A shocked Evans promptly phoned the editor, who had wrongly assumed that she had leaked the “exclusive” to the News—which had discovered the audio version of the book prematurely on sale—and had it out with him in a profanity-laced screaming match. “It was one of the worst fights I ever had,” says Evans, adding that she and Allan later patched things up (although the Post did indeed boycott Meili’s best seller).
But Allan is also a comedian—part Stephen Colbert, part Benny Hill—a tabloid circusmaster of undeniable talent. When Paris Hilton was released from jail, he commissioned a photo-illustration of the oversexed celebutard being hoisted aloft in triumph by a crowd in Times Square, with the headline V-D DAY! PARIS LIBERATED, BIMBOS REJOICE. The front-page headline for Leona Helmsley’s bequest to her little white Maltese: RICH BITCH.
Allan’s best work, in fact, has often involved animal themes. AXIS OF WEASEL, a front page that convulsed even antiwar New York, followed on a photo of the French and German ministers of the U.N. with weasel heads superimposed.
Another classic was SURRENDER MONKEYS (about the dovish prescriptions of the Iraq Study Group, featuring Photoshopped images of co-chairmen James Baker and Lee Hamilton as hirsute apes). Concerning that much-discussed cover line, Allan explains, “We thought [the Iraq report] would be a whitewash, and it was. They urged, essentially, immediate withdrawal. It’s like that joke: How many Frenchmen does it take to defend Paris? Nobody knows—it’s never been tried! Frankly, I think appeasement at any level should be opposed.”
Dubbo, the sleepy agricultural town where Allan grew up in the fifties and sixties, about 250 miles northwest of Sydney in Australia’s Western Plains, was so remote that it barely received a signal from a distant black-and-white television station, forcing young Col—short for the never-used Colin—to amuse himself by reading. The oldest of four boys, sons of an electrical-supply-store owner, he devoured Hemingway, especially the Nick Adams stories, and was so riveted by William Manchester’s Death of a President that he read it eight times.
“I started reading newspapers as an early teenager, and I enjoyed them immensely,” Allan tells me at the Upper West Side restaurant Ouest, during another hangover-inducing interview in which we end up closing down a neighborhood bar near Allan’s house. “So I figured if they were so much fun to read, they must be a lot of fun to work on.”
Allan hopes the ‘Post’ never wins a Pulitzer. “Who’d want to win an award that’s dished out by the hard left?”
He flunked out of the Australian National University in Canberra, the capital city, where his discovery of girls and beer after a sheltered life among straitlaced Irish Presbyterians proved just too much of a distraction from his political-science classes. “I remember protesting against the Vietnam War, not because I believed in ending the war but because it was a way to meet chicks,” Allan recalls.
He found a job on a local newspaper named, bizarrely, the Daily Liberal, where he spent a couple of years covering cops and local politics before landing a cub reporter’s position at the Daily Mirror, Murdoch’s afternoon paper in Sydney.
The city in 1974 had 3 million people and was roiling with tabloid rivalries. Murdoch’s Mirror competed in the afternoon against the Fairfax-owned outlet, the Sun. “When I went to Sydney, everything changed for me,” Allan recalls. “My friends will tell you, I hate losing. I simply hate to lose. I’m not a good loser. So what happened was I got into this newspaper environment in a big city and I found a place for these instincts.”
In 1978, Allan was dispatched to New York for a three-year tour covering the United States for News Limited’s Aussie papers and, every so often, the London Sun, which once flew him out to a concert in Seattle to ask Brit pop star Cliff Richard if he was gay—a question that got Allan tossed out of the singer’s dressing room, and hurled against a wall, by two hulking bodyguards. Another time, he spent the night in jail after doorstepping the uncooperative suburban parents of Nancy Spungen, the murdered girlfriend of former Sex Pistol Sid Vicious.
In those days, the only way he could get a table at Elaine’s was when he showed up with New Zealander Neal Travis, who had recently left “Page Six” for the “Intelligencer” column (when this magazine was owned by Murdoch). Travis, who died of cancer in 2002, took the young Aussie under his wing, treating him to an upgrade of his rumpled wardrobe at his personal tailor and escorting him to Studio 54.
He met Rupert Murdoch over drinks one night with Travis and another Australian (and prodigious consumer of alcohol), Steve Dunleavy, then a reporter for Murdoch’s Star magazine and already a figure in Manhattan’s tabloid demimonde. The bond was solidified over cocktails in London. “I didn’t throw up on his shirt,” says Allan, “so I figured everything went okay.”
Another beverage Allan has drunk deeply of is Murdoch’s Kool-Aid. “Rupert is a very fine journalist,” he tells me, as part of a long, not-inaccurate soliloquy on Murdoch’s many talents. “You can take any person on a newspaper—anyone—and he can do their job. He’s simply a gifted journalist.”