IF NOTHING ELSE, a new tell-all book about Talk magazine editor Tina Brown and her husband, former editor and book-publishing magnate Harry Evans, offers the perfect get-even opportunity for anyone who was ever hurt, disrespected, or ignored by the former power duo.
Take, for instance, this recent assessment by Slate’s Timothy Noah, who recounts a passage in the book, Judy Bachrach’s Tina and Harry Come to America: Tina Brown, Harry Evans, and the Uses of Power (Free Press, 370 pages, $27.50). The anecdote concerns the brief, little-known marriage of Brown’s father, a second-rate British film producer named George Brown, to actress Maureen O’Hara in 1939, just before Britain’s entry into World War II. As soon as the wedding was over, one of the attendees, actor Charles Laughton, took O’Hara to the United States — and O’Hara never saw her new husband again.
"If it weren’t for Charles Laughton ... there would be no Talk magazine," writes Noah, who ends his piece with this: "Alternatively, if you want to take a broader historical view, you could blame it on Adolf Hitler."
Of course, this being the tiny, self-absorbed world of elite media, you can’t really appreciate the viciousness of Noah’s remark unless you know why he would say such a thing. In 1998, Noah was working at U.S. News & World Report when the owner, Mort Zuckerman, fired the editor, James Fallows, an idealistic sort much admired by his staff. Harry Evans, who’d recently joined Zuckerman’s publishing empire following his ouster as editor-in-chief of Random House, was desperately trying to prove his relevance — and thus was telling anyone who’d listen that it was he, not Zuckerman, who had fired Fallows. "I have not been known simply to be a lap-dog," Evans told the Washington Post, an unfortunate choice of words that Bachrach compares in "its flailing, hapless denial" to Richard Nixon’s "I am not a crook."
Bachrach’s entire book — a trashy, entertaining summer read, crude and unfair though it may be — might be seen as an exercise in getting even. As Inside.com recently noted, Bachrach writes for Vanity Fair, which is owned by S.I. Newhouse’s Condé Nast; Tina Brown used to be the editor of both Vanity Fair and the New Yorker, another Condé Nast title. Brown and Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter reportedly loathe each other. And incidentally, Newhouse also owned Random House during Harry Evans’s stint as the editor-in-chief, in the mid 1990s, when Brown and Evans were at the height of their power and influence. (Random House is now owned by the German media conglomerate Bertelsmann.)
In other words, it’s hard to imagine a tale more incestuous than this one.
When it comes to dirt, Bachrach delivers the goods. The recurring theme in Tina and Harry is sex, and neither of the principals comes off looking good in any way. Brown — who gets far more ink than Evans does — is described as a pudgy, unattractive child who blossomed into a "dish," and who screwed her way into positions of increasing influence. Among her paramours: actor Dudley Moore, authors Martin Amis and Auberon Waugh (son of Evelyn), and, of course, finally — when she was just 21 — Evans, then the much-admired editor of London’s Sunday Times.
If Brown is portrayed as something of a skank, Evans looks even worse: an aging provincial obsessed with sex, who can’t look at a jackhammer drilling into pavement without thinking penile thoughts, and who dumps his wife and leaves his children in order to take up with the "buxom" (as we are informed repeatedly) Brown. A young female writer tells Bachrach what it was like to pitch her book to Evans during his Random House years: "He looked up my skirt! I was wearing a knee-length skirt, and Harry put his fucking head down to look up it. Then he made some remark about my looks, how attractive I was." Bachrach also reports on Sheri de Borchgrave’s claim that she and Evans carried on a sexual relationship. Brown — who compares herself to Princess Diana and Hillary Rodham Clinton, both of whom she superficially resembles — cryptically acknowledges to associates that her marriage is Clinton-like.
Such titillation is necessary because there’s so little that’s truly new in Tina and Harry Come to America. The main story is exceedingly familiar to anyone who’s followed the twists and turns of Brown’s career. The years at Oxford. The young journalist on the rise. The phenom who transforms Tatler, a centuries-old magazine of British high society, into a gossipy, celebrity-driven success. The savior of Vanity Fair, who turns a dying experiment into a gossipy, celebrity-driven success. The revolutionary who transforms the musty old New Yorker into — well, a gossipy, celebrity-driven success. And finally, the increasingly frantic, frazzled woman who jumps the Condé Nast ship in order to start Talk — which, unlike her other projects, is a gossipy, celebrity-driven failure.