One of the pleasures of The Vanity Fair Diaries — Tina Brown’s wickedly sharp account of her years as editor of the magazine — is her writing, the way she captures people with a few slashes of the pen. Tom Wolfe is “tall and thin like a candle in his white suit, with a dryness suddenly illuminated by joyous shafts of pure malice.” Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall “looked like Satyricon creatures at a Venetian carnival with a whiff of decadence you only see as you get close.” Rupert Murdoch’s face “has degenerated to the melting rubber mask of a cartoon character’s, like Nixon’s.” Legendary Hollywood producer Robert Evans “looked so debauched I recoiled. For all his anecdotal charm, he’s got to be the nearest thing to the devil of anyone I have ever encountered.”
Many of the book’s best anecdotes are unprintable, but here are a few of my favorites.
“It was bliss having lunch with Norman Mailer today…He talked about the days he and Arthur Miller had shared the same brownstone in New York, when Mailer was writing An American Dream and Miller Death of a Salesman. ‘I must say when I saw the play I was amazed at how good it was for such a dull guy.”
“I found Philip Roth a bit of a disappointment last night at our dinner for Helmut Newton. I’ve always found him intriguing in pictures and on the page, but in reality he’s like an accountant, although, granted, his mean, sparkling eyes suggest something more interesting. Norman Mailer also came. I feel he was slightly put out to see Roth in our house. Some literary feud I am too ignorant to remember? Or just two big dogs who need to be kept apart?”
“We were looking at Michael Jackson, wearing full makeup, with long tendrils of black hair and two curling locks stuck to each cheek with masking tape, and a huge round Band-Aid on the side of his nose. He kept looking away as he talked but was chattering affably, which astonished me because I had expected a mute weirdo who signed an autograph and vanished….I asked him how he came down to earth after his incredible live performances. ‘I read,’ he said, ‘in my hotel room. O Henry sometimes. Frank O’Hara.’ Not exactly the world’s image of him.”
Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis
“Watching Jackie up close was mesmerizing. Her face is always slightly out of whack with her expression, as if they are two separate entities at work. She has perfected a fascinated stare. Sitting finishing-school upright in a fuchsia Carolina Herrera jacket over a dark sheath, she looks into your face, not your eyes….In fact, ‘crazed’ is what I decided about Jackie by the end of the evening. I felt if you cleared the room and left her alone, she’d be in front of a mirror, screaming.”
A year after a critical piece about him appeared in Vanity Fair, the writer, Marie Brenner, was at a black-tie gala “when she felt something cold and wet running down her back…the other guests started pointing and yelping, ‘Oh my God! Look what he just did!’ The he in question was Donald Trump! She saw his familiar Elvis coif making off across the Crystal Room. The sneaky, petulant infant was clearly still stewing about her takedown…and had taken a glass of wine and emptied it down her back!”