James Brady on Cooper: luxe life and literary moxie

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On the wall of an upstairs bathroom of my house in East Hampton there is a handsome photo of long-time GQ Editor Art Cooper. There he is, seated at one of the better tables (Art always insisted on a good table) of the Stork Club. Next to him is gloriously blond and sleek Sharon Stone, whose other flank is covered by, of all people, Ernest Hemingway. In this obviously doctored photo, Papa, in a proper suit and tie, is staring straight ahead, solemn or perhaps distracted.

Cooper, on the other hand, is half-turned, a pussycat grin on his face, slyly admiring the actress' profile and gauging Hemingway's reactions. The table is appropriately decked out with ashtrays and stemmed martini glasses, the familiar appurtenances one would expect of the two men.

As for Ms. Stone, she is studying the novelist, a sappy smile on her gorgeous face, while from her mouth their issues a comic strip balloon in which she inquires, "And what do you do, Mr. Hemingway?"

It is typical of Art Cooper, who loved great writers (I suspect Scott Fitzgerald and Hem were his favorites) and good writing, and filled his wonderful magazine with both each month, that he also understood the devilishly clever tricks of the editing craft which made possible a "Zelig"-like composite such as this which served one year as the invitation to his annual holiday bacchanal in the otherwise staid offices of Conde Nast.

I don't know where we first met, some fashion show in Paris or Milan years back most likely, but I do remember one of the last times I saw him, in the Grill Room of the Four Seasons restaurant on Park Ave., the night Si Newhouse and his colleagues and pals gathered for the formal announcement that Art was stepping down as editor. It was also appropriately in that same room that he was stricken June 5, lunching in a choice corner banquette with another magazine editor, the meal supervised by Four Seasons co-owner Julian Niccolini, who would shepherd Art to the ambulance.

art lived well

It's nonsense to say he was too young to die. We all die too young. But few of us live as well as Art and as fully. I lacked the stamina for many of his soirees but I'd been to some notable lunches with cronies, usually just before Christmas, and always at the Seasons. I'd lived in Paris but when in the company of Cooper and the fabulous gourmets of his clique, I left the ordering of the food and the wine to them, recognizing my betters. Those were the days, my friend, when Art would top off a superb lunch and several wines by striding across the Grill Room after coffee to assume a high stool at the Four Season's, there to enjoy another nourishing glass as the afternoon sun fell toward the west behind shimmering metallic drapes.

He loved writing, loved wine and good food, had an eye for and admired beautiful women, and by God! Did he love that damned magazine!

When Art took over GQ it wasn't much. An OK men's fashion book (overshadowed by Esquire) read largely by a gay audience. He turned it into something important and, without forsaking or offending its constituency, gave it an elegant but muscular heterosexuality. Try pulling a stunt like that and not only getting away with it, but selling ads and beefing up the bottom line at the same time.

lots of plans

Was it really time for Art to step down last year when the rumors began to fly? Every magazine, as Felker used to say, has its season, every editor his time. But when we all gathered that evening to wish him well, and a few pals groused privately to Art that he'd been screwed, he wasn't having any of it. He was fine, he'd loved every minute of it, he was looking forward to taking off a few pounds, getting down to fighting shape, writing a juicy book. And since the company had given him and Amy a trip 'round the world as one of his exit perks (you don't fob off an Art Cooper with a lousy gold watch), he had plenty of time to think about the future. Lots of plans. Lots of Four Seasons lunches. And that wicked book of memories, all identities cleverly masked, of course. A book we'll never see.

And now he's gone to a place where, and justifiably so, he'll be trotting briskly into a four-star establishment of some sort and ushered by an obsequious captain past delegations of lovely women to the very best table in the room.

"Excuse me, Mr. Hemingway, Mr. Fitzgerald, your friend Mr. Cooper has just arrived."

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