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Moving on, Brady started New York magazine’s Intelligencer column at Clay Felker’s request, played third base for the publication and wrote and hosted its cable TV show, which earned him an Emmy. An early nonfiction book, “Superchic,” was a flop, but his first novel, “Paris One,” was a bestseller and was optioned by Hollywood.
His good fortune continued. While swimming off of Rupert Murdoch’s Amagansett beach in 1974, the media mogul recruited him. Brady later recalled, “As we haggled over dough, he asked, ‘Are there sharks in these waters?’ ‘Very rarely. Why?’ ‘I thought I saw one behind you.’ I accepted Rupert’s offer instantly.”
Brady spent the next nine years in Murdoch’s empire, editing the tabloid newspaper, Star; succeeding Felker as editor of New York magazine and then serving as U.S. vice chairman, later associate publisher, of the New York Post. There he developed and launched Page Six. “I had every title but ‘boss.’ Rupert kept that one,” Brady wrote in 2001.
Page Six’s Richard Johnson recalled Tuesday his days as a cub reporter under Brady. “No one ever made the job look so easy. Jim would come back from a three-hour lunch at someplace like ‘21’ or La Grenouille, sit down at his typewriter and bang out four or five perfectly crafted stories, and then leave for cocktails somewhere. It was a party, temporarily interrupted by work.”
In the 2001 essay in WWD, Brady admitted to lacking John Fairchild’s knack for sitting through a showing of 200 dresses by Dior or Pierre Cardin and pinpointing the “fords,” the looks Seventh Avenue would knock off by the thousands and sell for millions. “For me, I lacked his instinct for fashion. But I was drawn to the designers, a rare and exotic breed, and intrigued by the ferocity of the infighting, the power plays, the money. And (as James Thurber once bragged), I could get it, I could write it. I could put a head on it; I knew a little journalism. Coco Chanel taught me about fashion. She would snub The New York Times, Life and the AP, ban a famous fashion critic because the woman had bad legs, call Madame Vreeland of Vogue ‘the most pretentious woman I have ever seen,’ and yet permit me to hang out taking notes in the salon where she and her assistants literally ‘built’ a Chanel tweed suit on a tall, beautiful, nearly naked young mannequin.”
Afterward they would smoke his cigarettes, whiling away the Paris afternoon drinking her Scotch in the suite of rooms above her Rue Cambon shop. There she provided “reams of quotable, shrewd, informed comment and bitchery, all of it on the record, much of it cabled press rates to New York to appear in the next morning’s WWD. Coco, who was 50 years older than I, had somehow the notion I was a Native American and called me, ‘mon petit Indien,’” Brady wrote.
The unlikely pair became so thick as thieves that Barbra Streisand’s manager rang him up to ask him to introduce the songstress to the designer. The non-French-speaking Streisand had memorized a “gracious little speech of tribute,” but when Chanel launched into an elaborate reply en francaise, a shaken Streisand grabbed Brady’s arms and hissed, “Get me the hell out of here.”
In Paris, Brady inherited Fairchild’s feuds as well as his post. Well aware that Balenciaga and Givenchy had banned WWD from their shows, Brady described dispatching three WWD staffers who just happened to be countesses to pretend to be wealthy clients, florists’ assistants or even streetwalkers, “swinging the bag along the Avenue George V in front of the two couture houses, peering through opened French windows and chatting up gossipy mannequins when they broke for a smoke.”
He later went on to a TV career as an interviewer and, in recent years, as a columnist for Parade, Advertising Age and Forbes.com. Parade chief executive officer and chairman Walter Anderson said Tuesday, “He was very smart, but not in a way that made anyone else feel insecure. He’s done so many interesting things in life…but he never used his sophistication as a weapon. His humor undergirded anything he did. He never took himself too seriously that he became a bore.”
A prolific book author, Brady had recently finished the final edits for the forthcoming “Hero of the Pacific: The Life of Legendary Marine John Basilone.” Basilone was a World War II hero, one of three who’ll be featured players in the new Steven Spielberg-Tom Hanks HBO miniseries, “The Pacific,” due out in October and a sequel to their highly acclaimed miniseries “Band of Brothers.” The book will be published by Wiley to coincide with the release of the series.
Perhaps Brady sized up his career best when he wrote in the Forbes.com article, “It’s rarely been dull.”