Meet Jimmy Breslin, Indie Movie Star!

Jeffrey Kittay, editor in chief of Lingua Franca, has finally found himself an editor for his newest venture, University Business , just as the first issue of the magazine ships to readers. Patrick Clinton, a senior editor at Men’s Journal and a former professor at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, will take the helm on March 12. Mr. Kittay had been running the show with the help of two West Coast publishing consultants-Susan West and Michael Gold of West Gold Editorial-since the departure of his first editor, former Smart Money senior editor John Anderson, who left in late-October over editorial differences with Mr. Kittay.

While Lingua Franca , Mr. Kittay’s tart non-glossy academic news magazine, is aimed at tweed- and Wallabee-wearing professor types and draws on advertising primarily from academic presses, University Business is a glossy four-color affair that targets the people who hold the purse strings-university presidents and financial officers. Unlike the idealistic faculty readers of Lingua Franca , Mr. Kittay said, “Administrators have a very strong pragmatic streak.…The trick is to respect the higher issues but also the real pragmatic demands on a dean or a provost. That’s what looks different and smells different about the magazine.”

Which is to say, after winning a National Magazine Award for digging up the dirt behind the ivy-covered walls of academe, Mr. Kittay is looking to make some money. Accordingly, a full-page color ad in University Business runs $5,920, about twice as much as it costs in Lingua Franca . Advertisers in the inaugural issue include AT&T Corporation and the Compaq Computer Corporation. Mr. Kittay, who owns the magazine with “two or three” minority investors, will give away 30,000 issues of the bimonthly magazine to high-ranking university officials and will offer paid subscriptions to everyone else.

University Business is going up against the more news-driven Chronicle of Higher Education , and aspires to provide school administrators and trustees with a more in-depth interpretation of education trends. The first issue contains features on the marketing of George Mason University, a for-profit franchise called the University of Phoenix and the multimillion-dollar distribution deals universities are making with soft drink companies like Pepsico and the Coca-Cola Company.

Lingua Franca loses money-Mr. Kittay won’t say how much-and he’s counting on University Business to make up the losses. He said he hopes to turn a profit in four years. The two magazines share an office and circulation staff, and like Lingua Franca, University Business will draw primarily on freelance writers for copy.

How will the freelance rates compare? “Let’s put it this way,” said Mr. Kittay. “At University Business , we have to compete for business writers. At Lingua Franca, we compete for cultural writers, so we can get away with more modest fees.”

(The reporter and Mr. Kittay were co-defendants in a libel suit brought against Lingua Franca ; it was dismissed in 1996.)

Newsday columnist Jimmy Breslin recently came up with an interesting way to put off writing his next book: He volunteered to take a part in Payday , a film written and directed by a second-year New York University film student named Sasha Oster.

Mr. Breslin plays “Mr. Tom,” a bookie. He said he read the script and liked what he saw. “I’m in the middle of a book, in over my head. I shouldn’t move,” Mr. Breslin said. “So I told her Yes.”

Mr. Breslin’s character is idolized by a young Polish immigrant who hopes someday to be a successful bookie, just like Mr. Tom. When a local priest learns of the boy’s aspirations, he challenges Mr. Breslin’s character to dissuade the boy from a life of crime.

Mr. Breslin’s co-star-”a 10-year-old Polish kid from Jersey”-was discovered through a want ad. The film was shot over two weeks in January, mostly in Red Hook and Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Apparently, the old salt bonded with his young protégé. “Jimmy is a really good actor,” Ms. Oster said. “He should be in more things if he’d put up with it.”

“The tough part is the sitting,” Mr. Breslin said. “It’s cruel . It takes four hours to light a scene. You go crazy. It was dark. It was cold. Who the hell knows? The rules of acting are, know your lines and bring a book.”

Speaking of which, Off the Record had the temerity to ask Mr. Breslin what his next book was about. “I’m finding out,” he said. “It’s fiction.” Asked about his progress, Mr. Breslin said: “What the fuck do I do? I wake up at 4 in the morning, and I sit there till I’m done.”

New Yorker staff members reacted with alarm to a Feb. 26 New York Times story on the new Condé Nast Building at 4 Times Square in which Dina Frank, one of the head interior designers for the new offices, was quoted as saying, “There’s going to be little individual identity per magazine. It will be all Condé Nast.” The spiritual descendants of Harold Ross and William Shawn, the comments implied, will soon be at one with the staff of Brides .

Some employees of Condé Nast Publications Inc. couldn’t resist ribbing their entitled colleagues on West 43rd Street; they forwarded along copies of “Issue 1, Volume 1″ of a flashy color newsletter-printed on “100 percent bamboo pulp”-put together by Condé Nast’s human resources department. The newsletter trumpets the building’s many features and works hard to allay anxieties staff members might be having over what it calls “the journey beyond Fifth Avenue.”

First of all, the new building is “within walking distance of many of the city’s most renown [sic] hot spots,” the newsletter notes. “You’ll find it’s just a stone’s throw away from our old stamping [sic] grounds on Madison Avenue.” Furthermore, the human resources folks boasted, the new building “will be the 140th tallest building in the world and 25th highest in New York City.”

Condé Nast president Steve Florio, in a letter to the troops, expresses his desire to include employees “in the growing momentum of our relocation” and points out that the building “resides between two very diverse identities-the northwest exposure looks out onto the vitality of Times Square and the southeast facade faces a more traditional environment, reflective of corporate midtown.” Put another way, some offices in the building will look uptown, others downtown and the remaining offices will look crosstown.

Architect Frank Gehry also penned an evocative letter to Condé Nast staff members on their new corporate dining rooms: “The forms of the glass are soft and cloud like [sic]. The walls will be blue titanium and skylike … so the effect will be a series of soft, willowy lines, almost like moving blades of tall grass.”

“Coming up next,” the newsletter promises, “[Editorial director] James Truman discusses the interiors of Four Times Square.”

Editors at the Daily News were desperate to publish excerpts from the latest Kennedy potboiler, Christopher Andersen’s Jackie After Jack . But when they lost a 21-round bidding war to the New York Post -which published excerpts from the book on Feb. 21-25-the News did what any self-respecting tabloid would do: They panned the ever-living hell out of it.

Before the bidding war, the News worked hard to butter up the author. Mr. Andersen said that deputy features editor Jane Freiman called him personally and “said she felt it was the best Kennedy book ever written.” But when the News lost the bidding war to the Post -which paid a mid-five-figure sum for second serial rights-the paper’s fascination with Jackie After Jack changed dramatically. News reporter Paul Schwartzman was dispatched on Feb. 24 to take the book apart, which he did under the banner “In Fact, It’s Fiction! No Basis for Salacious Tales in Jackie After Jack , Many Say.” Mr. Schwartzman’s piece reported that former Presidential aides were “dismissing” the work.

“It was a transparent effort to counter the Post ,” Mr. Andersen complained. “You don’t expect them to be so obvious.” Said News editor in chief Debby Krenek, “We went out and talked to some people in the book and printed their reactions. It’s not inconsistent with what we often do with books.”

At a Barnard College lecture on Feb. 11, Daphne Merkin, a writer who has carved out a niche for herself confessing such bourgeois fantasies as, say, having her hair caressed by Hitler, was cornered by an audience member. The woman wondered aloud why Ms. Merkin, who hails from an Orthodox Jewish family, had not considered the shame brought on her parents by a piece she wrote revealing more sadomasochistic longings for The New Yorker ‘s Women’s issue in 1996.

“I find it sort of strange that you wouldn’t factor into your decision to publish the piece the knowledge that your parents would be exposed to a great amount of shame in that [Orthodox] community,” said Aviva Cantor, a fellow alumna of Ms. Merkin’s high school, the Ramaz School. “And the attendant guilt for exposing them to that shame … maybe guilt might cut off the motivation to publish.”

Ms. Merkin turned and looked directly at her questioner in the front row. “I’m very interested, but you’re not asking me anything, you’re telling me,” she said coolly.

Ms. Cantor let her have it. “My parents are dead,” she announced to all the world, “but I would not be able to do such a thing.”

Taking her cue, Ms. Merkin started talking-fast. “Well, maybe that makes you a better person-possibly it does-or a very different person,” she said. “I mean, I think these factors are all factored in. I don’t consider myself a psychologically unsettled person, um, I don’t really, in fact, find it interesting … to sort of defend a piece that I wrote, and gave enormous thought to how I portrayed it. And I don’t think [my parents] were exposed to massive shame, to be honest … nor do I know how many people in their actual synagogue, or shul, rushed out to read this piece. I don’t know.… These are all things I thought about.”

Having made her point, Ms. Merkin moved on to the next questioner. The Barnard girls tittered in the back row.