All that Glitters

Anna Wintour, Tina Brown, and the Rivalry inside America's Richest Media Empire


By Thomas Maier

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Inside the Condé Nast magazine world run by billionaire S. I. Newhouse Jr., Anna Wintour and Tina Brown were bold and talented British women who fought their way to the top of this male-dominated American industry driven by greed and betrayal. Wintour became an icon of fashion and New York’s high society, while Brown helped define the intersection of literary culture and Hollywood celebrity. They jockeyed for power in the hypercompetitive “off with their heads” atmosphere set up by Newhouse and his longtime creative guru Alex Liberman, two men who for years controlled the glossy Condé Nast magazines that dictated how women should look, dress, and feel.

In turning this world upside down, Wintour and Brown challenged the old rules and made Newhouse’s company internationally famous. Ultimately, one of them won in their fascinating struggle for fame and fortune during the height of New York’s gilded age of print — a time before the Internet, before 9/11, when the Reagans ruled the White House and Donald Trump was a mere local developer featured on the cover of Newhouse’s publications.

At its heart, ALL THAT GLITTERS is a parable about the changes in America’s media, where corruption and easy compromises are sprinkled with glitter, power and glory. Originally titled Newhouse, this re-issued version, with a new introduction and afterword, won the 1994 Frank Luther Mott Award for best researched media book of the year.


Copyright © 2019 by Thomas Maier

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available on file.

Cover design by Paul Qualcom

Cover Photos: Getty Images

Print ISBN: 978-1-5107-4490-5

Ebook ISBN: 978-1-5107-4492-9

Printed in the United States of America


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Cast of Characters


S.I. "Si" Newhouse Jr.—secretive billionaire chairman of the Newhouse media empire.

Alexander Liberman—long-time Condé Nast editorial director and Si's confidant.

Tina Brown—Condé Nast's star editor who revived Vanity Fair and later the New Yorker.

Anna Wintour—stylish and competitive Vogue magazine editor and eventually Condé Nast artistic director.


S.I. "Sam" Newhouse Sr.—Si's father created Advance Publications media empire.

Mitzi Newhouse—Si's mother favored Condé Nast.

Donald Newhouse—Si's younger brother managed newspapers.

Roy Cohn—Si's best friend/lawyer, also counsel to Donald Trump.

Richard Shortway—Vogue publisher taught Si the business side.

Jonathan Newhouse—Si's cousin oversaw Condé Nast in Europe.


Graydon Carter—replaced Brown as Vanity Fair editor in 1992.

Grace Mirabella—Vogue editor fired in 1988, replaced by Wintour.

Diana Vreeland—legendary Vogue editor, fired by Si in 1971.

James Trumanreplaced Liberman as Condé Nast editorial director in 1994.

André Leon Talley—fashion editor at Vanity Fair, then Vogue.

Harold Evansfamed British editor and husband of Brown.

Ron Galotti—publisher at Vanity Fair and Vogue.

William Shawn—longtime editor of the New Yorker.

Dominick Dunne—star writer at Vanity Fair.

Irving Penn—traveled the world for artistic photos in Vogue.

Richard Avedonfamed photographer at Vogue, later the New Yorker.

Annie Leibovitz—iconic celebrity photos for Vanity Fair and Vogue.


President Donald Trump—Si published future president's 1987 memoir, making him nationally famous.

Rupert Murdoch—owner of rival media company, also Trump patron.

Liz Smith—syndicated columnist chronicling Condé Nast.

Norman Mailer—famous novelist recruited by Roy Cohn.

President Ronald Reagan—White House photo helped save Vanity Fair.

Diana, Princess of Wales—friend of Wintour, critiqued by Brown.

Andy Warhol—pop artist asked to paint portrait of family patriarch Sam.

Demi Moore—her 1991 cover defined "buzz" for Brown's Vanity Fair.

Calvin Klein—his high-gloss ads mirrored Condé Nast editorial pages.

A publisher is known by the company he keeps.

—Alfred A. Knopf

I am happy to hear that Pres. Obama is considering giving Anna Wintour @voguemagazine an ambassadorship. She is a winner & really smart!

—Donald J. Trump, @realDonaldTrump, December 5, 2012



Big hair, big egos, big dreams. All the ambition and over-the-top stylings of Manhattan in the 1980s—a time when the Reagans ruled the White House and Donald Trump was a mere local developer—appeared on display at the annual Condé Nast Christmas party.

From a distance, this gathering looked like one of those Old Hollywood studio luncheons where newsreel cameras panned each glittering actor, movie director, and famous face. Only this private event for the Condé Nast media empire was far more exclusive, with its "stars" compared to a then-popular television show called Dynasty.

S. I. Newhouse Jr., a small, reclusive man known as "Si," reigned supreme over this dazzling affair, along with his debonair, long-time editorial director, Alexander Liberman. For decades, these two men controlled an array of glossy magazines—stuffed with perfume-scented pages full of beautiful models, clothes, and accoutrements—which dictated how women should look, dress, and feel.

At tables near Newhouse, each editor was seated in proximity to their perceived favor with the boss. Closest to Si were his most celebrated stars, Anna Wintour of Vogue and Tina Brown of Vanity Fair.

While these two female editors traded polite smiles and bons mots, the press portrayed their relationship as nothing less than a duel. An air of contention pervaded the room like perfume or the aroma of a fine wine. From the moment that Wintour walked through the door as a Condé Nast editor, Time magazine reported, "rumors of a Dynasty-style cat fight with Brown began to circulate."

Both pooh-poohed talk of any rivalry, and under different circumstances, the two young British women might have been friends. But in the intense world of Condé Nast—where Newhouse presided over a "managed competition" among his editors— a tug-of-war for power and influence was only natural.

This tension seemed reflected even in the group photo taken at these holiday conclaves held at the Four Seasons restaurant, an elegant mid-Manhattan eatery known for its "power lunches." Usually in these photos, Si could be found in the middle, with Anna standing to his right and Tina on the opposite left.

Virtually everyone in America's media took note of the Condé Nast fireworks, just as Newhouse intended. No longer would the Newhouse name be weighed solely by the chain of dull gray newspapers started by his father in out-of-the-way places.

"Anna Wintour and Tina Brown have become twin symbols of the new Condé Nast, where glamour and celebrity are the coin of the realm, editors are stars, and Britannia rules the waves," enthused the New York Times in 1989. "In their glossy journals, they are purveyors of gossip and celebrity, yet they themselves have become celebrities of a sort, fodder for the rumor mills. Their clothes, their homes, their husbands, their rise through the organization, their salaries (said to be very well into the six figures) and perks—all are grist. Wintour and Brown have brought a high-flying style to the company that the gossip columns dote on."

Though Wintour and Brown, both women in their thirties, came from similar privileged backgrounds in the United Kingdom and married older accomplished men, they were quite different in appearance and editorial style.

At first glance, Brown seemed the most talented, the better writer, the final arbiter of trends and tastes. But Wintour would prove every bit as capable, perhaps more than Brown realized, in their companies' battle of wits.

Now, with the vantage that time and history allow, All That Glitters looks back at this media world on the cusp of so many changes, one that would define so much of America's culture and political life today. In the 1980s and early 1990s, Anna and Tina were part of a cast of colorful characters, titanic struggles, petty jealousies, and corrupting influences that defined the lasting impact of the Condé Nast magazine empire. Like some Hollywood sequel, this book provides the chance to follow what happened to each main character in the ensuing years and assess the consequences of their actions.

Back then, the Newhouse family, with an estimated twelve-billion-dollar fortune, was at the height of its power. Si was the king of culture in New York—his privately run company controlled America's top book publisher, trend-setting magazines that were the "bibles" for industries like fashion and emerging technologies or pre-eminent in the literary world, and the top Sunday newspaper supplement delivered to millions of homes—and he was a force in New York's social scene with one of the world's great modern art collections.

The fear and intrigue Si's name engendered, even among employees, made writing the original version of this book irresistible in 1994, the way chatting compulsively about Caesar must have been for the ancient Romans. Newhouse's death at age eighty-nine in 2017 made a fuller and more complete consideration of his company's lasting impact on American life more necessary than ever, especially in the age of Trump, fake news, misogyny, and the #MeToo movement.

Few editors in the history of American publishing made more of a splash in their debut than Tina Brown in the 1980s. As editor of Vanity Fair, she collected a remarkable ensemble of talent and turned around that magazine's sagging fortunes. She demonstrated a remarkable flair for the Zeitgeist, for catching the highs and lows of American culture like lighting in a bottle. Tina appeared destined to lead Condé Nast into the future.

Buzz, a word she seemed to invent, came naturally to Brown. As a deft writer in her own pages, she penned a 1985 cover story, "The Mouse That Roared," among the first to detail the crumbling storybook marriage of unhappy Princess Diana and her wimpy husband Charles, the Prince of Wales. Full of juicy details, Tina displayed both a savagery and empathy for Diana, a sort of blonde look-alike, who seemed imprisoned in the old ways of doing things for women. "The English girl is encouraged to be this restrained and almost repressed figure," explained Brown about the princess. Of course, Tina herself proved to be quite a different Brit in America.

While Brown was brassy and felicitous with words, Anna Wintour was a woman of image and supreme visual style. She seemed born and bred to run Vogue, an ambition she harbored not so secretly for years while watching her father edit newspapers in London. Her signature look—big dark sunglasses that she wore like "armour," her auburn hair cut in a trademark bob with sharp bangs, and an endless runway of designer dresses—oozed with cool, almost unobtainable, elegance.

But arguably Wintour's greatest skill was in climbing Condé Nast's hierarchy, flattering and cultivating the bosses, placing and securing allies in strategic places, and ultimately conducting a long inexorable march to the top. She withstood whispers and jealousies in and out of the company. A hit 2006 movie, The Devil Wears Prada, was inspired by her chilly example. Even when she achieved an acknowledged position as one of the top editors of her generation, she suffered the effrontery of older men like 60 Minutes correspondent Morley Safer, who asked in 2009 if she was, as rumored, a bitch.

"I am very driven by what I do. I'm certainly very competitive. . . . A bitch? I hope I'm not," Wintour replied. "I try not to be. But I like people who represent the best of what they do. If that turns you into a perfectionist, then maybe I am."

In the mid-1980s, these two young women entered a media world dominated by men—particularly Newhouse and Liberman—accustomed to treating women as pleasant subordinates. In turning this world upside down, Wintour and Brown challenged the old rules, reflecting the seismic rumbles throughout society.

Both Wintour and Brown were baby boomers, the post-World War II generation who came of age in the 1970s with the emerging Women's Liberation Movement that redefined the American workplace. No longer were there just a few "girl reporters" in America's newsrooms, places once consumed by cigarette smoke, musky testosterone, and a bottle of booze in the desk drawer. A veritable army of college-educated young women descended from academia, intent on grabbing power, money, and fame as much as any red-blooded male.

By the late 1980s, women in their thirties like Wintour and Brown were looking to break the "glass ceiling" of male corporate power and weren't going to take no for an answer.

In retrospect, this story about Condé Nast—what happened between its assemblage of famed writers, editors, photographers, and hypemeisters—now seems secondary to the larger fin-de-siècle tale about America's transforming media, culture, and politics at the end of the twentieth century taking place right under their noses.

In the 1980s, print was still preeminent, the time-honored method for Newhouse and his family to build a multibillion-dollar fortune. Si and his highly paid minions—with their A-list parties, perks, and celebrity-filled galas at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and after Hollywood's Oscars—seemed oblivious to the fundamental class, race, and economic divisions within the country.

Outside their door, the Internet—with its huge threat to Newhouse's finances—loomed like a storm in the night, an earthquake causing a seismic shift in the media's tectonic plates. Everyone seemed to be laughing and tittering about the Clinton sex scandal until the thunderous shock of September 11, 2001, when advertising dried up and so many walls came tumbling down. These changes, though, would be about more than just money and technology.

As a troubling sign of things to come, this book examines the blend of hype and political favor-trading between the Newhouse empire and powerful figures like the Reagans in the 1980s. In this celebrity roundabout, gossip was no longer light and fluffy amusement, but rather a potent political weapon.

We're reminded that these murky tabloid waters spawned a young Donald Trump, perhaps the greatest beneficiary of our celebrity culture. In the 1980s, Trump relied on Newhouse and his best friend, Roy Cohn, a crooked right-wing lawyer and counselor to New York's top mobster, to help burnish his image and to create his "brand." Long after he was gone, Cohn's malevolent influence continued to be felt.

As this book details, Si proposed and published Trump: The Art of the Deal, the 1987 bestseller that made "The Donald" famous and eventually put him on the road to the presidency. Newhouse's Condé Nast editors, like Tina Brown and Anna Wintour, celebrated The Donald and his various wives and latest ventures in their pages.

Both Wintour and Brown were also major media enablers of another bête noire of our age, Harvey Weinstein, the flesh-grabbing Hollywood movie producer who allegedly accosted various models, starlets, and a host of other women. Both Anna and Tina eagerly promoted Weinstein (Brown even became business partners with him) until Harvey's personal horrors—kept from public view for years—were finally exposed by other media outlets.

Both top editors claimed not to know anything of the rampant rumors of Harvey's behavior that swirled around them. Such are the many ironies in the story of Wintour and Brown—the two most prominent standard-bearers of the Condé Nast media empire during its heyday. Their aspirations, their remarkable talent, their treatment by men like Newhouse and Liberman above them were very representative of the struggle by women to achieve the top rungs of power in traditionally male-dominated companies. What happened to them, with their up and downs, is illustrative of so many female subordinates who dream of one day running things.

In this sense, All That Glitters is a parable about the subtle pressures within American media, where power, fame, and sexism are sprinkled with easy compromises and ethical corruption. Today, these issues are very much as alive as they were in the 1980s. And journalistic trust, accountability, and public service are still something many are willing to forego as long as they have a seat at the Big Party.

So back we go, in this updated version, to a fabulous, contentious, mystifying, modern Byzantium as I observed it more than a quarter century ago . . .



And now, Liz Smith with the latest . . ."

The image of New York's doyenne of gossip flashed on the television screen, a smiling face of celebrity dish and Hollywood delights on the chatty WNBC-TV news program called Live at Five.

This seemed hardly the place for a public beheading. Yet all that was missing on this lazy summer afternoon in June 1988 was scaffolding and a black hood.

In one fell swoop, Liz Smith told her audience that Grace Mirabella had been fired from Vogue, the world's best-known fashion magazine, and would be replaced by Anna Wintour.

After thirty-six years at Vogue, nearly half as the magazine's editor-in-chief, Mirabella was gone. And now everyone in the world seemed to know about Grace's firing—except her.

Soon the telephone rang at Mirabella's home. Her husband picked it up.

"Listen, have you heard Liz Smith?" a friend on the other end asked in a tone of grave finality. "Turn on the TV."

Mirabella's husband, Dr. William Cahan, a well-respected surgeon, dutifully recorded the information. Before Mirabella arrived home from work, he called her with the bad news.

At first, Grace didn't believe it. She was just about to leave the office. Surely, she would have been told before departing. The whole notion of learning about one's firing from a TV show seemed tacky, unworthy of a Vogue editor—too unstylish.

Undoubtedly, though, the departure signs were there. Those little intimations of mortality an editor in the Condé Nast magazine kingdom receives before the Scythe of Death appears.

Mirabella had witnessed the same treatment accorded to Diana Vreeland, the mercurial high priestess of haute couture, whom she had abruptly replaced in 1971 as Vogue's editor. There were the same none-too-subtle, contrary remarks that Alexander Liberman, Condé Nast's suave, commanding editorial director, left scattered throughout conversations with her, usually concerning an upcoming issue or layout.

Or one of those condescending ways Alex would begin, letting you know just how deep the trouble you were in was.

"Dear friend . . . ," Liberman intoned, with his icy continental manner, finely chiseled face, and penetrating stare.

As the éminence grise of Condé Nast magazines, a brilliant and turbulent force of nature for more than forty years, Liberman was the prophet of perpetual change, a man who could sense the oncoming tides of upheaval and always manage to survive. With fear and awe, he was called "The Silver Fox," though never to his face.

Liberman had been Mirabella's mentor, a source of support when she transformed Vogue into a magazine more appealing to working women—a move that proved to be a tremendous success.

Now, this one last time, Mirabella called upon him, hoping he would tell her the truth. Their conversation was brief.

"I'm afraid it's true," Liberman told her. "Talk to Si."

He was right. Only one person could say with utmost certainty whether Mirabella had been fired—S. I. "Si" Newhouse Jr., the billionaire owner of the Condé Nast magazine empire and the most powerful American publisher of his generation. Together, his family's wealth exceeded that of Queen Elizabeth II and the House of Saud.

To preserve this multibillion-dollar enterprise, Si's moves were often stunning, even brutal. His actions were sometimes portrayed as part of some overall philosophy, vital to the company's success.

"Change is change—it doesn't happen slowly," Newhouse once stated, giving a rare public explanation. "The concept of complete satisfaction is like the concept of truth. You can move toward it, but you never entirely get there."

This epistemology of change—even the momentary sacrifice of stability that the swift chop of an errant editor's head would bring—seemed necessary to keep his company's revenues flowing. Indeed, the Newhouse verve for an occasional bloodletting had a familiar eighteenth-century ring: Quand il y avait la guillotine, il y avait du pain! [When there was the guillotine, there was bread.]

For Si Newhouse, change was essential, the secret ingredient to his family's perpetual success.

Grace Mirabella understood all of this, though she still refused to believe her firing would ever happen in this way.

At her home that evening, Mirabella decided to call Newhouse and inquire about the TV news report.

"Is it true?" she asked.

"I'm afraid it is," replied Newhouse, with hardly a word of apology or explanation.

The next afternoon, Newhouse attempted to repair some of the damage by offering a sizable severance package and labeling Mirabella's departure as a "resignation." Still, there was no denying this bloody mess. Mirabella was livid at the public spectacle of becoming the latest sans tête, another in a long line of editorial decapitations for which Si Newhouse would become notorious.

"The way it was handled was graceless—without making a pun," Newhouse later admitted. "The P.R. of it got all bitched up. So fine. But it wasn't a spur-of-the-moment decision."

Indeed, Newhouse and Liberman had planned, quite methodically, to replace Mirabella at Vogue with thirty-eight-year-old Anna Wintour, their newest star import from Great Britain—in the same way they'd recruited wunderkind Tina Brown, also in her thirties, to enliven the near-mummified Vanity Fair magazine a few years before. VF endured two quick beheadings of editors before Brown's arrival.

The competitive relationship between Anna and Tina was just beginning. But another rivalry was already clear. To Mirabella, it was no secret that Wintour—younger, sleeker, and more enchanting to the two men who controlled the company—had always coveted her job at Vogue.

"The rumors quickly began that Anna Wintour was being groomed to succeed me—but I didn't believe them," Mirabella later said, recalling how Liberman told her not to worry. "The vultures were circling, but I didn't even see them."

Grace wasn't the only one. Newhouse's sudden "off-with-their-heads" ways were recorded by the press with a certain morbid fascination, the body counts piling up like a prolonged St. Valentine Day's Massacre.

With each firing, the public import seemed magnified, often played out prominently on the front pages of America's most-respected newspapers. No one was safe, no matter how firmly affixed to a publication's masthead.

Newhouse's management style resembled "a revolving door," as Time magazine described it in 1990, featuring a photographic lineup of severed Newhouse editors.

The head shots of the beheaded looked like a Who's Who of New York's media world in the late twentieth century:

William Shawn, the legendary New Yorker


On Sale
Feb 5, 2019
Hachette Audio

Thomas Maier

About the Author

Thomas Maier is a long-time investigative reporter for Newsday in New York and has written five books, including Masters of Sex, which became an Emmy-winning Showtime drama, and most recently When Lions Roar: The Churchills and the Kennedys. Maier is also a producer of the Bravo mini-series based on this book.

Learn more about this author