SNL Hell

When Live from New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live as Told by Its Stars, Writers & Guests hits book stores in October, it might be censored after all. According to sources familiar with the situation, some potentially inflammatory remarks by SNL co-producer Marci Klein-daughter of designer Calvin Klein-may not make it into the final version of the text, in part because Ms. Klein balked when she saw her words in the uncorrected advance proofs.

The book’s editor, Little, Brown’s Geoff Shandler, denied that the changes had anything to do with a complaint from Ms. Klein. He said that the book’s authors, Washington Post television critic Tom Shales and journalist James Andrew Miller, scored last-minute interviews with former SNL cast member Nora Dunn and comedian Robin Williams which had to be incorporated into the text without changing the index and postponing publication. As a result, Mr. Shandler explained, certain passages had to be trimmed.

The passage in question is one in which Ms. Klein recalls, among other things, the day last fall when 30 Rockefeller Center, where SNL rehearses and tapes, was hit with an anthrax scare. In the proofs of the book, Ms. Klein remembered being at home, speaking to people in her office who “sounded really hysterical.” The passage reads: “And I was like, ‘Well, I saw six thousand people die, what are you so fucking upset about?’ Now it turned out that it was more like three thousand people. But, you know. It was horrible, just horrible.”

Ms. Klein also recalled a phone call she allegedly received from actor Ben Stiller’s publicist Kelly Bush on Rosh Hashanah to inform her that Mr. Stiller was dropping out as the host of the show because he was “too devastated” over the events of Sept. 11.

“I’m Jewish, but I didn’t really know it was Rosh Hashanah, but I had heard that it was,” Ms. Klein is quoted in the proofs, “and Kelly Bush is on the phone, freaking out.” In the proofs, Ms. Klein says that she told Ms. Bush: “Listen, hon, let’s just be clear about one thing: The world isn’t going to come to an end because Ben Stiller doesn’t host Saturday Night Live . You know, I just saw three thousand people die out my kitchen window.”

Ms. Klein is also quoted saying that she then disinvited Mr. Stiller from appearing on the show. “I said, ‘Kelly, it’s six-thirty, it’s Rosh Hashanah, how dare you call and cancel Ben Stiller, a New York Jew, who should be fucking showing up with bells on?'” According to her account in the proofs, when she tells the show’s executive producer, Lorne Michaels, about disinviting Mr. Stiller, Mr. Michaels’ reply was: “Good. Fuck him.”

Mr. Stiller’s spokeswoman, Ms. Bush, said that she “wasn’t aware of the passage,” but added: “I look forward to reading whatever remains of it.”

Mr. Shandler, who was not in the Little, Brown offices when reached by The Transom, said he couldn’t recall which passages of the book had been cut, but said, “It wouldn’t surprise me if [the Sept. 11 section] was one of the ones we truncated.” Mr. Shandler said that there were no copies of the finished text at the Little, Brown offices in New York, and that all changes had been made in June or July by phone.

Although Mr. Shandler said that “I have never spoken to Marci Klein in my life” and had “never heard from Marci or anyone else at the show,” he also stressed that no one at SNL was “ever involved with reading a single word of the book while it was being written.”

Mr. Miller, the book’s co-author, was equally foggy on “which particular lines stayed and which lines didn’t,” but told The Transom that Ms. Klein’s Sept. 11 passage was altered during the final editing stages, in part because her comments about the anthrax scare came before stories of Sept. 11 and were chronologically incoherent.

Mr. Miller said that he did not have the final version of the book. He also stressed that Ms. Klein “was not targeted for cuts or anything,” nor was she “given special treatment.”

“That passage, I don’t really care about it, because ultimately it doesn’t inform the reader about the show, about the aftermath [of Sept. 11] or about how the show dealt with the anthrax crisis,” said Mr. Miller. “It doesn’t do anything except tell us more about what Marci Klein was saying about Sept. 11.”

Mr. Miller’s discourse on the passage seemed to jog his memory. “You know, I think it may be gone,” he said suddenly, “because as I hear myself talk about it now, I realize that I didn’t feel that it was worth keeping.”

Mr. Miller said that he’s heard from distressed subjects by phone and e-mail since an excerpt of the book was published in Vanity Fair . A number of the cast members and the hosts are taken to task, Chevy Chase in particular. Though Mr. Miller declined to name the people who have complained to him, he did mention that he had spoken to Ms. Klein.

“I think she seemed to like it,” Mr. Miller said slowly of Ms. Klein’s reaction to the Vanity Fair excerpt.

When asked whether Ms. Klein had seen and liked the proofs of the book, Mr. Miller said, “I think that Marci, like a lot of people … when they sit down and talk candidly, and then see their own words in print-I think Marci has very high standards for herself, and I think she cares a lot about the show and a lot about Lorne, and she would always want to make sure that she was doing the best for the show.”

Mr. Miller’s co-author, Mr. Shales, said that although he had never spoken to Ms. Klein about the passage himself, “someone probably did, yes.

“We are indebted to Marci, because she was extremely helpful in the production of this book,” Mr. Shales said. “She helped us get to cast members, in getting past their horrible agents and publicists-this human moat-and she was a great help in penetrating that fortress. So she was more than just another interviewee.”

But though Mr. Shales said there had been some “rewording” of Ms. Klein’s text “for the sake of clarity,” he added: “Everybody in the book got a bit of beneficial editing. People sound silly when you quote them verbatim. So everyone got the benefit of being made more coherent.

“I don’t think we caved in to anything for her. She certainly didn’t demand any changes, and I don’t think we made changes that are substantive,” Mr. Shales said. “The exact phrasing I’m not sure is that important. The essence of it-that she had seen the tragedy in front of her own eyes-is still in the book.” He also said that Mr. Stiller “still takes his lumps” in the book.

Mr. Shales said that he is prepared to take the heat over the book from people who have participated in the show over the years.

“I don’t even know where my loins are, but I’m going to gird them when I find them,” he said.

Ms. Klein could not be reached for comment by press time.

-Rebecca Traister

Neal Travis 1940-2002

In the end, it was former Senator Alfonse D’Amato-a man who has been both praised and vilified by the media-who understood it best.

On Aug. 19, Mr. D’Amato was among the eulogists who spoke at the funeral service at Holy Cross church on West 42nd Street for New York Post gossip columnist Neal Travis, who died at the age of 62 on Aug. 14 after battling cancer.

The crowd, which took up about half of Holy Cross’ pew space, was a living tableau of Mr. Travis’ column: Elaine’s restaurant proprietress Elaine Kaufman, former Governor Mario Cuomo, former Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, songwriter Denise Rich, as well as Page Six columnist Richard Johnson and an assortment of cauliflower-eared publicists who feed the columns.

Mr. D’Amato was next-to-last on the speakers’ list, and he told the crowd-which included Mr. Travis’ wife, Tolly Travis, and his stepchildren Anna and James-that “for many of us here today, Neal saw us through the best and worst of times. Of course,” the former Senator added, “then he told the whole world about it in his columns.”

A faint laugh rose up into the perfumed air. “But somehow we didn’t mind,” Mr. D’Amato said. Mr. Travis had chronicled “our victories” and losses as well as “birthdays, breakups and breakdowns.

“And we adored him. Not despite him, but because of him. Because he was human and he made us human.”

Mr. Travis-“Nealy” to his friends-understood better than most that gossip is an equalizing force. At a time when the proliferation of media too often creates myths-gods and monsters-out of men, he knew that gossip, when applied properly, could humanize them.

Though he was an outsider, from New Zealand-or perhaps because of that fact-Mr. Travis appreciated this city’s strivers, the men and women whose reach would always exceed their grasp. Because he did not condescend to them, they filled his ear, and his column, with stories. Some went further. The sight of former adman Carl Spielvogel and short-lived Mayoral candidate Andrew Stein reading from, respectively, the Old and New Testaments in this house of humility was quite a sight. Remarkably, their skin did not burn.

There was something else that distinguished Mr. Travis. Knowledge of the city’s dark secrets is a heady experience but ultimately a false power, and Mr. Travis managed to avoid the pitfall that ensnared and embittered even the great Walter Winchell. “No malice,” Father Pete Colapietro, the pastor of Holy Cross and the self-described “spiritual director of Elaine’s,” said of Mr. Travis’ work.

Armed with a cigarette, a glass of white wine, his stylish wife and his knowing grin, Mr. Travis sidestepped the heavily corrosive effects of gossip and saw it for what it was: a giddy trip through the circuitry of New York power. As Post editor in chief Col Allan, who was also a longtime friend of Mr. Travis, told the crowd: “His column became the journey of his life.”

At 62, it may have seemed like a short journey, but according to another of Mr. Travis’ longtime friends, Post columnist Steve Dunleavy, who played Keith Richards to Mr. Travis’ Charlie Watts, there was another way of looking at Mr. Travis’ life.

“We all have our rationalizations. And I have my own personal rationalization,” Mr. Dunleavy told the crowd. “When he took that short trip at the age of 62, I know, and I give you my word,” that Mr. Travis had “pushed two lifetimes into that 62 years. So I figure he went when he was 104.”

Well, the math was wrong, but the idea seemed right. “We had so many laughs, it was illegal. Right to end, I can tell you, without gilding the lily one iota,” Mr. Dunleavy said, “he never, ever stopped talking about what a good time he’d had. Not an ounce, not an ounce of self-pity.

“To Neal, it was just one conga line of clowns,” Mr. Dunleavy said. “Sometimes he was in the conga line, too-although most of the time, he was the ringmaster.”

-Frank DiGiacomo

Grapes of Wrath

On Oct. 22, 2002, the international exhibition of wine and spirits known as Vinexpo, usually held every two years in Bordeaux, France, will open its doors at the Javits Center in New York. This will mark the very first such gathering of wine producers and traders in America, so it’s only natural that wine-trade poobah Marvin Shanken, editor and publisher of the wino’s bible Wine Spectator , should be closely associated with the event. Mr. Shanken, whose M. Shanken Communications group also publishes Cigar Aficionado , was asked to be on the honorary board of Vinexpo Americas and is quoted on the trade show’s Web site, sharing his excitement about Vinexpo’s decision to visit New York. “It’s an event I wouldn’t think of missing,” he says.

Unfortunately for other wine-trade publications, it’s an opportunity some of them will miss-because, they charge, Mr. Shanken used his influence as a board member and investor in the exposition to keep them out of the event.

The publisher of Decanter , the London-based monthly magazine devoted to wine, told The Transom that the magazine tried to get a staffed stand at Vinexpo Americas-the way they usually do at Vinexpo in Bordeaux-but were denied. Indeed, when the Brits learned that their presence would be limited to leaving copies of their publication in magazine racks that will be set up at the Javits Center, they withdrew from the event.

“The impression I’m getting is that Wine Spectator is, if you like, the preferred title,” said Decanter editor Sarah Kemp. “They’re the only magazine allowed a [staffed] stand.”

Ms. Kemp said Decanter ‘s publishers declined to participate in the event because, given their option, “it’s not a very effective way of marketing ourselves,” she said.

Although the Decanter editor also added that she wished to preserve good relations with Vinexpo, an exchange of faxes and e-mails between Decanter and Vinexpo, obtained by The Observer , seemed to show that relations had become strained. The British magazine accused the organizers of the fair of perpetrating “an embargo on the freedom of press” that was “grossly unfair.”

Over at Shanken Communications, Mr. Shanken was unavailable for comment, but senior vice present Niki Singer said they had been approached by Vinexpo, not the other way around.

“They invited us to have a booth, and they came to us,” she said. “We’re the largest-circulation wine publication in the world, and Marvin agreed to help them. We’re going to have a booth, but it’s our understanding that all the other publications will be available in a kiosk.”

Ms. Singer also said that Shanken Communications and Vinexpo had a 20-year relationship.

Contacted in Bordeaux about the matter, however, Jean-François Ley, head of Vinexpo’s marketing and development, offered a different account of the situation.

“It was a decision by the board of Vinexpo Americas,” Mr. Ley said of the choice to leave out other titles. “Shanken Communications is an investor in Vinexpo Americas-up to 10 percent-and the decision was necessarily influenced by the fact that Mr. Shanken is an investor and a member of the board.”

Mr. Ley added that Mr. Shanken’s titles provide very important support to Vinexpo, so it seemed natural that they should want them on.

“We’ve had some relatively tense discussions on the subject with [other titles],” Mr. Ley added. “But the door isn’t closed to them. They can collaborate in other areas; they could hold a conference if they wanted.”

-Elisabeth Franck

SNL Hell