Celebrity ringmaster's grand finale

Vanity Fair editor's influence went beyond journalists, touching US politics, entertainment, finance and literature

Mr Graydon Carter, famous for double-breasted suits, white flowing hair and a seven-figure salary, is a party host, literary patron, film producer and restaurateur.
Mr Graydon Carter, famous for double-breasted suits, white flowing hair and a seven-figure salary, is a party host, literary patron, film producer and restaurateur.PHOTO: JESSICA DIEHL/ INSTAGRAM

NEW YORK • If you were to name just one person who is likely to be pleased that Mr Graydon Carter, editor of Vanity Fair, is planning to step down from the magazine in December after a 25-year tenure, it is fair to speculate that you will say Mr Donald Trump.

After all, Mr Carter has criticised Mr Trump for decades, long before he became United States President.

But many others are more likely to be wistful and opt to celebrate the track record of Mr Carter ,whose role established him as a ringmaster of the Hollywood, Washington and Manhattan power elite.

From his perch in New York, his influence stretched from the magazine and entertainment worlds into finance, literature and politics.

One of the few remaining celebrity editors in an industry whose fortunes have faded, Mr Carter - famous for double-breasted suits, white flowing hair and a seven-figure salary - is a party host, literary patron, film producer and restaurateur whose cheeky yet rigorous brand of reporting influenced journalists.

Now, he is moving on. "I want to leave while the magazine is on top," the 68-year-old said. "I wanted to have a third act. And I thought, time is precious."

He co-founded Spy magazine in the 1980s, which helped forge the wry tone and visual style of modern publications.

I want to leave while the magazine is on top. I wanted to have a third act. And I thought, time is precious.''

VANITY FAIR EDITOR GRAYDON CARTER, on stepping down after 25 years.

But Vanity Fair, with its fixation on actors, moguls and faded aristocrats, was a product of its editor's highly particular interests.

His often fawning coverage of British royalty and out-of-date celebrities like the Kennedy family were often mocked.

But Vanity Fair also published touchstone images (a nude, pregnant Demi Moore; Caitlyn Jenner's first public photographs) and broke major news, not least in 2005, when it unmasked the identity of famed Watergate leaker Deep Throat - an FBI director.

One Carter innovation, the Vanity Fair Oscar party, remains the entertainment world's most exclusive soiree.

Even drab Washington fell under his sway. His annual bash after the White House Correspondents' Association dinner became the capital's hottest ticket.

He is leaving as Vanity Fair's publisher Conde Nast grapples with an erosion of advertising. "The romance of the magazine business will continue," he said, "but it will be harder to maintain."

Life has been a heady journey for Mr Carter, a middle-class product of Canada's Ottawa suburbs, who as a youth worked stints as a railway lineman and cemetery digger.

He talked his way into a job at Time in the late 1970s before co-founding Spy in 1986.

Among the magazine's pranks was to mail cheques of smaller and smaller quantities to celebrities and wait to see who was avaricious enough to cash them. Mr Trump redeemed a cheque for 13 US cents.

Mr Carter later ran The New York Observer before moving, in 1992, to Vanity Fair which venerated some of the same celebrities he criticised in Spy. Some grudges healed easier than others.

"If it hadn't been for my wife, I probably wouldn't be speaking to him 25 years later," mogul Barry Diller, a favourite Spy target, said.

His wife, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, knew Mr Carter.

"I've come to know and adore him," Mr Diller said. "He wants a new adventure and he deserves it."

Mr Carter also branched into restaurants, films and Broadway, where he produced a show about talent agent Sue Mengers that starred Bette Midler.

He lives with his third wife down the street from his first restaurant, the Waverly Inn.

He recently started seeing a psychiatrist, prompted by the changes in the country and his own life.

"At Spy, we would tack on the epithet 'survivor' to somebody, as if it was a negative term," he said. And you realised, after a while, it's actually a positive term. Just surviving in life, in this life, is difficult enough."

Mr Carter said he would offer suggestions to Conde Nast over who could succeed him.

"I want to make it really easy for the next person," he said. "I care about this magazine. I don't want it to go anywhere other than up."

He has "the rough architecture" of a future project in mind, perhaps involving new forms of storytelling, but demurred on the details.

He added that Mr Trump should be happy to see him step down - and that the President would be wise to hold back on one final Twitter bashing. "It should be a little bright spot in his administration.

"And if he's smart, he won't say anything."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2017, with the headline 'Celebrity ringmaster's grand finale'. Subscribe