August 5, 1999
By Franklin Harris
I was the first person in town to get a copy of Talk magazine, the latest from celebrity editor Tina Brown, formerly of The New Yorker and Vanity Fair.
It was fresh off the delivery truck, and it was a monster. Huge, thick and glossy, Talk is almost a little brother to the oversized Life magazines of old. And, also like Life, it's brimming with photos, some of them not even advertisements.
Drew Barrymore, Rupert Everett and Gwyneth Paltrow all lend their bodies to a magazine that already reeks of glamour, and not always in good ways.
Before it hit the stands, Talk was already making waves. Talk's backers, Miramax (the arty subdivision of the Disney behemoth) and Hearst (publisher of Cosmopolitan and Good Housekeeping, among other things) wanted to throw a lavish party to celebrate the publication of Talk's first issue. Unfortunately, they wanted to have the party on property owned by the city of New York, where Rudy Giuliani rules with an iron fist.
In addition to the photos of the waifish Miss Paltrow in her undies, the first issue of Talk also features a now-infamous interview with First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, who, if the bookies are right, will be squaring off against Giuliani in next year's New York Senate race.
So, in a particularly spiteful fit, even by his standards, Rudy took time out from his busy schedule of condoning police brutality and harassing the denizens of the red light district to deny Talk's request to rent the Brooklyn Navy Yard for its little soiree.
The former prosecutor made his name persecuting junk bond king Michael Milkin with the dogged determination of someone who has seen "Les MisÚrables" too many times. So, he wasn't likely to sit still while a magazine that dared use its First Amendment right to publish an interview with Mrs. Clinton promoted itself under his nose.
Unperturbed, Talk moved its party to the Statue of Liberty.
The party itself was a typically star-studded affair. Madonna, Henry Kissinger and Paul Newman showed. Talk's cover girl, Hillary, didn't. Salman Rushdie came out of hiding to attend. Giuliani stayed far, far away.
The magazine itself is slick if fluffy, what there is of it. Half of its pages are taken up with desperately thin fashion models (both male and female) selling things. It's usually difficult to tell what they're selling, but they're selling it nonetheless.
Like all of Tina Brown's projects, Talk looks good and is well edited. Brown is an excellent craftsman, whatever her inflated reputation. With an entire magazine to play with, Ms. Brown simply waxes eloquently on the back page about why Talk is called Talk. (Insert your own "all talk, no action" joke here.)
By now, everyone knows about the Clinton interview, in which the First Lady cynically casts herself as a co-dependent victim -- and her husband as a victim of childhood trauma -- in order to help her sagging poll numbers in New York. No matter how awful he is, New Yorkers still seem to prefer Rudy, by a double-digit margin.
Anyway, the less said about Hillary's latest Machiavellian ploy, the better.
To prove its lack of partisanship, Talk also features a loving profile of George W. Bush, written by conservative writer Tucker Carlson.
Otherwise, the magazine's most notable piece is a memoir by playwright Tom Stoppard, in which he returns to his Czech roots and, like Secretary of State Madeline Albright, discovers he is Jewish.
So, in a glutted magazine market that definitely didn't need another general-interest magazine, can Talk survive?
Miramax and Hearst have lots of money to throw around, but Disney is notoriously stingy. The Mouse Factory may not let Miramax subsidize a money loser the way Conde Naste did The New Yorker, which lost millions under Brown's six-year tenure.
Hollywood has always been the most bottom-line-oriented town in America. Wall Street has nothing on it.
We'll have to wait to see if Talk is anything worth talking about this time next year.