Vanity Fair Editor Graydon Carter, who famously used his show-biz friendships to benefit himself financially, has been calling his Hollywood pals “scumbags” behind their backs in these weeks leading up to his magazine’s annual Oscar night party, L.A. Weekly has learned. Sources say Carter is even naming names, including his one-time mentor Jeffrey Katzenberg and his $100,000 benefactor Brian Grazer. Both men were unaware they’d been badmouthed by the editor during a spate of sloppy emotional jags at cocktail parties, dinner engagements, in the office and on the phone: Katzenberg for supposedly dropping Carter from the mogul’s A-list, and Grazer for supposedly ratting out Carter’s role in that A Beautiful Mind payola scandal. Grazer’s diss comes within days of his seeing Carter socially in New York and being invited to attend the editor’s forthcoming wedding.
Since Oscars is a silly season anyway, let us speculate about more folly in the future. Hollywood is a malevolent enough town that the denizens, scumbags or not, don’t just get mad, they get even. Any fallout from Carter’s recent purgings (more details later) could sink V.F.’s Academy Awards soiree February 27.
“He’s an angry and complicated man who’s very jealous of the people he’s supposed to be friends with,” stated one entertainment-industry source close to the contretemps. “The reaction to this will be just as explosive as you would imagine. People would think twice whether they’re going to the party. They’re going to be pissed.”
About Carter’s “scumbags” phraseology, Vanity Fair spokeswoman Beth Kseniak expressed surprise and told me Tuesday, “I’ve never heard Graydon use that word.”
After checking with Carter, she said he does remember recently discussing Katzenberg, “and what Graydon said was, ‘He’s all business.’ But he says he’s never, ever, had that conversation you describe, with anyone, about Grazer.”
Katzenberg issued this statement to L.A. Weekly: “I have nothing but the highest respect for Graydon. He’s a brilliant editor who has done an amazing job at Vanity Fair, which is the magazine I look forward to reading every month.”
Grazer's office gave me this comment on Wednesday: “Brian considers Graydon to be a really close friend and he's going to go to Graydon's wedding and he's going to go to the Vanity Fair party.”
What makes the above even more interesting is the news that the big man of glossy mags appears to be biting the hands that feed him on the other side of the Atlantic as well. On Monday, the British press reported that Carter caused a ruckus inside parent company Condé Nast’s British headquarters by planning a story on the “London Lewinsky,” who is also the wife of the publisher of British Vogue. (The woman, Spectator publisher and Los Angeles homegirl Kimberly Quinn, had an affair with British Home Secretary David Blunkett, which led to his resignation in December.) The Evening Standard reported that the internal controversy went at least as high up as Jonathan Newhouse, chairman of Condé Nast International.
“Graydon says Jonathan Newhouse has never had a conversation with him about the Quinn story,” V.F.’s Kseniak told me. “We don’t comment on stories that we are, or are not, working on. I wouldn’t take my cues from The Standard.”
The issue here isn’t the merits of the Quinn story. (It should be fodder for Vanity Fair.) Or even an editor like Graydon shitting on show-biz folk. (But these are his friends.) Instead, the focus should be on just how self-destructive is Graydon Carter?
Antyhing that Carter does to hurt Vanity Fair’s Oscar party could not come at a worse time for the magazine or for himself. He just canceled the publication’s upcoming Cannes Film Festival gala, even though it generates enormous European publicity as the hot ticket every year, because he inexplicably scheduled his nuptials around the same time in May. Also, this year’s Academy Awards is extremely star-challenged, with the nominees and presenters generating only dim wattage. V.F. fete organizers are panicking over a possible paucity of celebs inside Morton’s.
But all that pales in comparison to Graydon’s recent pal-and-pay scandal and the debate which has raged over whether it would spoil V.F.’s Oscar night.
There’s a lingering stink after both The New York Times and Los Angeles Times outed Graydon’s ethical lapses for landing, or trying to land, various lucrative Hollywood deals, including that $100,000 Universal Pictures payoff for merely suggesting to Grazer that the book A Beautiful Mind might make a good movie.
More recently, there was the critical and commercial failure of Carter’s anti-Bush book, What We’ve Lost, despite the help of half a dozen V.F. staffers; the humiliation of another four years on the outs with the Dubya White House; the embarrassment of having a bit part in that flop remake of Alfie; the self-serving nature of featuring a flattering oral history on the New York Post’s Page Six. (Not long after, the New York Post seemed to return the favor, predicting that 2004 will be “the most profitable year in the magazine’s storied history” and noting that Carter was seated at Condé Nast chairman Si Newhouse’s table at the annual Christmas luncheon. But the New York Daily News this week said the just released numbers from the Audit Bureau of Circulation for the last six months of 2004 show VF's average newsstand sale "tumbled" a steep 22.5% from an especially strong series of issues a year earlier. The mag's total circulation fell 5.4% to 1.1 million. Noted the paper: "Newsstand sales are generally viewed as a measure of a mag's heat, as well as a sign of whether an editor is bringing in new readers.")
There was also the oversight of not being named to succeed James Truman as Condé Nast’s editorial director, though Carter at one time coveted the job. Not to mention the distinct lack of buzz for this year’s stale Hollywood issue, which itself provoked questions about Ellen Barkin’s photo spread and whether it was a sop to her husband, Ron Perelman, the Revlon magnate, who is a Carter pal.
Speaking of friends, sources tell L.A. Weekly that, over the past three weeks, Graydon inside and outside his magazine offices has been attacking the very Hollywood players he plays with: heads of big media, heads of studios, heads of networks, heads of agencies, managers, producers, etc.
The insiders — who are from the boldfaced ranks of New York’s media, business and literati circles — say Carter seems to launch his diatribes the same way: “I don’t know how anyone works there . . . ,” before segueing into an overwrought condemnation of the entertainment business in general — “Hollywood is filled with nothing but scumbags” — and then a specific targeting of persons whom Carter individually called “scumbags.”
The two people most often named by Graydon, according to these insiders, are Katzenberg and Grazer — the same two Hollywood bigwigs who have been regulars at his Oscar party, who see him socially in L.A. and N.Y., who once offered him an absurdly lucrative gig to work for their joint Internet venture, the short-lived Pop.com.
The insiders quote Carter as complaining that the DreamWorks partner doesn’t act “like a real friend” to him anymore. “Graydon says Jeffrey calls him twice a year, harangues him on projects, and then he doesn’t hear from him again,” one source related. Another heard Carter grouse about the huge money Katzenberg made from the recent DreamWorks animation IPO (initial public offering).
Someone close to Katzenberg expressed shock at the revelation, speculating that if there is bad blood between the two men, it may be an Oscar-weekend rivalry.
For three years now, Katzenberg has organized a smash night-before-the-Academy-Awards party that’s the exact opposite of Carter’s glitzy photo op — casual, no media, no photographers, “nothing but a good time,” one insider explained. “It’s an unbelievably star-packed event at the Beverly Hills Hotel, so Graydon may see it as a serious threat to his czardom as the Oscar party giver.”
Actually, it’s Katzenberg who should have a bone to pick with Carter, not vice versa. The last time Katzenberg attended the V.F. party, Graydon sat him at a terrible table, even though this was the year that DreamWork’s Gladiator was nominated and later won. Carter put Katzenberg not just “very, very far back in the room,” according to a source, but also seated him with Monica Lewinsky. “To someone who had been a huge Clinton person, like Jeffrey, it was like a slap in the face.”
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As for Grazer, he was Carter’s first real friend in Hollywood; later, Carter would even join Grazer’s mogul gang on vacations to Cuba, Brazil and the like. Sources quote Carter as saying that he believes it was the Imagine producer who ratted him out to reporters for receiving that A Beautiful Mind finder’s fee paid by Universal at Grazer’s request because of Carter’s nagging. A source close to Grazer confirms that, after the stories came out, “There was tension, between Graydon and Brian and others mentioned around that time. It put Graydon on the outs with the people he’s counted on.”
The source continues, “As far as I knew, it got all resolved. But I don’t know what ‘resolved’ means in this town. Do you just file it in your mental Rolodex? If that’s true, then it’s not nice ragging on your friends. It doesn’t sound like it has any morality to it.
“But, what else is new?”
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