• NANCY NEWHOUSE, a senior editor in New York’s early years.
I have never seen anyone who is as open to his intuition as Clay was. He had no barriers between his intuition and himself. Most of us have all kinds of defenses. But with Clay, there was no barrier. Sometimes he was wrong, but he was right enough of the time, and spectacularly right, that it was astounding.
• NICK PILEGGI, writer and early New York contributing editor.
Clay had the attention span of a gnat. He’d be onto something really brilliant and then skip off to something else really brilliant. He’d give six or seven different things the same amount of attention and then get up and walk out of the room. And we’d be like, Where the hell did Clay go?
• MARK JACOBSON, writer and longtime New York contributing editor.
He was dressed in his three-piece suit and his gold cuff links and his $50 haircut, which is probably $300 now. He was just this totally upper-class guy. I would hang around the magazine, and he thought it was hilarious. He loved that he had a guy working for him that would come to work with holes in his pants. When he found out I was driving a taxicab and working for him, he thought it was the greatest thing he ever heard. It made him feel connected, attached to the center of the world.
• NICK PILEGGI
He would be out all night at dinner parties writing ideas for stories on little pieces of paper. He was like a sponge to the city. He’d come in to the office in the morning, and he’d empty his pockets of all these papers and all these ideas. And here we are, these dopey young writers, and he’d throw these ideas out.
• ROBERT BENTON
Whatever was around us, you made a story out of—we all learned that from Clay.
• BYRON DOBELL, early New York and Esquire editor.
He dined out every night. And he talked and people talked to him. He came back the next morning and said, “This is what I’ve learned, and this is what I’ve heard.” He was, at heart, an incredible reporter who got other people to do the work.
THE BIRTH OF THE NEW CITY
On April 8, 1968, Felker published the first issue of New York Magazine, with an elegant cityscape for a cover, and set about revising the hierarchies of urban experience. Felker had observed something new happening in the city, and he’d brought his own outsider’s sense of romance and a fascination with power and status. The magazine he made had a new palette of interests, with no brow distinctions. Restaurants were as important as business, or politics. Everything that went on in a city dweller’s mind was something to be curious about.
• NICK PILEGGI
Cities were really down when he started all this. We had just come out of the fifties, where the cities were slums and people were getting mugged and Chicken Delight wouldn’t deliver. All of a sudden, he’s writing about all the great stuff about a city: the greatest dry cleaner, the greatest grocery store, where to get the best ice cream. Clay is out there reviewing restaurants. Little ones, cheap ones. None of the newspapers were doing it. And all of that was critically important to the people who wanted to stay in the city.
• MILTON GLASER
One or two weeks after we started, we were beginning to get apprehensive that we weren’t getting any buzz or feedback. This extraordinary story came in by Barbara Goldsmith on Viva. It was a very powerful story with these extraordinary pictures that Diane Arbus had taken. She was at the height of her abilities. So we looked at this stuff, and we said this is really going to make people jump out of their seats. The story itself was very powerful, but those images were so compelling and so troubling. We thought that if this doesn’t get some conversation on the street going, we don’t know what will. At the time, Hustler and Playboy and even Vogue magazine were customarily running stories of nudes, where there didn’t seem to be the kind of apprehension or anxiety about seeing a nude in a magazine. What we didn’t realize was that this was not a nude, it was a picture of a naked person. The pictures revealed something much more deeply than the surface qualities of a woman’s body. This picture of a woman stripped down to her most fundamental psychic dimension just troubled people enormously. The response was extremely negative, and certainly from advertisers. They felt betrayed and horrified. On our part, it was a real misjudgment of the nature of the audience and what it was willing to experience. It could have put us out of business.