Wintour of Their Discontent | Crooked Media
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May 04, 2023
Stiffed
Wintour of Their Discontent

In This Episode

As a last Hail Mary to save Viva, Bob and Kathy hire a young, up and coming fashion director — none other than a fresh faced, pre-Vogue Anna Wintour. But will she be enough to save the floundering publication?

 

 

TRANSCRIPT

 

 

 

Jean Pagliuso: Oh but there’s one that I really loved, and let me just see if I can find it quickly.

 

Jennifer Romolini: In April of 2022, I met photographer Jean Pagliuso at her downtown Manhattan studio.

 

Jean Pagliuso: You wouldn’t think I mean, it wasn’t. Oh, this is this was Anna’s favorite, though. That’s the one she liked.

 

Jennifer Romolini: That’s her looking through the work she did with Anna Wintour in the seventies.

 

Jean Pagliuso: Anna was on this shoot and she was up at four on those days. And she would have everything lined up and everything was perfect no matter where we went.

 

Jennifer Romolini: Jean was one of the few female fashion photographers working in the 1970s. And side note, Jean’s in her eighties, now still working as a photographer and still cool as hell. Back in the day, she was one of Anna’s go to photographers for whatever fashion spreads she was working on at the time. Because of this, Jean got a rare glimpse of one of the most famous women in fashion history. Before she was, well, the most famous woman in fashion history.

 

Jean Pagliuso: She’d come to breakfast and she looked incredible the whole time. I was taken aback because I can’t work looking nice.

 

Jennifer Romolini: Jean pulls up a few images from the shoot that she and Anna did together in Puerto Rico back in 1977.

 

Jean Pagliuso: This is Puerto Rico, and we, we’d just run out of ideas.

 

Jennifer Romolini: On this particular shoot. Jean and Anna are struggling. None of the locations they’d originally scouted are working, and Anna doesn’t like their model and they don’t know what to shoot. It’s a bad day. They risk leaving this expensive trip with nothing usable until Jean has an idea.

 

Jean Pagliuso: I said, look it, we’re running out of things here. Let’s go to the other end of the island. I hear it’s kind of interesting there.

 

Jennifer Romolini: She and Anna pull up to a fire station on the other side of the island. Outside, there’s a bunch of guys standing around watching a literal cockfight. Jean’s thrilled.

 

Jean Pagliuso: Well maybe we could just get the fighting cocks in there and the, you know.

 

Jennifer Romolini: Jean and Anna labor over setting up the shot, and their work pays off. Jean shows me photo after photo of this scene. The model is a blank look, which is maybe why Anna wasn’t really into her, but because she’s surrounded by these fighting birds. The blankness. It works. The shoot is smart, tongue in cheek, high fashion, gorgeous. It’s honestly one of Viva magazine’s more striking photo spreads, which isn’t surprising considering that most of Anna Wintour shoots were stunning during her tenure as fashion editor of the magazine. Anna comes to Viva during a tumultuous time. Its identity crisis is hitting a breaking point and its readership numbers are in freefall and in a scramble to try to keep the lights on. Bob Guccione and Kathy Keaton are throwing anything they can against the wall to see if it will stick. And Anna Wintour. She’s one of Bob and Kathy’s final Hail Mary’s. But was Anna enough to save Viva? And was she even up for the task? Back in Puerto Rico, it was hard for Jean to tell.

 

Jean Pagliuso: What Anna would do is, you know, I’d be, totally finally get the things set up. Polaroid was right, start shooting, and all of a sudden she would just disappear. She’d just walk away. Now, you could say that was trust. Or you could say that was boredom. I didn’t know which it was.

 

Jennifer Romolini: I’m Jennifer Romolini and this is Stiffed, episode seven. Wintour of Their Discontent. [music plays] Act one, Cockfight. 73 things that turn a man on. Celebrity Food Fetishes. 50 Ways to Meet Rich Men. An Astrological Guide to Gift Giving. You Never, Ever Have to Break a Nail Again. No, those are not headlines from an old Cosmo magazine you found in your dentist’s office. They’re from Viva in 1976. By this time, Viva looks nothing like this smart, progressive feminist porn magazine. It was under editors like Bette-Jane and Patti Bosworth and Annie Gottlieb. Instead of being a magazine with dicks, it’s now all about how to catch one. The stories are heavily gendered. Now more about money and class, how to marry a rich guy, even a story about how to buy a mink coat. Like the decade when it was published. Viva’s gone from being an early seventies magazine about sexual pleasure to a late seventies magazine about the pleasures of capitalism. Ironically, though, Viva’s capital is actually withering. The magazine is understaffed and it’s starved for resources, too. Here’s editor Robin Wolaner.

 

Robin Wolaner: You know, it looked like we were a glossy magazine, but I was basically given an inventory of articles that had been assigned and purchased by my predecessors. And we had, like almost no budget for new articles. So we had to take those articles and make something of them.

 

Jennifer Romolini: And to make things worse. Bob’s up to his old tricks again, filling Viva’s pages with his Penthouse photography leftovers, and hiring more and more male writers like Henry Miller, who writes an essay in Viva about hating the women’s liberation movement and how it’s, quote “harmful for women to become immersed in politics.” For a man who is known for betting on himself and winning, Bob is hitting a period of, well, not quite winning anymore, especially with his non Penthouse projects.

 

Robin Wolaner: Bob had wanted to start a magazine called Bravo, which was going to be more porn, and they would never use that word, but more risque than Penthouse. And the atmosphere was changing. [music plays]

 

[news clip]: These trends don’t please some members of the feminist community who charge that pornography, which shows women in postures of sexual subjugation, can lead its consumers to commit violent acts against unwilling women and children.

 

Jennifer Romolini: The atmosphere is that the anti-porn movement is coming after Bob in a bigger and bigger way. We’re talking court cases. The heat is on, and it’s a climate that makes Bob feel like a new, more explicit version of Penthouse might not be the best idea.

 

Robin Wolaner: So he didn’t think he could launch Bravo at that point. But he had already hired an editor, a guy named Ernie Baxter.

 

Jennifer Romolini: So now, Ernie, this brand new expensive male editor doesn’t have anything to edit. So they think, what the hell? Let’s just give him Viva. When this man who had never edited a women’s magazine before, starts his job at Viva, he does what many bosses do when they start a new gig. He calls a meeting.

 

Robin Wolaner: And he gathers his all female team editorial team together. And he says, you know, I know I’m probably an unusual choice for this. You know, after all, you know, I only want I only know what it’s like to fuck and not to be fucked.

 

Jennifer Romolini: Classy, right? And for Robin, who’d worked for Bob and Kathy since her teens since Viva started. This is it, the final misogyny straw.

 

Robin Wolaner: And I resigned. I resigned. And Kathy made a huge play to keep me, and I wouldn’t. And that was really hard.

 

Jennifer Romolini: And not too long after Robin resigns, this guy ends up getting fired anyway, which is all indicative of a much bigger structural issue at Viva that’s been there the whole time. Here’s Viva and Penthouse editor Peter Bloch.

 

Peter Bloch: One of the problems was that Bob and Kathy would just switch editors too often. [laughs] You know.

 

Jennifer Romolini: With each new executive editor or managing editor. No matter the title, they’re always the second in command under Kathy’s top spot on the masthead. With each of these new editors comes a shift in Viva’s tone. Sometimes Viva’s feminist. Sometimes, like with the Henry Miller essay, it’s decidedly not. Sometimes it’s a gussied up, feminized Penthouse. Sometimes it’s inexplicably a magazine dedicated to paranormal events. It’s identity whiplash. The magazine sorely needs an anchor. Someone with vision.

 

[news clip]: Her name is Anna Wintour. / Anna Wintour rules the three hundred billion dollar— / She has had the guts and the intelligence. / She is the most famous fashion journalist in the world.

 

Jennifer Romolini: Now you most likely know Anna Wintour from her 35 years and counting as editor in chief of Vogue. But in 1976, Anna Wintour is not a fashion icon yet. True. She’s already got her signature bob, and she’s even wearing dark sunglasses often inside. But when Anna first comes in for an interview at Viva, she’s mostly just a 27 year old UK transplant and out of work, junior magazine person looking for her second U.S. job.

 

Amy Odell: She had just been fired from Harper’s Bazaar, and that was the first staff job she got after moving to New York from London in 1975.

 

Jennifer Romolini: That’s Anna Wintour’s biographer, Amy Odell. Amy’s book, Anna, came out in 2022.

 

Amy Odell: And landing at Harper’s Bazaar. You know, she was very driven even at that point in her twenties to be editor in chief of Vogue. And I’m sure she thought that, you know, she was at Harper’s Bazaar. That was Vogue’s number one competitor. And that would springboard her. And it didn’t. It really ended in disaster.

 

Jennifer Romolini: The disaster was that Harper’s Bazaar thought Anna didn’t understand how to appeal to an American audience, and they fired her for it. So with a bit of stain on her resumé and something to prove, Anna goes job hunting. Viva, which is still understaffed after cleaning house with the penis fiasco and with the swift firing of Ernie, happened to be looking for a new fashion and beauty editor. Anna applies and she impresses Bob and Kathy right from the start. They scoop her up. Here’s Bob Guccione jr.

 

Bob Guccione Jr: She was very young and the impression of her was very bright. You know she was from England, sort of that kind of English luster to her and, you know, charming and, you know, witty and servic and expensive tastes. You know, everybody did think highly of her.

 

Jennifer Romolini: Now, Anna Wintour politely declined to be interviewed for this podcast. She wasn’t interested in discussing her two years working at Viva, which was frankly not a surprise. Here’s Amy.

 

Amy Odell: Anna never talks about her time at Viva. People speculate that she’s ashamed of the connection to a magazine that published male nudity that was a competitor to Playgirl.

 

Jennifer Romolini: To be fair, it is a little odd to imagine Anna Wintour, the fashion titan we all know today, mixing it up with sleazy pornographers. But whether she likes to acknowledge it or not, Viva is inarguably Anna Wintour’s breakout job.

 

Amy Odell: I think it’s such an important job for her, and it’s almost sad that she doesn’t talk about it [laughs] because this is when you can see her style start to come out. And I think that the early, early Viva is if you look at her fashion spreads, they they definitely resemble some of the things that we’re accustomed to seeing in Vogue magazine.

 

Jennifer Romolini: Anna’s taste is already unimpeachable. She has an eye for young design talent, and she knows how to tell stories through fashion to really sell the clothes. And even though she’s not famous yet, when she’s brought in to head up Viva’s Fashion and beauty section, there’s a buzz about her as soon as she arrives. Here’s Penthouse PR director Leslie Jay.

 

Leslie Jay Gould: I was there when Anna Wintour was started working there, and it was a big deal. And then she came. She always had a fresh bouquet of flowers delivered to her every single day. She looked like a ragamuffin. [laughs] That she turned into Vogue is amazing. She wore outlandish clothes that but I would never wear any of them. But she was the fashion director, you know.

 

Jennifer Romolini: But what Leslie Jay thought of as ragamuffin. Is what others might describe as edgy. Anna is sophisticated, well-bred. She’s the daughter of the famous British newspaper editor, Charles Wintour. She’s got her finger on the pulse of fashion. And she’s fancier than anyone who’s worked at Penthouse or Viva up to this point. Here’s editor Pat Lynden.

 

Pat Lynden: She took the Concorde home to London every single weekend. She would, you know, leave, arrive at work with her shopping bag of her undies or whatever she needed, and then she would come back Monday morning.

 

Jennifer Romolini: After Anna Wintour was brought in, Bob and Kathy, quickly expand Viva’s fashion section from four pages a month to a full 16. It’s a big bet on her talent and a last ditch ploy to turn Viva into a women’s magazine that attracts big money, women’s fashion ads. Anna’s given creative autonomy and free rein to do what she wants with her pages. That free rein, it costs money.

 

Amy Odell: You know, she came from fashion magazine and at a fashion magazine it’s it’s customary to pay a messenger to pick up a dress from a designer and bring it to your office. Well, that, Viva’s not a fashion magazine, Kathy Keaton was not a you know, she didn’t have that much experience. I don’t know how many years of experience she had in magazines when Anna came on. Was it a few? So she had a few a few years of experience, you know, just being parachuted into this role as publisher. So she didn’t know how things operated, really. And Anna ran things at Viva the way that a fashion magazine would run them, and that was alien to them.

 

Jennifer Romolini: And Bob and Kathy weren’t in the fashion industry. They were barely real publishing people, so they had no idea of the funding Anna felt was necessary to do her job funding, which was larger than anyone expected.

 

Amy Odell: You know, this is the thing that Anna came up against early in her career, again and again, wanting to do the thing that she wanted to do and not trying to adapt to concerns like budgets. She didn’t work that way. She was very single minded in what she wanted to do.

 

Jennifer Romolini: And what did Anna want to do? Well, from the looks of her first few Viva issues, she wants to establish herself as a real player on the global fashion scene, and she wants to do it fast. To that end, Anna’s first Viva fashion shoots are lavish, strategic and tightly curated to compete with more established fashion titles. She insists on shooting on location everywhere from Tokyo to Saint Croix, and she often chooses women of color to model some of the first to appear in Viva, which was more in line with an international audience. And she styles them in designers never seen in the magazine before, mixing old school French luxury brands like YSL with cutting edge up and comers like Issey Miyake. But mostly, and perhaps this was a response to getting fired from Harper’s Bazaar for not understanding American taste. At Viva, Anna uses the most American of American designers. There’s never an issue without pieces from, say, Ralph Lauren or Calvin Klein. It’s the Anna Wintour taste you know, if you’ve ever paged through Vogue, it’s classics with a twist. Whereas Viva’s photography had once been a weird, wild romp. Under Anna, it’s more self-serious. Here’s fashion historian Laura Helms.

 

Laura Helms: She brought some forward thinking sort of fashion knowledge there. But Anna was coming from a sort of traditional publishing background and traditional fashion background. And so brought more of that into the fashion editorials, where there’s less fantasy, there’s less dreaminess.

 

Jennifer Romolini: Still, Anna’s success within Viva’s fashion pages is evident right away, and the rest of the industry, including executives at Condé Nast, publisher of Vogue, start taking notice. Here’s Viva editor Pat.

 

Pat Lynden: Her breakout, I, place was, I think, Viva. That’s where she got the attention that put her kind of into the running for the big time.

 

Jennifer Romolini: As for Anna herself, whether she’s on location in Marrakech or back in her Manhattan Viva office, she often displays the same kind of over it all removed she had with Jane. A smidge of early Devil Wears Prada peeking through. She just wasn’t one to play nice with others from the start young Anna has a few unmistakable Anna Wintour of today quirks.

 

Pat Lynden: I was technically her boss because I was the articles editor. She she did not invite any kind of conversation. She did not invite camaraderie.

 

Jennifer Romolini: Pat’s often tasked with editing the words that go with Anna’s fashion spreads.

 

Pat Lynden: We passed each other in the hallway and she’d kind of look down at the floor and get a sort of a little half smile on her face to acknowledge that I was there. But she was not going to say anything to me. And that was kind of it with her.

 

Jennifer Romolini: And when Anna did deign to engage with her coworkers, she could be just odd. The Viva and Penthouse gangs all hang out after work at a Manhattan restaurant and bar called P.J. Clarke’s.

 

Peter Bloch: She would sit there with us. We were all getting all drinking, and she’d be with her shades and peeling little sugar cubes. We’d be hanging out there and some of the minions from Penthouse and Viva would come down with layouts, I think like sitting, like, correcting things. And it’s like, how can you even see anything? [laughter]

 

Jennifer Romolini: Despite these anti-social foibles, Anna’s creative vision is unyielding with the addition of her fashion pages, Viva feels fresh and exciting again. It’s a reset. But could this reset be enough to propel Viva to a legitimate women’s magazine success? Or was it just too little too late? Act two, Last Rabbit in the Hat. By 1978, two years after doing away with the dicks and after two years investing in Anna Wintour’s fashion vision. Bob and Kathy decide to invest in Viva’s editorial again. They give Ginny Kopecki a smart 27 year old editor from Ladies’ Home Journal, the chance to build a real magazine around Anna’s pages. Ginny didn’t want to be interviewed live for this podcast, but she did email with me saying, quote, “I remember that time very fondly. I loved being at Viva while it lasted. It was a great, great time to be a young, single female editor, writer, journalist in New York City, maybe the best ever.” The staff loves Ginny and they respect her, too.

 

Peter Bloch: When Ginny was a very, very principled and very good editor. But I, one of the problems was that Bob and Kathy would just switch editors too often. [laughs] You know.

 

Jennifer Romolini: But even with the challenges, Ginny super into her new job and she makes quick work of bringing Viva’s original, smart feminist vision, of course, sans dick pics and erotica, back to life. And by the middle of 1978, with Ginny and Anna working their magic, Viva’s actually looking kind of great again. There are stories about the epidemic of domestic violence, multi-part packages on abortion. An insightful profile of Eartha Kitt. The magazine, just like at the beginning, is once again staffed with smart editors who have a mission and believe in it. They’re trying to turn Viva around, pull off a new trick. The last rabbit in this magazine hat. And editor Ginny’s enthusiasm for this new Viva is contagious. Here’s Viva editor Pat again.

 

Pat Lynden: We’re bringing Viva on this new track now. Viva is now going to be a terrific magazine. It’s going to be a feminist magazine. It’s going to be exciting. It’s going to be better than Ms. it’s going to be different from Cosmo.

 

Val Monroe: What Ginny and I were saying was like an Esquire, like a feminist Esquire. We wanted to have offer a place where good feminist writers could could publish their stuff, get paid well.

 

Jennifer Romolini: That’s Viva editor Val Monroe. She and Pat are now working with Ginny to make this vision come to life, and they’re having a good time doing it.

 

Pat Lynden: And I remember seeing friends. We went to a restaurant, Fiorello’s or something, and we went as I was walking through the restaurant, I saw friends and how are you? I said, oh God, I’m just so happy. I just love this job. I’ve never loved a job more. [music plays]

 

Jennifer Romolini: Thanks in part to Anna Wintour’s fashion pages, bringing in some clout and at least a few ads. Kathy and Bob are willing to spend on Viva again, and editors like Pat and Val can afford to bring on whatever writers they want. It’s an editor’s dream. But there remains one problem at Viva, and it’s a big one. It’s the problem Viva’s had since the start. It’s Bob Guccione, of course. Specifically, it’s Bob, up to his old tricks, flexing creative dominance and trying to reuse his Penthouse pet photoshoots for Viva’s covers.

 

Val Monroe: We did what we could for I don’t know, eight months. We were offering decent money and good ideas and telling people, you know, ignore the cover.

 

Jennifer Romolini: But the covers turn out to be not so easy to ignore. And with this strong willed new team in place, Bob’s running into resistance. And so is Kathy, who’s often tasked with carrying water for Bob and delivering his orders. Anna is the first to speak out.

 

Amy Odell: They would hear Anna and Kathy Keaton fighting over models and then they would hear Anna stomping out.

 

Jennifer Romolini: Now, even from the beginning, Viva’s cover models rarely made much sense. Sometimes they were celebrities like Bianca Jagger or Shelley Duvall, sometimes Penthouse pets. Sometimes just a man’s bare ass. But when Anna is at Viva, the covers are mostly her models and her styling. Not elaborate Vogue like cover shoots, but at least they’re outtakes from her fashion spreads. They represent her ideas. Anna’s not interested in Bob and Kathy denigrating her extremely specific creative vision with these corny ass porn covers and the tasteless Penthouse pet covers aren’t just affecting Anna. Ginny and Val are getting drawn into the battle, too.

 

Val Monroe: And then one day, Bob wanted to put something like half naked, more naked woman on the cover, like in pearls and bosoms or something.

 

Jennifer Romolini: And for many of the female editors, this is somehow a bosom too far. It’s so obvious the picture is sloppy Penthouse seconds.

 

Pat Lynden: It’s that come hither look in the eyes that is betrays that it’s not for women. That’s not a women’s magazine face. That’s a men’s that’s a girlie magazine’s [laughs] face.

 

Jennifer Romolini: But Bob’s insistent, and Kathy is not stopping him.

 

Pat Lynden: And I remember Kathy defending and saying, it’s a beautiful cover. It’s a beautiful cover.

 

Jennifer Romolini: And remember we’re in the late seventies now. Things are changing. This isn’t Val or Ginny or Pat’s first job, and they’re confident enough to know it won’t be their last. They believe in themselves and their talent, their integrity and vision. So they stand their ground, or at least some of them do.

 

Pat Lynden: Ginny and Val, they were furious. Just furious.

 

Jennifer Romolini: It’s true. Val talks with Ginny and they come to a decision.

 

Val Monroe: Ginny and I said, that’s it. We’re done.

 

Jennifer Romolini: Bob and Kathy, don’t try to talk them out of it. In fact, Val experienced the opposite. She’s basically frog marched out.

 

Jean Pagliuso: Suddenly there was a bodyguard at my desk and we were escorted out of the building.

 

Jennifer Romolini: Even in the midst of all this drama. Pat is still holding out hope.

 

Pat Lynden: I said that I was not going to join them and I told them, you know, they were surprised because I had been so involved in the in the Newsweek thing.

 

Jennifer Romolini: Remember, Pat have been through some serious shit already at Newsweek. She was part of the sexual discrimination lawsuit in 1970. Plus, she actually really loves her job at Viva. So she goes against Ginny and Val.

 

Pat Lynden: I remember that they were very angry at me that they wanted nothing to do with me. Basically, after I said that, I was not going to join them.

 

Jennifer Romolini: Pat just really wants to be able to finally work. It’s so close to working. Viva’s her dream job and like many people in toxic workplaces, she’s clinging to a fantasy of how it could be rather than what it is.

 

Pat Lynden: A magazine that’s that’s trying to get on its feet, trying to change and trying to go in a new direction. And, you know, we’ll we can work on that.

 

Jennifer Romolini: So Pat sticks it out. Bosom covers, porn king and all, as Viva enters yet another round of editor musical chairs.

 

Pat Lynden: The next thing I can remember is that Helen Irwin was brought in as the new editor.

 

Jennifer Romolini: Helen Irwin becomes at least the sixth editor in just five years to hold the second in command position at Viva. She’s another impulsive Bob and Kathy decision, another potential quick fix.

 

Pat Lynden: She depended a lot on me, on my judgment, and I think it was really the two of us.

 

Jennifer Romolini: Until one afternoon, a few weeks later, Helen takes Pat to lunch.

 

Pat Lynden: And, and then I sat down at the table and Helen said. Pat, I have to tell you something. And I, you know, she was lovely about it. And she said, but they’re, they’re closing Viva.

 

Jennifer Romolini: Pat’s stunned.

 

Pat Lynden: There was no inkling at all. And there probably should have been.

 

Jennifer Romolini: Later that week it’s official.

 

Pat Lynden: The night that they that they closed Viva we were all there late.

 

Jennifer Romolini: Pat and Anna Wintour are two of the last Viva women standing on this Friday night, the night, they’re told Viva magazine is finally over.

 

Pat Lynden: We stayed late. We all got drunk. And I we went down to Anna’s office and she was sobbing. She was sobbing. I was very surprised to see that. I guess she thought, you know, here is my great chance. And I had this great this great thing and it’s all gone.

 

Jennifer Romolini: The editors, crying Anna and all, walked to Kathy’s office.

 

Pat Lynden: And then we went down and we saw Kathy, who was sitting in her office and, you know, say, oh, Kathy. And she held out her her arm. Her hand took my hand and some of the others and gave them a squeeze. And she didn’t even look up.

 

Jennifer Romolini: Before they leave for good. The editors are looking for some kind of answers, some closure from Kathy.

 

Pat Lynden: She just but she, you know, she smiled in sympathy. She didn’t say anything. Nobody was accusing her of anything. It was just, you know, we wanted to see what her reaction would be. And it was that she was very sad. But, you know, that’s life kind of thing.

 

Jennifer Romolini: But they’re not getting closure from Kathy or anyone because understanding the end of Viva and what it all means, that’s what’s more complicated than the kind of clear-cut answer the editors want. But a half-century later, I think we’ve gotten pretty close to pinning it down. [music plays] Stiffed is an original podcast from iHeartmedia and Crooked Media. It’s produced by Crooked Media. It’s hosted and written by me, Jennifer Romolini, and produced by Megan Deanna. Sydney Rap is our associate producer. Story Editing by Mary Knoff Music, Sound Design and Engineering by R.A. Brown. Our fact-checker is Julia Paskin. Additional production support from Natalya Keto and Inez Maza from Crooked Media are executive producers are Sarah Geismer, Katie Long, and Mary Knoff, with special thanks to Alison Falzetta and Lyra Smith from iHeartmedia are executive producers for Beth Ann Macaluso and Julia Weaver.