In the autumn of 1977 Ad Age Publisher Lou DeMarco took me to lunch at the Palm on Second Avenue. "Rance thinks you could write a column for us." Since I was at the time working for Rupert Murdoch I said I'd have to ask him. "Sure," said Rupert, "as long as I don't have to read all my secrets in Advertising Age every Monday morning."
We settled on 25 grand a year and that first column ran Nov. 28. It was about an evening at Norman Mailer's house in Brooklyn Heights, a cross between a Maine lighthouse and an old-fashioned clipper ship with rope ladders and hammocks (there were many Mailer children) and a smashing view of New York harbor by night. The occasion was the birthday of a rich and beautiful young woman. One of her ex-husbands was there and when I asked what business he was in, the young woman said cheerfully, "He's a gangster."
It was that kind of party.
Pete Hamill was there, and Tom Guinzburg of Viking and Henry Grunwald of Time, Jimmy Carter's sister and aunt, Clay Felker, Connie Mellon of the Pittsburgh Mellons, just back from Nepal, and a tall young beauty called Norris Church whom Mailer would shortly marry. Someone announced admiringly, if inaccurately, that Truman Capote was on the wagon. For some reason there was a trapeze in the living room and George Plimpton demonstrated circus acrobatics for Jose Torres, the former light-heavyweight champ, who wore a robin's egg blue track suit, accessorized by two lovelies.
When the column ran Rance Crain got a carping letter from a senior executive of The New Yorker. "I don't subscribe to Ad Age for this name-dropping crap," it read. "Dump Brady." That was 28 years ago and that gentleman has long since vanished and I am still writing columns.
I wrote about media, defining media broadly to include books, the movies and Broadway. I wrote about Paris and Coco Chanel, about war and peace, the Hamptons, football, red wine, TV, Scott Fitzgerald, skiing with my grandchildren, and Elaine's restaurant. I did columns about the 21 Club, covering the Senate, hot air ballooning in Normandie with Malcolm Forbes and Elizabeth Taylor, about once seeing Churchill old and fat and bent in the Commons, riding an ambulance to the hospital with Kurt Vonnegut, beers at the Blue Parrot with Joe Heller, cocktails poolside with Irwin Shaw in Southampton. And I wrote about the Marines, North Korea, meeting the Beatles in Paris, various Kennedys, presidential conventions I attended, Oprah Winfrey, Mrs. Douglas MacArthur and Prince Albert of Monaco having lunch, DiMaggio, Evelyn Waugh, Stowe, Vt., driving in Mexico, opening nights, running copy at the Daily News, living in a London house where Wodehouse once resided, and Yves Saint Laurent's latest nervous breakdown.
I wrote about Maxwell Perkins, my brother the priest, having dinner with the Rolling Stones, meeting Lindbergh and watching Apollo 11 lifting off at the Cape, being terrified of sharks, attending the Oscars, hanging out in Havana before Fidel, reporting de Gaulle's press conferences, rugby, Sheepshead Bay, surviving a stroke, skiing in the French Alps, interviewing Streisand, overnighting in a Brooklyn Rescue Co. firehouse, Wimbledon, being sued by Oleg Cassini, writing ad copy for Macy's, snowstorms, a hurricane crossing aboard QE 2, deaths in the family, writing novels, the Yankees, covergirls, the Henley Regatta, and breakfast with Kate Hepburn.
Eventually I was making 200 grand, wrote a column a week, sometimes two, for 28 years, was drafted to write weekly for Crain's New York Business, and they never once censored me. At various times during my Ad Age tenure, I also did other things. I won a New York Emmy, was on the air for ABC, CBS in Bill Paley's final years, CNBC when Roger Ailes ran it, did an Ad Age radio report on NBC's "Imus in the Morning," wrote Page Six in the Post and published 16 books. I also did lead stories. Editor Fred Danzig sent me off to the Chilko River in British Columbia to chronicle the death of some big ad men who died in a white water rafting accident, a story Ad Age had to own. And did.
And another Ad Age editor, Dennis Chase, sent me to Eastern Europe as the Wall came down, so that I romped around Hungary, Czecho and East Germany, speaking none of their lingos, parceling out packs of Marlboros and dollar bills as bribes and tips, and came back through Checkpoint Charlie without a visa on a wild cab ride, with me hanging out the window, waving the old passport, and shouting as we sped past Red Army troops and Vopos, "Press! Television! Stolichanaya, comrades!"
What a run it was. How much fun I've had, how much dough I made. And now, it's over. Maybe that guy at The New Yorker was right.
This will be my last column for Advertising Age. I have a new five-year contract with Parade magazine and its weekly audience of 80 million Americans, am starting a new book for St. Martin's Press, have a Hollywood movie deal for my Marine novel, "Warning of War." And Steve Forbes will have me doing a weekly Forbes.com column on media and regular appearances on the Forbes TV show produced by Fox. A Luddite in cyberspace? That'll be a kick.
But I'll miss you guys. Let's hope it's a wonderful Christmas and New Year for all of us. And now, as Groucho used to say, "Hello, I must be going."