“We are not waiting in line. We are conducting journalism here,” said George Rush to a young man making his way to the bathroom last night.
Mr. Rush was standing at the back of the Irish bar McGarry’s on Ninth Avenue, just a few blocks away from the Daily News offices on 33rd Street, at his goodbye party.
After 17 years with the paper, Mr. Rush, one half of the Daily News’ husband-and-wife gossip team Rush & Molloy, was one of 30 staffers to accept a buyout this week.
His wife and fellow columnist Joanna Molloy invited friends to the bar last night to say goodbye to a column, and an era.
At the back of the bar, Mr. Rush was making a point: The bathroom is one of the best places to report.
“Joanna followed Madonna into a bathroom at a party! Over time a lot of great info comes out of there. Aside from the drug use and sex in the stalls, a lot of people forget that there are other people in this public space,” he said.
“At the Costume Institute ball about 10 years ago at the urinals, there was some good dish.”
He forgot what he had heard at the urinal (something involving 60 Minutes Steve Kroft perhaps), but he did remember one of his favorite stories from the Costume Institute parties.
“Anna Wintour was there with her new lover at the time, Shelby Bryan. Anna was crying because Shelby had left early, leaving her alone. She was crying right out in the open! She popped those sunglasses on damn quick.”
“I said to her spokesman at the time, Paul Wilmot, ‘Why is Anna crying?’ He said, ‘George, tears of joy, tears of joy. This was such a successful event.’”
“Brad Pitt almost beat him up—did he tell you about that?” said Ms. Molloy, while sitting at the bar.
Eventually they made up with Mr. Pitt. Mr. Rush and Ms. Molloy have developed good relationships with many of their subjects, though things have remained dicey with some celebrities, like Sean Penn.
“He called Joanna and screamed at her for writing about this crazy night out with some strippers and he said, ‘My children are going to read that,’ even though they probably couldn’t read at the time,” said Mr. Rush.
“You get a lot of that. Children are the last refuge of the scoundrel,” he said.
After the pair ran an item about tension between Sarah Jessica Parker and her Sex and the City cast mates, Ms. Parker turned against them.
“I tried to interview her,” Ms. Molloy said, “and she said, ‘How do you do what you do? How do you wake up in the morning and face yourself and do what you do?’”
Ms. Molloy bought a vintage magazine for Ms. Parker on eBay and sent it to her with a note.
“I wrote her a three-page letter about how I got into gossip. For me it was class war, getting into gossip, it was class war. These are people who have so much power, so much money, so much beauty a lot of times, and so much luck. Some of them abuse their power!” said Ms. Molloy.
“They abuse power as much as bankers do, and they make the average person feel insecure about themselves: ‘Why am I not Sarah Jessica Parker?’”
“It gets very existential, because you first got into it because you were interested in these artists, but these folks are not artists, they’re just famous,” she said.
Even after all these years, it makes Mr. Rush nervous to ask other people about their sex lives.
“I still feel a little bad about invading people’s privacy, but not too bad! I force myself to do it because I think that’s our job,” said Mr. Rush.
Colleen Curtis, a former Sunday features editor for the Daily News, was at the bar to send Mr. Rush off. She and Mr. Rush sat at adjacent desks in the paper’s offices for a year and a half.
“I just sat and listened to George on the phone all day long. And you don’t know how to report a story until you learn from George Rush,” said Ms. Curtis.
Ms. Curtis remembered the couple’s reaction to Sept. 11, when Rush & Molloy put their gossip column on hold.
“They covered New York like regular reporters. Not every gossip columnist did that,” she said.
Ms. Curtis’ eyes were wet.
“I can’t imagine the Daily News without George Rush,” she said.
“I do feel that my wife and I have become like the bagel-and-cream-cheese for a lot of people in New York, and we help get them into their day. But sometimes you want to aspire to a more sophisticated cuisine,” said Mr. Rush.
Mr. Rush met Ms. Molloy when they were both working at the Post‘s Page Six in 1986. Ms. Molloy was an editor and Mr. Rush was a writer.
“I was his boss. I’m very bossy and he’s very nice,” Ms. Molloy said.
“At Page Six you had like five events a night—each! each!—this city has so much going on that you can’t possibly cover it all, and so I was seeing that he was coming to all the same events I was doing,” she said.
They became friends and later started dating, after Mr. Rush began talking to Ms. Molloy about how unhappy he was with his girlfriend.
“George is very bohemian. He went to Brown, and he would do things like go to salons and sing ‘They Grow a lot of Coffee in Brazil’ and read poetry, and I was more like the Irish-bar, being-with-inappropriate-guys type,” Ms. Molloy said.
“He had all these billowy shirts.”
They both moved to the Daily News in 1993 and the Rush & Molloy column was born two years later.
Their last item together will appear in this weekend’s edition. Ms. Molloy is staying on at the paper.
“We’re about to get another great gossip columnist at the Daily News,” said Ms. Molloy.
New York’s Chris Rovzar, a former apprentice of Rush & Molloy, broke the news last night that Observer alumnus Frank DiGiacomo, who used to run Page Six, is taking over the Daily News’ Gatecrasher column.
“Somehow I think people still want well-reported, true gossip,” Ms. Molloy said.
“I think people really want to know if it’s true, and you need reporters to do that.”
Mr. Rush would like to work on other writing projects after he leaves the Daily News, but last night he was more focused on reflection. He remembers a time when a gossip columnist did not need to defend his profession.
“In the old days, it was the pinnacle of a career to be the gossip columnist for the Daily News—you were Ed Sullivan, you were Winchell, you were Leonard Lyons, you were Liz Smith—but nowadays everyone is a gossip columnist, like everyone is a critic. You can blog. The specialness of it has gone by the wayside,” he said.
“He’s a very classy guy, he’s always very kind and fair,” Ms. Molloy said of her husband. “We’ll always have 33rd Street.”
“As Gloria Swanson said in Sunset Boulevard, ‘I’m still big, the pictures got small.’ It’s like, George is still big. The celebrities got small.”