Last night on TV I happened to catch a little bit of the movie How to Lose Friends & Alienate People. The 2008 box-office bomb, starring Simon Pegg and Kirsten Dunst, allegedly tells the real-life story of quondam Vanity Fair writer Toby Young and how he managed to incinerate his career and fuck up his Big Lucky Break.
I was mildly interested in the poorly reviewed film, because many years back I toiled away as a full-time intern at Spy magazine—the original Spy magazine, founded in 1986 by Kurt Andersen, Thomas Phillips, and E. Graydon Carter (well, he doesn't use the "E." much anymore). During my short-lived time at Spy, in which I beat out hundreds of other college-aged applicants, between 1990 and 1991, I managed to get a couple stories published (here and here) and meet some incredibly talented people and made at least one close friend. What I didn't manage to do, however, was parlay that experience into a meaningful and lasting career in magazine publishing—or publishing in general. (I guess this disproved the adage, "It's not what you know, it's who you know"?)
Thus, I was amused to see the Hollywoodization of the "rise and fall" of the Toby Young character (named Sidney Young in the film). Even more amusing was seeing Jeff "the Dude" Bridges play Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter. Now, I know Graydon Carter. Sure, I believe that yeah, if I was in a room and he saw me he'd do everything in his power to avoid me, but at least he would know who I am—I think. Not because at the Spy magazine Christmas party in 1990 he came up to me and said, "David, I think you're one of the best reporters we got—seriously." No, not because of that. Probably because I was one of only two full-time interns, and my Milwaukee roots stood out in a land of Ivy-League-educated, East Coast editors.
But back to the film. Bridges did a pretty good job aping Carter's mannerisms—at least how I saw then back in the Spy days: Carter's manic obsession with cigarettes and chain-smoking, his reverse Elvis hairdo. I didn't and still don't know the Carter of Vanity Fair. Thus, watching the film could only bring me back to the days of Spy, when Carter seemed to be just a regular guy: a great editor and actually a decent person who had knew exactly what Spy was supposed to be.
Canned scene after canned scene in the movie reminded me of the fun times I had at Spy and how lucky I was to have landed an internship there; of the many times I saw Graydon championing dress-down Fridays seven days a week, wearing a white T-shirt and cargo shorts; how he informed us one summer Friday that the Spy magazine softball team, of which I was a member, would be going head to head with Vanity Fair in Central Park. He laughingly predicted they'd "arrive in a fleet of Lincoln Town cars," but we'd be much cooler arriving by subway. Yeah, I remembered those times as Jeff Bridges playing Graydon excoriated Sidney Young in the film.
My last interaction with Graydon Carter? It was unfortunate and rather telling about how times had changed. I was at the Cannes Film Festival a few years back—I go there often to freelance write and report. Vanity Fair was hosting its massive celebrity party at the Hotel du Cap in Antibes. I called the magazine's publicist and asked her if I might be able to score an invite. She said, "I'm sorry, David, the party is completely overbooked." I said—and I never pull this kind of name-dropping bullshit—"Oh, well, not sure if you know this, but I worked at Spy magazine years ago with Graydon. Not sure if he knows I'm here. Any chance I could get in?"
The publicist, not missing a beat, said, "Yes, Graydon knows you're here, but we don't have room for you. I'm sorry."