The New Esquire Man Pops His GQ Mentor

Every summer, the editors and writers who work at GQ magazine go on a retreat at the Connecticut country home of the magazine’s editor in chief, Art Cooper. None of them fears the savage round-robin tennis tournament or the sometimes intense work sessions. But they do get a little nervous about the … cheese course.

At night, in the dining room of the Hopkins Inn, they go through cocktails and dinner and bottles and bottles of wine. The mood is pleasant and raucous. But then GQ’ s food writer and resident gourmand Alan Richman unveils the many cheeses he has brought up from Zabar’s or Fairway, and those present are expected to say whatever is on their minds, no matter how nasty. Someone will suggest an idea for a story or a cover, and someone else will stomp all over it with glee.

It was a little different cheese time in the summer of ’96. GQ’ s editor in chief, the bearded and patriarchal Mr. Cooper, had a question for his crew: “What is the good life to you?” he said. “Define it in two words or less.”

David Granger was among the 20 or so people at the long table. He was Mr. Cooper’s protégé, the editor who developed most of GQ’ s best writers. Colleagues said he was like the son Mr. Cooper never had. Mr. Granger looked a little trashed that night, and by the time it was his turn to speak, he was supporting his head with the help of a butter knife.

“I need three,” Mr. Granger said as he prepared his answer. Then he gave his three-word definition of the good life: “editor in chief.”

People looked over at Mr. Cooper. He was grinning inscrutably.

About 10 months later, the ambitious Mr. Granger was gone. He took the editor in chief job at Esquire -the daddy of all men’s magazines, but now an irrelevant pamphlet-and then he convinced a number of GQ writers and editors to come with him. In the testosterone-laden environment of men’s magazines, this meant war.

“It’s not enough for Art to stay on top,” said someone who has worked with both men. “I think he needs David to fail.”

The close relationship the two men had was gone. When they bump into each other now-at the Four Seasons restaurant, at the men’s fashion shows-they’re no more than civil. Those early-morning chats about stories and writers and life are no more, and Mr. Granger and his wife are no longer party to those long dinners with the Coopers and the Richmans.

“I have the impulse to call him up and just talk to him about running a magazine,” said Mr. Granger. “I’m not sure that would be appropriate.”

Mr. Cooper can sound wistful, too. “I adore his wife, Melanie,” he said. “She’s terrific. I miss her.”

Mr. Cooper likes to say he’s not really concerned with what Mr. Granger is up to, and that he wishes him the best. But his co-workers and acquaintances say that Mr. Cooper is obsessed. He can’t seem to get through a conversation without bringing up Mr. Granger and his handiwork. His memos to the GQ staff poke fun at Esquire or make jokes about destroying Mr. Granger. And the arrival of the newest issue of Esquire prompts days of discussion, often during the cocktail sessions Mr. Cooper holds daily in his office, and the words are rarely positive.

“This whole beautiful little family was torn asunder when the prodigal son decided to move on,” said Mike Sager, a writer who went to Esquire after leaving GQ on bad terms. “And now it’s head-to-head competition. It’s the good old American way. It’s like football Sunday. You have two teams and only one can win.”

70′s Guy Versus 90′s Guy

At GQ , Mr. Granger played the champion of writers, going over drafts again and again, while Mr. Cooper played the Papa who liked being in charge and was not afraid to delegate. It was a nice match. Sometimes Mr. Cooper would rein in the overly literary impulses of Mr. Granger and the writers he was nurturing. The mentor was easygoing where the protégé was zealous.

“He doesn’t really edit copy,” said Mr. Granger of his ex-boss. “That’s his style. Just because I think it’s one of the things I do well, I want to keep in touch with it. And it’s a relief at the end of the day, when you’ve dealt with nothing but administrative stuff, to sit down with a story. Whether it’s just reading stories that have piled up in my in-box, or it’s actually working with a piece of text on my computer, it’s an incredible relief. It’s almost relaxing. It used to be work. Now it’s my relaxation.”

Mr. Cooper, 60, has a trimmed gray beard and favors turtlenecks and, on his more formal days, pirate cufflinks. He came of age as an editor in the 1970′s, when he ran Penthouse for Bob Guccione. At the recent GQ Christmas party, Mr. Cooper was sure to populate the place with models who wore revealing Santa’s Little Helper outfits made of red leather and fishnet stockings.

Mr. Granger, 41, in his goatee and wired-rim glasses, is more of a 90′s guy. He’s a soccer dad, coaching his two daughters, and plays father confessor to his writers, who revere him like a sage. At his Christmas party, there was Al Yeganeh, the Soup Nazi of Seinfeld fame, serving tortilla wraps.

In turning around GQ , Mr. Cooper added good narrative journalism and compelling service articles to a magazine that was little more than fashion spreads and motorcycle features. Mr. Granger, with his passion for spending hours going over stories with his writers, helped the former editor of Penthouse get something he craved: respect. Mr. Granger was a key part of bringing GQ its three National Magazine Awards. Mr. Cooper cherishes those trophies, keeping them on a shelf behind his marble desk. Now Mr. Granger is trying to get some of that respect for Esquire , whose glory days have long disappeared.

One thing Mr. Cooper and Mr. Granger share: a love for Esquire as it was in the 1960′s, when legendary editor Harold Hayes turned the magazine into a literary and cultural powerhouse by showcasing the New Journalism of Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese and Norman Mailer, among others, and the vibrant cover art of George Lois. When Mr. Granger first arrived in New York in 1982, he used to go stand in front of the old Esquire offices on Park Avenue, daydreaming about his future. And in Mr. Cooper’s office at GQ , there are two framed photographs of Harold Hayes, one showing Hayes with Mr. Cooper; also in the frame is a note written by Hayes in 1984, congratulating Mr. Cooper on the job he had done overhauling GQ .

Mr. Cooper had to make do in creating his version of the old Esquire in GQ . Mr. Granger now gets the chance to do it with the real thing.

Esquire Envy

But Mr. Granger has a long way to go before he can put a dent in his new rival’s publication. He’s intensely competitive, just like his mentor, and not just when it comes to work. Mr. Cooper even resorted to an action movie cliché in describing his former employee: “He reminded me a lot of myself at that age.”

Mr. Granger’s desire to prove himself the alpha male made for good sport in those GQ retreats. Everyone would be paddling around the pool, and Mr. Granger would feel the need to challenge someone to a race. But on the tennis court was where Mr. Granger really showed off his machismo. One summer, he got into a fierce volleying flurry with GQ feature writer Andrew Corsello. When they got off the court, Mr. Cooper asked who won. When they said they weren’t keeping score, the boss was outraged. So he insisted that there would be a proper match the next year between the two men, and he said the winner would win the suit of his choice, courtesy of GQ .

In the estimation of his colleagues, Mr. Corsello had no chance in hell of beating Mr. Granger. So the writer tried to psyche Mr. Granger out by calling him when he was on vacation-a tactic he borrowed from Muhammad Ali’s tactic of phoning Joe Frazier the night before a fight. Mr. Corsello never reached Mr. Granger himself, but, using the voice of Mr. Ali, he managed to annoy his wife.

In the set they played, Mr. Corsello won, 6 games to 1. “I kicked his fuckin’ ass,” said Mr. Corsello, still gleeful 18 months later. “I just mopped him off the court. He was withered. He was a broken man. It was sad. He was muttering to himself like Colonel Kurtz.”

A picture was taken of the two men soon after the champion was vanquished, and Mr. Corsello got it framed and sent it to Mr. Granger for his 40th birthday. And whenever Mr. Corsello wore his chalk-striped Hugo Boss suit he won, he made sure to model it for the loser.

Mr. Corsello admires Mr. Granger’s style of play on the court, and sees in it a direct correlation to his philosophy of editing. “He’s got a huge first serve,” said Mr. Corsello. “And there is no distinction between his first and second serve. Even if he is serving disastrously and it will cost him the game if he keeps it up, he won’t back off. That’s what makes him a man … It’s all-out big risk. If you win, you win gloriously. If you lose, you go down gloriously. But it’s always loud.”

Mr. Granger tells his writers that we’re living in the most boring era of magazine journalism. He wants his writers to have some real personal involvement in their articles. So at GQ he pushed Scott Raab, who’s been through rehab himself, to write about doctors on drugs; and he got Charles Pierce to write about his family’s history of Alzheimer’s disease.

That passion inspires devotion to him, even though he can be a demanding taskmaster, often making his writers turn in four, five, sometimes even eight complete rewrites of an article before he deems it fit to run. They also don’t seem to mind when Mr. Granger assumes a pimplike demeanor and refers (jokingly) to them as his “bitches, as in, “Hey, bitch, come over here and we’ll talk about your story.”

“He’s unbelievable at having writers find their own voice, no matter where it takes them,” said writer Tom Junod, soon after Mr. Granger went to his new job.

Mr. Junod followed Mr. Granger from GQ to Esquire , despite Mr. Cooper’s dangling a $300,000 deal before his eyes; included in the deal was a chance to write for GQ’ s corporate sibling, The New Yorker .

A GQ senior editor, Scott Omelianuk, also left Mr. Cooper’s shop to join Esquire as executive editor. And Lisa Hintelmann, GQ ‘s link to the Hollywood celebrity machine, shocked Mr. Cooper with her departure; she wasn’t seen as one of Mr. Granger’s guys.

“David’s a true believer,” said Terry McDevitt, a former public relations director for GQ who worked closely with both Mr. Cooper and Mr. Granger. “He is like one of those impassioned guys. Both are kind of macho in their own way. Art is more like ‘Damn good job. Great story.’ And David is like ‘This is the best frigging story I’ve ever frigging read.’”

Mr. Cooper inspires loyalty, too-for the freedom he gives his writers and editors, for his talent-spotting abilities, for his breathing life into a journalistically bereft magazine–but not as passionately. And when Mr. Granger departed, Mr. Cooper decided to gauge the rest of his family’s loyalty. Charles Pierce, a writer whose contract had just expired, was the first to be jettisoned when he told Mr. Cooper he needed a little more time to consider his options. That was the wrong answer.

Mike Sager, a contract writer who had been with GQ for five years but was not a Granger acolyte, went next. “I was associated with this palace coup, and I was written off as disloyal,” said Mr. Sager, whose contract was not renewed; Mr. Cooper said he sought someone more productive.

And then there was Scott Raab. A GQ loyalist-he’s got the letters GQ tattooed in red on his right forearm-Mr. Raab had already agreed to a new contract before the excitement began, and intended to honor it. But with all the money being shelled out to new GQ contract writers Robert Draper, Jack Hitt and Elizabeth Gilbert, Mr. Raab felt he should receive more money for his five years of loyalty. He also wanted to ensure he’d be paired with a regular editor. But a misunderstanding over an outstanding article from Mr. Raab’s previous contract scuppered any resolution of these issues. When weeks dragged by, with both no story and no renegotiation, Mr. Raab asked out of his contract. Then things got tempestuous.

Mr. Cooper told Mr. Raab that to be released from his contract, he either had to finish a story left over from his previous contract or reimburse the magazine the prorated fee. Mr. Raab chose the rewrite. GQ killed the story. On Oct. 10, after more than six weeks of haggling, Mr. Raab bought his freedom. The story in question-about the dried-up casino town of Laughlin, Nev.-ran in the January issue of Esquire .

Mr. Cooper said the dismissals were not related to Mr. Granger’s departure. “There were things that were not working as well as I thought they might,” he said, “but we were doing terrific, we were doing gangbusters with things the way they were.”

Spacey to O.J.

Mr. Granger’s all-out style has resulted in a few glorious double faults early into his time at Esquire . The quasi-outing of the actor Kevin Spacey in the October issue provoked a loud thud. The showy prose and first-person journalism that he encourages can sometimes get on your nerves. And the trio of paeans to Christy Turlington in the November issue (“Because Beauty has something to say,” went the cover line) was a misguided attempt to attach some sort of deeper meaning to a simple imperative of men’s magazines: Run lots of pictures of beautiful babes.

“It seems to me that it’s really a kind of very unsubtle, in-your-face magazine,” said Mr. Cooper of the new incarnation of Esquire . “I guess that is David’s sensibility.”

Most recently, for his February issue, Mr. Granger has won the dubious distinction of becoming the first editor to get O.J. Simpson to cooperate with a photo session and interview. The story was in the works under his predecessor, Edward Kosner, but he saw it through. To get the cooperation of the accused killer, Esquire dispatched a blond female writer, Celia Farber, to catch the prey. On Jan. 6, Mr. Granger was doing something that puts him ill at ease-publicity-in an appearance on the Today show to hype the article.

Mr. Cooper still seems preoccupied with what Esquire is up to. “It’s literally his favorite topic of conversation-how well GQ is doing and how poorly Esquire is doing,” said a GQ staff member. Even when Esquire’ s Christmas party invitation landed at GQ ‘s offices, Mr. Cooper was seen parading it around and belittling it for copying GQ s design. At the end of 1997, Mr. Cooper decided to send out an e-mail, congratulating the staff on a triumphant year. In it, he remarked on how well GQ was doing on the newsstand and managed to get in a dig at Esquire ‘s relatively poor showing.

Mr. Cooper really has no reason to worry so. Esquire is an economic basket case. It loses millions of dollars a year, and only the revenue of the international editions and licensing deals helps recoup any of the $80 million the Hearst Corporation paid for the magazine more than a decade ago, magazine-industry sources said. GQ made more than $20 million in 1997, according to two executives at Condé Nast Publications.

Esquire ‘s advertising revenue, which already trailed that of GQ kept spiraling downward under the Ed Kosner regime, even during a economic comeback in the magazine industry. In 1997, GQ sold 1,234 more ad pages than Esquire . For the first quarter of 1998, Esquire ‘s ad pages have risen 35 percent, but it’s still pretty thin.

According to preliminary internal figures obtained by Off the Record, Esquire ‘s already poor newsstand sales fell 23 percent in September and 10 percent in October (the Kevin Spacey cover). Esquire in those two months is expected to average 72,000 copies; GQ , by comparison, will see an estimated total sale of 298,000 copies sold on the newsstands.

A Hearst source said November and December issues for Esquire will beat last year’s numbers. And Hearst insists it’s committed to the magazine. It’s adding about 100 editorial pages to the magazine (about 10 percent of the total) in 1998.

Mr. Granger said he is not really thinking about beating Mr. Cooper’s magazine. “To be absolutely honest,” he said, “I don’t think about GQ that much because I have too much to think about with Esquire . So I don’t see it as a competition … I don’t think one has to die for the other to succeed.”

Part of Mr. Cooper’s intense interest in Esquire , those who’ve worked with him say, stems from his views on loyalty and betrayal.

“Art is one of those people who, if you upset or offend him in any way, you are cut off,” said John Korpics, a former GQ art director who is now at Entertainment Weekly .

And Mr. Granger did not go to just any magazine, but to Esquire , the Esquire of Mr. Cooper’s idol, Harold Hayes.

But Mr. Cooper summarily dismisses any talk of obsession. “Am I concerned about it, am I worried about it? No, I’m not worried about it at all. Am I going to look at what they’re doing? Of course. But obsessed? Hardly,” Mr. Cooper said. “I’ve been competitive ever since I got here. I wanted what Esquire had, which was regarded as the top book in the men’s field. From the day I got here, that was my goal, to dominate the field. So now David’s over there, he’s got to try to take it back. We’re not going to give it to him.”