Rosie O'Donnell folds her namesake magazine. After a long battle over editorial control, the former talk show host scraps Rosie magazine, sparking a possible lawsuit from the publisher

By Gary Susman
September 19, 2002 at 04:00 AM EDT
Rosie O'Donnell: John Barrett/Globe Photos

Months after walking away from her successful talk show, Rosie O’Donnell is doing the same with the magazine that bears her name. She announced today that she is ending her partnership with publisher Gruner + Jahr, following a months-long battle for editorial control over Rosie magazine. ”The decision to discontinue Rosie was a very difficult one, and I spent a long time wrestling with it,” O’Donnell said in a statement. ”In the end, I decided that I could not participate in a magazine that bears my name when I could not be assured it would reflect my vision, values and editorial direction.”

When O’Donnell formed her partnership with Gruner + Jahr, the publisher was hoping for a TV personality-driven women’s lifestyle magazine like Oprah Winfrey’s or Martha Stewart’s. That’s what it looked like G + J was getting when Rosie launched in April 2001, superseding the company’s 125-year-old McCall’s magazine. Since then, however, O’Donnell has come out of the closet as a lesbian, walked away from her show (handing it over to Caroline Rhea), and dropped the ”queen of nice” persona for a harder-edged comedy act. She also wanted to turn the publication into a platform for issues that were of interest to her but that didn’t make for happy, glossy fare when glimpsed at the newsstand. Last summer, she ran a cover photo of herself in a hospital gown brandishing her bandaged, staph-infected finger. This summer, according to the New York Times, her editorial suggestions included a cover photo of convicted rapist Mike Tyson, a photo gallery of her pregnant partner Kelli Carpenter, and a satirical piece on the Middle East mess by the similarly contentious Al Franken. She also stopped using her own face to sell newsstand copies, refusing to do any more cover shoots, telling trade publication Mediaweek, ”I would rather have root canal than do a photo shoot.”

After G + J replaced Rosie’s handpicked editor in chief this summer with one of the publisher’s own choosing, the fight over the editorial direction of Rosie grew increasingly bitter, with both sides threatening to call in their lawyers. ”We cannot permit Rosie magazine to migrate into a manifesto for its namesake’s personal views,” Gruner + Jahr’s chief executive, Daniel B. Brewster Jr., wrote in a July memo to O’Donnell and other G + J executives, the Times reports.

Even as some of the 200 Rosie staffers were receiving severance checks from O’Donnell on Wednesday, G + J was still considering a lawsuit. ”It is truly shocking and disappointing that Rosie would walk away from her obligations to her staff, her business partner and her magazine audience,” wrote G + J chief marketing officer Cindy Spengler, in a statement published on AdAge.com. ”Gruner + Jahr USA is caught in the maelstrom of Rosie O’Donnell apparently abandoning her past. She has walked away from her television show, her brand, her public personality, her civility — and now her fans, the advertising community, her business partner and her contractual responsibilities.” Concludes Spengler, ”We are considering our legal and publishing options.”

Rosie is still scheduled to publish issues in November and December. After that, a G +J spokesperson told AdAge, ”there are no further publishing plans at this point.”

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