Spy Slices Up the Big Orange

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Times Staff Writer

“The inescapable truth: if you move to Los Angeles, you will ultimately become Joan Collins.

This warning, buried on an inside page, is one of the nicer things Spy magazine, making a push for new readers in California, says about Los Angeles in its latest issue, the long-awaited skewering of the Big Orange by the Big Apple-based satirical monthly, on sale here next week.

The September cover alone may be warning enough for the truly queasy and sensitive Angeleno: actress Tracey Ullman, wrists weighted by neon-colored plastic baubles, precariously rollercoasting on a skateboard with the Hollywood Sign in the background. Ullman’s horrified expression--mouth parted superwide for a scream, hands clutching her frizzy blond wig--seems to be caused by an imminent collision with the cover headline, “Life-style HELL! Our Special Los Angeles Issue.”

‘City Without Shame’

Contacted in New York, co-editor E. Graydon Carter commented, “The cover slug says it all. . . . There’s only so much life style a person can take.”


For those Los Angeles denizens with the stomach to take on the table of contents, Spy offers a lead essay entitled, “Los Angeles: City Without Shame.” A sample: “New Yorkers are obsessed with Quality, with the Best: L.A. is home to the movie business. In moviedom, quality is not merely unnecessary, it is feared--quality can reduce one’s cash flow.”

That’s followed by, among others, articles on 15 of the most-disliked people in L.A., ranging from “L.A. Law” producer Steven Bochco to Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl F. Gates, KABC television news anchor Tawny Little to Los Angeles Times society columnist Marylouise Oates, physician Robert Gale to producer Ray Stark and palimony attorney Marvin Mitchelson to Hands Across America promoter Ken Kragen.

Spy also charts out Hollywood royalty--”the people who are, in most instances unaccountably, treated with deep, enduring respect.” The victims here include: actors Dudley Moore, Robert Wagner, Michael Landon, actresses Jill St. John, Stefanie Powers, Shirley MacLaine and Farrah Fawcett.

Other venomous barbs are aimed at some of the city’s art collectors, New York Times Hollywood writer Aljean Harmetz, the anticipated slow-paced retirement of Ronald and Nancy Reagan to Bel-Air, Hugh Hefner and his Playboy Mansion, subject of a gossip-laden pictorial history, and a sort of paint-by-numbers guide to making hit movies, complete with 214 footnotes in eye-straining italic type.

Power Roster

Perhaps most notably, at least for the film industry, the issue includes the first publication of the roster of “the extraordinarily powerful” Creative Artists Agency. In a note introducing the list that runs two full pages, the magazine reminds readers, “As you glance over this list of clients--a list, please note, that includes Robert Redford and Bill Murray and Tom Cruise and Sylvester Stallone and John Hughes and Paul Newman--bear in mind that CAA receives 10 percent of the income of every one of these people.

Although Los Angeles is simply getting the same treatment that Spy habitually dishes out to New York, Carter left no doubt where his city preferences lie. “I think it takes far less to be considered serious in Los Angeles than it does in New York,” he said. “In Los Angeles people used to wear glasses to look serious, now they spend a million (dollars) on a Henry Moore (sculpture).”

Behind this supercilious attitude, however, lies a studied drive for readers west of the Hudson River. The Los Angeles issue has been in the works for most of this year, a process Carter described as “only a little less difficult than doing this about Moscow.” Indeed. During a telephone interview Carter worried that, despite extensive research and trips to the West Coast, Spy’s editors might not have understood some nuances of the L.A., gulp, life style.


“We don’t understand why (MCA chairman) Lew Wasserman is the king out there,” the presumably mystified Carter said. He added that he hopes “the magazine comes off as knowing as we do in New York.” (In an earlier interview, Carter had noted that the recently concluded strike by television and film writers had proved beneficial to the magazine, which had been able to tap that idle resource for inside tips and guidance.)

‘Bicoastal Monthly’

Nonetheless, Spy’s brain trust has enough confidence to now bill itself as “The Bicoastal Monthly,” a continental leap beyond its former subtitle as “The New York Monthly.” Betting that its brashness will titillate several thousand new California readers this month, Carter said that more than double the usual number of copies of Spy, about 15,000, will be shipped here next week.

In the future, Carter said, Spy will continue to contain California features, as well as expanded, insider coverage of the media, including the Los Angeles Times.