Author Toby Young
I meet Toby Young (his website) at the Chateau Marmont at 8221 Sunset Blvd (where John Belushi died of a drug overdose in 1982) at 1PM, Monday, June 16, 2003. Then we walk a block to Wolfgang Pucks on the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights.
I order a Margarita pizza while Toby gets ice tea and a Cobb salad. Afterwards, I have Key Lime pie and Toby gets a cappuccino.
Luke: "So what are you doing in LA?"
Toby: "I'm here to promote the paperback of my book, How to Lose Friends and Alienate Paeople, and to find an actor to play me in a one-man show I've put together based on the book. I hope to take it to New York next year."
Luke: "I didn't realize you were so entrepreneurial?"
Toby: "At one time, I started this magazine called The Modern Review in London. I started my first magazine at age 11. I'm not the kind of writer who sits in a garret and expects my work to be acclaimed. I've made a home movie of the stage play and I'm holding a screening of it tonight. The problem is, I shot it myself. Do you think people are going to freak out when they see how low the technical quality is?"
Luke: "I think you'll be ok because the people you'll be showing it to are Americans. American are usually polite."
Toby: "I like being a proactive journalist and doing the sort of story that involves putting yourself in absurd situations and waiting to see what happens.
"I'm a theater critic in London for this maverick right-wing weekly called The Spectator. It's maverick right. I'm also a restaurant critic for the Evening Standard Magazine. If I were single, it'd be fantastic. I could take women out to the theater and then to dinner and stick it all on expenses."
Luke: "Are you monogamous?"
Toby: "Yes. My wife's Jewish. A friend of mine married a Spanish woman. The day before his wedding, his mother-in-law sat his bride-to-be down and said, 'Your husband, if he is ever unfaithful to you, you must turn a blind eye. That's totally OK. That is what men are like. It is meaningless. But if you are ever unfaithful to him, I will kill you.' Of all the things my mother-in-law was likely to say to my bride-to-be before we got married, that's the least likely. I don't know many Jewish women who would [go for the Spanish mother's advice]."
Luke: "Have you ever considered converting to Judaism?"
Toby: "No. I'm too fond of my foreskin."
Luke: "Do you believe in God?"
Luke: "How many of your peers believe in the God of the Bible?"
Toby: "About five percent."
Luke: "Did you ever go to AA?"
Toby: "I did think about doing it in New York...
"My mother went to a strict Christian school in South Africa and that left with her a lifelong phobia of religion in all its forms. She passed that on to me. I find the religious part of AA difficult to deal with. It's always struck me as a kind of evangelical Christian movement in disguise and that gives me the heebie geebies."
Luke: "Do you find it interesting that there's been no secular equivalent of AA that works effectively?"
Toby: "I'm not sure that that's not propaganda. I remember someone emailing me a list of secular alternatives, some of which have proved just as effective. I couldn't rattle it off of the top of my head."
Luke: "It's interesting that neither of us can think of any names of these secular groups."
[I do recall the leader of one such group who killed somebody while driving drunk.]
Toby: "AA is effective at marketing itself as the only alternative to a life of alcoholic misery. Another component of AA ideology is that you have to stop cold. You can't drink in moderation. Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic. I don't think that's true.
"I stopped drinking for about 18-months. I drink moderately now."
Luke: "How has your life changed from being married?"
Toby: "I go out much less. I eat at home more. I feel much happier. One of the more trivial reasons to get married is that your life expectancy is likely to increase. That must have to do with the far lower levels of anxiety once you get married. I don't lie awake at night feeling guilty about s--- I've done the night before."
Luke: "Did you read the book Cad?"
Toby: "I just reviewed it for a British publication. The essence of my review was that it was a great read. My one reservation was that he wasn't much of a cad. He apparently slept with hundreds of women and it's not as if he looks like Brad Pitt. He must be a charming guy and that comes across in the book."
Luke: "How many women did you sleep with while you were in New York?"
Toby: "About five in five years."
Luke: "Did you read The Bell Curve?"
Toby: "No. I read a long essay about it in The New Republic, but I'm not a big believer in genetic determinism. Both my father and my maternal grandfather died with all their hair whereas I'm almost completely bald."
Toby talks about writing his play. "The difference between writing a 7000-word article and a 7000-word play is enormous even though the effort required is roughly the same. You write a 7000-word article, it gets published, and, at most, half a dozen people comment on it. And the next day it is completely forgotten. You write a 7000-word one-man show and 150 people a night sit there while your article is read out by an actor who brings it all to life. And your colleagues come in and review it. It's much more satisfying as a form of writing than just doing journalism."
Luke: "What are you working on right now?"
Toby: "I'm writing an Op/Ed piece for the Wall Street Journal, arguing that Eliot Spitzer, the New York Attorney General, should follow up his investigation into the securities industry with an investigation into the glossy magazine business. There are so many things in glossy magazines that are completely misleading. When they put a celebrity of the caliber of Tom Cruise on the cover, Tom Cruise has copy approval. Yet they never disclose that to their readers. The reader imagines he's reading an objective piece of reporting about a particular celebrity when in fact what they are reading is a glorified press release.
"Even worse is when editors publish fawning articles about fashion designers in the hope that they'll then advertise in the magazine. When Tina Brown was editing Vanity Fair, she put Calvin Klein on the cover. The firewall separating advertising from editorial is virtually nonexistent. The readers are reading pieces on Ron Perelman, Tommy Hilfigger, Giorgio Armani, and they don't know that the only reason they are reading these pieces is because the magazine editors hope these people will advertise in their magazines. You're not likely to read anything remotely unflattering about them.
"This seems analogous to what Spitzer was targeting in the investment banking industry where analysts recommended particular stocks without disclosing that the investment banks they worked for were in business with these companies. Just as stock analysts are now required to sign a certificate testifying that they have no ulterior motive in recommending a particular stock, so journalist should have to sign something saying they haven't been influenced by a publicist or an advertiser in reporting such and such a piece. Journalists who do make deals with publicists, give them copy approval, write about advertisers at the bidding of their editors, etc, shouldn't be called journalists."
Luke: "Do you think the average level of intelligence is the same between the races?"
Toby: "The Bell Curve made a big impression on you, huh? In New York, my experience was that the smartest and funniest people I met tended to be gay Jewish men. So whatever genetic advantages they enjoy, they're not about to pass them on."
Luke: "Do you think the average black person is as smart as the average white person?"
Toby: "Yes. I don't think there's any scientific basis for thinking there's any difference. You can't disregard social factors when it comes to a person's IQ. To say it's determined by race is simply untrue. I've got a low IQ, so naturally, I completely disregard it as a measure of intelligence. The few black people I met in New York tended to be very nice and sympathethic."
Luke: "How do you feel about the number of Jamaicans in Britain?"
Toby: "I like the fact that contemporary Britain is a very multicultural society. The area I live in in London, Shepherds Bush, is a real multicultural area, much more so than any area I lived in in New York. There's something nice about people from completely different worlds going about their business together. It gives the neighborhood a vibrant texture. There's something very unpleasant about more racially segregated neighborhoods. Why would anyone want to live in them?"
Luke: "Low crime rates?"
Toby: "The crime rate in Shepherds Bush is fairly high but not as high as less multicultural areas. People who commit street crimes will go to slightly wealthier areas to commit those crimes. I've never been mugged. My house has never been burgled. My house has never been broken into. They say a conservative is a liberal who's been mugged. If I'm ever the victim of a street crime, maybe I will change my mind."
Luke: "How do you like LA?"
Toby: "I love it. I wanted to move here. My plan when my book came out was to move to LA, try to take Hollywood, and then, when I inevitably failed, write a sequel about screwing up on the West Coast. My wife and I started our honeymoon here. We went on this driving tour of the Pacific Southwest. I hoped she'd fall in love with the place but she didn't. Now that she's having a baby, I think she wants to stay in the UK. I'd like to move here but it'd be tougher to write a similar book about LA because there are so many [already].
"Being a journalist in this city is a miserable existence. They're regarded as a ramshackle, unreliable branch of the public relations inudstry, an absolute last resort."
Luke: "Tina Brown - good or bad for journalism?"
Toby: "Bad for journalism. She was a trendsetter when it came to cutting deals with publicists to get access to celebrities. She played Lenin to Pat Kingsley's Stalin."
Luke: "What do you think about outing people?"
Toby: "I think it depends on what their public stance is. I think there can be a public interest defense. If it is a politician supporting legislation that penalizes homosexuals, and purporting to be a good family man, and is secretly [homosexual] on the weekend, then he's fair game."
Luke: "What about movie stars who purport to be heterosexual?"
Toby thinks for 30 seconds and stumbles: "I don't know. My sense is that the number of gay movie stars is wildly exaggerated. The reason there isn't any compelling evidence that they are homosexual is not because they are incredibly successful at suppressing it, but because they are straight. I'm skeptical about the existence of a Gay Mafia in Hollywood. I think it was unwise of Mike Ovitz to use Vanity Fair as the forum to out the Gay Mafia. If the Gay Mafia does exist, Vanity Fair is unlikely to be the first magazine in America to expose it. It's like attacking the Communist Party in Pravda.
"Everyone in Hollywood is so motivated by profit that they are not going to allow anything to come between them and the bottom line, be it their sexual or religious orientation. It's such a competitive industry that allowing your decisions to be influenced by your sexual or religious affiliations would put you at a competitive disadvantage. Capitalism and mafias don't go together."
Luke: "Any of the reactions to your book surprise you? I was surprised by how much your book was pilloried."
Toby: "That didn't surprise me. It got two fantastically negative reviews in The New York Times one right after the other. That wasn't a surprise. If an American journalist had got a job in London, worked as a journalist in London, got fired from several publications, and then went back to New York writing a book about how terrible the British media, it would be pilloried in the British press. What surprised me is that it occasionally got good reviews and sold well. I was worried that it would be seen as a snotty Brit looking down his nose at Americans. It was read more as an attack, not on America, but on a tiny coterie within the New York media. And any attack on the New York media is immensely popular over here.
"There have been some widely divergent responses to the portrait of Graydon Carter in the book. Some people think it's brown-nosingly flattering and I really pulled my punches in the hope of preserving some links with Vanity Fair."
Luke: "That's absurd."
Toby: "Then there are people who think that I completely assassinated his character and can't believe that I would do anything so reckless. I think on the whole it was a fair portrait. I certainly didn't write it with any hope of keeping the door open. I knew that if I wrote word one about working at Vanity Fair, the door would be slammed shut."
Luke: "What do you think of some of the books that have followed you in the genre of boss betrayal?"
Toby: "I haven't read The Devil Wears Prada. I don't think I've read any of them. I read some of the forerunners such as You'll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again. I preferred, You'll Never Make Love In This Town Again. I think to label the genre 'boss betrayal' is an unfortunate choice of words. I prefer 'whistleblower.'"
Luke: "But you used the label 'boss betrayal.' I never heard it before until you used it in that email you sent out last week promoting your screening. You wrote: 'My book was hailed by the New York Times as the forerunner of what has subsequently become a hot new publishing trend: boss betrayal.'"
Toby laughs. "I think writing a tell-all book about your ex-boss really doesn't constitute a betrayal. Invariably, the person who writes it has been fired. That's just as much a betrayal. It's not like your ex-boss has any debt of loyalty to you as an ex-employee. So I don't see why an ex-employee should feel any debt of loyalty to an ex-boss. Particularly if you are writing about editors of magazine. What we do for a living is journalism. It's ridiculous to insist that we all sign confidentiality agreements, like Tina Brown required when she started Talk."
I turn off the tape recorder and we kick back and enjoy our drinks. Toby worries that he's said something incendiary. He worries about whether he managed to side step all the landmines I placed in his path. I assure him he was disturbingly PC and carefully spoken. I thought he'd be a flame thrower.
We walk back to his hotel. I ask him about space aliens. He doesn't believe in them. He says Christopher Hitchens once tried to persuade him that the Roswell incident took place and made a good case, but Toby remains unconvinced. Toby doesn't believe in conspiracy theories.
I complain to Toby about how polite he's been. He says Christopher Hitchens is the same way in person, mild mannered, even apologetic. Toby says he's made so many enemies through his work, he doesn't want to increase them in interpersonal interactions.
I've heard from people who know Hitchens well that he glories in acting like a schmuck. And he's certainly no friend of the Jews.
I later emailed Toby: "Did you encounter people who resented you for writing a memoir, as in, what makes you think your life is so interesting it is worthy of a book?"
Toby replied: "Yes, definitely, particularly in America. An American agent once said to me after I'd told him what I planned to write: 'You're a nobody. Why would anyone want to read your autobiography?'"
Next Time Plead Ignorance, Toby
Colbycosh.com writes: I don't imagine anyone exactly likes being hit with questions about their views on race by Luke Ford, the muckraking porn journalist turned conflicted Orthodox Jewish convert. But most of them probably handle it less catastrophically than the ordinarily quite clever British gadfly/author Toby Young:
I'm sure I have readers who are almost as ignorant of genetics as I am, yet recognize--having been through, say, the tenth grade--how absurd it is to imagine that a trait appearing only in males must be passed on only through males. Not only that, but he imagines "genetic determinism" to mean that one is always and in every respect exactly like one's parent--and, moreover, hasn't heard that male pattern baldness is known, with a fantastically high degree of confidence, to be, er, genetically determined. (OMIM has a brief history of the relevant research.) Of all the potential reasons to "not be a big believer" in genetic determinism, Toby picked one of the very lousiest.
Toby Young's Party
I arrive at 6:55 PM, 6/16/03, at 150 South Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. The screening room is next door to the William Morris Agency, where I was fired (from my position as a temporary assistant) in July of 1997 for giving my book to an agent's assistant who requested it. The guy responsible for firing me, Ben Silverman, went on to package such hit TV shows as Who Wants to be a Millionaire? He's now an independent producer.
In the lobby, I meet Richard Rushfield, an unassuming-looking writer from Vanity Fair (where he worked with Toby). We walk together to the screening room.
I see Cathy Seipp and her 14-year old daughter "Cecile." I relax. I know there's an adult around, a lifeguard on duty.
Toby holds court with several admiring young women.
Cathy re-introduces me to the luminous Jenny Isaacson and her husband Barry, an independent movie producer.
I regale them with tales of my lunch with Toby and how PC and carefully spoken he was. Toby pitches in with renditions of my particularly incendiary questions.
Cathy says I need to cut out my racial questions.
Cathy, Barry, Toby, and David Poland tell me that crime is not significantly about race and give me myriad examples.
Cathy says Chinatown has the least crime of any area in LA. I say it's because Chinatown is homogenous. Cathy says East LA is homogenous.
Others pile on that Santa Monica is homogenous yet has a high rate of crime.
David suggests crime has greatly to do with poverty. I say there are poor Orthodox Jews yet they don't commit violent crimes. David says that's because Orthodox Jews have evolved support systems. I reply - what does that say about Orthodox Jews? What does it say about groups that don't evolve such?
My heart is warmed that these good secular people have resisted the siren call of race. Good for them for clinging to the one true faith of many good-hearted American secularists - race does not matter. I congratulate their ability to have faith against all evidence, to believe because it is absurd. They make a Christian blush with their unswerving piety.
Everybody in this room of non-racists is white. Why not use a fine service like rentanegro.com to remedy such an evil?
Chaim Amalek writes: "I propose a new line of inquiry, and perhaps a new sort of business for Luke. Ask elite people (producers, bloggers, etc.) how many close friends they have. Then ask them to give the names of those of their close friends who also are black or Mexican. Contact them to confirm said friendship and ethnicity, then turn that into a book: "Some of My Best Friends . . . White Elites Who Befriend Negroes and Mexicans.""
David "Hot Button" Poland writes Luke: "Good for you for clinging to the one true faith of most American racists - race is the controlling factor. I congratulate your ability to have hate blindly against all evidence, to believe because it is absurd.
"Only someone who has never really suffered the sting of bias could wish such a simple-minded standard on others... or someone who is intentionally self-delusional. It gives false comfort to believe crime or greed or power can be understood by attaching the attributes to races, creeds or colors. But that is the most dangerous illusion of all. Which is not to say that there are not money-grubbing Jews, criminal Blacks, horny Hispanics, etc, etc, etc. But a Jew would tell you that the success of their culture is based on a prioritization of education, a strong community and the sense of being hated across the globe... and all the millions of variations within those ideas. Hatred begins with simplification."
Cathy Seipp says the only person who has ever intimidated her is Bill O'Reilly, who stands 6'4" and is full of self assurance, as you can see on his FOX NEWS TV show.
Feeling ornery, I try to provoke Barry into a nervous breakdown by telling people he's written a tell-all book about his years at Universal. Then I insult him by claiming he's started a blog. He's done neither of these things.
These days Barry concentrates on bathing his two children and diapering them. Meanwhile, Jenny has received a deserved promotion at the Starlight Foundation and she's now head of promotions and fundraising.
I try to bust Cecile's chops by asking her in front of her Mom how she can link to pornography. Cathy becomes upset and tells Cecile she will lose her blogging privileges if she ever links to pornography again.
Cecile argues it wasn't pornography, it was just cartoons. Cathy and I are not swayed. I can spot the naughty stuff from a mile away.
Cecile is as strong-willed as her mother.
Cathy warns Cecile about writing that people smell. Cathy says she should wait until she is at least 40 years old before making such personal remarks in print. She should wait until at least 40 before writing a tell-all like Toby's.
I wonder if Cathy followed her own advice. She got personal in her Buzz columns when she was in her 30s.
Toby is a self-effacing gentle soul, a dramatic contrast to the drunk and coke-sniffing lout of his book. He's afraid of the picture quality of his 55-minute video presentation of a one-man play based on his book.
The picture quality turns out fine. Everybody stays and most of the audience of 50 enjoys the show.
It has lots of funny lines though they are telegraphed. There are no surprises, even if you haven't read the book. I think the show strains to make points, to give meaning to adolescent adventures among shallow vulgar people. What profundity do you expect from the Vanity Fair crowd?
As Toby says, Vanity Fair is an up-market tabloid. It's pornography for the wanna-be rich and elite.
In the play, the Toby character says he knew he'd lost faith in America when a female journalist told him at a party that she sympathized with him taking care of his 84-year old father (a highly respected Labor party intellectual). What a burden it must be.
In Toby's eyes, that showed the moral bankruptcy of America.
I think it shows the moral bankruptcy of the set Toby so badly wanted to hang out with. Toby's an atheist and most of his friends are atheists. So they pursue worldly values. It should be no surprise that people who do not practice a moral discipline should lack morals. If Toby wants to meet people who honor their parents, he should check out Orthodox Jews, who are probably the last group he and his secular Jewish wife Caroline will ever want to meet.
If you want morals, you've got to pay the price of practicing a moral discipline. There ain't no free morals. Not in New York. Not in London. Not in LA.
In the play, Toby's screenwriter friend, Alex de Silva, is banging a supermodel who tells him he's much better from behind than Robert DeNiro. I guess this is an allusion to Naomi Campbell? Toby won't confirm my guess. He's legally gagged on the matter.
I shudder that a 14-year old girl is watching this show, which is all about sex, strippers, and the f- word.
Cecile du Bois writes on her blog: "Mom and I carpooled with Jenny and Barry to go see the screening of Toby Young's play based on his book How to Lose friends and Alienate People . Jack Davenport , a British actor starred as Young in the production from London. The screening was quite short--about an hour long and the actor was surprisingly loud but hilarious with his raucious sharp wit. Of course, Young got the credit for the talent, but Davenport brought the play to life."
I chat with Mark Ebner. He's much calmer these days. He's finishing off a book called "Hollywood Interrupted," which he describes as his kiss-off to Hollywood. He promises that it will be controversial. He says it will be the book for his publisher to promote next year.
Mark says he's done with screenwriting. And he hasn't been publishing much since New Times Los Angeles shut down.
I talk to Rob Long for 15-minutes. I begin with the Writers Guild debate between Robert Scheer and David Horowitz. Long was invited to participate on the panel but he was out of the country. Long wondered why Scheer and Horowitz, professional debaters, were invited on the panel, when they weren't in the industry and the panel was supposedly about blacklisting and censorship in the industry.
Long says there was no point to the panel. There is no blacklisting and censorship in the industry. People don't lose their jobs for their political views.
I asked if there any working writers with whacky repellant extremist views. He said no because those type of people don't tend to be in touch with reality enough to do good work.
I wonder if Ed Asner has lost work because of his leftist views. Rob says no.
I tried to make the case that Hollywood was poisoning our country's morals. Rob doesn't think entertainment affects the morals of the greater society.
While I'm engaged in this weighty philosophical discussion, David Poland loudly comments from across the room that I have no bottom though he uses a more vulgar term.
Given Long's immersion in decadent Hollywood, I asked him if he's reproduced. He says no. He was close to marriage twice but never went through this path to adulthood. Maybe Hollywood does not lead to illegitimacy afterall.
I wonder why religion plays such a minor role in Hollywood entertainment. My producer friend says it is the Jews. Most of the Jews in Hollywood are secular and they fear a pogrom is on the way when people start taking religion seriously. When this producer walked into a meeting after Al Gore selected Orthodox Jew Joe Lieberman as his running mate, two secular Jews told that this would sink Gore's chances because so much of America hates Jews.
These secular Jews dominating Hollywood fear religion, fear stirring up religious sentiment, and fear that a religious revival will lead to a pogrom (lynching Jews).
Rob Long tries to think of people to play Toby. I suggest Toby should play Toby in the play. Toby says he tried but the play producer says he wasn't up to snuff.
Rob suggests Phillip Seymore Hoffman. I try to think of insulting ugly people (like the actor of the Elephant Man) to play Toby to see if it will annoy him. It doesn't.
Rob and Toby leave together.