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Capping a fortnight of startling developments in the country's most powerful magazine groups, Hearst Magazines President Cathleen (Cathie) Black has begun shaping her company for tomorrow.

She has made or will be making an offer intended to keep Alan Waxenberg at Hearst and "in this company as long as he wants" but clearing the way to naming a new publisher for one of Hearst's richest franchises, Good Housekeeping, under Editor Ellen Levine. Cathie refused to name names (specifically saying of one reported candidate, Diane Olshan, "I've never met her"), but declaring, "My phone has been ringing off the hook. This is the most prestigious job in publishing."

The company's president also said Harper's Bazaar "will turn a profit, a nice profit and not just a few dollars, this calendar year for the first time in a decade." And she gave a vote of confidence to Esquire's embattled Editor Ed Kosner. "We feel very confident he can get Esquire right. Let the younger books like Details fight it out with GQ. I think Ed understands that Esquire is for the more educated, more sophisticated 30 to 40 years olds and he's started reaching out. Just look at that sleeker front of the book.*.*."

I hadn't seen Ms. Black since she took on the top Hearst post in January and now we were lunching at the magazine industry's favorite deli counter, the Grill Room of the Four Seasons in Manhattan, amid such grandees as Charlie Rose, Howard Stringer, Helen Gurley Brown, Mort Janklow and Greg Gumbel, and then later did an on-the-record interview.

She looks good, tall (5 foot 8) and trim ("Yes, I work out"), having found an apartment on Park Ave. and with their Cleveland Park, D.C. house on the block. Cathie has her son and daughter enrolled in Manhattan private schools and once the elections are over, husband Tom Harvey too will be back fulltime in New York. As for the biz, the peace pipe has been smoked with Philip Morris and Kraft and their lead agency, Y&R, and they'll be back in Hearst mags in '97 in a major way with "a trickle" of ads possible this fourth quarter.

As Advertising Age reported last week, Helen Gurley Brown's final issue after 31 years at Cosmopolitan will be published in February and Bonnie Fuller's first as editor in March. February, said Cathie, "will be a 400-page behemoth." Then off goes Helen to oversee international, a boom market according to Ms. Black. "In Russia alone Cosmo sells 400,000 copies, Good House sells 200,000, Harper's bazaar sells 90,000."

What else?

"Ellen [Levine of Good House] is fabulous. We are bonusing a half million copies a month and doing fabulous newsstand. You'll see increased marketability of the Good Housekeeping Institute & Seal, reintroducing them to younger readers and new advertisers." At Redbook, "Kate [White] is doing a great job. She edits for the life she leads with her two small children." Marie Claire will, as reported, go somewhat older, "not 20 to 25 but a median age of 25. It'll be subtle." House Beautiful isn't intimidated by Conde Nast's born-again House & Garden. "It's a big part of our top performers and we're confident. At this point the House & Garden editorial position is not very clear." Bob Vila's American Home "hits the newsstands (in a test) next week. We're having a party for Bob tonight in the garden (of the Hearst HQ building on 8th Ave.). Healthy Living had a quite positive first test and we'll test another issue in February. SmartMoney turns five in the spring and it's making money."

In October Town & Country marks 150 years of publishing. "Pam Fiori is doing a great job. They'll run 253 ad pages, which is larger than the launch issue of George or the new House & Garden or the largest-ever issue of Vanity Fair." On the people side she says of John Mack Carter that his current role "is a great way to maximize his creative ability. He's our own petri dish." As for Bazaar's Liz Tilberis, fighting a cancer now apparently in remission, Cathie said, "I saw her last night at the Saks Fifth Avenue party for Givenchy. She looks terrific."

All this in a turbulent two weeks when Kurt Andersen was fired by New York; Jim Fallows shook up everyone but the elevator operator at U.S. News; Graydon Carter (Vanity Fair) in a refreshingly candid moment admitted to The New York Times he'd begun his new job after only a weekend off because he needed the money for his kids' schools; Conde Nast rented out the whole Four Seasons to celebrate House & Garden; and Time Inc. unveiled a handsome remake of 66-year-old (but currently peppier) Fortune, giving new Editor John Huey center stage to talk about a bigger editorial budget, new trim size (it'll fit now into checkout racks), and an emphasis on personal finance. And the coverboy of the new Fortune? Apt and perhaps symbolic in the "Age of Dick Morris" and other sleazebags, Mike Milken, barefoot in a Jack Kennedy-striding-the-beach-at-Hyannis pose.

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