- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 12, 2001

TINA AND HARRY COME TO AMERICA: TINA BROWN, HARRY EVANS AND THE USES OF POWER

By Judy Bachrach

Free Press, $27.50, 370 pages , illus.

As this review of "Tina and Harry Come to America: Tina Brown, Harry Evans and the Uses of Power" goes to print, Talk magazine will be hitting the newsstands with Bush daughter lookalikes dressed in prison uniforms. President and Mrs. Bush are not happy, and the White House staff has been put on notice that no one should grant interviews to anyone affiliated with Talk. This will most likely have the unintended effect of giving Tina Brown, the magazine's celebrity editor formerly of Vanity Fair and the New Yorker, the "buzz" that she craves and was bred to generate.
And Judy Bachrach must be beside herself with glee. Her deliciously readable book is a detailed chronicle of how the driven, egomaniacal British expatriate found a soul mate in Harold Evans, the former editor of the Times and Sunday Times of London and proceeded to rise to the heights of influence on this side of the Atlantic. The couple launched successful, parallel careers in journalism and, in the process, alienated people in droves. They are perched to sue author Judy Bachrach for what her book reveals, even as Tina and her staff find themselves White House pariahs.
Among other things, this book is a guide to what put the bad in Bad, Bad Tina Brown. And as such, another unintended effect of White House fury is that this book's gossip-heavy pages are likely to gain more attention than they might otherwise have.
Animated by the voices of known talents like James Fallows, Martin Amis, the late Auberon Waugh, and a host of other respectable journalists, the book also sways to the whines of unnamed sources who appear to be carrying the weight of unidentified slights, particularly at the hands of Tina. Well, boo hoo. Did you, the anonymously aggrieved, honestly think that all the glitz and inflated salaries and toadying came without a price?
At its core, this book is a cautionary tale about the excesses of celebrity journalism and the toll it has taken on mainstream journalism itself. It is also the story of gifted, but flawed individuals who worked hard to scale the heights of their professions, even as they often abandoned judgment. It is also a book about cruelty (Tina's), sex (mostly Harry's obsession with "babes"), ambition (the Browns' plus that of anyone else who came within yards of the golden couple's aura) and money (tons of it).
Harry Evans and Tina Brown ("Teenanarry" as they came to be known) are not journalism's first power couple, or even necessarily its most difficult. Henry and Claire Booth Luce, a k a Arsenic and old Luce, cultivated their own armies of walking wounded. But Teenanarry are here and now, and what are we to make of them? Judy Bachrach deserves points for making the effort to find out.
The Browns arrived in the United States nearly 20 years ago. Harry left his country "a shattered man," having first been shifted from the Sunday Times (a paper he loved and that was sold from under him to Rupert Murdoch) to the Times of London, which was losing money and where he never fit in. In February, 1982, he was named Editor of the Year by Granada Television for his " 'remarkable achievement' of changing the Times 'almost out of all recognition.'" A month later, eight days after his beloved father died, Mr. Murdoch fired him. Two years after that the couple departed for the United States. Harry was 55 years-old at the time of their arrival, Tina just 30.
Tina was drawn to America to become editor of "a lame and halting magazine, recently revived: Vanity Fair, it was called." Her work at the Tatler in London, boosted by an education at Oxford, and her knack for attaching herself to the rich and famous made her a perfect candidate for her new job. Vanity Fair, like the Tatler a Conde Nast property, was owned by the "shy billionaire" Si Newhouse, who would remain Tina's sugar daddy and supporter throughout her reign there and through her subsequent tenure at the New Yorker.
Harry, who would arrive in this country as his wife's "consort," would eventually hold the reins at Random House and U.S. News and World Report, until he was summarily pushed to the "gritty" tabloid the New York Daily News where he soldiered on before being pushed again into relative anonymity. His brave innovations in print media and his investigative prowess early in his career armed him with dignity and some clout. But his career on this side of the ocean would never match his earlier accomplishments, and as much as his American achievements are elaborated here, he remains a wan and compromised presence next to his gorgeous, if chilly, on-the-move wife.
The author states her intentions in bringing their story to light quite succinctly in an introduction: "I think of this book, despite the origins of the two main characters, as an especially American story. Harry and Tina were both nature's Americans. They possessed the cool uncluttered perceptions of the outsider, and yet the drive, the will to succeed at any cost, the ability to overwhelm so many they encountered here. It was only in America that the couple could re-invent themselves successfully … It is an intriguing odyssey Tina and Harry embarked on, wonderfully crafted but hazardous, and it took them from there to here, and from here perilously close to the sun."
Throughout the book the writer mercifully steers clear of too much of this cliched soaring-but-imperiled stuff. She serves up the goods on the couple's respective careers (coups and failures), allies (the good and the awful), political biases (generally Democrat) and Hollywood's slithering, smothering, glittering appropriation of the couple's talent, beauty and ambition.
We see Tina in action cutting a crucial reference to Calvin Klein in a Vanity Fair investigative piece with a dismissive 'Do you know he is one of the biggest advertisers in the magazine?' [The reporter] knew, of course. 'Well, do we really need this section?' … The famous name evaporated from her article." And we see Harry, playing the humiliating role of a Mort Zuckerman yes-man, a supplicant to the very same real estate magnate-turned-magazine entrepreneur who once put the esteemed British journalist on a pedestal.
There is much here that is titillating, thought-provoking and gratifying as only a book humming with Schadenfreude can be. It is hard to know what anyone will learn from the rise and fall of this one couple when it's not clear that we have heard the last from Tina, at least. I may be a sucker but I can't help feeling a little sorry for the pretty blonde from England who chose to take a ride on the heady New York/Hollywood publishing Tilt-a Whirl.
Here is one reason why. At the height of her powers as the editor of Vanity Fair, readers learn, Tina returned from a meeting in her pink Chanel suit and her spiked heels only to discover that she had left the aluminum foil from the dry cleaners on her buttons. "Why did no one tell me? Why didn't they tell me?' she cried, glaring at the offending buttons and ripping off the foil." Maybe the assembled felt protective. Maybe they were afraid.
Nevertheless, these days it looks like the armor may be thinning.

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