Last fall, as the writers of HBO’s Sex and the City were debating how to end the show, Ron Galotti, the real-life Mr. Big, was trying to decide what to do with the rest of his life. Galotti, who inspired the character played by Chris Noth, had been ﬁred from his job as the publisher at GQ a scant year and a half after the failure of Talk magazine, the high-proﬁle Miramax-backed venture he’d started with Tina Brown in 1999. This spring, at about the same moment that we watched his ﬁctional counterpart move back to New York from Napa, Galotti announced that he was selling his Central Park West apartment and his summer home in Water Mill and moving to an 89-acre farm in North Pomfret, Vermont. This high-concept, late-second-act plot twist to a life limned on the business pages and the gossip columns may not have quite the poignant glamour of Dick Diver’s downward spiral into the obscurity of successively smaller upstate towns, but it seems to speak directly to the escapist fantasies as well as the 3 a.m. night sweats of Manhattan’s hyperachieving class.
I first met Galotti a decade ago, when he was the publisher of Vogue. The model Janice Dickinson invited me to dinner at Coco Pazzo, Pino Luongo’s then-hot Upper East Side outpost, to check out her new boyfriend, and I was curious to see if the guy could handle the volcanic supermodel, a legendary man-eater.
Galotti initially struck me as unpolished and self-aggrandizing—more Seventh Avenue than Madison Avenue: a tough guy in a Zegna double-breasted suit—an Italian-Jewish version of Donald Trump. (“The thing about being half-Italian and half-Jewish,” he said, “you don’t know whether to steal it or try to get it cheaper.”) He emphasized his points with a big Montecristo. He called Janice “babe”; women who were not present were “broads.” He seemed to bring his Ferrari into the conversation out of nowhere, as in: I heard this interesting thing on the radio the other day when I was driving to the Hamptons in my Ferrari. And he was clearly just as proud of the high-strung Dickinson—who was nothing if not a Ferrari of a girlfriend.
Galotti and Dickinson had met a few weeks previously in Paris, a story he related that night. He was on Vogue business. She was with Sylvester Stallone. “I had my own room in the Ritz ’cause I stayed there so much, Room 405, best room in the hotel. So I was trying to catch a nap, but there’s this racket from the room above, like people are jumping up and down on the floor, so I call the hotel manager, he knows me, and I say, ‘What the fuck, Enrico, what are these fuckers doing?’ So he calls me back, and he says, ‘I’m very sorry, Mr. Galotti, but Mr. Stallone is up there, and I can’t really stop them.’ So that evening, we go to a party, and there’s Sly sitting with this gorgeous model and smoking a cigar, so I sit down next to him and say, ‘Wha’ the fuck, what were you doing at three o’clock when I’m trying to take a fucking nap? I’m the fucking guy in the room below you.’ And I say, ‘Here’s what you’re going to have to do, give me one of those Cuban cigars.’ So he did. So later that night, Anna Wintour and I are hosting a party at Match, and there’s Sly with this model again and she was such a beautiful woman but she and Sly get in this argument and I say to her, ‘Fuck him, come with me,’ and she says, ‘Fine.’ And that started it. She said, ‘Fuck it, I’ll leave him.’ ”
By the end of dinner that night, I found I couldn’t help liking Galotti. Perhaps it was because his insecurity, his disbelief at dating a supermodel who’d recently broken up with a movie star, was so fucking transparent. For all the babe-and-broad talk, he was courtly and chivalrous with Dickinson. Beneath the rough edges, he had an undeniable charm, a sense of humor about himself and an almost childlike desire to please. Galotti didn’t sell all those ad pages in Vogue and Vanity Fair by being off-putting and obnoxious, by throwing chairs across the office (which he is reported to have done at one meeting).
What, exactly, a Condé Nast publisher does to earn Ferrari and modelizing bucks—Galotti was pulling down more than half a million way back then—is, for many of us, a mystery. He recently regaled me with an illustrative anecdote from those days at Vogue: “Okay, we’re having trouble with Giorgio Armani. Anna [Wintour] isn’t featuring enough of his fucking white blouses or something. Si [Newhouse] says would I mind going over to Milan and kissing his ass, ’cause I probably know him as well as anybody. I reach into my pocket and pull out a tube of Chap Stick, and I say, ‘I kiss so much ass I go through two of these a week.’ ” He pauses and winks. “ ‘And the trouble is, I’m starting to like it.’ ” With its curious mix of self-aggrandizement and self-deprecation, this is classic Galotti. I can’t help wishing I could have observed the voluble and flamboyant Mr. Big schmoozing the fastidious and reserved designer, although I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Armani had been charmed.
Not long after, Dickinson moved on, and Galotti met another feisty beauty, writer Candace Bushnell, at a Wolfgang Joop party in ’95. “He was one of those New York guys with a big personality—you just notice him as soon as he walks in the room,” Bushnell says. “I called him Mr. Big because he was like a big man on campus.” They dated for a little over a year, and Bushnell chronicled the relationship in her “Sex and the City” column in the New York Observer, which would eventually give birth to the book and the HBO series. But while Bushnell based the elusive, high-rolling heartthrob on Galotti, she is the first to distinguish man from myth. “Ron is much more of a well-rounded person than you’d think,” she says. “He cooks, he gardens. In some ways, he’d prefer to be at home to going out on the town.”
Among Bushnell’s friends at the time, many of whom hadn’t seen the inside of an office since the principal called them out of class, there was indeed a feeling that, for all his energy and ambition, he was less social or public than the hyperactive Bushnell, who was doing advanced postgraduate work in the subject of going out on the town. I recall a party at a house Galotti was renting in Bridgehampton at which he went to bed long before Candace said good night to her guests. The woman who eventually succeeded Bushnell clearly appealed to the quieter, homier side.
Galotti’s playboy period, reenacted so convincingly by Chris Noth, was in fact ridiculously brief. He’s basically a serial monogamist. His second marriage, to Hearst publisher Donna Kalajian, lasted for twelve years, until she announced one day—the same week he was fired as the publisher of Vanity Fair—that she was having an affair. His first marriage, about which only his closest friends were aware, was shattered by tragedy.
A few weeks ago, I met Galotti at the Popover Café on Amsterdam, a family-friendly place just around the corner from the apartment he’s subletting as he prepares his escape to Vermont. He was breakfasting with his wife, Lisa, a former U.S. downhill-skiing champion, and his 5-year-old daughter, Abigail. The last time I saw him, he was presiding over the extravagant Talk magazine launch party on Liberty Island in the summer of ’99, standing next to a radiant Tina Brown at the base of the Statue of Liberty, interrupting his chat with Salman Rushdie to kiss Kyra Sedgwick on the cheek, and later rapping onstage with Queen Latifah. Or, wait, maybe it was at that HBO party, when he was teaching Chris Noth how to say “absofuckinglutely.” In this setting, he seems serene and looks fit, in a flannel shirt and jeans, and far younger than 54. The macho, ADD demeanor I remember from some of our previous encounters has vanished—though it resurfaces periodically as we talk.
Lisa is a big, busty blonde with long, rangy limbs and freckled, sun-cured skin. If Dickinson and Bushnell were Ferraris, Lisa seems more like a Range Rover. It’s hard to picture her in an evening gown, easier to imagine her in a spandex shell on the slopes of Aspen, which is where Galotti met her. His relationship with Bushnell was winding down when he was invited to a charity skiing event by his friend George Fellows, then the president of Revlon. “At breakfast that first day, I see a very attractive blonde who turns out to be this amazing professional skier,” Galotti says, nodding toward his bride. They spent much of the next four days together, although, Galotti says, “I told her I wouldn’t sleep with her till she met my mother.” Over dinner on the last night, he told her, “The only way this is going to work is if you’re going to move to New York and have my children.”
A few months later, she did move to New York.
“I decided that I wanted to leave the ski industry,” she says as she coaxes a piece of bacon into her daughter’s mouth. “I came to New York supposedly to look for a job. But I was actually going to New York to look for him. I’d never even been to New York. I’m a mountain girl. It was a little overwhelming.”
“Honey,” Ron says, “Abbi’s getting her sleeve in the maple syrup.” From our side of the table, he’s been watching his daughter intently through this whole conversation. He is, I will discover, an almost neurotically attentive parent.
“We were talking on the phone at one point before I came to New York,” Lisa continues. “And he had some flippant comment about being in his red Ferrari driving to the Hamptons, and I said, ‘This is too much.’ I couldn’t hear anything. So he pulled over and turned off the Ferrari, and then we had a real conversation for like an hour. Those are the two sides of Ron Galotti.”
Lisa decided to bet on the down-home Galotti, the one who refused to sleep with her until he’d introduced her to his mother. Immediately after that meeting, Galotti whisked her out to his house in Water Mill in the Ferrari.
If you were a girl who was trying to decide which was the real Ron Galotti—the fast-talking, model-dating, corporate hit man or the guy who wanted you to have his children after you met his mother—the cottage in Water Mill would reassure you. The house, which recently sold for more than $2 million, has a kind of feminine, storybook quality. Driving out one Saturday a couple of weeks before they vacated, I was expecting some kind of glassy, Stanley Jaffe, postmodern architectural statement on the beach. Whereas the house on Rose Hill Lane is a gabled, gambrel-roofed, shingled Victorian cottage with meticulously pruned plantings and an oversize dollhouse tower.
“The first time we come out to the Hamptons together,” Lisa tells me over a plate of cheese on the back deck, “we make mad passionate love. And then he says to me, ‘You know those ten-mile runs you go on? Well, you should go on one now,’ and I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ And he said, ‘My old girlfriend’s coming over to pick up her clothes.’ ”
‘‘I don’t really know if I should tell you this,’’ he says. ‘‘Only a few of my closest friends know.’’
“And Lisa’s a good-sized girl,” Galotti says. “Even then, she was not a petite girl, you understand?”
Instead of slapping the shit out of him, she cheerfully continues, “I said, ‘Where are these so-called clothes?’ And he says, ‘In the closet.’ So I go and look at these clothes to see what size they are—and they’re a size 1! And I say, ‘Please tell me there’s a zero rubbed off.’ I’m thinking, Oh, my God, there’s a girl out there who’s a size 1. So I went from being deliriously happy to miserable. I took a ten-mile run, and when I got back, Candace had picked up her clothes.”
Throughout this exchange Galotti is keeping a watchful eye on Abigail, who is running around the backyard. (I’m a parent. I like to think I’m watchful. But not like this.)
The couple had planned a big New York wedding for the following spring, with all the right accessories. “I had Van Cleef make her a ring. Vera Wang made her a dress. Then we go off skiing for Christmas. We look at each other one day on the slopes and say we don’t really need this. We decided to elope. We got married on the banks of the Roaring Fork River.”
According to both, an eventual escape from New York was always part of the plan. “I said, ‘Give me five years here, honey,’ ” he says. Children were also part of the plan. Galotti, who now suspects that his fear of becoming a father was in part responsible for the failure of his second marriage, was ready to try again.
The tabloids inevitably refer to Galotti as “Bronx-born,” an epithet that suits his brash business image, but most of his childhood was spent in Peekskill in northern Westchester, where his father owned a liquor store and the future Vermont homesteader raised chickens, earned a five-year 4-H pin from the Yorktown Grange, and learned the law of the jungle in the barnyard. “One chicken was born with a bent beak,” he recalls. “In two minutes, the other chickens had pecked it to death. I learned right then, you don’t want your beak to be bent.”
Galotti’s sister, who died recently, was born with Down syndrome. His father died when Ron was 9, at which point his mother started putting in twelve-hour days at the liquor store. Galotti seems to have developed his wise-guy persona partly in response. “The kids pretty much fended for themselves,” he says. A photograph in the bedroom of his Water Mill home shows him as a 10-year-old tough guy with a flattop crew cut, leaning against a wall with a defiant cigarette dangling from his mouth.
His mother had to plead with the high-school principal to let him graduate with his class, at which point he enrolled in the Air Force, which she judged to be the safest of the services at the time, with the Vietnam War at its height. Galotti spent three and half relatively peaceful, flightless, and profitable years in the service, attaining the rank of sergeant. Stationed in the Philippines, he supplemented his income by loan-sharking and later opened a brothel with the proceeds—a chapter of his military career that he confided to me after Lisa teased him into spilling it.
“I got married while I was in the service … ” he adds, trailing off, pausing for the first time in fifteen minutes. “I don’t really know if I should tell you this,” he says, finally. “Only a few of my closest friends know this.”
He proceeds to tell me about a brief stint as a contractor in Florida before circling back to the lacuna. “I had a son who died in a car accident when he was 4. He fell out of the back of a car on the highway. It ruined that marriage instantly.” He stares over my shoulder into the middle distance, nodding his head absently, pursing his lips until they almost disappear. “The importance of family … ” he begins and pauses, struggling to regain his composure. “It took me a lifetime to get back to the place I needed to be in my heart.”
By the account of most friends and associates, business became the most important thing in his life over the next 25 years. His career in publishing began at Home Sewing News, which was owned by a friend of his mother’s. “I was selling ads to the piece-goods guys, the shmattes on Seventh Avenue.” He eventually moved on to Fawcett Publishing, which put out titles like Woman’s Day, True, and Mechanics Illustrated. “I was hired away by Hearst. This guy George Allen took a liking to me—he made me the youngest manager. He asked me if I would start a magazine called Country Living.” (If this were a novel, this detail would be called foreshadowing.) “In five years, we made it the third-largest profit center.”
At the end of ’82, Galotti got a call from Si Newhouse, the absolute ruler of the Condé Nast empire. “Si offers me more money than I had ever heard of. I go to work as a publisher of Mademoiselle, which were the biggest years it ever had in its life.” His next assignment was to start Condé Nast Traveler in partnership with Harry Evans, the legendary London Times editor who had come to New York when his wife, Tina Brown, was hired by Newhouse to salvage the sickly revival of Vanity Fair.
“Traveler was a big success. After five years, Si asked me to run Vanity Fair.” (Galotti’s life seems to divide neatly into five-year segments in his head.) “It was failing fast. Si was going to shut it down. I had a relationship with Tina through Harry. She adored me. She thought I would be a savior. And I was. Vanity Fair went on the map. You understand that first and foremost these things have to be business successes.”
Everyone pretty much agrees that Galotti sold pages and turbocharged revenues at Traveler as well as at Vanity Fair. Hardly anyone, however, has ever accused him of being a politician. Galotti made no secret of his disdain for Bernard Leser, the president of Condé Nast during his Vanity Fair tenure, whom he describes as “the worst CEO I ever worked with.”
“One day,” he recalls, “they came to my office to shoot a corporate film—this is a film to promote the company, you understand. And they ask me what I want to see for the company’s future. I said, ‘I want to see Bernie Leser walk out of the building and get hit by a bus. I don’t want him killed, just hurt so he has to go back to Australia or New Zealand or wherever the hell he came from.’ ”
This kind of behavior seems to have led to Galotti’s first banishment from the Newhouse kingdom. He was fired a few months later. “Si was incredibly generous,” he says. “But he was given bad counsel. So you want to talk about a bad week? I’ve just been fired, and at the same time, wife No. 2 explains to me that’s she’s having an affair and wants to leave me.”
By his own admission, Galotti is not normally a deeply introspective guy—unlike most New Yorkers with apartments on Central Park West and houses in the Hamptons, he’s never been in analysis—but he couldn’t help looking inward at this point. “It ends up scraping away all the identity you ascribe to yourself. Publisher, husband—it’s all on loan.” He says he accepted his own role in the demise of his marriage—his workaholic habits and his fear of becoming a father again. That was about as far as he got, though. At 43, he wasn’t ready to reinvent himself or revise his value system, although, he says, “I had more than enough money to go away forever.”
For seven months, he drifted, hung out, watched TV. “Then one day,” he says, “I’m watching Oprah, when I feel this warm feeling.” I brace myself for some banal TV-inspired version of satori. “I’m in my white apartment with my white furniture, and the sun’s pouring in the window. It’s three in the afternoon. I feel this subtle sense of warmth. I have now poured a glass of red wine in my lap. And I say to myself—‘Self, you gotta get a job.’ ”
Not quite Saint Paul falling from his horse, perhaps—the spilt-wine epiphany led Galotti to D. Claeys Bahrenburg, then the president of Hearst magazines, who proposed putting Galotti in charge of a new men’s title. But the moment he set foot in the Hearst offices, word reached the Condé Nast executive suites, where Galotti’s friend, former New Yorker publisher Steve Florio, had recently taken over from Leser as president of Condé Nast. All was forgiven. Florio offered Vogue to Galotti, who spent the next five years pumping up ads and becoming the model for Mr. Big, even as he seemed to be laying the groundwork for a different kind of life. “When I took over Vogue, Elle and Vogue were equal,” he says. “When I finished, Vogue had 500 more pages.”
Galotti had his old identity back and then some. Room 405 at the Ritz was available. And the emasculation of his marital debacle was presumably salved by the attentions of a supermodel and a sexy writer who eventually immortalized him as a stud. Condé Nast, once a boutique stable of barely profitable titles subsidized by the Newhouse newspaper chain, was becoming a major media empire. It was 1995. The economy, like Galotti’s Testarossa, was firing on all twelve cylinders, making the eighties seem, by comparison, rather like that decade’s Porsche 924, the so-called ladies’ Porsche.
The pace was grueling, but the perks of being a Condé Nast publisher were sweet. “You have a car and driver. You have your country club. Since you spend all your time doing business, everything is paid for.” You have a full-time housekeeper. You spend $50,000 a year on cigars. You lunch at The Four Seasons. You also fly first-class, sometimes Concorde, and you stay at the Four Seasons in Milan. Your friend Luca di Montezemolo, the president of Ferrari, sends a Falcon 10 to pick you up in Paris and flies you to Bologna, where a helicopter is waiting to drop you at the Ferrari test track in Marinello, where you get to test-drive the latest road rockets.
In the meantime, Galotti courted and privately wed his mountain girl. Lisa Galotti hardly fit the mold of the Manhattan corporate wife: Galotti likes to say that moving her to New York was “like putting an eagle in a cage.” In the early days of their marriage, she enjoyed the novelty of A-list parties on the arm of Mr. Big, but she found Condé Nast politics “like high school” and Manhattan social life alien. Galotti explained to her that what mattered in New York were “jing and drag”— money and power. Perhaps Galotti was, as he says, even then contemplating his escape. He seems to have compartmentalized his life. Certainly he must have been more aware, this second time around, of the fleeting nature of Condé Nast power and glory.
Galotti passed a grim milestone of sorts when he turned 49—his father having died of a heart attack at the age of 48. “I didn’t dwell on it too much,” he says, “but let’s just say I breathed a sigh of relief.” He was finally ready to come to terms with the other defining trauma of his life and become a father again; the couple decided to adopt, in part because they had difficulty conceiving, but also because Galotti was a carrier of the gene for Down syndrome. The blonde, blue-eyed Abigail, who bears a convincing resemblance to her adoptive mother, recently turned 5—clearly another milestone for Galotti, whose son, Nicholas, died at 4. “If you lose a child,” he says, “it can take a lifetime to get back to where you don’t fear that happening again. You don’t want to put yourself in a position to be hurt again.” From a novelist’s point of view, this might have been the time to have the protagonist chuck his life in the fast lane and move to Vermont. But at that moment his old friend Tina Brown came calling.
Brown, who had become the most famous and controversial magazine editor in America, wanted to start a new magazine with the backing of Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein, and she wanted Galotti to be the publisher and president. The idea of creating something new, and the promise of equity after years of being salaried, was too attractive to resist. “I thought of it like the Olympics,” Lisa says. “I thought this was his big chance. I didn’t want him to leave New York without trying this.”
While Brown struggled to give the magazine an editorial identity, the notoriously hard-charging Galotti ruffled some feathers in the advertising world by demanding multi-issue commitments. As the economy began to slow during Talk’s first year, the Queen of Buzz seemed to be experiencing a backlash engendered by her long reign over the New York media world. The psychological and economic fallout of 9/11 may have been the final blow. Galotti remains characteristically defiant about the noble experiment. “It was a great, valiant effort,” he says. He enjoyed discussing the editorial content with Tina. “She was erudite. She knew that culturally I wasn’t interested in anything. We balanced nicely.” Outspoken on every other subject, he is extremely reticent about the details of Talk’s demise, having signed a nondisclosure agreement. One gets the sense that Mr. Big is somewhat in awe of Mr. Weinstein and his lawyers.
It can’t have been easy, after running away, to go home to Dad. Or in this case, to Si Newhouse. To stretch his wife’s Olympic analogy, the high-profile failure must have been a little like crashing on the final run of the downhill—as the television cameras rolled. Returning to the Condé Nast fold as the publisher of GQ—even at a seven-figure salary—was a comedown for the former president of Talk Media. Galotti says he took the job with the understanding that he would move up when a more attractive job became available. But Steve and Tom Florio, among others, may not have welcomed the idea—something he now realizes. “Prodigal son Ron from the past steps back in. And these guys, Tom, Steve, Richard Beckman, have their own agendas.”
Soon after his arrival at GQ, Galotti collaborated in deposing the editor, Art Cooper, an act that may have come back to haunt him. Cooper died a few weeks later, suffering a massive stroke over lunch at The Four Seasons. “I was saddened,” Galotti says. “Art was a great guy. But you have to separate business and personal. His time had come and gone.”
Galotti had no inkling that his own time was almost up. “When I got the phone call,” he says, “I was in California, on a sales trip. The words you don’t want to hear when you work for Condé Nast are ‘We need you to come back.’ ” Returning to New York, he was fired by his old friend Steve Florio. Within minutes, Galotti left the building carrying only his golf clubs. “I had no idea what this was predicated on. Business was fine. Since I left, they’re way off. There was no way it made sense to me. But what other opinion would I have, since I was the one who got fired? I realize my opinion is jaded.”
A GQ editor suggests that Galotti’s sacking served to expiate a corporate sense of guilt about the late Cooper. The press release portrayed his departure as voluntary, but in the following days, Condé Nast insiders were busy explaining, off the record, that Galotti, the avatar of the old swashbuckling, chair-throwing, take-no-prisoners style of the nineties, was fired because he was unable to adapt to the new realities of the business. In this narrative, The New Yorker’s urbane, mild-mannered David Carey represents the new kinder, gentler, recession-era Condé Nast.
Galotti’s severance package, negotiated by killer music-biz lawyer Alan Grubman, was generous enough to allow him to retire comfortably, to say good-bye to New York. “I’m grateful to Si for that,” he says, although he can’t help reverting to his old form when he speaks about his old friend Florio, who, not long after Galotti’s ouster, was kicked upstairs to become vice-chairman of Advance Communications. “When I got fired, I was at the top of the Post’s ‘Losers’ column. When Steve Florio gets fired or whatever the hell it is they’re doing with him, he doesn’t even make the top of the ‘Losers’ column! I have no idea what happened in my case. Two days later, they spread the rumor that I’m old-style management. That’s their spin. So maybe Steve’s own PR ate him in the end.”
The moral of the Condé Nast plotline is murky. Is Galotti a classic tragic hero, a victim of his own hubris—or of corporate politics? Is he a casualty of changing times? “I was a killer for Si Newhouse,” he says. “He didn’t pay me to be nice. One thing about me, No was not an acceptable answer. If I hadn’t been so aggressive, I would have been president of Condé Nast.”
Last week, I flew up to Lebanon, New Hampshire, where Galotti picked me up in his new Volkswagen Touareg. As we crossed the Connecticut River into Vermont, he lit a cigar and told me that he’d spent the week unpacking and meeting the neighbors. “We’ve been invited to the Pomfret Library dance,” he informed me, suggesting things were moving along nicely. We stopped at Rick and Tina’s Country Store—with its ancient gas pumps out front and a sign on the door advertising WORMS AND NIGHTCRAWLERS. Inside, the stock of groceries looked as if it had been on the shelves for years. Sitting at a tiny counter over a cup of coffee, Galotti talked tractors with Rick, the stubbled, weather-beaten co-proprietor. “I’m thinking about the Kubota,” Ron said. “I was talking with a mechanic who said a lot of the Caterpillar parts are made in China. Or maybe a New Holland.”
“New Holland’s a good tractor,” said Rick. “He’s the one who bought the old McCord place,” he added to Tina, who looked a little like Shirley Booth from Hazel. “You’re from New York?” She talked about the outsiders who had moved to the area, as if to reassure Galotti. “Up in Orford, they got movie stars,” she said. “Charles Bronson and Rosemary Clooney and that guy from Cheers, Woody something.”
“I’ve seen enough movie stars,” Galotti said, “to last me a lifetime.”
Galotti’s house sits at the edge of a dirt road—a modest 1847 farmhouse in the spare rural New England version of the Federal style, with green shutters and a green tin roof. Set amid rolling pastures between two wooded ridges, it presents a postcard-worthy vista from a distance, though it’s definitely not ready for its close-up in House and Garden. The interior testifies to decades of benign neglect, with its sloping floors and peeling wallpaper. The kitchen is a time capsule from 1962. The kind of place, in short, that any self-respecting New York banker would have gutted. Galotti plans to proceed slowly, and to do as much of the work as he can by himself. And he seems more interested in building a chicken coop and fencing some of the pasture first. In the meantime, the views of the pasture and the hills out the back should more than compensate for the wallpaper.
We took a walk up the back hill in search of the property line and eventually found ourselves lost for some twenty minutes in the deep woods below the ridge. “Don’t worry,” Galotti said, “I’ve got a Swiss Army knife with me.” He pulled it out of his pocket to show me. “Of course, it’s sterling silver, from Tiffany’s.” He finds this detail as amusing as I do.
After finding our way back to the house, we drove into Woodstock for lunch. If the drive from the airport to Galotti’s house showed me the bait-shop-tractor-dealer side of Vermont, the road to Woodstock suggests a more manicured vision—one in which a Tiffany’s Swiss Army knife wouldn’t be out of place. The Pomfret School, which Abigail will attend, looks almost as if it could be a ski lodge, while Woodstock, with its nineteenth-century Rockefeller mansions and its town green, could have been designed by Ralph Lauren. The F.H. Gillingham & Sons general store has a big selection of gourmet salad dressings as well as some very-hard-to-find wines from France and California.
Two weeks ago, while Galotti was unpacking in Vermont, Salman Rushdie married model-actress Padma Lakshmi in a soaring white loft high above the Hudson River in Chelsea. It was one of those brilliantly lit New York moments, the kind of gathering we all dream of attending before we come here—the bride’s and groom’s families, in Indian garb, mingling with a “Page Six” dream cast of guests that included Iman, Diane Von Furstenberg, Steve Martin, Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson, Bernard-Henri Lévy and wife Arielle Dombasle, as well as writers Paul Auster, Michael Cunningham, and Peter Carey. It was, I couldn’t help thinking, precisely the kind of gathering that would have once included Ron Galotti, who seems to have counted himself as a friend of the bride and was present when the couple first met at the Talk launch party in 1999. If things had gone differently, I thought, if Talk had prospered … His former partner Tina Brown was among the first people I spotted, talking with Christopher Hitchens. I made my way over and told Tina I was writing a piece about Galotti and his big change of life. After professing her love for him, she cocked a skeptical eyebrow and asked, “How long do you give him?”
We found ourselves lost in the deep woods. ‘‘Don’t worry,’’ said Galotti. ‘‘I’ve got a Swiss Army knife with me. It’s from Tiffany’s.’’
It’s a question that implies a value system—a faith shared by most of the highly accomplished and celebrated New Yorkers at the wedding, whose very presence at this event certified their citizenship in a realm that they believe is more vital and more real than any other possible world. It is, in part, the faith that John Updike once nailed with his comment that real New Yorkers believe that anyone living anywhere else must, in some sense, be kidding—although it’s catholic enough to include as honorary communicants those from other parts of the world (Los Angeles and London, for instance) who get written about in the gossip columns and the business pages. It has a distinct Calvinist element—the belief of the elect in their own worthiness and in New York as the ultimate meritocracy. For its most devout adherents, Galotti’s story conjures up the secret fear of banishment and excommunication. It may also represent an even deeper fear—the nagging suspicion that our faith is an illusion.
That’s the way Galotti seems to interpret his decision to leave the city. “It’s all on loan,” he says of his pre-Vermont corporate identity. “I used to actually think I was the publisher of Vanity Fair.”
It’s probably wise to remember that he’s a great salesman, and that in espousing the virtues of the bucolic life, he may be selling the product line that fate has, to some extent, dumped on him. If the call that day last fall had been about a promotion—the presidency of Condé Nast, say—the story of Ron Galotti’s excellent adventure would presumably be very different.
But unlike some of the true believers and urban animals among us, the boy who raised chickens and got married on the banks of the Roaring Fork River may have a shot at finding peace and fulfillment in the rolling hills of North Pomfret. I have no doubt that he believes in his new venture, that he sees himself as embracing destiny rather than succumbing to it. I think both Ron Galottis are real, and that his biggest challenge in the years ahead will be to integrate them, or to kill off Mr. Big. Sitting with him in the backyard in Vermont, watching him smoke a cigar, I also couldn’t help imagining that he might finally be taking the time to heal. “There’s not a day goes by that I don’t think about Nicholas,” he said that day. “But I wasn’t smart enough or affluent enough back then to get therapy.”
I’ll be rooting for him up there, even as I pursue my own gritty destiny down here in the Town Without Pity. Not that I’d be entirely surprised to see him installed in the Grill Room at The Four Seasons, or in some other spot that we have all agreed to regard as the dead center of the civilized world, about five years from now.