The Vanity Fair Diaries by Tina Brown
I was quite happily surprised on Christmas morning when I unwrapped Tina Brown’s The Vanity Fair Diaries. I hadn’t included it on my list as I did my list kind of early and then didn’t edit it but when I learned about this book, I knew I wanted to read it. My mom knows me well – she saw Brown on a daytime show and knew I would be interested and decided to go off the list. And I am glad she did.
As a reader, I’ve always liked magazines and Vanity Fair is one of my favourites because there is always so much to read in each issue. I undoubtedly learn something new and it’s the kind of magazine that I can read over a few days vs. getting through the entire thing in an hour. That was the primary reason I was interested in the book but I’m also a big fan of pop culture, media and the entertainment industry and I knew it would be full of great stories about fascinating people. It was that but also so much more and I’ll get to that in a bit.
Tina Brown brought Vanity Fair back to life with her vision for the magazine. She pulled together a really solid team with some existing staff, new staff, great new writers, photographers, content and so much more. I was not old enough to read the magazine when it was under her tenure but after reading The Vanity Fair Diaries, I think some of her legacy is still within its pages. While I didn’t read it then, I do certainly remember some of the amazing photographs that were published during her time – Demi Moore pregnant and naked on the cover, Whoopi Goldberg in the bath of white (milk I think) and the Reagans dancing. From what I could tell, she and her team captured the times so well and pivoted the magazine when times started to change – think the opulence of the eighties and the recession that followed it. It was a fascinating read that made me wish I worked in the media world in the eighties!
What I meant by so much more is that Tina Brown to me stood out as so brave and yet so honest. Yes, it’s her diary so you would expect honesty. What never occurred to me was that in her honesty, I would find a woman who had insecurities, who was nervous about things, who trusted herself in navigating an incredibly challenging role and an environment where had she failed, I think they would have blamed it on her being a woman. I reflected on myself and my own experience and I so appreciated that while there were lots of juicy details and major names from the media, entertainment, art and New York world, her insight into her own feelings about her life and her job and the challenges and the risks and the rewards was something I didn’t expect but really appreciated.
All that but as I said, juicy stories and I gasped out loud reading the following entry and decided that I just needed to share it:
As a last note about the book, I watched an HBO documentary about Robert Mapplethorpe (Mapplethorpe: Look At The Pictures) shortly after finishing the book. Brown had been unsure about using a picture of the artist at his final show before his death and ultimately, decided to go forward with it (Brown, page 310). In the documentary, they reference that issue of Vanity Fair and I realized how very relevant the magazine was and continues to be. This might not a book for everyone but it was definitely enjoyable and insightful and if you read it, let me know what you think.