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Si Newhouse’s Dream Factory

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Si Newhouse with Steve Florio, 2003.  

Wintour’s portrayal of herself is flawless: the rail-thin arms, the now-blondish bob, and the all-business bearing—she still looks remarkably like Louise Brooks, whose image has hung in Newhouse’s apartment. Wintour tells me that at Vogue, conversations have evolved with the times—for instance, she now looks at the price tags of clothes before putting them in the magazine. “How many handbags, how many shoes, does a woman need?” she asks. It’s a nod to the times, not insincere but not hugely significant either. Vogue can’t not be Vogue; that’s crazy. “We stand for a certain world,” she says. “Women want to have pretty clothes. I mean, it’s a question of self-respect too.” Vogue is at heart an unchangeable and, in that, an optimistic venture. Wintour tells me about Ralph Lauren’s new collection of watches, which inspires her. They cost more, but they will last. “He wants to be part of the culture, and I feel the same way about Vogue: I want Vogue to be there, part of the culture,” she says.

If Newhouse’s stars are projections of his inward personality, then Wintour represents the glamour that he first fell in love with through the movies as well as his sharp controlling hand. And Carter is gregarious, voluble Newhouse, the boon companion in a fascinating town, Newhouse’s entrée to a Hollywood he still adores. Carter’s conversation is sprinkled with recollections of convivial dinners with old movie stars, Michael York or Warren Beatty, Bob Evans, and the Vanity Fair Oscar party. Carter delights in his own stories, reels me in with a naughty off-color intimacy. He talks about famous “stickmen.” At 59, he has an infant (Carter’s a stickman himself). And he still smokes. “I quit. I go back,” he says.

I meet David Remnick, 50, at The New Yorker conference “The Next 100 Days,” an important event at New York University. Remnick is wrapping up an onstage interview with Seymour Hersh, his investigative reporter, who is talking about as-yet-unrevealed machinations in Pakistan. “Okay, don’t say any more,” Remnick says, as Hersh starts to ramble. Remnick is Newhouse’s inner egghead, influential, earnest, and ostentatiously articulate, with an accent that flows freely from Princeton plummy to Yiddish—“Is everybody hokking you?” he asks me at one point—and back again.

“We stand for a certain world,” says Anna Wintour.

As we walk to a nearby diner in the West Village, Remnick checks in with his wife, greeting her in Russian—he won a Pulitzer for his book on the fall of the Soviet empire. Remnick is charming but wary, a working journalist who prefers the role of interviewer to interviewed. He reviews for me the differences between off-the-record and background conversations, and then we order salads. (“That’s pretty gay,” says Carter, patently not a salad eater, when I mention my meeting with Remnick.) Remnick salts his conversation with references, and they are all over the place, proudly high and low—J. D. Salinger, Mel Stottlemyre, Perry White, Heraclitus. Much like in his magazine, there’s showy, apparently effortless cultural fluency, though part of the message seems to be: Can you keep up?

Remnick’s view of the future of magazines is shaded darker than either of his colleagues’. The New Yorker’s profitability has slipped into the mists of Condé Nast’s notoriously murky corporate accounting. “Look, the economic climate is awful. There’s no reason anything in this world stays the same. Only a fool, and I don’t think there are any fools involved in this story, would assume that the picture, right at this moment, is going to stay the same.”

Each of Newhouse’s star editors feels intimately connected with a man not given to intimacies, though fascinatingly, each sees him in significantly different ways. Newhouse, says one former editor, is “semi-blank.” In a sense, he’s like a polished surface, and the editors tend to see themselves in him. To hear Carter tell it, Newhouse is a fellow bon vivant. “We’ve double-dated,” he tells me. And he notes that Newhouse can hold his liquor—“One thing you should know about Si: He’s incapable of getting drunk.” And by the by, he knows an outstanding steak recipe from old Chasen’s, now available off the menu at the Waverly Inn. Wintour warns me, “Si is in control, and if you write anything different, you would be 100 percent wrong,” control being a quality she admires. For Remnick, Newhouse is wide-ranging and intellectually curious; he too is a student of Russian history. During the elections, Remnick and Newhouse talked endlessly about Obama and politics, though Remnick never learned if Newhouse is a Republican or a Democrat.

What they do agree on is that none has ever had a better patron. Newhouse isn’t just a boss; he’s the person who stands between them and a crueler, more pragmatic world. Newhouse believes in talent and the mysteries of creativity. He doesn’t meddle. And they revere him for it. “The magazine is yours, Si has always let me know,” Remnick says.


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