OH, HOW THE OLD LIONS COULD ROAR

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I've been thinking about the old lions.

Hugh Hefner was in Manhattan on one of his rare sightings and daughter Christie threw a little cocktail party for Hef at the Waldorf the evening before he was to be inducted into the Hall of Fame of the American Society of Magazine editors. He was also doing some interviews and TV appearances, including the Letterman show.

Whether he wore his trademark p.j.'s for any of these events I cannot say. But at the Waldorf he was very nicely decked out in a proper suit and tie, the jaw firm, the man very apparently fit. Only the habitual pipe was missing.

Seeing the founder of Playboy for the first time in a decade got me thinking about other legendary magazine editors of our time, the late William Shawn of The New Yorker and the very much alive but ailing founder of New York, Clay Felker. Shawn came to mind because that same week Newsweek ran a piece by Laura Shapiro about a new book coming out from Random House in June, a memoir about Mr. Shawn and his magazine by one of their best writers ever, Lillian Ross.

Who also, it turns out, was for many years the love of the otherwise happily married Shawn's life.

I did not know Mr. Shawn, though I'd seen him about town on several occasions at a restaurant called the Ginger Man, apparently a favorite hangout of his. But I do know and admire Ms. Ross. According to the Newsweek account (I've not yet seen the book itself), Bill Shawn and Lillian began their affair in 1952. He was 45 and she was about 20 years younger. Harold Ross (no relation), founder of The New Yorker, had died and Shawn was his successor and Ms. Ross was one of the star writers.

"One day in the office the two simply stared at each other, then raced uptown to the Plaza Hotel," reports Newsweek.

Now, by God! that's how these things ought to be done if they have to be done at all. I am not coming out for licky-face in the offices of The New Yorker or, indeed, any other magazine; but if you're going to do it, then you "race uptown to the Plaza," and do the necessary in superior surroundings.

So I am very much looking forward to Lillian Ross' memoir because she cannot write a bad sentence and because I revere people like Shawn. Though I must quibble with Newsweek in its reference to the Shawn of 1952 as "busily turning [The New Yorker] into the finest magazine in the country."

Much as I admire Shawn, Harold Ross had already done that!

As for Hefner, a few words. He rates getting into the Hall of Fame more than any number of people I could name. Including someone I really like, Gloria Steinem, also being inducted the same day. Gloria and Hefner stand for a lot of different things but both helped to define their time. The difference: Hef created a real magazine and kept it going for a long time and paid journalists good wages and free-lancers big bucks. He never cheap-skated anyone and when he knew the time had come, he stepped down and turned the business over to his kid to run, to sell or cut the dogs (the Playboy Clubs, etc.) and punch up the core business. And if you don't think Christie Hefner runs things, you're wrong. The old man may still scrutinize the cover art and slave away at the light box looking at beautiful 19 year olds; Christie heads the family firm and has it back on track.

Gloria, more than aided and abetted by the great Pat Carbine, and others, including the very same Clay Felker (who launched it as an insert in New York), started a magazine called Ms. that made a hell of a splash at first and then gradually faded away. I know, I know; it's still around. But when was the last time you read an issue of Ms.? When Gloria and Hef were brought together offstage the other day, the meeting was awkward and ended badly, with Ms. Steinem refusing to pose with the man and, according to the Times, declaring it was "an error of judgment" for her even to have accepted the award. Tempting one to say, "lighten up, already."

As for Clay Felker, for whom I once worked as a columnist and whom I later succeeded at New York, after skipping a semester he's back lecturing out at Berkeley about magazines, a chore he's been doing for the past couple of years while also battling cancer.

Here's the latest report: Clay is alive and lecturing (speaking more slowly due to treatments) and at this very moment or shortly will be Carolina-bound to pick up a doctorate from Duke, his alma mater (classmates included William Styron, Peter Maas and Bob Loomis), before returning to New York to summer at their (his and wife Gail Sheehy's) place in the Hamptons. On the medical front, no recurrence of cancer, with lasers and chemo and radiation behind him. Recent hyperbaric oxygen treatments were intended, I'm told, to speed the healing process.

Old lions get older. But they don't go gently into that good night.

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