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ARTFUL TOM, A MEMOIR
by Thomas Hoving
Kindle Users: Click here for plain text copy

32. CANNED

I don’t know if it was the hard-charging PR department at the Getty Trust or the anger of the Getty family towards me, which was communicated repeatedly to their social friend Veronica Hearst, but my boss Gil Maurer brought up the subject of my constant Getty baiting in such a way that I knew his stirring “defense” of my investigative pieces was the opposite.

Geraldine Norman came to see me for a profile she was writing on me. "I want to strike back at the spate of ’vendetta’ stories generated by the Getty," she said. Some of the stories were vicious -- one was that I was on the take from art dealers. Connoisseur had published a cover story on the well-known collector-dealer of choice Oriental goodies, C.C. Wang, and the word was that I would reap a small fortune when he sold his collection. I laughed.

"Tom, why do they hate you so much?" Norman asked.

"Well, I think it’s because you’ve been a journalist for years and a highly respected one. I’m new at the game. I left the museum ‘club.’ They hate me because I said I found the museum ‘biz’ boring. Plus, I am arrogant. I can do other things -- lots of things -- for I have too many aptitudes. Hey, I admit that I’m tough and nasty. You saw me get on the phone threatening people, whether that Getty flack or Norton Simon himself. I can’t be bought. I have a certain disdain for most members of the art scene."

She gave me one of her signature low laughs.

"Geraldine, why do you think they hate me?"

"I’ll have to think about that. Funny, but one of the things you are attacked most for -- the de-accessioning of art -- is now going on in a flood. All the things you were heavily criticized for selling things, the big shows and the crowds -- are now standard museum policy around the world. Interesting."

"’Artful Tommy’s’ just a scamp, that’s all."

In March of 1990 in a surprise move my boss, Gil Maurer, was elevated to executive vice president of the Hearst Corporation and the publisher of Cosmopolitan, Claeys Bahrenberg, was made the head of all magazines. His first words to me were that he was not going to give me a new contract but that I’d serve at his pleasure month to month. Fine by me. I was getting tired of the magazine world, anyway.

I urged my agent Bob Lescher to go on the offensive for a severance package and he negotiated a marvelous deal, which gave me far more than we had expected. If canned, I’d get fifteen days notice in the middle of whatever month it was, six months salary, and six months "bonus." Plus another bonus for accrued years.

I wasn’t all that puzzled to receive a call from a reporter on the New York Post’s “Page Six” saying that she’d heard that Gael Love, former editor of Fame, the celebrity tabloid book, was talking to Hearst about replacing me.

I knew the end was near. But, so what? I had just signed a lovely contract with Simon and Schuster for a book on my ten years as director of the Metropolitan Museum -- the advance would be a hefty $350,000. This was Making the Mummies Dance.

Nancy and I decided to drive out to Vail, Colorado, that year and on the road I received a call from our secretary, Marianne Lyden, saying that Bahrenberg wanted to speak with me "soonest."

When I finally reached him he told me the rumors were right and that Gael Love would be taking over as editor-in-chief. He was so nervous that I had to buck him up. "Claeys, I’ve had to fire lots of people in my time and never liked it, but please do this cleanly. By the way, I want your absolute guarantee to pay to the dime every penny of our severance agreement."

"Absolutely. You understand I had to do this. We have to move the magazine into the 750,000 range -- 500,000 on the stands. Have to. Gael Love can do it. I hope to retain the feeling of excellence."

That’s when I got mad. "Forget it. With that circulation goal and a name as arcane as Connoisseur you can’t. I predict that in a year the thing will fold."

I got all sorts of condolences but a few people cheered. A reporter from the Los Angeles Times called Getty director John Walsh and described him as, "jumping up and down with joy."

Gael Love’s first cover was Sylvester Stallone in a beret holding paintbrushes and depicted as a serious art collector and an abstract-expressionist painter. Her "Ear" column was illustrated by Vincent van Gogh’s lugubrious self-portrait with a bloody bandage over his sawed-off ear. In three months 82 percent of the subscribers cancelled. Newsstand sales were down to a meager eleven percent sell-off. Furious letters by the hundreds flooded in about the shoddy editorial content. One stated that the magazine ought to be renamed “Panderer.” USA Today said that the magazine had become a "weak clone of Vanity Fair and People with an emphasis on the materialism of the ’Trumpish’ 1980s."

Virtually a year to the day I was ousted I got the word that Gil Maurer wanted to speak to me. Hearst had abruptly folded Connoisseur without bothering to let Gael Love know in advance. I didn’t return the call, remembering that he had not bothered to say a word to me when I was canned.

I am a nasty guy. Off the charts.

This is chapter 32 of Artful Tom, A Memoir, which is being posted in full in Artnet Magazine. For the complete book to date, click here.


THOMAS HOVING is author of Master Pieces: The Curator’s Game (2005). He is former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He can be reached at Send Email