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My God, What Trouble You Could Cause!


After New York, Clay Felker had numerous jobs and consultancies and stand-alone publications: East Side Express, Downtown Express, the Daily News Tonight, Adweek, and Manhattan Inc. None of them, obviously, had anywhere near the impact of New York, and several of them failed. But the fact did not overly dismay him.

Certainly, he was disappointed when things failed, but he turned out to be an enormously resilient character. I mean, New West failed, and of course we were sort of edged out of New York. Manhattan Inc. didn’t work, and then when any number of things would fail for any number of reasons, I mean, they were not necessarily simply errors of judgment that Clay made. These are sort of complex business deals that also have to be examined, I suppose, in terms of why things succeed and why they don’t. But to Clay’s credit, he never became bitter about it. He always had an extraordinary ability to bounce back, and to do without the loss of enthusiasm. It’s really a lesson in the sense of what you have to do to stay alive.

PETER KAPLAN, Observer editor, former Manhattan Inc. editor.
Clay’s idea for Manhattan Inc. was power brokers, but it’s an intimate view of the power broker. I mean, one thing about Clay is that there are always new queens. Donna Karan is the new queen of New York. There are always new queens and new kings of New York. With Clay, there were always new princes. It was a little hyperbolic. But he brought a tremendous romance to power—there were always lots of trumpets and fights and flying flags inherent in that journalism. Clay told me this amazing story once. Life sent him out to profile Gary Cooper, and Cooper was on his last legs. He was really sick at this point. The photographer set up, and Cooper and the photographer were just about to shoot. Then suddenly he did a posture, which was this incredible cowboylike posture. He cocked his head. He put his legs in this sort of cowboy-boot-like position. Clay said suddenly it was amazing. He looked like Gary Cooper.

That was always going on in these business pieces. The piece would come in and they’d go through a couple drafts. Clay would explain what he saw in these various power guys or corporate heads. He would create a cosmology; and by the time he was done, these guys would look like Gary Cooper. You know, they suddenly looked like stars.

Felker brought the same enthusiasm and passion to his work as director of the Felker Magazine Center at the University of California at Berkeley as he did to his work in magazines. It was the same activity—developing talent and sending it out into the world.

MARY SPICUZZA, Berkeley student.
When I was an intern at the New York Times, I came in one day and there was the red light on my phone. Usually if you come in first thing in the morning and someone’s already called, it’s because they are pissed about a story you wrote. But it was Clay, and he’d been sick, but he sounded like a little boy, and he was like, “Mary, this is Clay Felker. I’m so proud of you, you’re doing such a great job.” He sounded like a little excited boy on Christmas morning. But that’s Clay.

Additional reporting by Geoffrey Gray, Boris Kachka, Rebecca Milzoff, and Jada Yuan


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