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James W. Brady — seasoned newspaperman, former Women’s Wear Daily publisher, Page Six founder, columnist and author — died Tuesday at his home in Manhattan at age 80.
The cause of death could not be determined. Funeral arrangements were expected to be made today. Brady is survived by his wife Florence, daughters Fiona Brady and Susan Konig, and a brother, Monsignor Tom Brady.
This story first appeared in the January 28, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Old-school in his hardscrabble approach to fast and accurate reporting and nosing out the competition, Brady made a name for himself by chronicling celebrities’ escapades, not backing down from a good battle and grasping how people made news stories come alive. A former U.S. Marine, the Brooklyn, N.Y.-born Brady was as at ease hanging with his Semper Fi-loving friends as he was with fellow well-heeled Hamptonites — so much so that he wrote books about both.
While Brady’s newspaper career began at the New York Daily News, it was his time at WWD that truly molded him — and one he would remember fondly over the years in numerous columns. Of his WWD days, Brady once wrote, “Mostly I remember the fun. The grand crew of journalists who worked for the paper. And the strange, gifted people who designed the clothes. I was fascinated by the designers, less intrigued by the clothes.”
At then-chairman and editorial director John B. Fairchild’s side as WWD crowned Aristotle and Jackie Onassis “Daddy O” and “Jackie O”; needled the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, a.k.a. “Commerce & Industry” for renting themselves out, or got a dressing-down from former first daughter Lynda Bird Johnson for crucifying her Texas “style,” Brady proved to be more than willing to have a go at whatever came his way at WWD, or what he chose to pursue. When a transit strike crippled the city, he and Fairchild charged ahead on rented bicycles. In a 2001 essay in WWD for the paper’s 90th anniversary, Brady said he shared Roy Howard’s belief that a newspaper’s job was to “print the news and raise hell.”
And so he did. Long before the paparazzi stampeded the red carpet and tabloids picked through celebrities’ trash cans, Brady pounded the celebrity beat. “What a time it was! Giddy, glorious, glamorous, dizzying and sometimes surreal. We were doing solid, serious journalism, accurate and fast, scooping papers and magazines 10 times our size, and having fun doing it,” he wrote. “We were putting out a terrific little paper every day and making money at it. And we were still young enough to glory in the adventure.”
For $32 a week, he worked his way through Manhattan College as a late night copy boy for the Daily News, then the nation’s largest daily newspaper. After a two-year run as a first lieutenant in Korea, Brady returned to Manhattan, put in for a reporting job and declined when his copy boy job was the only opening. A self-proclaimed “news junkie who went to Louis & Armand on 52nd Street just to see Edward R. Murrow drink,” Brady gladly gave up his first post-Korean War gig of writing ads for Macy’s when WWD offered him a job in 1953 as a retail reporter with a $100 weekly salary.
“I first met him when he was working at Macy’s in p.r. and I was trying to get an interview,” said John B. Fairchild, currently WWD and W editor at large. “I was determined to get it — I didn’t — and never dared ask him whether it was his fault or I didn’t do it right.
“He had a lot of guts, a lot of charm and was what I would call a fiery Irishman who never missed a trick. It was sad when he left us to work at Harper’s Bazaar for a short time. It was great to know him.”
Fairchild recalled Brady’s entrepreneurial spirit. “He had a highly promotional sense, and when he went to Harper’s Bazaar, he managed to have the magazine photographed on the President’s plane. He then ran huge newspaper ads showing the photo — unfortunately not in WWD.”
Former WWD managing editor Mort Sheinman, said, “In the 40 years I worked at Women’s Wear, the most fun I ever had was during the years Jim Brady was the publisher. I loved working for him not only because he appreciated good writing — he himself was a terrific writer, very fast, very smooth — but also because some of us never knew, from day to day, what we’d be covering. It was daily newspapering the way it’s supposed to be.”
Sheinman continued, “He was always very cool looking, clacking away at the typewriter with his sleeves rolled up and a cigarillo dangling from his mouth, the epitome of an old-fashioned newsman. The only time I recall seeing him drop that facade and reveal what was beneath it was when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated. He had covered the Kennedys early and was really shaken by that.”
After proving his chops with Fairchild in New York, Brady was sent in 1956 to the Washington, D.C., bureau to cover Capitol Hill, where he got to know such reporters as Russell Baker, Tom Wicker, Bob Novak and Allen Drury. “Lyndon ran the Senate. Nixon was presiding officer. Jack and Bobby Kennedy were making their bones. I got to know them all…” he recalled in a 2006 Forbes.com article.
From there, he was sent to London on the Queen Mary to man the helm at Fairchild’s London bureau. Among other things, his U.K. highlights included once seeing Winston Churchill “old and fat” on Budget Day in the House of Commons. Two years later, Brady was shipped to the Paris office in time to oversee the paper’s coverage of the Algerian War, sit in on Charles de Gaulle’s press conferences, detail designers’ breakdowns, befriend Coco Chanel (because she thought he was Native American), interview André Malraux, attend fashion shows, report on bombings, and various coups d’etat — and meet the Beatles en route to New York.
In the event WWD was banned from seeing a collection, staffers buttonholed buyers on the sidewalks to pump them for details. Brady also supported having someone sweet talk, wine and dine Orbach’s Sydney Gittler to get the retailer to spill the descriptions to fashion illustrator Kenneth Paul Block to scoop the competition.
Returning to New York in 1964, Brady succeeded John Fairchild in the role of WWD publisher and helped dress up the daily trade paper as it instituted the Eye page, more fashion photographs, They Are Wearings and vigorous — and biting — social coverage. He also assisted in the development of WWD’s sister publication, W, which launched as a fortnightly. After Fairchild Publications merged with Capital Cities Broadcasting, Tom Murphy tapped Brady as a vice president. But after friction developed between Brady and CapCities top management, Dick Deems at Harper’s Bazaar recruited him in 1971 to “bring it into the 20th century.” In the 2001 online article, Brady explained, “Modernizing too swiftly and alarming its elegantly aging readership, we’d reached about 1911 when Deems panicked, and I was sacked.”
Moving on, Brady started New York magazine’s Intelligencer column at Clay Felker’s request, played third base for the publication and wrote and hosted its cable TV show, which earned him an Emmy. An early nonfiction book, “Superchic,” was a flop, but his first novel, “Paris One,” was a bestseller and was optioned by Hollywood.
His good fortune continued. While swimming off of Rupert Murdoch’s Amagansett beach in 1974, the media mogul recruited him. Brady later recalled, “As we haggled over dough, he asked, ‘Are there sharks in these waters?’ ‘Very rarely. Why?’ ‘I thought I saw one behind you.’ I accepted Rupert’s offer instantly.”
Brady spent the next nine years in Murdoch’s empire, editing the tabloid newspaper, Star; succeeding Felker as editor of New York magazine and then serving as U.S. vice chairman, later associate publisher, of the New York Post. There he developed and launched Page Six. “I had every title but ‘boss.’ Rupert kept that one,” Brady wrote in 2001.
Page Six’s Richard Johnson recalled Tuesday his days as a cub reporter under Brady. “No one ever made the job look so easy. Jim would come back from a three-hour lunch at someplace like ‘21’ or La Grenouille, sit down at his typewriter and bang out four or five perfectly crafted stories, and then leave for cocktails somewhere. It was a party, temporarily interrupted by work.”
In the 2001 essay in WWD, Brady admitted to lacking John Fairchild’s knack for sitting through a showing of 200 dresses by Dior or Pierre Cardin and pinpointing the “fords,” the looks Seventh Avenue would knock off by the thousands and sell for millions. “For me, I lacked his instinct for fashion. But I was drawn to the designers, a rare and exotic breed, and intrigued by the ferocity of the infighting, the power plays, the money. And (as James Thurber once bragged), I could get it, I could write it. I could put a head on it; I knew a little journalism. Coco Chanel taught me about fashion. She would snub The New York Times, Life and the AP, ban a famous fashion critic because the woman had bad legs, call Madame Vreeland of Vogue ‘the most pretentious woman I have ever seen,’ and yet permit me to hang out taking notes in the salon where she and her assistants literally ‘built’ a Chanel tweed suit on a tall, beautiful, nearly naked young mannequin.”
Afterward they would smoke his cigarettes, whiling away the Paris afternoon drinking her Scotch in the suite of rooms above her Rue Cambon shop. There she provided “reams of quotable, shrewd, informed comment and bitchery, all of it on the record, much of it cabled press rates to New York to appear in the next morning’s WWD. Coco, who was 50 years older than I, had somehow the notion I was a Native American and called me, ‘mon petit Indien,’” Brady wrote.
The unlikely pair became so thick as thieves that Barbra Streisand’s manager rang him up to ask him to introduce the songstress to the designer. The non-French-speaking Streisand had memorized a “gracious little speech of tribute,” but when Chanel launched into an elaborate reply en francaise, a shaken Streisand grabbed Brady’s arms and hissed, “Get me the hell out of here.”
In Paris, Brady inherited Fairchild’s feuds as well as his post. Well aware that Balenciaga and Givenchy had banned WWD from their shows, Brady described dispatching three WWD staffers who just happened to be countesses to pretend to be wealthy clients, florists’ assistants or even streetwalkers, “swinging the bag along the Avenue George V in front of the two couture houses, peering through opened French windows and chatting up gossipy mannequins when they broke for a smoke.”
He later went on to a TV career as an interviewer and, in recent years, as a columnist for Parade, Advertising Age and Forbes.com. Parade chief executive officer and chairman Walter Anderson said Tuesday, “He was very smart, but not in a way that made anyone else feel insecure. He’s done so many interesting things in life…but he never used his sophistication as a weapon. His humor undergirded anything he did. He never took himself too seriously that he became a bore.”
A prolific book author, Brady had recently finished the final edits for the forthcoming “Hero of the Pacific: The Life of Legendary Marine John Basilone.” Basilone was a World War II hero, one of three who’ll be featured players in the new Steven Spielberg-Tom Hanks HBO miniseries, “The Pacific,” due out in October and a sequel to their highly acclaimed miniseries “Band of Brothers.” The book will be published by Wiley to coincide with the release of the series.
Perhaps Brady sized up his career best when he wrote in the Forbes.com article, “It’s rarely been dull.”