On the very last page of the unauthorized biography "Tina and Harry Come to America," author Judy Bachrach comes clean. In the acknowledgments, she admits to receiving no cooperation from the subjects of her book, Tina Brown and her husband, Harold Evans. On that page, she thanks three dozen people who did provide interviews and other help along the way. Writes the author, "I had to rely on the kindness of those who knew them." The statement comes as a bit of a shock, since during the preceding 356 pages, there are few kind words spoken about the couple.
Though the book ostensibly is about the much-gossiped-about pair, Bachrach devotes most of her energy to the Tina story. (In fact, the chapters on Evans are written with such decreased vigor, one wonders why Bachrach didn't simply focus the book on Tina.) Brown gained renown, of course, during her eight-year reign as editor of Vanity Fair, where she stoked sales by splashing Hollywood stars across every cover--even those whose movies and TV shows she hadn't actually seen--and spent lavishly on writers, photographers and promotional parties. Researching this book, Bachrach consumed years of profiles and news items written about Tina. She also conducted fresh interviews with ex-lovers, colleagues and friends. The result is a fast read that not only unearths dozens of delicious tidbits, but provides a remarkably balanced portrait of an ambitious--if somewhat ruthless--woman.
The book traces Tina's personal history in exhaustive detail. She was a quiet, bookish and plump child. "These thick glasses--she was nothing special," says the son of the family housekeeper. The daughter of a B-movie producer, stars were always in her home. But as actress Joan Collins remembers, "As a girl, she didn't stand out." Tina gained admittance to Oxford, says the book, after she attended a "crammer" school designed to help late-blooming students pass university entrance exams. As an undergraduate, her ambitions--both journalistically and socially--blossomed. She wrote for school magazines and penned whole plays; during her final year, she called up the features editor at London's Harper's & Queen magazine and asked what they were doing about her play. The book also recounts her boyfriends of that period, including author Martin Amis and actor Dudley Moore. Just a few years after graduation, Brown was living in London, writing for the Sunday Times and deep into an affair with Harry Evans, the married editor of that paper. At 28 years old, by which time she was editor of Tatler magazine, she and Evans were married.
Then came their 1984 move to the States and Brown's blockbuster eight years as editor of Vanity Fair. There, Tina's formula--or "The Mix," as she called it--seemed to be two parts news, one part naughty bits. Issues contained stories on politics, scandal, rich Europeans--and were topped off with covers bearing lots of cleavage. Her most famous front? A very pregnant Demi Moore on the August 1991 issue. Tina is quoted in the book as saying "I had been looking for a way to make a statement about the '90s, and when Annie [Leibovitz] brought this picture in I immediately said, 'That is it!' Because it was so natural and it took off the power suits--literally. It said: 'Naked. Pregnant. It's fine to show your stomach'."
In 1992, Brown began her less successful but equally high-profile stint at the helm of The New Yorker, which was marked by increased circulation but plenty of mini-scandals. There was the issue "guest edited" by Roseanne, covers that many said were simply there to drum up controversy and a lot of internal strife around the perceived trashing of a legendary literary magazine. The book claims Brown was about to be ousted from The New Yorker when she left abruptly in 1998 to start a new magazine with Miramax called Talk.
It's the chapters on the Vanity Fair and New Yorker years that provide the most insight into Brown's life and character. Bachrach claims that when Tina first arrived in New York, she'd go home at night and count up all the slights she'd heard that day. She never got over her nervousness. When a London friend came to visit her at Vanity Fair, she made him stay quiet until they were out of the building for fear of being overheard. Brown is a famous workaholic but the book provides a more balanced picture, reporting that she and Harry would each leave work at 5:30 p.m. and that during dinnertime, the phone would remain off the hook. As Brown's parents grew older, they moved into her Manhattan home; both remained there until their deaths.
Over the years, Brown has been heralded as a ruthless visionary. But the book details the downside to big-time editing--plenty of unhappy battles with the brass. The best description of Tina's perennial dilemma comes on page 283: "Tina was at once lonely at the top, and yet the position itself was strictly illusory: she was not really at the top at all. Above her were the men who needed to be placated." (These men were, of course, her Conde Nast boss, Si Newhouse, and publishers, Steve and Tom Florio, as well as fiery Harvey Weinstein at Miramax.) Reading the book, you can't help but feel that if she were a man, Brown would have had an easier go at it--though it's arguable as to whether she would have gained fame at all in that case. "Tina possessed a remarkably powerful and rare characteristic in a woman: she honestly didn't care whether or not she was liked," a staffer notes in one chapter. By contrast, unnamed others quoted in the book call her incredibly insecure.
Brown's union with Evans, according to the book, has been solid, though far from ideal. "She never pretended to have the perfect marriage," an associate is quoted as saying. Tina identified with Hillary Rodham Clinton, according to the book. When the subject of Bill Clinton's extramarital activities came up at The New Yorker, "Tina never chimed in," Bachrach writes. "She found such conclusions unsophisticated, hopelessly puritanical."
Bachrach doesn't attribute very often in the book. Perhaps that was the only way to get the dirt. But it's hard to tell which quotes, anecdotes and exchanges of dialogue were lifted from other articles, what was unearthed during her interviews and what is little more than hearsay. For the authorized story, we may have to wait for the publication of Tina's journals; she's kept a diary since age 12. But for the dish, "Tina and Harry Come to America" is just fine.