drama. “I know I’m not supposed to like it, but I love it,” he says. He feels a kinship with Jeff Daniels’ character, the gruff, guilt-ridden, ostensibly Republican antihero, who is uncomfortable with small talk and driven by a “mission to civilize.” “I love that phrase,” Luntz says. “That doesn’t happen in anything that we do.”

When he’s at home in Los Angeles, The Newsroom is the high point of Luntz’s week. He turns off his phone and gets a plate of spaghetti bolognese and a Coke Zero and sits in front of his 85-inch television, alone in his 14,000-square-foot palace. “That’s as good as it gets for me,” he says.

But today, Luntz is late for his afternoon talk to a D.C. lobbying shop. “Am I whining?” he asks. “Just say it if I am.” I tell him it sounds like he’s going through something very real, very human. “I am nothing if not human,” he says, breaking into a grin. “I’m super-human. I’m a human-and-one-fifth. My God, if I’m not careful, I’ll have to go not to the big and tall but the big and bigger store!” And then he walks away toward the elevator, off to do his soft-shoe routine for another audience of the rich and powerful.

December 31, 2013

PETER KAPLAN 1954-2013

Filed under: Media — Jamie @ 9:49 am

The writer Penelope Green once used the term “our set’’ to describe all of us who came up together in the early eighties, and I knew exactly what she meant. Whether we were at Spy or The New York Observer or 7 Days or Wig Wag or one of the established magazines, we were all members of the Class of the Mid Eighties, and we watched what each other did like hawks..

It’s kind of amazing that during the whole of our coeval life and work spans, I met Peter Kaplan, one of the star performers of our set, only a small handful of times. I have to believe that was by mutual choice; Peter, who died on November 29th, was an exuberant type, but he ran Manhattan Inc. and the Observer, he never gave me any assignments nor accepted any of my pitches, and I have to assume that was simply because he didn’t like my act. Fair enough. Enough other people did. And apparently he liked plenty of other people’s stuff. Their remembrances of his special grace made that seem as though that his enthusiasm was one of the great beneficences a writer could know.

One of the earliest times I met him was in 1983 or 1984, when he was helping Jane Amsterdam run Manhattan Inc., and I went to see him. I don’t remember a great deal about that meeting, except that he wasn’t buying what I was selling, and worse, that maybe the whole meeting was just a courtesy to our mutual pal Sam Campbell, and that Peter didn’t expect ever to have an interest in me. But at some point in our talk, he began to enthuse over an article he had read, a piece that probably ran in his magazine, about a real estate developer. The developer was an unpolished Jewish businessman, probably around seventy, who along with his properties ran an import business. Peter read from the piece to me, stressing a quote from the developer in which he offered the visiting reporter some of his imported goods. “Have a Havana,’’ the gruff, garrolous businessman said, “and a banana.’’

Peter repeated that line three or four times, chortling louder each time. “Have a Havana, and a banana.’’ He loved it, but it was a dog’s whistle to me. I just didn’t hear it.

And then, some years later, I did.

Our industry is shattered, our craft is disappearing, and now our set has begun to die.

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