Cutting My Teeth on Celebrity Stories

I was young and didn’t always ask the right questions.

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I wish I had researched the show or thought of a couple of great questions before meeting the creator and producer, who had an air of power, brilliance — and impatience with someone who hadn’t done her homework.

Sometimes I still cringe over my early interactions with famous people (click for high school Pacino blunder) as I climbed partway up the ladder, rung by unsteady rung, in the magazine world. But we learn from our missteps as well as our reaches, so it all worked out.

1. Don Hewitt. My first job was at Woman’s Day, then owned by CBS Magazines. I wrote (for free, after hours or at lunchtime) for the CBS employee newsletter and was dispatched in 1985 to Black Rock, the network’s imposing skyscraper at 51 West 52nd Street. Task: Interview Mr. Hewitt, creator and producer of top-ranked “60 Minutes,” about his new book Minute by Minute, a look at the show’s history. I knew the ticking clock from Sunday night TV but really, I was more of a Mademoiselle reader than a news hound and had no clue what a busy power broker he was. I also didn’t know what to ask, and Mr. Hewitt couldn’t waste minutes. I felt like a hayseed. I stammered out some questions. Above all, it was a lesson in being prepared as a reporter at all costs, which I was not. And who better to learn it from than the brains behind the award-winng news show? My piece did run, promoting the book, accompanied by a coveted caricature, which saved it.

Mademoiselle Magazine cover, 1986.

2. Eileen Fisher. Now, I know and love the style maven’s pieces— from my swingy, sequined ivory tank and soft, organic cotton shell to forgiving, slim-fitting black skirt and comfy sweaters. But then, I didn’t know much about the brand. I was writing a Good Housekeeping feature and the fashion department had faxed (yes, faxed, before email) questions to a handful of designers, who faxed back. All I did was edit the answers, but now! Now I would follow up with Ms. Fisher’s PR rep and try to get more details, to talk to Ms. Fisher, tease out more information about this visionary with an amazing eye — she understands women’s clothing wants and needs. Now I would know. Then I did not.

3. Martha Stewart. It wasn’t an interview, just a chat at a press event in a Kmart store. The blonde domestic superstar and former model had launched a line of towels for the shopping chain and was lingering in the aisles. The parting gift? A set of the diva’s plump towels, which I would gladly use in my apartment. I think Ms. Stewart, like many people I meet (on public transportation, in town, etc.) detected that I was friendly and safe to approach. “Oh, what color did you choose?” she said. We agreed — my yellow pick was pretty. Now? IDK, I’m not sure. But I would probably introduce myself and say where I worked. I would shake hands, if we could….but Covid…

That’s it, that’s all. Just a trip down Memory Lane on a January night during the pandemic.

Alice Garbarini Hurley lives with her family in Montclair, New Jersey and often sits on the green living room couch to write. Her all-time favorite writers include Shirley Jackson, Truman Capote, Mary Cantwell, Mary McCarthy and Laurie Colwin (click that link — and read her Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen memoirs with recipes). For best bird’s-eye peeks into the New York City magazine world: Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, Ruth Reichl’s Save Me the Plums and Jay McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City.

Magazine maven, craft coffee lover, legal guardian. Passionate about fashion and lipstick — though it may not look that way when I dash to the supermarket.

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