WAR OF THE ROS(I)ES: “I think it’s going really well, although it’s painful to sit through,” said Rosie O’Donnell on the third day in court as the defendant in the $100 million lawsuit Gruner + Jahr has filed against her for terminating their joint venture, Rosie Magazine.
This story first appeared in the November 4, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Painful it is. The two sides have hurled insults and recounted exchanges that are so mutually embarrassing one has to wonder what they’re thinking.
The plaintiffs have consistently tried to paint O’Donnell as a woman who came out of the closet and promptly began to shed her wholesome image, making suggestions for the magazine that had no real commercial viability. There appears to be plenty of evidence of that on their side, including O’Donnell’s desire to do a Mike Tyson cover. Other parts of G+J’s strategy seem to be meeting more mixed results, such as a judge, Ira Gammerman, who is frequently impatient with the company’s lawyers.
Former editor in chief Cathy Cavender, former creative director Doug Turshen and editorial consultant Susan Ungaro have all testified on G+J’s behalf, but none has been quite the slam dunk prosecutors presumably were hoping for.
Most importantly, not one of them seemed to have very damaging things to say about O’Donnell, and both Cavender and Turshen bordered on hostile witnesses, fairly understandable since both were fired from G+J by its chief executive officer, Dan Brewster, with Cavender being replaced by Susan Toepfer.
Nor did the testimony of the magazine’s executive editor, Jane Farrell, seem to go without a hitch. While Farrell appeared to play the tortured staffer role fairly well, the defendant’s lawyer, Lorna Schofield, later showed e-mails and depositions proving that Farrell had spoken to several major media outlets with G+J’s permission in an effort to plead their case in the press. During that time, she was given a $10,000 retention bonus, as well as a yearend bonus of $25,000 after Rosie folded. Farrell spoke to The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and Vanity Fair as a not-for-attribution source with G+J’s public relations people being present. (She is still employed by the company, working with Toepfer on the prototype of Gala.)
Toepfer’s testimony went somewhat better, but her total inability to work with O’Donnell also was apparent. The initial dispute with O’Donnell, for example, occurred when Toepfer sent O’Donnell a cover featuring the actors from “The Sopranos” that O’Donnell didn’t like. The reaction (“What is my fat face doing in the center of the picture?” or something to that effect) was horrifying. Toepfer then sent three other options, but when O’Donnell greenlighted two of them, Toepfer said they were bad choices and continued to fight O’Donnell. The covers were finally sent to Brewster to break the stalemate and O’Donnell began to lobby for Toepfer’s removal.
G+J is expected to wrap up its case by the end of the week, after which O’Donnell and her witnesses will take the stand. — Jacob Bernstein
SEPARATE BUT EQUAL: This time, they’re serious. The women’s magazine editors who demanded to know why the National Magazine Awards are stacked against them have refused to let the matter die and are planning their own awards ceremony for 2005. Marie Claire’s Lesley Jane Seymour and Essence’s Diane Weathers are leading the charge.
The issue of underrepresentation rises periodically — “Why does The New Yorker win everything?” is the usual complaint — but has always subsided before. Not anymore. “We’ve got a good group of people working on the possibility of having our own awards and really reward excellence in those [women’s magazine] areas, as judged by people who understand that business,” said Seymour. That group also includes O: The Oprah Magazine’s Amy Gross, Glamour’s Cindi Leive and Cosmo’s Kate White, she said.
The awards would run parallel to the NMAs, just as Hollywood’s “Women In Film” coexists with the Oscars. “Look at what the film industry does,” said Leive. “They honor themselves every three months.” There’s less risk of ghetto-ization that way, their thinking goes, than if women’s magazines were made a protected category inside the NMAs. “I don’t want to win “Best Women’s Magazine” from ASME,” said Leive. “I want to win “Best Magazine.” — Greg Lindsay