— JASMEEN DUGAL
Tina Brown — at the helm of Vanity Fair — was the envy of journalists and editors in the eighties and nineties. Reading her 'Diaries', it's easy to see why. From editor of British magazine Tatler at twenty-five to the editor of New York's Vanity Fair, languishing in financial loss until she took over and transformed it, she had it all, and she recorded each day's events carefully! Most of the book narrates magazine politics, making it interesting to those involved, their colleagues and rivals, celebrity journalists and editors, than to the rest of us.
However, the charm soon wears off and here's why. If these diaries were written for herself, it would be comprehensible why Brown documented each moment of her editorship. But published for public consumption, the diaries could have benefited from being discreet about her rising trajectory, what with powerhouse names dropped throughout the voluminous book — Donald Trump, Michael Jackson, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Oscar de la Renta, Princess Diana and many more. Unable to detach the author from the self, Brown comes across as intoxicated with her buoyant success and merciless about Manhattan elite.
She skewers fashion designers and Hollywood stars, royalty and editors with merciless glee.
'Calvin was incredulous that Marvin Feldman, the head of FIT, asked him if he could honour him for his ad campaign. ''Doesn't he understand that I wouldn't want to be honoured for that!'' It was indeed a crass move that betrayed Feldman's real intent. ''Let me honour you for your marketing budget!'''
''Joan Collins and her sister Jackie having a real catfight!''
Colleagues are mercilessly butchered.
''Rotten miserable day. When I had my weekly meeting with Si today in his office, he wasn't particularly warm… I am getting sick of the Conde Nast atmosphere of an insecure royal court. It struck me not for the first time as I returned his shifty gaze that he is untrustworthy…''
No one has been spared.
''To hell with the PRs!'' I shrieked. ''PRs are the scum of the earth!''
After five years at Vanity Fair, she remarks, ''It's amazing how fast the eighties recedes in the back mirror… Dynasty finally bit the dust at the end of last year, and it now feels as antique as ancient Rome.''
And so it continues… until she is offered The New Yorker. ''My heart begins to race and I close my eyes. In the next room I can hear Izzy wake up and call out for me. But I also hear something I can't resist: the sweet Gershwin strains of a new opportunity.''
As I close the book, after honestly skipping a few pages in each chapter, I have mixed feelings. Tina Brown was a trailblazer, with tunnel-vision to transform powerhouse publications. Media and social insiders will relish her real-time descriptions of how she rebuilt Vanity Fair and negotiated office politics. Other readers might snooze, or be shocked, at the indiscreet comments about everyone who crossed her path. Her most intimate observations however — marriage to Harry Evans, concerns about their son, genuine anguish of seeing creative young people die from AIDS — elevate it beyond a mere chronicle of the gilded Eighties. Read The Vanity Fair Diaries: 1983-1992 if you're an industry insider — or a voyeur!
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