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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Sunday 20th June 2004

Graydon Carter's Waterloo


It looks as though Graydon Carter, the 54-year-old editor of Vanity Fair, may soon be out of a job following another set of embarrassing revelations in the Los Angeles Times.

Last month, you may recall, the LA Times reported that Carter had received a cheque for $100,000 from Universal Studios for his part in bringing A Beautiful Mind to the screen. Within the journalistic community, opinion was divided as to whether this was a breach of "professional ethics", but Vanity Fair's parent company, Conde Nast, was sufficiently rattled to issue a 16-page "code of conduct" setting out its policy on such matters.

"The integrity of Conde Nast and its employees depends greatly on avoiding conflicts of interest or appearances of such in editorial and business conduct," it stated.

On Wednesday, the LA Times ran a second front-page story on Carter, this time revealing that he's currently in negotiations with American Express, a Vanity Fair advertiser, to finance a documentary he's trying to get off the ground about the writer Fran Lebowitz. In addition, it disclosed that his son Ash is currently working as a summer intern at CAA, the powerful Hollywood talent agency, and that he has half-a-dozen Vanity Fair employees toiling away on a book he's supposed to be writing about the Bush administration.

"I believe what Graydon's doing is ill-advised," says Marshall Herskovitz, a producer whom Graydon approached earlier this year about making a film based on a Vanity Fair article. "He's putting the reputation of the magazine at risk by doing this."

Whether Carter survives this second wave of bad publicity will depend on the reaction of Si Newhouse, the billionaire owner of Conde Nast. The fact that the company rushed out a "code of conduct" in response to the first set of allegations suggests that Newhouse is already feeling the pressure. My hunch is that Carter will be gone by the end of the year.

Segway

I was driving along Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica earlier this week when I spotted a newly-opened shop selling Segways. I've been dying to try out one of these scooter-like machines for years, so I immediately screeched to a halt and dusted off my press credentials. Perhaps I could persuade the manager to let me take one for a test drive.

It turned out to be the world's first showroom exclusively devoted to Segways. In addition to selling them for $4,495, it rents them out at $75 for two hours and has even gone into business with a local company offering tours of celebrity homes in Beverly Hills for $89. What a pity it is that this showroom wasn't open when my parents-in-law came to stay a few weeks ago. The thought of them perched on a couple of Segways, looking over Madonna's garden fence, is irresistible.

The manager was more than happy to let me take one for a spin, though he wisely insisted on coming with me. After a couple of practice runs in the showroom, we were off, hurtling along the boardwalk at a steady clip. Initially, the manager insisted on keeping my machine on "sidewalk" mode, with a top speed of 8mph, but after 15 minutes of wheedling and cajoling he finally gave in and switched it to "open range" mode, enabling me to get up to 12.5mp.

After half-an-hour of zooming up and down the ocean front, I was seriously thinking about forking over my credit card and getting one shipped back to London. Then I realized it wouldn't be particularly practical in Shepherd's Bush. The problem isn't so much that the pavements are too crowded, but that there would be nowhere to park it. It would be nicked faster than you can say "Ken Livingstone has been re-elected".

Cock & Bull

Along with several hundred expats, I loyally trooped down to the Cock & Bull, a British pub in Venice, to watch England take on France last Sunday. In order to make sure I got in I decided to get there two hours early, but as I approached I spotted a massive crowd of people loitering outside. From a distance, it looked as though they were all clamouring to get in. Damn it, I thought. I've left it too late.

However, as I got nearer I realized that they were simply smokers who'd been forced outside because of California's draconian anti-smoking laws. There are usually two or three smokers outside LA's bars and restaurants, but I'd never seen anything like this. Even after the game had started, people kept popping out for a quick puff and when the whistle went for half time about 75% of the bar's patrons rushed for the exit, clutching their Benson & Hedges.

Even though we lost the match, I left the Cock & Bull with a patriot glow in my bosom. Most of these expats had been in LA for years, but they hadn't made a single concession to the Californian lifestyle. They were all pasty-faced, at least a stone overweight and were putting away pints of lager by the bucketful even though the game kicked off before Noon. That's the spirit, lads.

Nicholas Cage

Note to self: From now on, never tell your wife that a celebrity has entered her airspace.

I was having dinner with my wife at a fashionable Hollywood restaurant last week when Nicholas Cage roared up in a brand new Aston Martin and sat down at the table next to us. Incredibly, Caroline didn't notice, even though they were seated back-to-back with barely six inches between them.

I would have pointed him out, but Cage's date for the evening was Diane Kruger, the blonde German goddess who plays Helen in the recently-released Troy, and she was facing in my direction. I was terrified that she'd notice me jabbing a finger at Cage and immediately put me down as some rube from out of town, the kind of loser who gets excited when he spots a movie star at a restaurant.

It wasn't until we'd paid the bill and were half way out the door that I thought it was safe to tell my wife.

"Guess who was sitting behind you all night?" I whispered.

"Who?" she asked, her eyes wide with excitement.

At that moment, Cage appeared a few feet away. He'd gotten up from his table and was making his way towards the bathroom.

"I'll tell you later," I said, trying to hustle her out of the restaurant.

"I'm not going anywhere," she said, "until you tell me who exactly was sitting behind me."

As Cage glided past, by which time I was a deep shade of crimson, a half-smile played about his lips.

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