• NICK PILEGGI
I wanted to do a story on seltzer bottles. I mean it was crazy—seltzer bottles?—and he let me go with it. The seltzer men really knew about the ethnic world of New York, which is really what we were writing about. They could tell you about a neighborhood by the kind of soda they sold. In the Jewish neighborhoods, seltzer was very big. In the black and Hispanic neighborhoods, the multicolored drinks were big: the oranges, the grapes, the limes. In the Italian neighborhoods, cream soda was inordinately big. The old geezers who used to make wine in their basements, they made this bitter, terrible wine, but it was their pride and joy, so the only way it was drinkable is if you mixed it with the cream soda.
• MIMI SHERATON, food writer and early New York contributing editor.
He knew the value of service journalism, and he wasn’t ashamed of it. He made service fashionable—that was his genius.
• GAEL GREENE, longtime New York food critic.
I didn’t have the credentials to tell chefs who had been cooking since they were 14 that there was something wrong with their sauce. But what I could do as a newspaper reporter, which I had been, was to say who, why, what, when, where. I wrote the sociology of New York restaurants. One of his ideas was how to beat the menu rap. He wanted me to go to all the great restaurants, expensive restaurants, and see if you could order a salad or soup and not be thrown out. How cheap could you be and be treated decently in these snob French restaurants?
• BYRON DOBELL
One of the great breakthrough stories—it was so obvious and yet no one had done it—Jack Nessel addressed the whole business of finding an apartment in New York, which was becoming incredibly difficult, as we know now. And no one had said, “Here are the problems, and here is what you are going to be up against.” And we did that as a cover story, and it immediately announced a new way of looking at New York City, on a practical, down-to-earth basis. It seems so obvious, but the great ideas are always obvious.
• ROBERT BENTON
I had an idea for a story and I was trying to work it out and I couldn’t get it. Clay said, “Well, what is it?” and I said, “I don’t want to tell you yet,” and he said, “You know you’ll never get another idea until you get rid of this one. Don’t worry about this one being right, just get it out and keep on going.” It was the smartest piece of advice anyone gave me about anything connected to any creative activity.
• BYRON DOBELL
The New York Times was very unhappy, because we were doing things that the Times didn’t do in terms of service, which of course later they completely imitated. The Times was very jealous and very angry. Every time we broke a story and they had to pick it up, they never said New York Magazine, they only said “a New York magazine,” and that was the pettiest thing I’ve ever come across in journalism, and they did it for a couple of years.
• DOROTHY SEIBERLING, early New York culture editor.
I went for my interview with Times executive editor Abe Rosenthal. He started kind of whittling away, saying disparaging things about New York Magazine to indicate “Well, we don’t do that kind of thing here,” and then he asked me what I thought, and I gave him a very upbeat, rosy view of it. I said I thought that it was a wonderful, lively, inventive kind of magazine, and I thought that Clay just started a whole new movement in the kind of magazines that could be a success and be creative and constructive. And Abe was sort of silent and then he said, “Well, we’re trying to imitate him over here.”
• RICHARD REEVES, early New York political writer.
I never thought of Clay as a political person. There was never any pressure of any kind from left or right from him. And some of his friends—Rupert Murdoch, Sir Jimmy Goldsmith—were rabid right-wingers, and he seemed perfectly comfortable with those people, as he seemed with people like me or Pete Hamill or Gloria Steinem or the rest of us, who were all people of the left. What he was interested in was power and how people used it. I’m sure we were considered a limousine-liberal crowd. But I think Clay thought more of limousines than he did of liberals.