The cover story, entitled “Liz Smith: ‘I Hate Outweek!’” ran in June 1991. “I was prepared to think of him as an adversarial reporter,” Ms. Smith said. “But he was so intelligent and nice and sweet. I’ve followed his career with a great deal of proprietary interest ever since.”
The story helped win Mr. Roshan the gig as editor-in-chief of QW, his first of many start-ups. The AIDS crisis was at its height, and major staff battles over politics were routine. “There was this contingent that was, like, ‘Magic Johnson is not our hero!’”Mr. Roshan recalled.)
Mr. Roshan was part of the generation that had been educated about safe sex, he said, “which didn’t make it any less scary. But I got to see the transformation of a community,” from one that was underground and marginalized to one that was aggressively visible—a dynamic he sees happening now for addicts, and that The Fix aims to capture and accelerate.
After QW’s owner died of AIDS, Gil Rogin, the legendary managing editor of Sports Illustrated and co-founder of Vibe, hatched a plan to bring a retooled version of the magazine to Time Inc., to be called Tribe. But after Mr. Roshan presented a prototype, and then another, to the company’s board, the project was shelved, in part, it was speculated, due to fear of a boycott by the Christian right, which had recently targeted Sassy.
Mr. Roshan was subsequently hired by Mr. Andersen at New York, eventually becoming deputy editor under Caroline Miller. He became known there for an uncanny ability to nail the city’s zeitgeist, and for a playful streak. “His stories were always brilliantly full of angles,” said Ms. Brown, who was then at The New Yorker. For instance, he spearheaded a singles issue with companion-wanted ads by Star Jones, Marcus Schenkenberg, Ann Coulter and Ed Koch on the cover. (“They all got a ton of responses but Star only got three letters!” he recalled. “Poor thing.”) For a package, Gay Life Now—a first for a mainstream magazine—Mr. Roshan invited just about every prominent homosexual in town to pose together on the cover, then wrote a provocative piece wondering why so many had demurred. He initiated a column with Mayor Koch and Senator Al D’Amato kibitzing about politics at the Four Seasons, and another, “Cindy Undercover,” in which gossip writer Cindy Adams would take a job as a bartender at Scores, or a waitress at Katz’s.
“He knew absolutely everybody,” Mr. Tennant recalled. “The phone would ring every five seconds. ‘Hey, it’s Candace [Bushnell], where’s Maer?’ ‘It’s Ed Koch, where’s Maer?’ It was like, ‘Please hold. Please hold … ’”
Mr. Roshan nabbed the first postscandal interview with Monica Lewinsky, by accident. “We were at a club, and she was like, ‘You look really familiar,’ and I’m like, ‘That’s funny, you look very familiar as well!’” He also wrangled a profile of Denise Rich and noted proudly, “I think I’m the only person who was simultaneously friends with Denise, Monica and Lucianne Goldberg.”
“God bless Maer,” offered Ms. Goldberg. “He’s smart and kind, and he doesn’t stab people in the back.” They remain friends, though they steer clear of political discussions, added Ms. Goldberg, who now runs a right-wing website, Lucianne.com. “What we do is laugh about life’s situation. He’s hilarious.”
A lot of people say that about Mr. Roshan.
“He’s the most fun ever,” Ms. Grigoriadis gushed. “We would just hang out in his office, laughing all day. There’s a whole new breed of editors now who just want to email back and forth. They don’t dish. But that’s not the way to get people to tell you stuff.”
Lisa DePaulo, who wrote the Lucianne Goldberg and Denise Rich profiles, called Mr. Roshan the most enthusiastic editor she’d ever worked with. “You can’t lose your erection when you’re working with him,” she said. “The best stories in the world are the ones where you have these amazing conversations before you write. That’s Maer. You cannot not be excited. It’s impossible to punt.”
Bigger jobs soon beckoned. In 2000, Jason Binn tried to hire him to run Gotham. Mr. Roshan agreed. But after he resigned from New York, his new boss presented him with a list of “friends” who he said should be treated gently in print. There were more than 30 names on it.Mr. Roshan quickly dashed back to his old job.
Tina Brown came calling a year later, after deciding to step back from editing Talk and concentrate on the books and conferences divisions. She saw Mr. Roshan as an ideal replacement. “He just knew how to spin the news, and he could go high or low,” Ms. Brown said. “He could do hard news but he also had a great sense of humor.”
After a bit of high-level negotiation (Ms. Brown would send a limo driver over with terms, which Mr. Roshan would review, mark up and hand to the driver for the return trip), he took the job. Ms. Brown granted him the right to tinker with the magazine as he saw fit, and he engineered a redesign, changing the trim size, adding new sections and hiring a new columnist, Tina Brown.
Which isn’t to say he had total control. “Our biggest fight was she wanted to have this cover line, ‘My Aching Vagina,’” he remembered with a laugh (the story was an excerpt from Susanna Kaysen’s memoir of genital pain). “And I was like, ‘That’s not happening.’” He adopted a voice I’d heard him use before when channeling Ms. Brown, a voice that sounds absolutely nothing like her: “‘I don’t know why! It’s a very important story! I’m sure if it was called ‘My Aching Penis’ you’d have no problem with it!’”
“That sounds like Maer’s fevered imagining,” Ms. Brown said.
In the end, they went with “Susanna Kaysen’s Private Parts.”
“But those disputes were very few and far between,” Mr. Roshan went on. “I really do love her, There’s nobody more fun or funnier to work with,” he said.
To those who don’t know him, Mr. Roshan’s penchant for such dish can sound snarky. But he relates these stories with deep affection. “He just has a great eye for the tragicomedy of New York,” Mr. Tennant said. “But it’s from a good place. He has a huge heart.”
Harvey Weinstein, despite having shut down Talk not long before, was impressed enough with Mr. Roshan to join an investment group to back the original test issues of Radar. “Maer has an unbelievable weather vane for what’s going on,” Mr. Weinstein said. “He had this incredible energy, and his people really loved him. He always made sure people who worked for him and with him had fun.”