GQ ‘s Art Cooper: Editor Was a Man For All Seasons

Art Cooper left a trail of stories when he died on June 9 at the age of 65, but more

Art Cooper left a trail of stories when he died on June 9 at the age of 65, but more importantly, he left a trail of storytellers. And at one time or another in his 20-year-career, Mr. Cooper took almost all of them- his writers-to the place where a massive stroke felled him: the Grill Room of the Four Seasons.

Over martinis, Barolo wine, a three-course meal and espresso, he’d romance them, filling them with great wine and food and dreams of writing great, muscular, acrobatic journalism.

“‘I only hire stars, and now I’m hiring you-and, by definition, that’s what you are,'” GQ special correspondent Peter Richmond recalled Mr. Cooper saying to him at the Four Seasons when Mr. Richmond was brought on board the magazine in 1991. “I was like, ‘Whoa-what if he’s telling the truth? What if I’m that good?'”

“They were crippling,” said Robert Draper, another GQ writer, of those lunches. “They began roughly at noon and would end more or less at 3:30.”

Somehow, they were also fortifying. Mr. Cooper had a hulking confidence, and the ability to instill it in his writers and in his editors. He did it for David Granger, the editor in chief of Esquire magazine, who once served as Mr. Cooper’s lieutenant.

“He gave the appearance of never being uncertain about anything in all situations,” said Mr. Granger. “When he edited by gut instinct, he was a fantastic editor. When the stories he greenlighted were just stories he loved, he was fantastic. There were periods while I was there and after I left that he second-guessed his instincts. Then he wasn’t quite on top of his game. But when Art was confident, there was never a better, more sure editor in chief.”

Mr. Cooper was a complicated man. “He had savoir faire , and he was also a very tough Jew from coal country,” said Scott Raab, a GQ staff writer from 1992 to 1997. But always, he was fiercely competitive. When Mr. Granger left GQ and took Mr. Raab and some of the magazine’s other top-shelf writers with him, Mr. Cooper stormed through the halls, yelling, “This is war!”

“He was one of the last editors in chief, the way George Patton was one of the last great generals,” said Mr. Cooper’s close friend, Alan Richman, GQ ‘s former staff writer. “The era of the larger-than-life figure-it may end with Art.”

When Mr. Raab was sent to profile Dennis Rodman his first year, he returned with ” GQ ” tattooed on his arm. Mr. Raab was drunk when he went under the needle, but the narcotic effect of Mr. Cooper’s approval was also to blame. “You come in with a bright red GQ tattoo on your right arm, he feels like you’re a good soldier in the army,” said Mr. Raab. “Art made you feel like you were something special. It was always about money, but it was never really about money. It was about being a guy’s guy. Art was a general. It sounds kind of goofy, but it didn’t feel goofy, and I was a grown man by then. It felt good.”

The fact was, Mr. Cooper knew how to manipulate writers. He could take them up and he could take them down; he knew their psychology. When Mr. Draper, whom Mr. Cooper had hired away from Texas Monthly , struggled to write a magazine story about his complicated relationship with a brother who had died, Mr. Cooper really pushed his buttons. “I went through five drafts, none of them to his satisfaction,” he said, “and over one of these epic dinners, he said to me: ‘I hate to say this, but I just don’t think you can write with passion.’ Well, that royally pissed me off, and I nearly came over the table at him. I realized weeks later it was a ploy to motivate me. The next draft I produced was the one he published, with virtually no changes.”

Mr. Cooper was a modern man of the old-school variety. He loved college football-“He could convince himself that Penn State was somehow going to win the national championship every year,” said GQ senior writer Devin Friedman-fountain pens, Stolichnaya and soda, and he walked through the halls of 4 Times Square trailing a wake of cologne. He did things that legendary people are supposed to do, but that healthy people are not, like take a car just a few blocks to lunch. (Though he had lost 55 pounds in the last year.)

“He was almost European in his gusto,” said Sonny Mehta, the chain-smoking editor in chief of Alfred A. Knopf, where Mr. Cooper recently said he would probably end up when he got sick of retirement. “He smoked and he drank.”

Mr. Cooper didn’t know much about the latest trends-he couldn’t identify Justin Timberlake in a lineup. Instead, said Hearst editorial talent director Eliot Kaplan, a longtime friend, “he always surrounded himself with smart, young people, and he trusted their instincts. He didn’t believe in focus groups or research.”

His first cover for GQ , in November of 1983, rocked the fashion plates at Condé Nast: Joe Theismann! “They won the Super Bowl that year,” said Mr. Kaplan, whom Mr. Cooper brought with him from Family Weekly . “We were so thrilled to get a straight guy on the cover.”

Former GQ staffer Brandon Holley, now editor in chief of Elle Girl , recalled that after George W. Bush spoke at Bob Jones University, where blacks and whites weren’t allowed to date, Mr. Cooper had an idea: “He was like, ‘I want a fashion spread with a black guy and a white girl dating at Bob Jones University,’ and I said, ‘Really? Oy vey !’ And we shot some hot, leggy blonde with some stud, and it ended up being great. It was out on a limb, and he gave you the confidence to go out on that limb. Most editors can’t teach you that-how to have a backbone and how to have a voice.”

Living Her Story

On June 5, one day after the Associated Press got the big scoop on Senator Hillary Clinton’s Living History memoir, Bill Clinton sat next to Sex and the City star Kim Cattrall on the deck of the U.S.S. Mason at Pier 88 on the Hudson River.

Press coverage of the A.P.’s excerpt of Mrs. Clinton’s book-in which the Senator wrote that she had “started crying and yelling” when she learned of her husband’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky-had placed Mr. Clinton at the couple’s Chappaqua, N.Y., mansion during the resulting furor, where he was supposed to be working on his own multimillion-dollar book. But there he was on the Mason , receiving a souvenir plank from the ship, giving the leggy Ms. Cattrall one of his “Lucky Pierre” glances and praising the ship’s sailors-the only all-black crew to take a warship into combat in World War II-in a speech.

Mr. Clinton’s appearance was part of the premiere hoopla for Proud , a movie about the Mason ‘s crew-and, not surprisingly, he made no reference to his wife’s confessions in his speech. In fact, he made no reference to Mrs. Clinton at all. Instead of addressing her written account of their confrontation-“What do you mean? What are you saying? Why did you lie to me?” she recalls saying during the encounter-Mr. Clinton quoted Emma Lazarus’ inscription on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your poor, your tired, your huddled masses …. ” Mr. Clinton sounded tired when he said this; there were bags under his eyes, and he spoke slowly and lethargically.

But Mr. Clinton seemed a little more upbeat when The Transom managed to buttonhole him for a few seconds after his speech. Was Mrs. Clinton’s retelling of their aforementioned encounter over Ms. Lewinsky true? The Transom inquired. Mr. Clinton smiled. “All I can say is that it’s a wonderful book and I’m very proud of her,” he said. “Everyone should read it.”

-Alexandra Wolfe

Picture This

Give a celebrity a Polaroid camera and she can capture the world.

Or maybe just her lunch.

“Fri. Apr. 25th 2003: Yum! Houston’s Spinach Dip!” Sopranos darling Jamie-Lynn Sigler had written in marker under a photo of herself with some chips. The objet d’art was being displayed in a frame along with five other photos of the once infamously abstemious starlet and her meals-peanut butter and jelly, pizza, Smart Start cereal-at the Chelsea Art Museum on the evening of June 9. She’d entitled her piece A Week of Lunch With Jamie . No one bid on it.

It was one of 112 Polaroid montages created by celebrities that were being sold at a silent auction to benefit an organization called Free Arts for Abused Children of New York City.

John Waters’ piece, which was purchased for $2,550, included five Polaroids he’d taken of his magazines and bookshelves, and a sixth of himself reading a book entitled Suicide in the Entertainment Industry . “Well Read,” he’d written beneath the photos.

A sepia-toned canvas with six Polaroids shellacked onto it was created by Alan Cumming, one of the evening’s co-chairs. The top middle photo was of his brown mutt. “Honey the dog,” he’d written under it. To that photo’s left was a picture of five long, extended digits, below which was written: “Alan’s hand.” To the canvas’ right: “Alan’s other hand.”

We located the rest of Mr. Cumming outside the art museum, smoking a cigarette. He was wearing a largely unbuttoned white shirt and was holding his bejeweled Honey. Mr. Cumming-currently the blue-skinned character Nightcrawler in the X-Men sequel, X2 -said he’d purchased a Ross Bleckner Polaroid montage and had tried to get a Jenny Holzer, but “some big, horrible man got all aggressive with me, so I let him have it.”

Mr. Cumming said that so far this year, he has created at least six art projects for charity, including one called Things on My Fridge , a collage he did for the Bailey House, an AIDS charity. “I got all the things that were on my fridge and shellacked them!” he said, giddy at the thought.

But Mr. Cumming said that the Polaroid seemed to be a comfortable medium for him.

“It’s nice when you have Polaroids … you leave them on the table so everyone can see them.”

We asked if there were any especially cunning subjects he liked to snap.

“Of course,” he said. “My cock.”

-Anna Jane Grossman and A.W.

Talley in the Trenches

“We’ve gone from hedonistic, wild nights in Paris to becoming middle-aged, established people,” Vogue Editor at Large André Leon Talley said in The Great Hall of City College’s Shepard Hall on the morning of June 5. Mr. Talley was referring to his friend, fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, who, like him, had come to New York as an outsider and parlayed a career in what Mr. Talley called “the chiffon trenches” of fashion into membership in the city’s Establishment. For the 54-year-old Mr. Talley, the last few days had been confirmation of that. At the CFDA Awards ceremony on June 2, actress Renée Zellweger had presented him with the Eugenia Sheppard award for his contribution to fashion media, and on June 5, a group of his fashionista friends-including Vogue editor in chief Anna Wintour, designers Manolo Blahnik, Carolina Herrera and Ms. von Furstenberg-had gotten up hellishly early and ventured to the neo-Gothic college at West 138th Street and Convent Avenue to see Mr. Talley get the 2003 Renaissance Award from the Abyssinian Development Corporation. Ms. von Furstenberg was the first to arrive at 7:45 a.m., but she had to wait until almost 9:10 for a glimpse of the honoree. “I wasn’t trying to be fashionably late,” Mr. Talley told The Transom. “It was the traffic.”

Mr. Talley took his seat at the dais just a few minutes before the Reverend Dr. Calvin O. Butts-the pastor of the Harlem Abyssinian Baptist Church where Mr. Talley attends mass-introduced the fashion editor by telling the crowd that he had brought in more than $400,000 to the A.D.C. over the past three years. Earlier that morning, Rev. Butts told The Transom that Mr. Talley “is what the [fashion] world demands. He’s moody and he’s tough and he’s critical, but above all of that, he is a really dedicated man of great faith.”

That was about as personal as things got when it came to Mr. Talley. Like his recently published memoir, A.L.T. -which, he said, Ms. Zellweger called “a bible of balance”-Mr. Talley’s acceptance speech was as conservative as the suit he wore and virtually free of confessional moments. There was the line about being a hedonist in Paris, but even that was opaque. Instead, he turned the spotlight on the two tables of friends and co-workers-the only two tables with place cards on them-who’d come to cheer him on. He introduced Ms. Wintour, sans sunglasses, as “the most glamorous, the most powerful, the most beautiful, the most delightful boss and friend anyone who could ever have.”

A few days later, Mr. Talley told The Transom he felt “very, very proud” of his awards. “For all the pain and suffering that I’ve gone through in my career as an African American man-for all of the pitfalls and pratfalls, as well as the highs and the lows-I felt that my grandmother”-that would be Bennie Frances Davis, who along with Diana Vreeland, figures prominently in Mr. Talley’s memoir-“Mrs. Vreeland, Andy Warhol somewhere in heaven would be smiling.”

“I do believe there’s a heaven,” Mr. Talley said. “I do believe that God has given me the resilience and the survival skills to withstand the chiffon trenches.”

-Frank DiGiacomo

Muzzling the Friedmans

On the evening of June 8 at the Angelika Film Center after a 7:20 p.m. screening of Capturing the Friedmans , David Friedman, a.k.a. the eldest son of the Friedmans of Great Neck, a.k.a. Silly Billy the City’s most popular birthday clown, was fielding questions and praise and playing Jewish geography with a gaggle of giddy downtown moviegoers. The much acclaimed documentary in which he is featured prominently traces his family’s plight following accusations that his brother and father raped children during computer classes they taught in their suburban home.

“Everyone comes out of the theater completely sympathetic to my brother, sympathetic to me, telling me I was courageous,” Mr. Friedman-all jolly smiles-told The Transom. He added that he has only seen the film himself once. He was standing with the film’s editor Richard Hankin in the stairwell of the movie theater’s Mercer Street exit, wearing a navy V-neck shirt, khakis and Adidas. Mr. Friedman, his until-recently-incarcerated brother Jesse, the film’s director, producers and other members of the crew have all been making appearances to answer questions following various weekend screenings of the film at the Angelika and further uptown at Lincoln Plaza Cinemas.

We asked Mr. Friedman if these post-screening appearances were interfering at all with his birthday party schedule.

“I’d love to talk to you all about it, but I can’t,” Mr. Friedman replied. “The director is a control freak,” he said. “You need to call our publicist.”


The Transom Also Hears …

… Magician David Copperfield showed up at Brazilian designer Carlos Miele’s opening of his new store hoping for more than a few drinks and a good time. Wearing a black leather jacket, black T-shirt, baggy jeans and sneakers, Mr. Copperfield circulated through the brightly lit minimalist store on West 14th Street, throwing back caipirinhas and schmoozing with willowy models and would-be designers. Before he left at the end of the evening, Mr. Copperfield stood in the doorway and demanded of an usher, “Where is my gift bag?!”


GQ ‘s Art Cooper: Editor Was a Man For All Seasons