TOM WOLFE'S Excerpt on the Beginning of New York Magazine
When the New York Herald Tribune folded . . . only [Clay] Felker seemed to realize the value of the now-defunct New York magazine. He bought the name for $6,500--which he had to borrow from a wealthy young woman, Barbara Goldsmith, who had written for New York. Tout le monde assumed Felker himself was flush, mainly thanks to his spectacular apartment at 322 East 57th Street, which had a 30-by-30 foot living room with a double-height ceiling . . . He had bought the apartment, worth about $7.5 million today, for $60,000 in the late 1950s. It was a valuable ornament during the year it took him to raise the money to launch New York as an independent magazine in 1968.
It took only four issues for New York to arrive at the first of two critical moments in history. One morning I came into the office-- a loft space on East 32nd Street between First and Second avenues-- and Felker immediately came up to me with a manuscript and a photograph and said: "Take a look at this, Tom, and tell me if you think we should run them. The advertising department says if we run them, we'll lose every high-end retail account we've got."
Since 90 percent of the magazine's advertising was from elegant and chic stores on Fifth and Madison avenues, this was serious stuff. I read the story. Appropriately, even symbolically, one might say, it was by the self-same Barbara Goldsmith who had lent Felker the $6,500. It turned out she could write like a dream. Specifically the story was about one of Andy Warhol's "superstars", as he called the random females in his posse. They often appeared in his home movies, which the art world now took seriously. The art world existed in another galaxy. Only an extra-galactical creature could have watched these movies or the "superstars" with a straight face. The superstar in question was called "Viva," a sometime model. Barbara Goldsmith's story was the first to remove the glistening Pop campy-fun-filled screen through which the press had heretofore viewed Warhol & posse, and reveal the roach's belly of the life they actually lived. Warhol himself came off as an even more sickly equivalent of the voyeur Popeye in Faulkner's Sanctuary.
The crowning touch was the photograph. It showed Viva nude, not a stitch covering her scrawny body, reclining on a worse-for-wear Recamier sofa after the manner of Manet's "Olympia," with a coffee table from the "Play It Again Sam" future-antiques store in the foreground. It was all there for the looking . . . her bony ribcage . . . her junior-braless little breasts . . . her mons pubis and pullet's legs . . . her long hair from last night. Above all, there were her eyes, which, by way of camping it up for the camera, she had rolled up until only the whites showed, as if she were suffering a grunge-induced seizure. But somehow nothing seemed quite so grungy or louche as what was on the coffee table: a dirty ashtray and an empty milk carton. Somehow it was the empty milk carton with its scruffy, moldy unfold-open cardboard spout that . . . did it. The picture had been taken by a photographer named Diane Arbus.
Felker waited for my reaction. I finally looked up and said, "Clay, this is so great, this story, this photograph-- I don't see how we can not run it."
"That's the way I feel," said Felker. "We're going with it."
Just as the advertising department had predicted, the high-end retailers left the magazine like a mob of Lots with their forearms shielding their eyes. This led to an angry, panicky confrontation between Felker and his consortium of investors, who owned about 10,000 shares each, in the Park Avenue apartment of the most august of the group, an aging financier name Armand Erpf. I was on hand in my capacity, strictly of the letterhead sort, as vice president of the magazine. The investors were ready to shut the damnable Sodom of a rag down then and there. Far from apologizing, Felker defended his position and said he would make the same call again in any similar situation. They, the investors, should do what they had to do, because he was going to do what he had to do. Smoke was coming out of the investors' ears. I gather it was only the intercession afterwards of Erpf himself, who knew Felker best and regarded him as that rare beast, a genius among editors, that saved New York and allowed it to live for nine more years.
The photographer who took the picture of Viva [was], namely, the late Diane Arbus. Today she is one of the beautified deities in the hagiography of photography as an art. Prints she herself made of her most famous pictures sell today in the mid hundreds of thousands of dollars, and no Arbus is more famous than . . . Viva. [Barbara Goldsmith is the author of five best-selling books and her advances reach the millions.]