London Press Watch

Jan. 21 2002 3:02 PM

London Press Watch

Tina's greater sorrow.

Who minds about the failure of Talk magazine? Its publishers, Miramax and the Hearst Corp., obviously do mind. They lost more than $50 million on it. And there must be bitter disappointment, too, among its 100 employees, now out of a job, and among its regular contributors, deprived of a rich gravy train. But what of Tina Brown, its founder and editor in chief? Does she really care? Might she not even be slightly relieved? After many years at the pinnacle of magazine publishing in New York, Brown cannot admit to failure. Talk was "a great experiment" and would have succeeded in the end, if it hadn't been for Sept. 11. The magazine had begun to "gel", she said, and was on the way up. Perhaps so, but it showed no prospect of generating enough advertising revenue to stem its losses, and so Hearst and Miramax decided to close it down. Brown was reportedly tearful at the news and said in a statement that "it cannot be anything but sad for all of us". But her subsequent comments suggested that she wasn't as sad as all that, at any rate not on her own behalf. For her career as Tina Brown has come to transcend the projects in which she is involved along the way. It is noteworthy that she now refers to herself in the third person like Julius Caesar who, when he went anywhere in the wars, used to write "Caesar progressus est". "I am still Tina Brown", she told the New York Times. And reminding the Times of London that she was staying on as Chairman of Talk Miramax Books, she said, "You will see Tina Brown hopefully at the head of a very successful book company".

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This Tina Brown was in such denial about the first failure of a magazine she has edited that she portrayed it almost as a triumph, rather as the British regard the retreat from Dunkirk. The possibility that she had suffered a defeat of any kind did not occur to her. "There is nobody more boring than the undefeated", she said about herself to the New York Times. "Any great, long career has at least one flameout in it. I'm very proud of having taken the risk". And she has indicated in the past that the next stage in this "great, long career" is going to be writing. She has kept a diary all her life and, according to Monday's Daily Telegraph, American publishers are clamouring for her memoirs. She may also be looking forward to being a nice, ordinary person, now that she has been dethroned as the "Queen of Buzz". For it has been hard for her to be as nice as she really is in that stressful role. In the Observer, Anthony Holden, a close friend, said that her decision to leave the secure embrace of S.I. Newhouse, her billionaire patron at both Vanity Fair and The New Yorker,and embark on the hazardous Talk adventure "came soon after the death of her mother, Bettina, which deeply affected her". A year ago, her father, George, a producer of British films in the 1950s, died too, leaving her doubly bereaved.

In the very last issue of Talk, Brown describes inher "Diary" how she recently seized an opportunity to meet the actress Maureen O'Hara, now in her 80s. Brown was "desperately curious to meet this woman, who was married to my dad for a brief time [in 1938] before his 50-year marriage to my mother". But O'Hara was cold and dismissive. "Married for five minutes, yes", O'Hara said. "The marriage was annulled. I left on the boat for America immediately". Furthermore, the actress accused George Brown of telling lies on the marriage certificate—about his age, among other things. "And he should have sought parental consent. I was only 17 at the time. It wasn't right". On her way home in a taxi, Brown felt "a curious melancholy". It seems likely that this unsettling revelation about the father whom she revered has made Brown far more unhappy than the demise of her magazine.

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