London, Feb. 19: The world of celebrities was buzzing today with the story of how Hollywood actress Gwyneth Paltrow has humiliated Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair magazine, by forcing him to pull a critical cover story he was planning to publish on the London-based star.
After months of huffing and puffing about the “epic takedown” — that’s American for a major exposé — that Vanity Fair was going to carry on Paltrow, Carter today published a 1,600-word explanation-cum-apology in his glossy on why he had finally decided to pull the proposed hatchet job on the 41-year-old Oscar-winning actress.
What the episode reveals is the power of Hollywood stars to call the shots in their dealings with celebrity magazines.
Responding to Carter’s article, media commentator Roy Greenslade today ridiculed Carter in the Guardian: “After his opening line, ‘Not to bore you with the details’, he (Carter) goes on to do just that. Well, up to a point. It also amounts to a revealing insight into the way in which a magazine that depends on celebrity content can be held hostage by celebrities.… In effect, after considerable pressure and months of dithering, Carter sounded the retreat.”
Bollywood is not quite as bad but it is going in the same direction. For instance, when Bollywood films are shown in advance to Indian critics in London, journalists are made to sign an undertaking that they would not publish their reviews before a prescribed date. This is because the producers are terrified that early critical reviews could affect opening-day box office takings both in the UK and in India.
But Hollywood stars, who live in London or those who come for promotional visits or to act on the West End stage, behave almost like pro-consuls — much worse than the British ever did in India in their dealings with the “natives”.
Magazine and showbiz editors who crave interviews with Hollywood stars cave in to all the demands made of them. Total editorial control of copy is often ceded to the star’s PR team, which sits in on the interview that generally takes place in a five-star hotel in London and usually lasts no more than 30 minutes.
A list of what questions may not be asked is also agreed in advance.
A “bad” piece means the magazine is blacklisted.
Bollywood stars are even more parsimonious with their time — about 50 journalists are made to wait in a queue and then given 2-5 minutes each.
The Carter-Paltrow issue began at an editorial meeting in spring last year when Carter commissioned a Vanity Fair contributing editor, Vanessa Grigoriadis, to write an “essay” on the actress.
Carter was intrigued by conflicting reports about Paltrow, who lives in London with her husband, Chris Martin, a member of the British rock group, Coldplay, and their daughter and son, Apple and Moses.
The British are always gratified when Hollywood royalty moves to London — it happened with Madonna when she was married to the film director, Guy Ritchie, and it also happens with Kevin Spacey, who has been artistic director of the Old Vic theatre for over a decade.
Paltrow’s CV reveals that “following the films Sliding Doors (1998) and A Perfect Murder (1998), she garnered worldwide recognition through her performance in Shakespeare in Love (1998), for which she won an Academy Award for Best Actress”.
She also writes about cookery and offers advice on wholesome living.
At the personal level, it was known that Paltrow had been engaged at the age of 24 to Brad Pitt whom she dated from 1994 to 1997 before ending the relationship.
Then she moved on to the actor Ben Affleck from 1997 to 2000. She met her husband to be in 2002 and married him in 2003.
At the editorial meeting, recalled Carter, “at one point I idly mentioned that I would be interested in reading something on Gwyneth Paltrow. In the course of the previous week, she had been named by Star magazine as the ‘Most Hated Celebrity’ and by People magazine as the ‘World’s Most Beautiful Woman’.”
Word leaked that Vanity Fair was planning a story. Paltrow reacted badly.
She was appalled that a magazine should actually want to run a story on her — a cover story, at that — without her permission. The New York Post and then The New York Times picked up the email she had sent to her A-list friends in Hollywood, urging them not to cooperate with the journalist or have any kind of intercourse with Vanity Fair in future.
“Vanity Fair is threatening to put me on the cover of their magazine without my participation,” an outraged Paltrow complained in her email. “I recommend you all never do this magazine again.”
There were also suggestions — denied by Paltrow — that she asked her friends to give Vanity Fair’s Oscar party a miss.
The result has been that Carter, despite his earlier posturing, ran up the white flag after taking a 20-minute call from Paltrow.
Today, he offered an apology to readers who have threatened not to buy his magazine again if he does not publish the “takedown” — though there are others who warned of similar consequences if he runs the piece.
Carter concluded his article with the words: “We’ll save our gunpowder for bigger stories.
“And so, sorry as we are to disappoint all those many people out there, for the time being we’ll leave it to another publication to roll out the ‘epic bombshells’ surrounding Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s a story I might read. I just don’t want to publish it.”
He has been taken to task in the Guardian by Greenslade who said that his decision “doesn’t make sense because he concedes that the ‘delightfully written’ piece by Grigoriadis was ‘not the one the anti-Gwynethites expected’.
“In other words, it wasn’t a ‘takedown’. So why not publish?”