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I was hiking at Mount Washington when the big $650 million Fairchild-Newhouse merger broke, and I followed with fascination Alex Kuczynski's coverage in the Times and Keith Kelly's in the Post. And why not? I worked for John Burr Fairchild (his ancestor, Aaron Burr, shot Alexander Hamilton) for 17 years, the last seven as publisher of the company's flagship Women's Wear Daily, and was one of those who created its enormously popular consumer spinoff.

John and I were Hecht & MacArthur, Hildy Johnson & Walter Burns, having as much fun as "The Front Page," and were lots more profitable. With his trademark skipping walk and giggle, Mr. Fairchild may be the most singular man I know. And I am sure he is simply the best fashion journalist who ever lived.

John recognized nothing happens in fashion which doesn't begin with the designers. He played them up and earned the reporter's reward of access. And he could sit through a collection of 150 dresses, suits and coats and afterwards tell you which would be the season's "Ford," the look everyone would copy.

I have used him shamelessly, under his own name, in several books. And I crafted a novel called "Fashion Show, or, The Adventures of Bingo Marsh." Guess who inspired "Bingo."

The Times reported the merger had the fashion biz "fidgety." Listen, John's little trade paper had garmentos fidgety since the mid-'50s. We couldn't be scared, we couldn't be bought and when Balenciaga banned our reporters from his Paris shows we got the story anyway from "the little monks" -- the young assistant designers who wanted desperately to be noticed and leaked the family secrets.

The night before Saint Laurent would show his collection to Vogue and the Times, we were let in the side door for a preview and cabled to New York a description of the new looks and sketches by Kenneth Paul Block, scooping everyone by 24 hours.

Pierre Cardin sent a page boy for the gendarmes to have our reporter, Jerry Dryansky, arrested over a review. Coco Chanel went for entire seasons refusing to see the editor of Vogue, Madame Vreeland. But she and I drank Scotch afternoons in her apartment, and John and I took her to chic parties where Coco snubbed le tout monde by drinking beer.

We invented the name "Jackie O," called Princess Margaret "Her Drear," dismissed Nancy Reagan's "walker" Jerry Zipkin as "the social moth."

During the miniskirt controversy, John was on the cover of Time; I was on "The Today Show," and we got bomb threats.

When his own paper died, I bought New York rights to the great Red Smith. When Russian tanks rolled, Dryansky and Barney Leason covered "the Prague Spring" by posing as American textile buyers. Kandy Stroud covered Bobby Kennedy's assassination, Chuck Mitchelmore the urban riots of '68. Marty Gottfried and later Ben Brantley did our theater reviews. Rex Reed did movies. Chauncey Howell wrote hilarious nonsense. June Weir interviewed Rose Kennedy. I covered Apollo 11. John skipped about, choreographing our elegant little kindergarten.

We stirred such a fuss and made so much money Capital Cities (which later bought ABC) bought us.

Amid all these amiable capers and hard-nosed professional reporting, there emerged a dramatic irony. On the eve of a Cap Cities meeting (John was a major stockholder and director), John informed Bill Dwyer (later president of Moody's) and me, his two top deputies, that he was quitting to join Conde Nast to work with creative director Alex Lieberman and eventually succeed Alex in the job (which James Truman holds today). Instead of attending the meeting, John was sending his resignation to CEO Tom Murphy.

"You can't do that to Murph!" we protested. "What are they paying you? When will Alex step down? Have you thought all this through?"

In the end, Mr. Fairchild tore up his letter and stayed. Now, $650 million and

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