After Andersen became editor of New York in 1994, he started hearing from Carter, too. At one point, he received a note about an impending "Intelligencer" item, telling him that if the item ran, their friendship was over. But their friendship had mostly evaporated by then, anyway. "The threat," says Andersen, "was moot."
Two years later, when Morrison and some other former Spy graduates tried to organize a reunion dinner for Spy's senior editors, she discovered that one of Carter's editors at Vanity Fair, clearly with his blessing, was organizing a competing Spy reunion for the same evening -- for assistants and interns only. That's the one Carter attended.
Carter insists he isn't the only one to blame for the unraveling of his old friendships. "You know," he says, "at some point, maybe you feel that they've abandoned you, as well."
It's clear, though, that Carter feels every slight acutely, perhaps too acutely. When he becomes angry at friends or colleagues, he frosts them -- in the office, at parties, wherever -- leaving them wondering what they've done. "He has his virtues," says Ann Louise Bardach, a former Vanity Fair contributing editor. "But courage is not among them. Anything unpleasant is delegated."
Those on the receiving end of his indifference feel the hurt for a long time. "If a person is useful to him, he's loyal," says Arthur Carter. "But once that usefulness is gone, it's 'Next.' I'd say it parallels what's going on with his marriage, frankly."
Carter described the jump from the Observer's cramped East Side townhouse office to Vanity Fair's spread on Madison Avenue as "going from Menudo to the Metropolitan Opera." The first year was a disaster. Advertising pages plunged. Right from the start, the rumor mill began spitting out squibs about Carter's numbered days. He started to gain weight. He lost sleep. Each morning, he checked the building directory at 350 Madison Avenue to make sure his name was still there. Then he'd wander into his office and flip on Frank Sinatra.
"I think he was terrified that he wasn't really equal to the task,' says Jesse Kornbluth, then a Vanity Fair writer, who left seven months after Carter's arrival. "So he hid behind his door like the Wizard of Oz, closeted himself in his office with some of his aides-de-camp, and ran the operation by remote control. Morale was through the floor."
Gossip was flying. The office was still filled with Tina Brown loyalists, and they burned the phone lines, telling Brown and all their media friends about Carter's latest missteps.
A formal animus quickly developed between the two editors: They were both gunning for the same writers and advertisers; both were trying to prove themselves in climates where fear and skepticism about their talents ran high. It could get petty. Even last year, when Brown started Talk magazine, Carter reprimanded his columnist Christopher Hitchens for attending a dinner she threw for Martin Amis. (Brown wouldn't return New York's calls.)
Today, the tension between the two may finally be easing. "I blew my relationship with Tina," Carter admits. "What I should have done was just asked her advice more." At the very least, he may feel less competitive. "There was a great concern within Condé Nast when Talk started," says James Wolcott, Vanity Fair's culture columnist. "But by the second or third issue, it had all pretty much died away. She's lost her Jesse James status."
After eighteen months at Vanity Fair, something happened to Carter. "One day," he says, "I realized, Look, don't feel sorry for yourself. You can make this magazine anything you want. Then a few staff members left, all in a one-week period. It was like opening the windows. Nothing against them. I gave them two years to fall in line about me, and to be a sport about me, and they couldn't do it."
Wolcott remembers how Carter tried to woo him back from The New Yorker (where he'd followed Tina Brown). "Graydon was telling me what a fun, attractive place Vanity Fair was to work," he recalls, "and he said, 'Because one day, I picked up a stick and drove all the snakes out!' "
Carter began to remake the magazine in his own image. Brown loyalists still say it remains her creation, that all the essential DNA -- the nifty photos by Annie Leibovitz, the high-society crime stories by Dominick Dunne, the gauzy, adulatory cover stories about hot actors -- came from her. But Carter has given the magazine a much richer visual design, and he has added a whole new kind of feature, the glamorous piece about the high life of bygone eras. And Carter has greatly expanded Vanity Fair's fetishistic coverage of Hollywood, an arena where's he's managed to out-Tina even Tina.
"We publish too much of that inside-showbiz-tycoon crap," says Hitchens. "I just don't believe that huddles form around the country, wondering how Barry and Mike and Captain Jeffrey" -- that's Diller, Ovitz, and Katzenberg -- "are getting on. I don't believe such huddles have formed, and I don't believe they ever will. By the way, I still can't tell those fuckers apart."
This new interest in the tinsel behind Hollywood tinsel coincided with a transformation in Carter's social life. In the past, his friends were fellow journalists; now his dance card began filling up with new best friends like screenwriter Mitch Glazer and producer Brian Grazer and mogul Barry Diller.
Not surprisingly, Diller gets extremely favorable coverage in Vanity Fair. In a story about Paramount in this year's Hollywood issue, seven out of eight "pull quotes" -- lines from the story that hover in large letters next to the text -- were about him, five of them very flattering. (Example: "Barry was king.")
As it turns out, one of Diller's companies, USA Films, is financing Carter's documentary on Robert Evans.
Now, that's logrolling in our time.
But Carter's writers are quick to salute his bravery. He allowed Marie Brenner to spend several months pursuing a story about tobacco whistleblower Jeffrey Wigand -- later the basis for the movie The Insider -- even though millions of Brown & Williamson advertising dollars were at stake.
"He let me trash Princess Diana while her body was barely cold," says Hitchens. "At the time, that made people very upset."
"I wonder whether each of his jobs has brought out the best and the worst in him," says George Kalogerakis, a former Spy editor and a current contributor to this magazine. "At Spy, he used his wit to make it as funny as it was, but Spy also provided an outlet for his cruel streak. And if Vanity Fair allowed him to draw on his social graces, it's also indulged the side of him that, I think, always envied some of the people he enjoyed mocking."
Unfortunately, Vanity Fair's sweetest public triumph comes during one of the bitterest years Carter has ever had. Just when he should be savoring the moment, he's trying to conceal his anguish. "When you're the editor," he says, "people want you to be strong. Your children want you to be strong. Moping is an unattractive attribute in a man. So, you know, I'm like Jerry Lewis. I'm laughing on the outside and crying on the inside. It's been the toughest period of my life."
Carter met Cynthia Williamson, a paralegal at a midtown law firm, in 1982. She was 23 years old and positively lovely -- she still is -- with Helena Bonham Carter hair and a relaxed, porcelain demeanor. After knowing her for less than three weeks, Carter proposed at the Empire Diner. It was 3:30 in the morning. She first told him no.
"She thought I was drunk," he explains.
"Of course. It was 3:30 in the morning."
By pretty much all accounts, they had a model marriage -- a marriage so decent, in fact, that it deeply depressed many of their friends when they split.
What ended it? A not-very-unusual combination of things. Briefly, there was someone else -- an employee -- so people talked about it a lot; it seemed out of character for Carter. The papers showed surprising restraint. "Not a single gossip columnist asked him about the breakup of his marriage," marvels Liz Smith. "I just thought, 'If I write a word of this . . .' I could have written a lot. I had a ton of stuff."
Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, certainly never got that kind of white-glove treatment when her marriage went to pieces. Does Liz know why? "She's not friendly to people," she says. "I think maybe she has gotten a bum rap. But she had no -- what do you want to call it? -- bankable emotional love from people in general."
Though he may have been spared, Carter still admits that the recent turmoil in his private life has chastened him: He has second thoughts about having allowed his writers at Vanity Fair to delve into the infidelities of public figures, including Rudolph Giuliani's.
The past four months for Carter have been the toughest of his life. "Diane Von Furstenberg told me something that was very smart," he says. "She said that when a parent is with their child on their own, they connect with that child in a very different way. But it hasn't been liberating so far. I've just been quietly miserable."
Until recently, Carter was determined to lure his wife back to New York. Every day, he speaks to her on the phone. A few weekends ago, he took her and two of the children to see The Music Man.
But Cynthia has a new house in Beaufort now. The two youngest children are enrolled in school there, and the two eldest are away at boarding school. "She's happy down there," says Carter. "My children are happy. And, you know, what do I do? It's impossible to get back together when you're five states away. I'm resigned to the fact that this is the way it is."
He finds himself entertaining more. "I have a nice house," he notes. "I just discovered cooking. Nothing fussy. Brian McNally came over the other night -- we were heading out to dinner -- and he just thinks I've turned into a complete fag, like cooking and doing the laundry. So I made sure, just as he came in the door, to be rearranging the flowers, Martha Stewart-like."
But at this point in his life, it isn't Martha Stewart whom Carter brings to mind. It's Jay Gatsby. After all those fabulous evenings at Da Silvano, and after all those fine parties on Bank Street, Carter's friends shuffle away, sated and paired off, and he's left in the big house alone.
But for the first time, Carter also seems eager to connect to friends who've fallen by the way, particularly the old gang from Spy. "I think about them," he says. "I should correct it. I probably should. Don't know how, exactly, but I think it's probably more up to me than them."
Two weeks ago, Carter had a long, boozy dinner with Andersen. It was the first spirited, relaxed interaction they'd had in years. "The ground," says Jim Kelly, "has shifted under Graydon. "I wouldn't be surprised if it has caused him to stop, look around, and reevaluate what's important."