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A City Built of Clay

In 1966 the Trib had folded after yet another suicidal strike. Two other stricken newspapers, the Journal-American and the World-Telegram & Sun, anted up along with the Trib to stay alive with life-support in the form of a now mercifully forgotten, stillborn sheet called the World Journal Tribune. It lasted eight months, and the three comrades-of-convenience said good-bye to the business forever in 1967. I bade a sentimental good-bye to the Trib, which I had loved working for. Such wild and crazy, lovely times … like the time a mob of Cuban refugees burst into the City Room wanting my head—my head!—and I—

—but Clay didn’t have time to listen to my old war stories. I doubt that he wasted five seconds reminiscing. He knew immediately what was to be done: breathe life back into the corpse of the dear departed Sunday supplement and resurrect it as an independent national weekly magazine called New York.

Getting a weekly publication rolling from a dead start has been compared to slicing a wrist to find out how fast you can bleed. It had taken Time Inc. half a dozen years and massive transfusions of money to bring Sports Illustrated to the point where it began to turn a profit, and Clay Felker and Time Inc. didn’t belong on the same page, much less in the same paragraph. Jock Whitney had agreed to sell the name New York for $6,500, but Clay couldn’t even come up with that. He finally borrowed it from a writer, Barbara Goldsmith.

Superstar. Arbus's notorious photo of Viva.

Ironically, it was probably the intense coverage of the set-to with The New Yorker, bad as much of it was, that enabled Clay to raise the small fortune required to start up a slick-paper weekly magazine like this in less than a year. The New Yorker Affair, as people called it, had sunk Clay’s name and New York’s into everybody’s bean. I remember the day in April 1968 that New York, the freestanding magazine, made its debut. The scene was a breakfast at The Four Seasons for 1,000 advertisers, potential advertisers, media folk, PR people … in short, the cast of characters needed most by a magazine as a bottom-line business. The first 1,000 New Yorks to come off the press were to be presented to the guests as they arrived. Start-ups have their problems. The most interesting was the sight of one of the country’s best-known illustrators and designers, Milton Glaser, now art director for Clay, desperately trying to add a decorative black bar above the logo, new york, with a straight-edge and a drafting pen—upon each of the 1,000 copies—at a rate faster than the guests could come in. Somehow the bar had disappeared in the printing process. There in the grand luxe Four Seasons a desperate man was trying to show Fate what for.

New York’s first offices were on the top floor, the fourth of Glaser’s Push Pin Studio’s loft building on East 32nd Street. The building was a walk-up all the way, but who cared? Oh, to be young and in New York! Still in a blessed state of rude animal health! With virgin optimism and brand-new shrink-wrapped ambition! So it was up on the fourth floor at 207 East 32nd Street … as New York published right on time its second issue … and then the third … and then—

I was up there in New York’s new office when Clay came over to me and said, “Take a look at this. The advertising department says if we run it, we’ll lose every advertiser we have on Madison Avenue.”

This was no small thing. The new New York had been ably sold to high-end retailers on Madison Avenue and elsewhere with assurances of what a high-end magazine it would be and how much people flush with high-end boom money would love it.

Clay handed me an article entitled “La Dolce Viva,” by Barbara Goldsmith, the very one who had lent him $6,500 to buy the name New York from Jock Whitney in the first place. With it was a photograph.

I was standing up when I started reading—and found I was unwilling to interrupt myself long enough to sit down. What I had in my hands was dynamite. Tout le monde knew about the famous Andy Warhol and his famous Factory full of helpers and hangers-on. But Barbara Goldsmith’s was the first story to capture the campy creepy K-Y vaseline-y queasiness of it … the Warhol style of life—a classic example, incidentally, of what Weber meant by a status group generating a style of life … (Not only that, for an even 40 years now St. Andy’s has remained the dominant style of the lives of the artists in New York.) I looked at the photograph. I had never seen anything like it. It was a portrait of one of Warhol’s “superstars,” as he called the unknown actresses in his high-camp movies. She went by one name, Viva, the same way real celebrities such as a Liz (Taylor), Jackie (O.), and Andy did. In the photograph, Viva was reclining nude upon a ratty version of a Récamier sofa. This vision was not what one would call arousing. She looked like a hairless rabbit. You could see her entire rib cage beneath her skin except where a pair of tiny shrunken breasts were in the way. Seems she was a sometime model. She had rolled her eyes up under her skull, as if she were stoned, as being high on drugs was called at that time. Somehow the defining touch was an empty milk carton on the coffee table in the foreground. Not a syringe, not a stubbed-out reefer, not even an empty liquor bottle—but an empty milk carton. Somehow that milk carton was the perfect objective correlative, as the literary critics of the 1950s and 1960s used to say, of the mental rubbish the picture captured. The photographer’s name was Diane Arbus.