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My God, What Trouble You Could Cause!


Felker at The Village Voice as his company was being taken over.   

Some on the staff had issues with the upscale direction in which Felker had taken the magazine. Jimmy Breslin was one of the few who took action.

JUDY DANIELS, early New York managing editor.
He and Jimmy Breslin had a falling-out early on. Jimmy thought that the magazine was too elitist, and he always referred to most of the women around there as “those college girls.” It was an article on maids or housekeepers or some “you know how hard it is for people to get good help.” And the piece was great, but it was badly titled. It had a horrible picture on the front cover that had a maid in a black uniform with a white apron. That was, I think, just the thing that set Jimmy off. He ranted, and it turned into something that became a split. So Jimmy gave up his stock in New York Magazine, took his name off the masthead. At that time, the stock was worthless.

JIMMY BRESLIN, writer, contributor for New York’s first issue.
I don’t want to say nothin’ about that bum. I fucking hate the guy.

Felker’s volume and temper were legendary—but his bark was worse than his bite.

AMANDA URBAN, literary agent and former New York general manager.
When I started, I just sat there with my mouth open. Because he was loud, he was enthusiastic, he barreled around shouting orders to people. I got to see a certain amount of what was going on in his life just by being at that desk, answering the phone, doing appointments, and it was completely amazing to me. I realized that one day I wanted to grow up to be like Clay. I kept thinking, At what point in someone’s life do they just know everybody? And know everything?

JAMES BRADY, writer, editor of post-Felker New York.
The old New York Magazine headquarters down on 32nd or 33rd Street on the East Side was a dump of a building, and when it rained heavily on the roof, the water came down the stairs like a waterfall, four floors down to the ground. We had cubicles with partitions instead of walls. And so you could hear everything that was going on. And I remember the art director, Walter Bernard, was in Clay’s “office” one day, or Clay was in his office, and Clay was cursing him out with every four-letter word ever heard. And then he stormed out and went on his way. And I took Walter Bernard aside shortly after that; I was just a columnist at that point. I said, “Doesn’t that bother you, Walter, all that cussing you out?” And Walter Bernard’s a wonderful guy, he said, “Oh, no, it’s very healthy for Clay to vent like that. We all encourage it.”

WALTER BERNARD, New York’s first art director.
I think we were doing a picture story on Joe Namath. I had come from Esquire, as did Clay, and had a certain idea of how a picture story should be designed. Clay had come not only from Esquire but Life magazine, which he thought of as the epitome of the great picture stories. In my opinion, Life had great photographs but not great design, so we had a big argument about this picture story. It got louder and louder, and finally I said, “Have it your way, I’m done,” and I walked out. Clay was having a party that night. Later in the afternoon, Gail Sheehy called to make sure I was still coming. I did—still fuming—but to Clay, it was like it never happened. Clay had a great ability to have a fight, finish it, and forget about it immediately.

He hated confrontation. As much as he yelled and screamed at people, I really do believe he hated to fire people. He often did it so gently that people didn’t even know they’d been fired. Particularly at Esquire. Really, the worst job I ever had in the world was … when Clay had fired somebody and they would keep coming to work … and he would say to me, “Why is that person coming to work?” And I would say, “Didn’t you fire the person?” And he would say, “Well, I thought so.”

Clay liked women romantically, and he liked them professionally, and in fact, the two spheres were seldom separate. Thrown out of Duke for sneaking a woman into his dormitory (he was later reinstated), he was married twice before he was 40, the second time to the actress Pamela Tiffin, and had also had several other serious relationships, some with writers. He married Gail Sheehy, the love of his life, in 1984, after a long, on-again, off-again relationship.


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