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Sex and the City: The Horror Movie

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On November 17, in Cobble Hill, a café owner served a cup of coffee to a man who he was “99.9 percent certain” was Peter Braunstein. No fingerprints were found at the scene.  

Braunstein leapt up out of his seat in anger. He strode over to Fallon’s desk and threw a “You’re out of order, sir” scene—Do you know what people get away with here? he asked. And you’re harassing me for this? He strode out the building, leaving behind his Rolodex, which he never claimed. He immediately telephoned the gossip columns to push a story about his firing as a symbol of the “subservience of W to Vogue,” and demanded that the beauty editor quit her job in solidarity. She declined.

The beauty editor celebrated her 40th birthday weeks later, hosting a bunch of fashion people at the Lower East Side media hangout the Slipper Room. To a crowd of about 40, the beauty editor ascended a small stage to sing Carpenters songs. Braunstein was nowhere to be found—they’d had a fight, she said apologetically. Around 11 p.m., he showed up. He grabbed her arm and led her out the door. “It was the first time that any of us had an inkling that something was very, very wrong,” says a friend.

In Braunstein’s pantheon of women, Edie Sedgwick occupied the center. Among Manhattan “It” girls, she was Eve—all woman, all surface, the perfect mannequin, a kind of blank slate for the male erotic imagination, forever pursued, never quite captured. In Sedgwick, Braunstein’s fascination with sixties counterculture and the hard-edged market girls he’d known at W came together perfectly.

After he left Fairchild, Braunstein began work on a play titled Andy and Edie, a fantastically puerile piece of work‚ including such insights from the Warhol character: “Dying for one’s art is one thing . . . but dying because some crazy butch dyke claims you never returned a screenplay called Up Your Ass is another.” He dreamed of whom he could cast in the Edie role and approached heiresses Casey Johnson and Elisabeth Kieselstein-Cord. Ads in Backstage and on Craigslist.com attracted some 500 women, all these wannabe Edies in their pseudo-Gernreich dresses. Auditions were an elaborate game of dress-up. The best day was the last one. Late in the afternoon, Natalia McLennan, the prostitute who was on the cover of New York this July, auditioned for Ingrid Superstar. “She was very strange,” says a crew member. “I thought she was a Method actor, acting drugged-out like people used to be in the Factory.” Next up was Misha Sedgwick, Edie’s striking niece, whom Braunstein instantly wanted as Edie. And then there was a dominatrix, her hair styled in Edie’s blonde bob. This was quite a crowd. Braunstein took them all out for drinks after the auditions, and they taxicabbed up to a Madison Avenue bistro for a rendezvous with Peter Beard.

But the play was only part of Braunstein’s Edie fantasy. He also persuaded the Woman in Beauty to dress up as Edie—leopard-print coat, dangling earrings, heavy makeup—at an art-gallery party for a Vogue writer’s book. Sometimes, he took his real-live Sedgwick and the actor playing Andy out to parties, in shimmering short white wigs. Braunstein even wrote a journal in Edie’s voice: “Does anyone know where I can find those fishnets with the seams down the back? All my old places have closed and Betsey J and I are still in a tiff.” At the beauty editor’s, he watched Ciao! Manhattan repeatedly. One night, when they hosted a dinner party for eight, he put it on the VCR and sat down at the table with his bong.

Braunstein would call his actresses at 4 a.m. “Let’s get down,” he’d say. “Tell me your secrets, your tragedies, your dark past.”

As the fall of 2003 wore on, Braunstein’s relationship with the beauty editor became increasingly strained; she was supporting him financially—she even had to hop down from the Fairchild offices to pay for his drinks at a bar on occasion—and her friends had started to introduce the term “freeloader.” On a November night, she told Braunstein he had to move out. He threatened suicide. He said he would frame her for his murder because he was a successful playwright and she was an unsuccessful singer. She called the police, who arrived to find Braunstein reportedly wielding a knife he had cut himself with, though he insisted the marks came from the Woman in Beauty. They took him to Bellevue. “He went for a very short time, and the doctors said he was fine,” says his father, who says that Braunstein had been previously treated with Prozac. After his release, he called a friend to rant about the indignity of being caged with patients he characterized as rage monkeys. “How could you not be there for me?” he asked. “You used to be so real, and now you’re another one of those fashion bitches.”

It was around this time that Braunstein heard the Woman in Market had resigned from W. She had been accused of taking dozens of shoes from the fashion closet, all the beautiful stilettos that she had set out on the filing cabinet. It was too perfect—he thought that she had no culture and no class, this haughty woman who thought she was better than he was, and the fact that she felt it was necessary to steal the mantle of modern femininity confirmed how weak she truly was. Braunstein passed along the gossip, a friend remembers. Afterward, many noted the proximity of the market department’s filing cabinet to his former desk, and recalled his rapt attention.


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