Tom Wolfe Remembers Clay Felker

Next week’s issue of New York Magazine will contain an oral history of our late founder Clay Felker’s career both here and elsewhere. In the following sample, Tom Wolfe talks about Felker’s “dominant New York gene.”

I knew Clay was from Webster Groves, Missouri, a place I had never been. I was curious about Webster Groves because Clay was such an unusual person. I was sure that much of him could be discovered there, because everyone arrives in New York with the past sewn into the lining of his clothes. I finally had a trip to St. Louis, and I realized it was nearby. So I went out to Webster Groves, and discovered that Webster Groves had absolutely no influence on Clay whatsoever. Clay was born with a dominant New York gene. I talked to his sister about this. She said that the first complete sentence that Clay uttered as an infant was: “What do you mean we don’t have reservations!”

I mean, New York was made for Clay, who was simultaneously thoroughly knowledgeable about the intricacies of status in New York, and at the same time he was just wowed by it. He was agog at what all of these wonderful people were doing. I must say that I shared that, and it was probably one of the reasons we got along so well. —Tom Wolfe