She was 49.
Seipp wrote the weekly "Cathy's World" column for UPI. She was a columnist for Pages, the books magazine, and has also written for Mediaweek, American Journalism Review, Penthouse, Forbes, the Weekly Standard, TV Guide and Reason.
Shortly after this picture was taken at The Standard in downtown Los Angeles on Oct. 8, 2002, I asked Cathy if she had changed her hair style.
"It's a wig," she said.
"I'll tell you in a minute," she said. "After the pictures."
I leaned back into the trampoline while Cathy sat up straight and told me she had lung cancer. That she'd had surgery but the cancer was too far gone and they'd just stitched her back together and prescribed chemotherapy, which caused all her hair to fall out.
"Don't blog this," she instructed. And I didn't.
A month later, I ran into Emmanuelle Richard in West Hollywood.
(Over the past year, I had been profiling various journalists for my website lukeford.net.)
"Why don't you interview Cathy?" Emmanuelle asked.
"I'd love to. Do you think she'd do it?" I said.
"Yes. She wonders why you have not asked her. We were talking about your journalist interviews and she said, 'Well, I'm at least as interesting as Ross Johnson.'"
I emailed Seipp and asked her for an interview. She then canvassed her friends about whether or not she should do it. Most of her friends advised her against it but she did it anyway.
She was flattered by my attention.
We became the best of friends because we were both endlessly fascinated by Cathy Seipp.
I have lunch with Cathy in Silverlake 12/11/02.
I order a plain pizza and she gets pasta. We drink ice water.
Cathy: "I was born in Winnipeg, Canada and moved to Los Alamitos (where the 605 and 405 freeway meet in California's Orange County] when I was four years old. It's an unglamorous boring area that has a racetrack. My whole family moved to Los Alamitos from Winnipeg because my grandfather's business partner had embezzled all the money. My grandmother got pregnant with my aunt. So they just made a new start and moved down here in the early sixties.
"My grandfather and father got into the house-moving business. When they were building all these big freeways, they would move the houses out of the way of the freeways. They were successful in a modest unglamorous way."
Cathy: "I went to UCLA when I was 16. In Canada, you don't normally go to 12th grade, or you didn't when my parents grew up there. So my mother thought I should go straight to college. I was glad to get out of Los Alamitos.
"I have one sister, Michele. She's 18-months younger.
"I majored in English at UCLA. They don't have a journalism major because it is too good a school [to have a vocational program]. I worked on the campus newspaper. After four years, I graduated in [date removed at Cathy's request]."
Luke: "Did you always know you were going to be a writer?"
Cathy: "When I was a child, I was a good drawer. I thought I might be an artist. But since I started college, I knew I'd be a writer. I didn't like writing term papers and stuff because no one would read them except the teacher."
Luke: "Did you infuriate people in college with your writing?"
Cathy laughs: "Like I do now? Not really. I always had opionated pieces but nobody seemed to get infuriated with what I wrote. At UCLA there was a tradition, like there is at every campus newspaper across the country, some offended student group will march on the paper. At UCLA, it was because some rape suspect would be [named as] black. For criminal suspects, they would do a sketch and if it was of some politically incorrect race, [there would be trouble]. There was a girl who said she got date-raped at a frat party, and some people tried to say it was different from regular rape. And so a women's group marched on the paper.
"I don't think I started offending people with anything I wrote until I started that Buzz column on the LA Times. That was when I was writing about the media and other media people get really offended. Regular people don't get as easily offended."
Luke: "Were your parents conservative?"
Cathy: "Oh no. We were Jewish so of course they were nice liberal Jewish people in Orange County."
Luke: "When did you become conservative?"
Cathy: "I've always supported the death penalty. When you question things and you have a logical frame of mind [you leave liberalism]. I was never bleeding heart. Growing up in this conservative, hickish, born-again Christian part of Orange County, by definition I was considered liberal because I was not of that cultural type. In 1990, when my husband left, and because I had a little baby, my only form of entertainment was to read tons and tons of newspapers and magazines. The more you read, the more facts you have, it's hard to stay a registered Democrat. I registered Republican just before the 2000 elections so I could vote in the primaries.
"My first vote, at age 18, was for Jimmy Carter in 1976. I voted for all the Democratic candidates for president until 2000. It's hard when you grow up with liberal parents to vote Republican. Most people just don't question their background. Even if you agree with more things on the Republican things, it's hard, particularly if you're Jewish, to [vote Republican]."
Luke: "How were you raised in relationship to Judaism?"
Cathy: "We were raised unobservant [of Jewish Law]. If my sister and I had been boys, we would've been Bar Mitvahed but in the old days, girls didn't do that. My mother's parents were grandchildren of rabbis. Like a lot of Jews leaving Europe, they left that [religious] stuff behind.
"My daughter had a Bat Mitvah [coming of adult age ceremony in the Jewish religion at age 13]. She wanted to go to Sunday school. She's theologically interested. She always asked me questions. She's always wanted to go to Shalhevet [Modern Orthodox coed Jewish day school]."
Luke: "Is she?"
Cathy exclaims: "NO! A. It's $20,000 a year. B. I don't live over there. I'm not going to drive an hour-and-a-half each way. C. The girls have to wear skirts below the knee. I don't even know where you get dorky looking skirts like that. No! She goes to a nice private school here that's half the price though very Gentile. Down that [Orthodox Jewish] path it's too nerdy. I think it's just as well to go to school with people who are different from you. I think that's part of the problem with all these West-side liberal Jews. Everyone around them is exactly alike and they never meet anyone who is different."
Cathy orders a cappuccino and I order a lemon ice.
Cathy: "It makes me grateful for this Okie area I grew up in, even though I hated it then and wanted to get away. It teaches you that not everyone thinks the way you think. It's a good thing to learn as a journalist that most people are not like the cultural elite in the newsroom. It's so easy to shock journalists. If you have a different opinion, they're shocked."
"I worked for the AP after college for less than a year. I left because I was frustrated that I wasn't hired as a reporter from a copy clerk. My first job after that was at this hideous thing called The California Apparel News (CAN), the poor man's Women's Wear Daily, a trade paper for fashion. CAN brought in a new boss, Michael Belluomo. We called him Balumbo because he was such a dope. I was so young and stupid at the time that I didn't realize that you couldn't constantly make fun of the new boss. They will fire you. That was a shock. I cried. That was the last time I cried at an office. I was 20.
"I then went to the Los Angeles Daily News for four years, leaving in 1985. They doubled my salary to $400 a week. I was a fashion writer and for a year I wrote a daily column. It was a proto-blog. They had a stupid new features editor come in who I hated - Jane Amari. She's now at the Arizona Daily Star. I see her on Romenesko occasionally. She gets in trouble for doing some moronic thing."
From Jim Romenesko's page 10/28/02: "Several dozen Arizona Star readers let the paper know they weren't happy to see child killer Frank Jarvis Atwood's guest column opposing the death penalty. "I would cancel my subscription if my husband would allow me," says one reader. Star editor and publisher Jane Amari says she regrets publishing the murderer's essay. "Choosing to run the piece was a serious lapse in judgment," she says. "If we felt making that point was so important, I feel sure we could have located an author who is not on death row for a heinous crime." PLUS: The Star also regrets running an editorial cartoon equating the D.C. sniper with the gun lobby."
Cathy: "At that point, I didn't want to work in an office any more and have people tell me what to do. Since then, I've been a freelancer."
Luke: "When did your relationship with the LA Times begin?"
Cathy: "My first published article at age 19 was in the LA Times. I was friendly with a journalism professor named Digby Diehl and he was the Books editor at the LA Times and he gave me an assignment (biography of the real person behind the Three Faces of Eve book) and it was on the front page of the LA Times Book Review. At that time, you had to drive the story downtown because there weren't faxes and email. I didn't know how to drive from Westwood to downtown but I did it. Digby had a mean secretary named Eve who was horrible to me and screamed at me for having the margins wrong.
"When I was four and we moved to this country, I read the Times. Smart people got the Times. Stupid people got the Long Beach Press Telegram or the Orange County Register. When I wrote that thing about Bella Stumbo [LA Times feature writer] when she died, I've been reading her since high school.
"I freelanced for the Times until I started writing about them for Buzz. They would still call me up occasionally and try to assign me freelance articles. After I got into that niche of writing about media, and doing what I wanted to do - opinionated essays - I didn't want to do just some stupid assignment. As Ben Stein once told me, you want to have monopoly money instead of general money. You want to have a niche where you write about stuff that only you can do - so they will pay you more for it. You dilute the franchise if you start doing celebrity interviews."
Luke: "How did the Times react to your Buzz column?"
Cathy: "At first, they didn't know who did it. It took them two years to figure it out. It took the Daily News ten minutes when they wanted to. I'd mentioned the Daily News in some context and they got on the phone and figured it out. I first wrote under the pseudonym Margo Magee because they had a comic strip Apartment 3G and there's a girl in it called Margo Magee. It was my little inside-the-Times joke. They didn't read their own comics so they couldn't figure it out. I kept the pseudonym as a persona like Spy's Celia Brady [Hollywood gossip column written by various people and edited together by Kurt Anderson]. The Times thought for a long time that it was a bunch of people reporting my column and one person would write it. I was insulted. It was all mine. They couldn't get it out of their head that it was a man writing it."
Luke: "Did they ever threaten lawsuits?"
Cathy: "No, because nothing was inaccurate. And for what? Hurting their feelings? The argument was never that I was inaccurate. It was that I was mean-spirited and angry. As you can see, I'm not angry and I don't think that I'm mean-spirited. With American journalism, if you write something blunt, people get shocked. The English have much stricter libel laws but you're allowed to be ruder. In America, everything's got to be psycho-therapized and you have to considerate of people's feelings and you can't ever write about what people are really talking about.
"Robert Scheer was angry [with me]."
Luke: "David Horowitz wrote he was always opening up people's refrigerators looking for stuff to eat."
Cathy: "Well, that sounded like Scheer. He's a masher - an old fashioned term for an older guy who picks up on young women. I'd always refer to him as Robert "Romeo" Scheer and he'd get really mad.
"As a kid, I loved Rolf Harris records [Australian folk singer, "Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport" et al]. It shows you how eccentric we were growing up in Los Alamitos. There was this one song: "I've got hair oil in my ears and me glasses slipping down/ But baby I can see through you." That always reminded me of Robert Scheer and he got mad when I wrote that about him. And the good thing about Buzz is that they never made me explain the reference like a lot of bad editors. If you don't know who Rolf Harris is, you can figure it out."
Luke: "Why did Buzz close in 1998?"
Cathy: "Because Disney decided not to sell Los Angeles Magazine. There wasn't room for two monthly LA magazines. LA Magazine had made money every year except when Buzz started. Buzz was never profitable. If Disney had closed LA Magazine, Buzz would've stayed open. When Buzz became bad the last year or two, when the editor Allan Mayer left and they turned Buzz into this Tiger Beat meets In Style sensibility... I was fired from Buzz because they couldn't afford to pay me any more.
"The only time I got mad when I was fired from some place was Salon because they never bothered to tell me. I only found out when a reader emailed me and said, 'They reorganized the whole look of the site. Are they keeping your column?' I called the sub-editor that I worked with and he said, 'Oh yeah, I was going to call you. We're dropping the column but you can still pitch us with stories.' The editor-in-chief who hired me, David Talbot, never bothered to call me, which is terrible. When I called him and left a message, and emailed him, he never called me back. He'd also promised 10,000 shares of stock, which he never gave. That's a moot point now because it's worth nothing.
"The most lucrative column I ever had was the one for Media Week's online site [trade magazine]. I did it for two years. It started off as a twice-a-week column. I've liked getting into more writing about media instead of what I used to have to do - some schleppy celebrity interview."
Luke: "Which members of the media have taken greatest exception to your writing on them?"
Cathy: "Robert Scheer is still resentful and he refers to me as evil. There was a funny time when I called up Noel Greenwood, an old City editor at the LA Times. I had to ask him if he did have an affair with Carol Stogsdill, the really mean sub-editor that everybody hated and was the then-ranking woman at the Times."
Luke: "That's a horrible question to have to ask."
Cathy agrees. "I was very dutiful. I call him up. 'I'm sorry I have to ask you this but...' He replies, 'Hahaha, that's none of your business.' I say, 'That's fair enough. I just had to ask you.' And I'm about to say goodbye, when he says, 'And I don't respect your work.' Click.
"That's one advantage that calling people has over email. You'd much rather email people that question but if you don't call them, you don't hear their voice. I confirmed that he's pompous and insufferable, which couldn't have been done through email. Noel was angry.
"[LAT's media reporter] David Shaw was nice to me when I called him up to get quote on something but that was before I insulted him.
"Poor Robin Abcarian was real angry with me. She used to have a column [in the LA Times and a radio show]. We worked together at the Daily News and we were friends. I felt bad about having to insult her but the column was insultable, what are you going to do?
"I'd avoided writing about her because we were friendly. But if you're writing about the Times and somebody does something spectacularly stupid, you have to report it. I remember she had seriously libeled somebody's parents. Some woman had been abused by her parents but Robin identified the parents. Until you've been convicted in a trial, you cannot refer to them as rapists and child abusers. An editor should've caught that. So they had to trash something like a 20,000 copy run of the paper. I had to write about that. She got mad. I don't blame her. Then the cat was out of the bag and I made fun of her columns and she was resentful.
"An old friend of mine, Richard Rouillard, stopped talking to me. He was editor of the Advocate [gay magazine]. He stopped talking to me for no fair reason. I didn't insult him it was just some stupid..."
Luke: "Was there ever time when people's anger at you overwhelmed you and inhibited your writing?"
Cathy: "Never. If you are going to care about people getting mad, you should be a social worker, not a journalist. I used to like to go to the Times' cafeteria and I started to feel like I shouldn't go there anymore. If people write something stupid, I'm going to write about it. People forget that I did make friends [through my Buzz column]. Stupid people got upset but smart people liked the column and made friends with me. That's how I know Matt [Welch] and Ken [Layne] because they remembered reading the column."
Luke: "How did you meet your husband?"
Cathy: "That was a blind date. My closest friend, who used to be an editor at the Times, set it up. It was a good date so we got married. He was an editor at one of those airline magazines. He immediately gave me an assignment without having read anything that I wrote. We married in 1986. Our daughter was born in April 1989. He edited this one-issue magazine, Bugs Bunny Magazine, which was a synergistic thing between Time Inc. and Warner Brothers. I was such a loyal wife that if anybody at the time had made fun of Bugs Bunny Magazine I would've been offended.
"He hired this secretary at Bugs Bunny Magazine. He started dating her. He left me in early 1990. They married and divorced a few years ago. I think he knows he shouldn't get married anymore. Now he does websites for people."
Luke: "Have you written about your dating adventures?"
Cathy gives me a strange look. "I haven't had a lot of dating adventures. I've either been married [just the once] or not. I've never been a big dater, especially not now. My first piece for Buzz was on dating. I'd read something stupid in Esquire about a middle-aged man writing about young girls and my piece was titled 'What Girls Don't Tell Men.' Yes, older guys would like to go out with young girls but here's what the girls are really thinking. The editor, Allan Mayer, liked it. It was Alan's idea to do the Times column. I volunteered for it. I suppose you could make a lot of money writing about that dating stuff."
Luke: "Sex in the City."
Cathy: "Yeah, but remember for a long time I've been a mother."
Luke: "It would creep out your daughter..."
Cathy laughs: "As it would me. When you're a single mother, you don't have much time to date."
Luke: "Have you mainly dated fellow writers?"
Cathy laughs again: "I'm not a big dater. Are you picking up on stuff that I've written about and is not coming through and I'm unaware of?"
Luke: "No, I'm just curious. You write about so many different phases of your life."
Cathy: "Yeah. I'm a little bit solitary. People are always amazed at how much writing I'm doing. A lot of what I write about my life are things that I'm thinking about or observing. I'm not out having these big adventures."
Luke: "How has being a mother effected you as a writer?"
Cathy: "You get in touch with the whole real world. One big quarrel I had with the LA Times was that all their personal columns in the features section are written by middle-aged people with kids who write these columns in the office. So what do they really know? I spent a lot of time with my daughter in the park talking to other people. A lot of these working mothers feel that they have to go to the office and sit there and they're losing out on what the real world is for most people. They don't pick the kids up from school. They're journalists writing about being journalists. I know it seems like I do that a lot myself, but at least I'm out there with real people doing things."
Cathy is working on a piece for Penthouse about why TV sucks.
Luke: "I've always wondered about all those media reports about child care versus stay-at-home moms, the media types writing those stories by definition are working moms."
Cathy: "It bugs me. As a writer, you don't need to go into the office from 9-6 and worry about childcare. That was a big reason I left the Daily News in 1985 and swore to never do that again. I thought, that is not a way to raise children. That's not the way I was raised. They don't know what the hell they are talking about and they are on this big high horse about working mothers. They don't want to admit that it is a helluva lot easier to go to the office and have coffee with your friends than to sit home and raise kids who are sticky and messy and dirty and go on kindergarten field trips where they chew with their mouths open. If you are going to be a mother, do it [stay home and raise your kids]."
Luke: "Why do you think Brill's Content failed?"
Cathy: "That was the world's most boring magazine."
Luke: "It took a fascinating subject and managed to make it boring. A lot of media criticism is boring."
Cathy: "It's especially boring when done in the Steven Brill way. Steve Brill is a lawyer who made his big splash with American Lawyer magazine. Lawyers have to share in discovery information with the other side. As a journalist, he took same thing. 'We will never run a story about somebody without calling them up first. It should never come as a surprise.' That's bullsh--. So you'd read these long boring stories say, about Bonnie Fuller [magazine editor] where she'd say, 'No, I don't think that I am difficult to work with.' That's ridiculous. That's what we used to call at Buzz a lot of worthy stories."
Luke: "It was so hard to work your way through that magazine."
Cathy: "It was a journalism magazine with a lawyer's mentality. Journalists get so obsessed with ethics, and I like to think that I try to be ethical and do the right thing, but it's not like you are going to be disbarred. There are arguments about what you do. Look at the Bob Greene thing. Was he right or was he wrong? I don't know. You can look at from either side. There are certain [rules] - you don't reveal a source when you said you wouldn't. You don't take bribes from people you cover. Other than that, I don't know that you have to call up everybody and allow them to respond.
"The whole concept now [of a monthly magazine about the media] is dated now because blogs have taken fact-checking to a whole new level."
Luke: "Who are your favorite and least favorite journalists writing about the media?"
Cathy: "Most of the ones who write specifically about the media are boring except for the New York Observer. I will say that boring old Tim Rutten is actually a good reporter and has worked himself up into some good columns. David Shaw's even more lame. I don't think they know what to do with him. He's got the Pulitzer. He's there. They've got to give him something to do. I like the bloggers like Andrew Sullivan, Mickey Kaus, Matt Welch and Ken Layne. My favorite writers aren't necessarily writing about the media. Mark Steyn does a lot of great things. Who are your favorite writers on the media?"
Luke: "I like Romenesko's blog."
Cathy: "He does it so brilliantly. You can see his background as a copy editor because the headlines are so good. Other people try to do it but they don't do it the same way he does. When I did the Media Week thing it was fun because he mentioned me so often. He likes weird stuff. But now everyone thinks I've died since I'm not on Romenesko."
Luke: "What are the most common mistakes entertainment journalists make?"
Cathy: "Their biggest mistake is that they don't know what they're talking about. People who've gone from entertainment journalism into working in TV and movies will say that. The journalists are spending all day in the newspaper office instead of socializing with the people who do this stuff. Writing on TV and movies when you're not in New York or LA is like covering the auto industry when you're in Beverly Hills. They may be decent writers but they don't know the business. A lot of them are pompous and out of touch with what younger viewers want to see on TV. They don't understand why people would want to watch American Idol. I guess I have an immature streak because I do like a lot of that stuff. I don't know. What do you think are the most common mistakes made by entertainment journalists?"
Luke: "Being dull."
Cathy: "People get shocked that I live in Silverlake. People get nervous. They want to be around people who think exactly like they do. You ought to ask producers about school vouchers. Most of them are probably against it yet they send their kids to private schools. God forbid that some poor middle-class person be able to send their kids to a private school."
We start talking about religion.
Cathy: "Did you ever notice there are no cats in the Bible?"
Cathy has a pet dog and cat and she loves animals.
Cathy: "Do you know why? They didn't really exist yet. They've only been domesticated five thousand years and it was a crime to take them out of Egypt.
"I remember an Orthodox rabbi said dogs are unkosher. But you're not eating them."
It hasn't been part of the Jewish tradition to keep pets or celebrate birthdays. I don't have pets but I would under the right circumstances. I did as a kid.
Cathy: "What's the new idea with Islam? The idea of one God comes from Judaism. The only real new idea is that you are going to force everyone to believe the same thing or you will kill them. I read somewhere that there are all these statements in the Koran about how dirty dogs are. Same stuff in the Old Testament too. But you can go beyond that too. I say don't trust a religion if they haven't gone beyond disliking dogs.
"I've always had cats. The cat is now 15. I rescued her when she was giving birth across the apartment where we used to live. This horrible man took her to the pound just after she gave birth. He'd been feeding her. He was some old gay guy living with a bunch of teenage boys. Once she gave birth - that was too horrible and female breedery for him to deal with, apparently, so I guess he just thought, Let's take her to the pound. I thought was so offensive. I went and got her and I still have to this day.
"I made my husband claim he was a neighbor and it was his cat so we wouldn't have to pay the adopt-an-animal fee. We got her back free because we said he was just reclaiming his lost cat. He didn't argue with me about it, except I wanted to name the cat Phyllis and he said she was far too sexy a cat to be named Phyllis, so he named her Felice. The animal control people knew the story was a bunch of bull but the guy said, 'God bless you for this,' when he put the cat and her kittens into the carrier for us. I found homes for all the kittens and I spayed the cat. A few years later, my husband got mad at me when I wanted to neuter one of the neighbor's tomcats. He yelled, 'My wife is not going to go around castrating the neighborhood animals.' So you can see why I'm not married anymore. It's a funny old world."
Luke: "Have you been blackballed?"
Cathy: "Gosh, that's kind of strong term. Perhaps not from the Times at this point, because they've had such a big turnover in management, but maybe I'm being naive. I know Peter Bart at Variety was just hugely furious because of some mildly -- and I mean VERY mildly -- needling comments I made about him in an old Buzz piece. And Robert Dowling at the Hollywood Reporter was also upset, although he had more of a reason to be. So I suppose you could say I'm blackballed at the trades. I guess that's just a cross I'll have to bear."
Cathy has a piece on Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez piece that should run in American Journalism Review in March or April and a piece on why everyone hates Maureen Dowd these days coming out in the February issue of the Washingtonian magazine.
Seipp has never been sued for libel.
Cathy and Jerry's 14 year old daughter writes on her blog 5/20/03: "My parents divorced when I was one. Some say it was meant to be. My dad ran off with his future second-ex-wife and things did turn out quite well. My brother, whom my father obviously favors, is a brat. Ms. Ex-wife#2 constantly represses her anger and complains about Dad to me. Dad complains that she is mentally ill. Dad continues to say that his second-wife threatens to return to her home state, Maryland."
Cathy Seipp's College Roommate Recollects Her Naked Ways
Nancy Lilienthal from Beverly Hills writes the New York Press: As Catherine Seipp's still-recovering-from-the-experience college roommate, I was particularly tickled with her recent article on housecleaning ("Letter from L.A.," 12/8). It seems that her habits have improved vastly since our nine month period of angst-ridden cohabitation. I can still remember the infamously mildewed shower curtain that I discovered when I moved into Cathy's apartment and her giddy delight after I scrubbed it clean. I didn't think that she realized that mildew was something that could be remedied. There was also an incident with the vacuum cleaner, but my memory is more vague on this. I remember that she had a vacuum but never used it and had no idea how to replace the bag. With a little instruction, she got the hang of it.
My most vivid memory of living with Cathy was how she used to traipse around our second-floor apartment at night with the curtains open and the lights on, wearing nothing but her panties. She had a wonderful figure, a "beautiful bosom," as my mother would put it, and wasn't the least bit self-conscious. The pimply boys in the engineering fraternity across the street were very appreciative, and would sit slackjawed in small groups on their porch, passing a pair of binoculars from sweaty hand to sweaty hand. I, of course, moved about the apartment with my robe wrapped tightly around me, sullen as only a plump, self-righteous roommate can be. Cathy was oblivious to all. I think she and Susan Faludi may have more in common than she thinks!
Instapundit Didn't Expect Cathy To Be So Cute
Glenn Reynolds aka Instapundit writes: "Based on Cathy's reputation and experience, my mental image was of a grizzled, fiftyish type. I was startled to meet her at a blog party (at Eugene Volokh's) and discover that she was young and good- looking. I think it was Ken Layne who explained that her experience was in "internet years," so that she could be professionally grizzled while remaining physically vivacious."
Ken Layne, part of the Laexaminer.com team with Matt Welch, writes 1/1/03: Besides being a terrific writer and one of the smartest, funniest people I know, Cathy [Seipp] is a fantastic schemer. She and Amy Alkon pretty much decided to elevate Welch and me from nobody Web writers to LA media fixtures.
Let me explain: We started LAExaminer.com long before anyone around town knew who we were. I mean, we had some friends at the LA Daily News and LA Business Journal and we knew Bob Scheer (his son worked with us in Prague), and Bob got us hired at USC's Online Journalism Review. (All three of us were eventually pushed out.) I had a bit of a cult readership from Tabloid.net (97-99) and had plenty of solid journalism experience, but nothing sexy. When you're a free-lancer in LA, you can go years without knowing people in your trade. You work at home, you don't necessarily hang out with media people. Everything's phone and e-mail.
Cathy and Amy pulled some sort of coup at the LA Press Club. They started these monthly parties a few years back, and I suppose the intent was to get free-lancers out of the house and get staffers to actually socialize instead of racing home to Thousand Oaks or wherever when the work day ended. I don't know how Cathy found us. Probably googling herself. Like most writers, she's likes to read about herself online. So we got invited to these things, LA Examiner got more notice, then Sept. 11 happened and Welch & I sort of stormed the market with our individual sites. (Andrew Sullivan called us "previous unknowns" or something in a Times of London piece. We're like, "Previous unknown to *you,* ya damned snob.")
Suddenly, we're semi-famous. James Wolcott of Vanity Fair wrote this crazy thing for Business 2.0 on Web logs, and half the piece was about me and Welch and how L.A. was a hotbed of blogging. Mark Steyn quotes us, John Leo mentions us, James Lileks and Virginia Postrel hype us on their sites, Nick Denton writes about us in the Guardian, I get a column on FoxNews.com, Welch gets a National Post column, and this sort of scene creates itself. (Glenn Reynolds is a huge factor here. Like Cathy, he knows everybody everywhere, and he's a very smart and generous guy.) It was great, because it finally felt like we were breaking down the Ivy League Curtain. You know, we work our asses off, and we're always broke and maybe we got a link on Romenesko every six months. It wears you down. So it was terrific fun to get some notice and be part of this gang of online troublemakers.
(Weirdly, when people finally noticed our work, they were mostly conservatives or libertarians. I always thought I was a liberal -- an old-school anti-communist pro-civil-rights liberal. Turns out most people consider me a neo-con or libertarian. Who woulda thunk it? I believe Cathy is somehow responsible for this, too.)
But in L.A., it's silent. Because of LAExaminer.com, the LAT wouldn't touch us, even though they're very aware of us. (Cathy would later prove this by interviewing LAT features editor John Montorio, who admitted he reads me, Welch and L.A. Examiner. And when the LAT finally did a blogging feature, a year after the important papers had covered it to death, not a single L.A. blog was featured. The story did, however, talk a lot about USC's Online Journalism Review, where we were the star writers before being dumped in September 2001. Incredible.) The rest of the L.A. media is just clueless.
She had already started inviting us to these press parties, and early last year she and Amy forced the issue by throwing a whole party for the L.A. blogging people. They even let me pick the place: Casita del Campo, two blocks from my house. (You were at that party, if I recall. I was drunk out of my skull.) And meanwhile she's writing this epic for the American Journalism Review on the blogging phenomenon ("Online Uprising"). It's still the best story on the subject.
Magically, between the planning of this party and the actual event, Dick Riordan calls us. (He was actually at the Casita party for a couple hours, before the crowd appeared.) He wants to start a paper, and for some reason he wants us involved. New Times had just broken the local-media silence with a very nice story by Tony Ortega, and Riordan had just lost the primary. I don't know this for sure, but I'm betting Cathy convinced Rick Barrs to assign that story.
We work with Riordan for months, and it finally becomes apparent he's not going to make any decision in the foreseeable future. I'm broke as usual. Cathy finds out Barrs is looking for a new managing editor (Jack Cheevers was moving to the San Francisco paper) and a staff writer. She sells Barrs on the idea of hiring me and Welch. I exchange some e-mails with Barrs and give him a year commitment, and it looks like I'm going to have a job at the one L.A. paper I respect. Fantastic. That night, New Times exec Mike Lacey comes to town and fires everybody and shuts down the paper. (Tony Ortega told me he thought the meeting would include an announcement that I was joining the staff. Ho ho!)
Back to zero. But Riordan was now being encouraged to fill the market hole by finally get this paper going -- by various people, including some of his friends from New Times LA. And I got the call to come to work on this thing. And now we're finishing up the long-promised prototype, and of course the first writer on my list was Cathy. You see, L.A. Examiner was directly inspired by her LAT-bashing column in Buzz Magazine. A lot of people think we were inspired by Romenesko or SmarterTimes or whatever. I like those sites, but what I really wanted was a replacement for the Buzz media column.
In your interview with Cathy's ex, there is talk of her manipulation skills. In my experience, it is the most benevolent manipulation. I wouldn't want to be on her bad side, but I don't really think that's possible. We've never even discussed politics. If you're not a pompous fraud and your world view is flexible enough to accommodate reality, you won't get any trouble from Seipp.
The biggest crime is that she isn't writing a local column. I hope to fix that situation.
Sandra Tsing Loh On Cathy Seipp
I tracked down author Sandra Tsing Loh to Seattle, Washington, where she's performing a one-woman show for a couple of months. Sandra has two small kids, age two years and nine months.
Sandra met Cathy Seipp at Buzz Magazine in the early nineties. "She was secretly doing the Margo Magee column. The other female columnists did not know that she was doing it. Some people were spooked by it. Allan and certain members of the editorial side thought it was amazing but some of the female columnists were spooked that somebody had to be so nasty about the LA Times. If you were a hard-news person, you'd really enjoy it."
Luke: "Do you think she made too many enemies and this hurt her career?"
Sandra: "That's a philosophical question and your answer depends on what you want your career to be. Cathy has written about me that I can criticize the LA Times but still have a feature article run on me for a theater show or book. When I criticize something, I try to criticize the institution and not name the individual people. That has a glow that somebody can imagine it is not them I'm criticizing. Cathy names names and says personal things about them. She's searing. People who know her call it her "scorched-earth philosophy."
"If you think writing for the LA Times is the be-all and end-all of everything, yes, they may not hire her for a juicy spot for a long time. But she is so remembered by so many for writing on the LA Times."
Luke: "Does she have no fear?"
Sandra: "I think she doesn't. She says what's on her mind. I don't know where she got that. She has judgments about things. We'll agree to disagree. She can drop it. She's oddly polite. She's the most graceful person. She has a certain sense of decorum that she will follow to the letter."
Luke: "She delights in skewering other people who lack decorum."
Sandra: "She has a weakness, a soft spot, for really abrasive women. She and I have a whole list of women we disagree on. She has a soft spot for women I think should be clubbed over the head with a polo mallet.
"I cherish Cathy as a friend. She's loyal. I would be so afraid to come under her laser."
Luke: "Were you ever intimidated by her?"
Sandra: "No. From early on, from the first five minutes, I just felt that I was on her safe side and she has always been so gracious to me. In print, she has been careful to remember things exactly or to make a comment that has not damaged me. She's always been kind to me."
Luke: "Do the fierce reactions her writing engender ever get her down?"
Sandra: "I think sometimes she's a little surprised that somebody feels so badly or has burst into tears at their desk reading something she's written. Recently she and Amy Alkon played a trick on someone at the LA Times, calling him a boob or something... She keeps going so probably not.
"I soft pedal things. I hesitate to make certain kinds of pronouncements. It's not in my nature. I'm overwhelmed with two small children. I'm in a profession where I try to not read any media. I'm a solo performer so I try to not know what is going on. I hide from the media."
Samantha Dunn On Cathy Seipp
I speak by phone 12/27/02 with author Samantha Dunn. She was raised in northern New Mexico and spent years in Australia and France. She's published two books - the autobiographical novel Failing Paris and the memoir Not by Accident: Reconstructing a Careless Life. She's the West Coast health and fitness editor for Glamour magazine.
Sam: "I met Cathy at Buzz magazine. We ran in the same circles. How do you know her?"
Luke: "By reading Buzz... I was intimidated when I first met her at one of her writer parties."
Sam: "You expect people like Cathy in New York, but in Los Angeles she's one of a kind. I've always described Cathy as the antidote to pack journalism. When you see all the happy news, the Access Hollywood type of reporting, you look at Cathy and she's the penicillin to all that."
Luke: "Were you intimidated when you first met her?"
Sam: "Yeah. I like to think of myself as a smart cookie, but Cathy has a way of wading through bullshit and contradiction and being confrontational. Even though I now know her, you never quite know what you're going to get. Now I just have a healthy respect. You better be on your game when you talk to Cathy. She'll put you straight if you're suffering any delusions."
Luke: "How did you notice your friends in the media reacting to her Buzz columns?"
Sam: "I had a lot of friends at the LA Times and people were always outraged by her stuff, but couldn't stop reading. Some people secretly cheered her on even if they were publicly dismissive of her. Cathy hits close to the bone on things. She did a piece recently on Ms. Magazine. I had a friend who was up for one of the editorships. I sent her Cathy's column. She was outraged. 'Well, who is this person? She has maybe 10% right but the rest is just so off the mark.' But I think the reason my friend was so perturbed was that Cathy was a lot more than 10% accurate. That Cathy is willing to ask these questions and say the things people think silently makes her Cathy. All of us would like to say some of the things that Cathy says. I don't know what gives Cathy her bravery and strength."
Luke: "It seems effortless on her part."
Sam: "I'm guessing it has taken its toll on her."
Luke: "Do you think it has hurt her career?"
Sam: "I don't know. What do you feel about that?"
Luke: "I'm sure it has hurt her with Southern California media entities like the trades and the Los Angeles Times. I assume that Southern California media is clubby and that she is largely excluded and largely writes for organizations out of state."
Sam: "I'm thinking about her writing for the pink ghetto of women's magazines. I write for those magazines. I know they're a girls club. Cathy is not willing to make nice. I respect her for that. I can't imagine her writing those pieces you need to write for those magazines."
Luke: "How long were you with Buzz?"
Sam: "I wasn't with Buzz. I was a chronic hanger-on. I think I held the record for having the most pieces killed by Buzz."
Cathy Seipp and Amy Alkon threw a writer's party for Sam Dunn in March 2002 to honor the publication of her memoir Not by Accident: Reconstructing a Careless Life. It was at that party that I first met Cathy.
Sam: "We were just about to leave. Cathy introduced me to a journalist [Emmanuelle Richard] from the French newspaper Liberacion. I said, "Oh, Cathy, I didn't know you were friends with anyone from Liberacion.' She turned to me and said, 'Yes, Sam, I know French people.'
"Most people realize that Cathy is a ballbuster but she's also incredibly generous and giving to the people she likes. She's not gushy. Her actions speak louder than her words."
Luke: "Do you ever feel when you're writing something, oh, I better not write that, because I will anger someone who will hurt me?"
Sam: "Yeah. I've written about my personal life and people have really been hurt. I didn't mean to be hurtful. I just meant to be analytical and emotionally honest. God, people flee from you in droves when you do that. Cathy does it all the time. Once you've been stung like that, it does make you more cautious."
Luke: "I'm just coming out of a phase where for a year, I couldn't write anything honest because I was so shell-shocked."
Sam: "That happened to me after my book Not by Accident came out. I thought I was measured but it ended up hurting people. It's only now that I've gotten back to writing. I've taken refuge in the soft celebrity stuff that doesn't require any analysis. I've been licking my wounds."
A Chat With Cathy Seipp's Ex-Husband
Editor's Note: The following exclusive story was written by two veteran reporters. It was commissioned by a special grant from the Ford Foundation to launch our coverage of the private lives of entertainment journalists.
This story reveals how new communications techniques can permeate a marriage with social and economic impacts both planned and unanticipated. It shows how access to information can empower a new elite of young journalists and editors.
Jerry Journalist. Cathy Seipp. They were the couple that summed up an era - the Richard Burton - Elizabeth Taylor of the eighties, the Los Angeles edition of Tina Brown - Harold Evans. Their romance embodied a nation's hopes. He was the young prince of Camelot. She was Queen Guineviere. They had a beautiful daughter, a dog and a cat. And then it went terribly wrong. Tonight on LF.net, the True Hollywood Story of Cathy and Jerry:
I speak by phone 12/31/02 with Cathy Seipp's ex-husband Jerry Journalist.
Luke: "Cathy writes about you frequently."
Jerry laughs: "And not always in a flattering light. Mainly, my attitude is live-and-let-live. But there was a point when she was writing stuff for Salon that was upsetting to our daughter, who would read it. So I had to get a hold of Salon.com editor David Talbott. I said, look, I'm a journalist myself. I don't want to be one of these crybabies. Cathy is writing a media column. If I do something in the media, that's fair game. But if she's taking gratuitous shots at me, and it's upsetting our daughter, that's not right. I appealed to him father to father and he ended up putting the clamp on Cathy and she didn't appreciate it. But I guess I bubble up other places, don't I?"
Luke: "Yes, yes. I read what she wrote in the New York Press where she went to testify for you in a dispute with your ex-wife #2."
Jerry: "That was a protracted custody battle. She wanted to relocate my son to the other side of the country. Cathy, to her credit, and to her enjoyment, performed well. As you know, she's a no-bull---- customer. I think the judge was taken aback. The opposing attorney tried to make the case that ex-wife #1 was motivated to appear because she was jealous of ex-wife #2. To that, Cathy gave a haughty retort. She just laid that lawyer low. You could tell the judge was amused. It was one of the few moments of levity in the whole thing."
Luke: "Where do you come from? What's your story?"
Jerry: "I was born in Philadelphia to a constellation Jewish family. The whole mishpacha (family) is right there. My Mom died when I was five. My Dad remarried. Searching for peace and quiet, bought a farm house in northern Connecticut and relocated us there when I was seven."
Luke: "My mother died of cancer when I was four-and-a-half."
Jerry: "Do you have memories of her?"
Luke: "Vague but some definite ones, like her feeding me scrambled eggs."
Jerry: "I have some specific images. It's something I think about. My son is about that age. I think, if something should happen to me, what would he remember? I'd like to think a lot.
"I had two younger sisters. I stayed in this little farm town in Connecticut through high school. My parents had four more children. I was the oldest of seven.
"I did a double major (English and Journalism) at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, graduating in 1975. Then I got my Masters in Journalism at Columbia in 1976. Then I went to work at Esquire as chief of research. I'd read Esquire since I was a kid and I had this vision of these wise old-men there.
"My plan when I got out of college was to go to work for the Boston Globe for 30-40 years, and once I achieved true sagacity, then maybe some revered magazine would take me on. So imagine my shock when I went to Esquire and the editor-in-chief was 29 years old - Lee Eisenberg. It was a bunch of kids running the show. As we now know, that's the way it is with magazines. I soon realized that you don't have to be as old as Norman Mailer to write for Esquire.
"It was a small enough staff that I had the equivalent of an associate editor's job. I went to all the editorial meetings and all the assigning, generating, and writing stuff. After Lee Eisenberg as editor came Byron Dobell and then Clay Felker."
Luke: "Clay Felker, founder of New York Magazine? Wow."
Jerry: "He took over and he did the most boneheaded thing in the world - He made it a fortnightly magazine. It was probably the first and last fortnightly in American journalism. Clay famously bought the name "New York Magazine" from the defunct New York Herald Tribune [newspaper where it started as a Sunday supplement] and he brought along [famous writers] Gay Talese, Gail Sheehy, Andy Tobias, Aaron Lathem, Nora Ephron, Dick Reeves, and that whole stable of people to Esquire. Having come from a weekly, he was annoyed with having such long lead times for articles. He couldn't get the financing to make Esquire a weekly, so he made it a fortnightly. That lasted about a year.
"Then the Moffit-Whittle boys came in from Tennessee. Everyone laughed at them as southern hicks but they made a success out of the magazine. They weren't sure who Gay Talese was or Tom Wolfe was, but it turned out they were craftier than people were willing to admit.
"I left Esquire in 1978 and then I got recruited to edit a magazine (monthly Houston City Magazine) in Houston, Texas, for two years, which was great. When I was in New York, I knew I would always live in New York, but I didn't want to be like Woody Allen and never have seen anything else. I wanted to get out for a little while while I was young before I got settled. Houston was the last place I would've thought of. The publisher (billionaire Francois de Menil) was in town recruiting an editor. My agent said, 'Go have breakfast. At least it's a free meal.' One thing led to another.
"After two years, I was not ready to go back to New York and my cramped little apartment, which I had been subletting all this time. So I came to LA in 1981, for no other reason than failure of imagination.
"I met Cathy while I was editing one of those silly airline magazines (called Republic for the long-defunct Republic Airlines). I had been on a trip to Finland, on one of those free junket trips. I had a friend who was doing publicity for the government of Finland and she needed to fill some seats. On the trip, I met another journalist, Debbie Gendel (a View editor at the LA Times), who said, 'Have I got a girl for you.'
"When I was back in LA, we got together. We had a very pleasant lunch."
Luke: "Was she beautiful?"
Jerry: "Well, yeah."
Jerry laughs. "She's going to love reading me say that. And I'm conscious that my daughter is reading this."
Luke: "I hear she was quite beautiful. That letter by her college roommate [Nancy Lilienthal] was funny about her parading around their apartment naked."
Jerry: "That's a story she was eager to tell me on the first date. I'm sure you've gathered that Cathy revels in her eccentricity. I read her account: 'It was a good date so we got married.' There's some other stuff there. I assigned her an interesting piece to do. I see that she says I assigned it without reading anything she'd written. That's not true. She had not written for magazines before. All she had were her daily news columns. I could see that she had and still has a distinctive voice, which I thought would be appropriate for this particular topic.
"You're familiar with Mensa? Anyone in the top two percent of IQs qualifies for Mensa. Think about that. If you're standing in a supermarket line and you look around you, that suggests that two people that you see are geniuses. Now you and I both know that you can't walk into a supermarket and find two geniuses. So other more elite societies started springing up. One was for the upper one percent. That wasn't good enough. There was a genius society started for the top .1%. Then the top .01%.
"I turned Cathy loose on that and had her interview a woman named Marilyn vos Savant, who is in the Guiness Book of World Records for having the highest IQ in the United States. We ended up putting Marilyn on the cover and that was her stepping stone to fame. Up to that point, she was just an entry in the Guiness Book of World Records and she lived in St. Louis. Shortly after that, she moved to New York, married the guy who invented the artificial heart, and she's been a columnist in Parade Magazine every week for many years.
"Cathy interviewed the heads of each of these so-called genius societies. It's a good piece."
Luke: "Did you fall in love with Cathy on the first date?"
Jerry laughs. "Oh Lord, you have to remember this was a long time ago."
Luke: "What was the day?"
Jerry stumbles. "Ahh, umm, oh, the day of the date? I would have no idea. Let me make a blanket declaration that I am lousy with dates. I remember it was a weekday."
Luke: "What year was it?"
Jerry: "It was a Mexican restaurant on Flores, near Santa Monica Blvd, in West Hollywood."
Luke: "What year was this?"
Jerry: "Oh man, let me think. Oh, I've got to do the math here."
Five seconds go by. "Oh, this is terrible. Put me off the record for a second so you are not counting the seconds that it takes me."
Five seconds go by.
Luke: "What year did you get married?"
Jerry gives a sheepish laugh. "Luke, I've blocked a lot of this out for very good reasons. It was the mid-eighties."
Luke: "It was in 1985 that you met and you married in 1986."
Luke: "She'd quit the Daily News in 1985."
Jerry: "She was working at home [when they met]."
Luke: "So it was 1985-86."
Jerry: "Ok, thanks."
Luke: "So how long after the first date did you ask her to marry you, or did she ask you to marry her?"
Jerry: "There had been some discussion about moving in with her because I'd recently acquired this wonderful dog named Phoebe, who, Cathy being a pet person, was quite fond of as well. I was living in a pool house in Hancock Park and the elderly shrink who was the landlord agreed I could keep Phoebe there but after a month or so, she changed her mind. So here I was with this dog I was quite fond of, and so, because Cathy worked at home, she agreed to let Phoebe spend the days there. So that probably accelerated the whole process.
"I don't recall the specific conversation but I'm sure Cathy made clear that moving in together stipulated some at least vague plan for matrimony."
Luke: "So you moved in together before you got married?"
Luke: "How much more?"
Jerry exhales: "I'm going to say roughly a year. But she'll know. Her memory is much sharper than mine on this. To me, it was like the eighties. I can tell you the exact hour and date of my daughter's birth. So we got married some time before that."
Luke: "Cathy says 1986."
Jerry: "I won't argue."
This was Jerry and Cathy's first marriage each.
Luke: "How did you like being married?"
Jerry: "Umm, ahh, I liked being married fine. There's nothing about the institution... Oh boy, I'm conscious of who's reading this.
"Let me put it this way. In a city of head-nodders, Cathy had original opinions and attitudes. She's well-read. She's a real thinker. She's not easily persuaded. Some might go so far as to say she's contrarian in nature. That's obviously something that could be appealing and alluring. But it's often the thing that attracts you that sends you packing. It gets less amusing when the opinions she disagreed with were mine. As she takes potshots at people personally and professionally, it's great fun to look over her shoulder but it's less fun to be looking down the barrel. That's probably the best way of summarizing our dynamic."
Luke: "How many of those months and years did you enjoy being married to Cathy?"
Jerry struggles: "Well, let's see... That's a tough question. I'll pass."
Luke: "If those who Cathy has skewered in print, if they only knew X about Cathy, they would feel better. What would X be?"
Jerry: "I'm always an advocate of trying to understand someone you're at odds with, to keep your ears open and your mouth closed as much as possible. I would conjecture that those who fear chaos overcompensate by trying to hyper-control their environment. Now, in some cases, the environment they are trying to control includes the behavior of their friends and family, and, in extreme cases, all humans. Those around Cathy are quite accustomed to declarations beginning with the words, 'You should...'"
Luke got an email from Cathy 12/30: "I want to thank you again, by the way, for taking such an interest in what I have to say...and what people have to say about me. It's certainly gratifying to read all these things about fabulous ME ME ME! But again I say, you do such a good job interviewing Hw'd producers etc., that I really think you ought to make it your NYr's resolution to get a job as an entertainment writer at somewhere like the Times or EW. They'd be lucky to have you. Well, that's just my bossy two cents for now..."
Jerry: "That can range from room rearrangement suggestions to complete lifestyle overhauls."
Luke: "Yes, she's told me what I should be doing with my life."
Jerry chuckles: "Exactly. Now imagine being married to her. The epiphany for me was when I got up and went to pour myself a glass of juice from the refrigerator and Cathy came bounding across the house, through both rooms of the small bungalow that we had, to tell me that I shouldn't be drinking that juice, I should be drinking this juice. There was no logical reason other than control.
"At the time, I don't think I had the benefit of life experience to deal with that better. All I saw was handcuffs and chains and my wife putting me in a box and telling me what to do. I'd like to think I've always been resilient and flexible but this was getting ridiculous. I just remember the juice thing and this light bulb going off and my saying, 'I can't live like this.' She's strong-willed, opinionated, contentious, stubborn.
"To answer your question about those who were skewered by her, she often does it for the shock value and to grab attention. I've observed this a million times - she'll take an opposing point of view just to engage you. I can't tell you the number of times I've thought: 'She can't believe half the stuff that is coming out of her mouth.' She's a master quibbler."
Luke: "Did your appreciation of her writing change with the arc of your relationship?"
Jerry: "I've never disliked her writing. I just thought that I should be off-limits. It was gratuitous. It was Phyllis Diller and Fang. I was the whacky ex-husband. It didn't bother me until our daughter read one and was upset by it. Other than that, I'm as thick-skinned as they come. I laugh at some of them.
"I don't necessarily agree with her opinions. I can assure you of this - she was not conservative when I met her or married her. But I saw it gradually happen. When she saw the horrified looks she'd get when she'd espouse some nutty right-wing Republican conservative viewpoint, she became all the more entrenched in that position. When I met her, she had a couple of bon mots - 'All felons should be cut up and turned into dog food. At least they will serve some useful purpose.' But Cathy, don't you believe in rehabilitation? Oh no."
Luke: "Have people held her work against you?"
Jerry: "No. There were a couple of instances when I was introduced to someone who knew Cathy and then someone as an aside would say, 'That's Cathy's ex-husband.' And they would swivel around and say, 'Really?' They were either surprised that she had an ex-husband or they had heard about this ex-husband and here I was."
Luke: "Have you seen awe? As in, 'Wow, you were married to Cathy Seipp?' Aside from me."
Jerry laughs: "I think there are a lot of people out there who are amazed that anyone could've been married to Cathy Seipp. I could tell that the unspoken question was, 'How could you do that?'
"Even the people who appear to have the hardest shells have soft cores. Cathy's not exempt from that. When the marriage broke up, I think she got externally tougher. One, she's someone who fears chaos. A dissolution of a marriage, by definition, is something that has gone out of control. I think it made her even more resolute and entrenched in, 'From now on, things are going to be done Cathy's way. This is Cathy's world.' It made her even more impervious, some might say imperious.
"She embodies self-discipline. I admire the way she manages and controls her time and space and what she will do and won't do. Try to call her when she's on assignment. Most freelance writers welcome the intrusion but Cathy is like, "Can't talk now, bye.' As a freelance writer, that serves her well. She gets more done in a four-hour day than most people do in an eight-hour day at an office."
Luke: "Is Cathy cognizant of the amount of pain that her writing causes people and is she surprised at the anger and hatred that they have for her after it gets published?"
Jerry: "I don't want to say that she doesn't really care. It's been suggested to her that she show more tact and compassion. In a lot of cases, it's a preemptive strike. As long as she's striking out, it prevents people from striking back. Or if they strike back, she can claim, oh well, they are just being defensive.
"I've read what other people have said about her having a strong sense of ethics..."
Luke: "And she's outraged when people violate that."
Jerry: "That's not my style. I'd like to think the same results could be achieved in other ways but this is what makes Cathy Cathy. Not being a control person, I'm not about to tell her what to do. To her, that's a huge advantage. She does things her way, when and how she wants it. She doesn't take guff from anyone. She's not cowed by authority. These can be positive things. Where it gets annoying is where she dictates what she wants done, to friends and family, just commands them like servants. The downside is this - when you leave no room for others' opinions, attitudes, needs, desires, wishes, thoughts, when you're incapable of seeing the world through other people's eyes, she believes everyone should see the world through her eyes, then it becomes self-serving. But she's extremely well-read, though it wouldn't kill her to pick up a left-leaning publication from time to time."
Luke: "I take it that your political views are to the left of Cathy's?"
Jerry: "Aren't everyone's?"
Luke: "Were your political differences an issue in your relationship?"
Jerry: "No. She's argumentative but once she was able to pin that badge [of conservatism on after divorcing Jerry] on, she knew it would horrify, appall, shock, dismay, and cause hand-wringing among her friends but now it's Cathy's thing.
"You've got me reminiscing about Cathy the pet lover. She keeps quite a menagerie. She's got a cat and a dog. She's always buying these various things for the pond - turtles and fish and so on. My theory is that she loves pets because she has more control over them. They give her less grief than humans do. She only writes the nicest things about the most savage of beasts. They can't read it so why bother pissing them off?"
Luke: "It's a tension-free relationship."
Jerry: "Exactly. She gets to decide who gets what and when..."
Luke: "Is Cathy misanthropic?"
Luke: "A little bit?"
Jerry: "If it were a yes/no question, I'd have to lean towards yes. We all get misanthropic as the years go by. If she were answering it, she would probably say no, she's just selective about who she chooses to champion and who she chooses to trash. People who know me and know Cathy and then find out that we were together, part of the astonishment is that we are such divergent personalities. I tend to be too accepting of people and she tends to be completely unaccepting. It's just in our natures that I am more easygoing."
Luke: "Did you get mad at Cathy for wanting to castrate the neighbors' animals?"
Jerry: "True. She wanted to round up all the animals in the neighborhood and get them spayed and neutered. She had strong opinions about that. I said, 'If it is your animal, that's great but you're not going to round up others'..."
Luke: "How was your relationship with her animals?"
Jerry: "I love her animals. She has Felice, who I found on the sidewalk before we even married. I'm very fond of Linda the neurotic dog.
"On our first date, Cathy recited this to me, composed by her father. I offer it without commentary because I think it speaks volumes about Cathy's dynamic with men."
Please don't lick your wee-wee, dog,
Jerry: "Enough said. I think you can read between the lines on a lot."
Luke: "When Cathy went on a neutering rampage, did you feel personally threatened?"
Jerry laughs. "No. That she was going to neuter me? No."
Luke: "I wondered if a large dynamic in Cathy's writing is that she was a beautiful woman, and this gave her self-confidence."
Jerry: "I've worked with many female writers who are household names and who by almost nobody's measure would you think of as beautiful. I don't think Cathy ever flaunted her looks. Most of her work is done on the phone. She rarely ventures out. I learned from her in that. I was always the kind of writer, having gone to journalism school, I'd show up on a person's doorstep, no matter what the article. I would only do face-to-face interviews, which is insane. If you're trying to make a living as a freelancer, there aren't enough hours in the day to track people down to do that. I learned from her that you could just sit down and in one hour on the phone get your interviews done where it would take me days.
"A lot of that comes from working on a newspaper. Once you've acclimated to those deadline pressures, that becomes part of your protoplasm."
Luke: "Which medium do you most excel at? Daily, weekly or monthly writing?"
Jerry: "Definitely monthly. I was the last Lifestyle editor of the LA Herald Examiner. We had daily deadlines to meet and that drove me crazy. I always like to niggle with something a little bit longer if I can. I like the atmosphere of a monthly. I more enjoyed the thoughtfulness of magazines over the pressures of newspapers."
Luke: "What has been your relationship to Judaism?"
Jerry: "I grew up Jewish. When my Mom died, and my father remarried, my stepmother was a blue-blood WASP (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant). So my family was convinced we wouldn't get raised Jewish, so she overcompensated and sent me to Hebrew school at an Orthodox shul five days a week. I hated this. Jewish education then was different from now. Everything was done in Hebrew. It was all about memorization. There was a lot of knuckle-rapping with rulers. It was fear-based education. There was nothing taught about significance or the beauty and joy of Judaism. I got Bar Mitvahed. My mother made me go another year or two. I hated it.
"I became the twice-a-year Jew with the Passover seder and the High Holiday services and not much else. I remember when the rabbi was going to marry us, they have a little meeting with you. They wanted to make sure she knew how to light the shabbat candles. She says, no, no, no. He was going to practice with her and show her how to cover your eyes and all that. No, no, no, I don't need to know that. You can imagine her telling the rabbi, no, no, no. He said, 'Well, I can't marry you unless you....' No, no, no, that's fine."
Luke: "What type of rabbi?"
Jerry: "It was her mother's rabbi. It wasn't anything we paid much attention to. Our daughter, when she was like six or seven, had always had a fascination for languages. She begged me to take her to Hebrew School. And I said to her, 'Sweetie, trust me, it's horrible. You don't want to do this.' But she was so persistent, she's inherited that willfulness from her Mom, that I finally said, 'Look, let me call around.' I called a Reform temple. At least make it relatively painless. I thought if I took her to one class, it would knock it out of her system forever.
"I took her to this one class and it's changed. Thank goodness, Jewish education has changed. It was so well done. It was a three-hour class but there was singing and dancing and talking about significance, not just memorizing the months of the Jewish calendar and the books of the Jewish Bible, and, smart Jews that they are, they ran a concurrent Torah class for parents. So instead of dropping your kids off like so much dry cleaning, 'Make them a Jew, extra starch,' you can do something while you are there. And when it is over, you can compare notes.
"The really smart move was to get this hip, smart, young rabbi who was just a joy, people were pretending to be parents to get in his class, and they ran out of seats because it was so good. Going back to these ancient texts, he would find so much significance, humor and wonder in them. I credit our daughter for bringing me back into the fold. As a result of that, I continued with Torah study. I did Talmud study for a year. I equated it with the punchline of a Woody Allen joke up to that point. Last semester, now I have two kids in Sunday school, I took two classes - one on 20th Century Jewish composers and one on the State of Israel.
"My daughter has had a Bat Mitvah but has elected to stay on. Usually the eighth-grade class, has teen topics like self esteem and cooperation and sex ed and drugs and rockn'roll, just to get them back after the Bat Mitzvah. And she said, 'Dad, I learned that stuff in kindergarten. I want to do the Ninth grade class where they learn about Judaism and Torah and Israel.' It took some wrangling with the temple. I told them, 'Look, if your goal is to keep them coming back, this is what is going to do it for her.' They worked it out. She skipped a grade. She's really passionate about it. She's a Holocaust scholar. She probably knows more about WWII than people who have lived through it.
"Now, I think this might even be my daughter coming through the door, wouldn't that be funny? 'It's Cathy and -----. And I'm talking to Luke Ford.' Cathy's grimacing. You wouldn't believe the stories I just told him. Hi sweetie. [I think that was directed to the daughter, rather than the ex-wife.] My daughter wants to know when you are going to update your website?"
It prompts me to immediately look for some fresh material, to search deep within my soul for world-shaking revelations.
Jerry: "I'm sure as soon as he is off the phone... Help yourself to the refrigerator. There are four kinds of juice, milk, whatever you want... Low fat eggnog. You're getting this in real time. Well, I better sign off now. I enjoyed talking about Cathy. I wish you could see the grimace on her face right now. Oh well, all's fair..."
Later, I asked Jerry via email about his professional life since the divorce from Cathy. As you can see, he went into a tailspin, living on the street and drinking cheap wine to dull the pain of his broken heart.
Jerry writes: "In the early 90s, I hosted/produced a half-hour celebrity interview show for E! Entertainment TV -- "Extreme Close Up". Every "episode" was a one-on-one interview with an A-list star (Tom Cruise, Jodie Foster, Mel Gibson, Clint Eastwood, Catherine Deneuve, Kenneth Branaugh, Kevin Costner, etc -- tons of them). To keep it interesting and challenging, I expanded it to include musicians ( K.D. Lang , Dolly Parton, Ringo Starr, Ron Wood, Robert Palmer, Dan Fogelberg, David Byrne, Zubin Mehta, to name a few!), and even writers (Neil Simon, Eric Bogosian, Anne Rice, etc).
"After that I wrote/produced a couple more shows with the late great Brandon Tartikoff -- one for E! (coincidentally!) called "Q&E!" (hosted by Eleanor Mondale), and another (syndicated by Universal) called "Last Call" (late-night gabfest).
"Then I stumbled upon this crazy thing called the Internet, and produced the first professional arts/entertainment "webzine" (before there was even such a word) called The Gigaplex (gigaplex.com), which you would have appreciated since it was a forerunner of lukeford.net -- scores of celeb interviews (A-list actors, musicians, artists, writers, etc. -- yes, many appropriated from my E! transcripts ---shhhh!).
"Within The Gigaplex ("A billion pleasures await you!") were dozens of "plexes" -- the Artplex, TVplex, Filmplex, Bookplex, and even oddities such as the Foodplex, Yogaplex and Golfplex!. (And, yes, my first revenue stream came from the Sexplex!). Alas, it grew way beyond anything I could manage alone, and I ran out of money paying freelancers (and hosting fees -- with millions of "hits" per month), so regretfully I had to let it go... BUT not before I became known as "a guy who can build websites" (of course this was back in the dark ages when your dog could've built the best possible website).
"So I formed Lazar Productions, which conceives, designs, builds, maintains websites for companies and organizations. Early clients included Ticketmaster, Mitsubishi, Fredericks of Hollywood. Writers Guild (wga.org) is the best example of a longstanding client. There, probably more than you wanna know!"
Jerry Journalist pilots the Goodyear Blimp.
Cecile du Bois writes: When I was a giddy seven year old girl, so innocent and naive, I asked Daddy to take me to Hebrew School. I thought of speaking a language was simply to purse your lips in an odd manner and make funny noises. I just wanted to go to Hebrew school to learn techniques of how to annoy the adults.
"Daddy," I begged in my then usual voice of whining, "Can I go to Heeeebwew School?"
After much begging, and like he said in the interview earlier with Luke Ford about my Mom, he feared that instead of a progressive education that gradually came to annoy me, he feared a rigid atmosphere where they would march like Nazi commandos, rapping our knuckles for nonsensical reasons.
Well, as he said, he was dead wrong. Dancing (which I hated), singing Jewish songs, and studying Hebrew letters, (which I was slow to learn) was our weekly routine. After my Bat Mitzvah, I wanted to dive into a more rigid Jewish study, not what my temple offered. I wanted to study Talmud, memorize the Gemarrah, and recite the Mishna just like my ancestors did and what the heroes and heroines did in Chaim Potok's Davita's Harp and The Chosen. But of course, being raised a Reform Jew and not living on the west side, I could not do that.
So, here I am, raised a grade in my Sunday School class at [XXX] temple studying comparative religions, debating on Jewish philosphy, and tutoting a lot of Jewish princes and princesses in Hebrew for their upcoming Bat/Bar Mitzvahs. When they whine, in their usual tone, I try to cheer them up by reminding them of their big post ceremonial bashes, where they hire a DJ and basically celebrate the end of their Jewish education, kissing goodbye to their Jewishness forever.
Well, it is not as bad as being stuck with a shrink in a room of peers talking, instead of Judaism, about the secular world-sex, drugs, and rock'n'roll. Why do they talk about those things? Ask them. According to the vice principal, these programs are the only chance of them coming back, and therefore, the only way to save the future of Reform Judaism. When I talked to the ninth graders in my class and what they thought about this, they unanimously agreed that the eighth grade program of "sex, drugs and rock'n'roll" was a bore and that studying Judaism is more interesting.
Agreeing with them, I went to the front office and asked if they could organize another program of studying Talmud if I could get some interested people. I asked around, and as expected, no one was interested. I now stick to the ninth grade program since next year, in the tenth grade, is graduation. Possibly, I could attend a weekly program at a yeshiva, or just study by myself. But now I read the Bible on the Sabbath, and put post-it notes on passages that prove that the Jewish people will survive. Recently, my teacher said that as long there are Hannukah lights burning and the wailing wall in Israel still stands, we will survive. Somehow, as I look at my books which I got for Hannukah, and I think of the rabbis davening before the wall, I believe him, even if my peers are studying sex....drugs...and rock'n'roll.
Read On: Cathy Seipp Part Two