The Washington Post
Front Row: Anna Wintour: The Cool Life and Hot Times of Vogue's Editor in Chiefby Jerry Oppenheimer
From the New York Times bestselling author of Just Desserts: Martha Stewart: The Unauthorized Biography comes a scrupulously researched investigative biography that tells the inside story of Anna Wintour's incredible rise to power
From her exclusive perch front row center, glamorous Vogue magazine editor in chief Anna Wintour is the most/i>/p>/i>/i>
From the New York Times bestselling author of Just Desserts: Martha Stewart: The Unauthorized Biography comes a scrupulously researched investigative biography that tells the inside story of Anna Wintour's incredible rise to power
From her exclusive perch front row center, glamorous Vogue magazine editor in chief Anna Wintour is the most powerful and influential style-maker in the world. Behind her trademark sunglasses and under the fringe of her Louise Brooks bob she determines whether miniskirts are in or out, whether or not it's politically correct to wear fur. She influences designers, wholesalers, and retailers globally from Seventh Avenue to the elegant fashionista enclaves of L'Avenue Montaigne and Via della Spiga. In the U.S. alone a more than $200 billion fashion industry can rise or fall on Anna Wintour's call. And every month millions of women-and men-read Vogue, and are influenced by the pages of the chic and trendy style wish-book that she has controlled with an iron hand in a not-always-so-velvet glove since fighting her way to the most prestigious job in fashion journalism.
Anna Wintour's fashion influence extends to celebrities and politicians: because of it, Hillary Clinton underwent a drastic makeover and became the first First Lady to strike a pose on the cover of Vogue in the midst of Monicagate; Oprah Winfrey was forced to go on a strict diet before Wintour would put her on Vogue's cover. And beauties like Rene Zellweger and Nicole Kidman follow Anna Wintour's fashionista rules to the letter.
Now in her mid-fifties, as she nears her remarkable second decade at the helm of Vogue, comes this revealing biography that will shock and surprise both Anna's fans and detractors alike. Based on scores of interviews, Front Row unveils the Anna Wintour even those closest to her don't know. Oppenheimer chronicles this insecure and creative powerhouse's climb to the top of the bitchy, competitive fashion magazine world, showing up close, as never before exposed, how she artfully crafted and reinvented herself along the way.
She's been called many things-"Nuclear Wintour," by the British press, "cold suspicious and autocratic, a vision in skinniness," by Grace Mirabella, the editor she dethroned at Vogue, and the "Devil" by those who believe she's the inspiration for a recent bestselling novel written by a former assistant.
Included among the startling revelations in Front Row are:
* Anna's "silver spoon" childhood spent craving time with her father.
* Anna's rebellious teen years in London, obsessed with fashion, night-clubbing and dating roguish men.
* Anna's many tempestuous romances.
* Anna's curious marriage to a brilliant child psychiatrist, her role as a mother, and the shocking scandal that led to divorce when she had an affair with a married man.
The Washington Post
- New York magazine
"A fast-paced biographical romp... Mr. Oppenheimer uses Front Row to ladle out dishjust as he did in Just Desserts, his 1997 biography of Martha Stewart. What he serves up is pretty juicy.... Front Row is an entertaining chronicle of Ms. Wintour's life...A study in power."
- New York Observer
"A fascinating read about one of the great queen-bee bosses and her mission to determine and define fashion."
"Gleefully vicious biography of a New York fashion icon....An in-depth look at Anna's 'bitch-eat-bitch' world."
"Must read...gripping tales about one of fashion's most powerful players."
- The Daily Telegraph
"A blistering new biography. The most eagerly awaited unauthorized biography...Better than fiction."
- New York Post
"Oppenheimer combs his subject's past...dotting his pages with catty stories...fun dish"
- Publishers Weekly
"Whether you love fashion or dissections of the sort of cold-blooded creatures who inhabit it, Jerry Oppenheimer's Front Row is for you: an equally cold-blooded portrayal of the reigning queen of a world defined by frivolity...and abject fear."
- Michael Gross, author of Model and Genuine Authentic: The Real Life of Ralph Lauren
- St. Martin's Press
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Read an Excerpt
Anna Wintour The Cool Life and Hot Times of Vogue's Editor in Chief
By Jerry Oppenheimer
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2005 Jerry Oppenheimer
All rights reserved.
Born on November 3, 1949, Anna was a healthy tot with a mop of straight, shiny dark brown hair and intelligent, dreamy grayish-green eyes set in a beautiful, tiny oval face. She was late to talk, and when she did, she spoke very little and was thought by her parents to be a shy and distant flower. Anna had come into the world at an ironic moment in time; only weeks before her birth, years of clothing rationing had ended in war-torn Britain — and clothing and fashion would become her passion.
As the first daughter in what was then a family of two sons whose father came from a line of military men and who had become a steely, ambitious newspaperman, the dainty girl would have much to live up to. She was the second of Charles Vere Wintour and Eleanor Trego Baker Wintour's children who were born in London after the Nazi bombs and rockets had stopped raining death and destruction. The other postwar child was James Charles, a gentle, easy-to-handle tyke who was born two and a half years before Anna.
But the Wintours' first, Gerald Jackson, born almost a decade before Anna, was the parents' true pride and joy, the one the others would be compared to.
Charles Wintour felt certain that Gerald would follow in his footsteps as a journalist. For his eighth birthday, the father had given the fair-haired son a toy printing kit from Harrods, complete with various faces of little rubber type with wooden blocks to set them in, a messy black ink pad, and a sheaf of blank newsprint. It was his favorite gift of all. On his own, Gerald produced a little newspaper, a diary about his small world, and proudly presented the first edition of the Wintour Daily to his father, a memento Charles Wintour would treasure his entire life.
Eleanor Baker, an American, who was nicknamed Nonie, met Wintour at Cambridge University in England in the fall of 1939. The petite, bright, bespectacled, and extremely plain-looking twenty-two-year-old Bostonian, who had a prettier sister named Jean, had gone to a fancy girls' boarding school in Connecticut called Westover and was just out of Radcliffe.
She had initially tried to get to England as a correspondent for a small weekly newspaper, The Daily Republican, in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, owned by close relatives, but when that failed, she enrolled at Newnham College, one of the two schools for women at Cambridge. "It was just something to do — Nonie had no particular ties to England," notes an American cousin, Elizabeth Gilkyson Stewart Thorpe, known as "Neal," who became a prominent women's magazine editor in New York. Always known for her sharp tongue, critical manner, and liberal politics, Nonie Baker had dreams of becoming a writer or journalist. Instead, she would marry one and become a dedicated social worker.
Playing Cupid for Nonie and Charles was a mutual friend and Peterhouse College, Cambridge, classmate of Wintour's, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr., who saw him as "a pleasant-looking young man with glasses, a somewhat saturnine expression, and an impressive air of professional efficiency."
Nonie Baker and Schlesinger had known each other from his student days at Harvard, where her father, Ralph Baker, was a distinguished professor at the Harvard Law School and where Schlesinger's father was a famous historian. During the war, Baker also was cocounsel for the U.S. office that confiscated alien property. Her parents, who had met at Swarthmore College, and "thee and thou'd" each other in a Quaker wedding ceremony, were well-to-do. Baker had made a bundle as a corporate attorney in Philadephia representing clients like the Pennsylvania Railroad before moving to Harvard to teach. His wife, Anna Gilkyson Baker, for whom Anna Wintour was named, was a charming, matronly, somewhat ditzy society girl from Philadelphia's Main Line who was known to leave her children in the park and not realize it until she got home.
Like his father, Schlesinger would go on to become an eminent Pulitzer Prize–winning historian, author, and, moreover, a trusted adviser to Jack and Bobby Kennedy in the sixties, while his very best friend, Charles Wintour, would become one of Fleet Street's most powerful, creative, respected, and feared newspaper editors.
Neal Thorpe maintains that in Boston, Schlesinger "was very much in love with Nonie" at one point "and wanted to marry her." This is something that Schlesinger denies years later. "I was fond of her," he acknowledges, "but she did not attract me physically." Schlesinger remembers Nonie from those early days in Boston and London as "bright, witty, and critical. She had a sharp eye for the weaknesses of others; she took a generally critical stance toward the world."
Looking back, he feels that Nonie was critical as a form of "self- protection because I think she was extremely vulnerable. But she also was great fun to be with so long as one wasn't the target."
While Charles Wintour initially appeared to Schlesinger to be "a quintessential Britisher," he had actually spent the previous summer hitchhiking through the United States and was considered "an Americanophile."
When they met, Wintour was editor of an undergraduate Cambridge weekly called Granta, which was a mix of the Harvard Crimson and the Lampoon. Schlesinger critiqued the magazine. Wintour accepted his comments with "brisk but somewhat enigmatic courtesy" and invited Schlesinger to write articles and attend editorial board meetings. The two later invented a false byline, A. G. Case — A. Glandular Case — that appeared every so often on stories that were critical of other campus publications.
Wintour was quite the operator and took Schlesinger under his wing, introducing him to everyone who counted. Schlesinger got to know "more campus big shots" because of his chum than he ever knew at Harvard. To Schlesinger, Wintour was "a man after my own heart — inquiring, skeptical, sensitive to relationships among people, and politically adept at influencing them, flexible, vigorous."
Wintour, who had a sly and bad-boyish quality about him, took Schlesinger to meet his family in Dorset. While there, he gave his friend a tour of some of the more interesting local landmarks, such as the Cerne Abbas. Carved out of a hillside, it was the figure of a nude male with a twenty-six-foot erection, which Wintour put on the itinerary because he enjoyed getting a rise out of his guests.
Schlesinger thoroughly enjoyed Wintour and repaid his friendship by introducing him to Nonie Baker, and the two "hit it off at once."
Recalls Schlesinger, "They became a couple two or three months after they first met. Charles found Nonie very entertaining, certainly stylish, and she had a kind of patrician manner about her and seemed to represent a good, healthy American girl. Charles had great charm and wit, too, but also a sense of control. I wouldn't say he was terribly handsome, though. He wasn't a Ronald Coleman." Schlesinger was no godsend in the looks department, either, so the two also had that in common.
At the same time Wintour and the Baker girl started dating, Schlesinger began seeing a friend of Wintour's, Anne Mortimer Whyte, the daughter of a member of Parliament and private secretary to Winston Churchill. Wintour always made it his business to know all the right people.
The two couples — Charles and Nonie, and Schlesinger and Whyte — double-dated often. When Schlesinger directed a college production of Shakespeare's As You Like It, he cast Wintour and Whyte in starring roles.
With war looming, the two couples enjoyed their last days at school, taking motor trips in Wintour's convertible with the top down.
It was, as Schlesinger recalled, a "careless, glorious" time.
Charles and Nonie, madly in love, got married in the little parish church of St. Mary the Less near the university on March 13, 1940, a simple ceremony performed by a university chaplain. Wintour's father, crisp and stern retired Major General Fitzgerald Wintour, a career military man, served as their witness. When the happy couple settled in a local hotel after they tied the knot, Gerald Jackson Wintour was conceived. It was a wartime love affair and marriage; Charles Wintour had already enlisted and was in uniform. There was no time to dilly-dally.
Little more than a month before she was due, the very independent Mrs. Wintour kissed her husband, a second lieutenant in the Royal Norfolk Regiment, good-bye and departed London for Boston, to be with her family and have the baby. With the war raging, the young parents-to-be felt it would be safer if the child was in America, out of harm's way, as London was being blitzed by German rockets and bombs.
On November 20, eight months and a week after the Wintours' nuptials, Nonie gave birth in New England Baptist Hospital to the healthy boy they named Gerald.
She took the baby back to her family's apartment in the Barrington Court on fashionable Memorial Drive on the Charles River, where she breast-fed him.
Baby Gerald would grow into a sturdy, independent, rough-and- tumble boy, despite extremely difficult odds.
For the first four years of his life he didn't know who his real parents were.
With London in flames, and with her groom in the middle of the Battle of Britain, Nonie Wintour decided to leave Gerald with her parents and return to England to be close to her husband and do whatever she could to help in the war effort over there — a real-life Mrs. Miniver.
"She left the baby because she was so much in love with Charles," recalls Nonie's first cousin, Patti Gilkyson Agnew, whose father was Anna Baker's brother. "Aunt Anna and Uncle Ralph raised Gerald until he was something like four years old."
In what Agnew and other American relatives felt was an emotionally difficult situation, the Bakers became Gerald Wintour's surrogate parents for the duration. As often as she could, Nonie mailed home photographs of herself and her husband, which the Bakers would show to little Gerald, gently telling the toddler that those strangers in the snapshots were his real mommy and daddy so that he would recognize them when they came to retrieve him in the waning days of the war.
It was a highly emotional scene when that moment arrived, recalls Patti Agnew. "Ralph and Anna nearly died, were devastated, when Nonie and Charles came to claim Gerald. They felt as if he was their baby." Her sister, Neal Thorpe, observes, "It was a real strain on everyone involved."
Wintour survived the war, having spent most of his time in intelligence, and ending up at General Dwight Eisenhower's headquarters in Paris. He saw little if any combat but was awarded the American Bronze Star and the French Croix de Guerre, usually pinned on men who had actually seen action. A longtime friend and newspaper colleague maintains that Wintour got the medals "for administrative work." Years later, Schlesinger, who had also served in Europe and had even spent some time with his friend as fellow officers, was surprised to learn that Wintour had received such high military honors. "He never told me."
Back in London, with the war over, the Wintours bought a pleasant contemporary-style home on Cochrane Street in the upper-middle-class London area of St. Johns Wood.
Wintour had gotten a job in 1946 on London's Evening Standard, starting as a secretary of sorts for one of the world's most powerful, shrewd, domineering, and dictatorial press barons, Max Aitken, better known as Lord Beaverbrook. Wintour was a young journalist on the way up and would soon become one of Beaverbrook's extremely loyal and creative fair-haired boys.
For the Wintours, the future looked exceedingly bright. In fairly quick succession, Charles and Nonie had James, and then Anna, the future editor in chief of Vogue.
But eighteen months after she was born, a tragedy struck the family that would have long-term emotional implications for Anna, her siblings, and particularly her parents.
Tuesday, July 3, 1951, was a pleasant day in London. With no rain expected, Nonie Wintour had allowed ten-year-old Gerald to ride his two-wheeler to the Hall School, a private preparatory school for boys in Hampstead, where he was a student. The boy had been riding a two-wheeler since he was five. His father had "complete confidence in his ability" and allowed him "to choose his own route" to and from school because "he was an extremely cautious driver." Gerald left home with his book bag and wearing the school uniform, a pink blazer and cap. He never returned.
Pedaling home in the afternoon on Avenue Road, a wide street lined with trees and large homes, the boy was hit by a car. He was thrown into the air, landed on the hood with such impact that he smashed the windshield, and fell unconscious onto the asphalt. "I was not in a hurry, I did not see the boy until I was a few yards away," testified the driver at the inquest. "I went to pass and did not blow my horn. I did not think he was going to turn. I did not see him put his arm out." Witnesses said the boy didn't know what hit him.
After getting the call, Nonie Wintour rushed to New End Hospital in nearby Hampstead, but she was too late. Gerald had died twenty minutes after he arrived in the emergency room of a fractured skull and other injuries. His death was later ruled accidental.
His mother was hysterical. She got on the pay phone and tried to reach her husband, who on that hellish day was meeting with Beaverbrook at Cherkley Court, his enormous, secluded nineteenth-century gray stone mansion with some thirty bedrooms, near the town of Leatherhead in Surrey, about two hours in those days from London.
What happened next, and there are a number of versions, became part of the whispered Fleet Street legend surrounding Charles Wintour's life and was one of the reasons why he was thought of by many as an editor with ice water running through his veins.
Paul Callan, a respected veteran London journalist who had started his career working under Wintour, is one of the many who heard what he believes is a credible account of what happened that tragic day.
"At the time Charles was Lord Beaverbrook's secretary, and he was taking dictation from him when the butler came in and asked to speak to Charles," recounts Callan. "Charles went outside with the butler, who told him his little boy had been killed. Charles went back in, never said anything to Lord Beaverbrook, and resumed taking dictation. Nobody ever knew what made him do it. Charles wasn't a monster, but he could be a bit coldblooded."
Alexander Walker, who would become a noted film critic at the London Evening Standard, the paper Beaverbrook eventually gave Wintour to run, heard that he had actually telephoned Nonie after getting the urgent message about Gerald. "But Charles had decided to finish his work with Beaverbrook before returning home," Walker says. "He told his proprietor what had happened to his son, and Beaverbrook was impressed at how bravely and businesslike Charles had taken the news, and that he was able to go on working. It made Charles's reputation with Beaverbrook."
Milton Shulman, who had started in journalism with Wintour immediately after the war and later worked under him as the Evening Standard's esteemed theater critic, says years later, "There's no question that the death of the child put Charles into the arms of Beaverbrook."
Whichever way it happened, whether Wintour rushed to be with his distraught wife or stayed at his boss's side, the death of their firstborn was devastating, and the events surrounding the tragedy left a permanent dark cloud over the Wintour family.
As Callan notes, "Charles's behavior when the son was killed split the marriage."
Walker, who was close to both Charles Wintour and especially Nonie, asserts, "The great tragedy of Charles's life was he, like a lot of Beaverbrook's editors, was a creature of his proprietor. The boy's death absolutely destroyed the Wintour marriage, changed Charles forever, and he became a very chilly, withdrawn figure. It's a terribly, terribly sad story."
Furious with her husband, despondent over her son's death, Nonie Win-tour gathered up little Anna and James and left England for Boston to be with her family, to be consoled. Some thought the marriage was over.
While his wife was gone, Wintour and Beaverbrook bonded. The two met frequently because at the time Beaverbrook needed bright, young editors for his newspaper chain. So he put Wintour to the test, inculcated him with his various conservative philosophies, had him write editorials to see if he was able to present them with Beaverbrook's point of view, and promised to put him on the gravy train by giving him an editorship someday.
At the end of that terrible summer of 1951, Nonie Wintour returned to London with Anna and James. She and her husband had a chilly rapprochement, but their marriage never was the same.
It was in that horribly depressed and icy atmosphere that Anna grew up.
With hopes that a larger family might warm the frigid air, Nonie Wintour had two more children in quick succession in the wake of Gerald's death. Less than a year after the tragedy, she became pregnant, and on February 3, 1953, Anna got a sister, Nora Hilary, with whom she'd never be close because they were so different: Anna would grow into a beauty and a fashionista, thought of as frivolous by the rest of the family, while Nora was plain looking like their mother, academically inclined, and a political activist.
Excerpted from Front Row by Jerry Oppenheimer. Copyright © 2005 Jerry Oppenheimer. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Meet the Author
Jerry Oppenheimer is an investigative reporter and TV news and documentary producer. He has been writing definitive, bestselling biographies of American icons since the mid-80s, including Rock Hudson, Barbara Walters, Ethel Kennedy, Martha Stewart, the Clintons and Jerry Seinfeld.
JERRY OPPENHEIMER is the New York Times bestselling author of Crazy Rich: Power, Scandal, and Tragedy Inside the Johnson&Johnson Dynasty, as well as unauthorized biographies of Hillary and Bill Clinton, Anna Wintour, Rock Hudson, Martha Stewart, Barbara Walters, Ethel Kennedy, Jerry Seinfeld, and the Hilton family. He has also worked in several different capacities as a journalist, including as an investigative reporter and a producer of television news programs and documentaries.
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This book puts together some of the pieces of the myth of Anna Wintour. It would be great to have a sequel that goes up through now. In a book by Tim Gunn, there was a reference to Anna.... and a very interesting one at that. The sort of eccentric behaviors that she exhibits in social settings would be great material for another book.
Jerry Oppenheimer’s book about Anna Wintour is very informing about the Vogue editor. The book was written in 2005 and without the consent of Anna Wintour. Oppenheimer used many sources close to Anna in both personal and business. Many people were fired over the publication of this book, because it exposed the real Anna. Oppenheimer wrote about many of the demands that Anna wanted and the things she always looked for. In the first chapter, it show how demanding Anna really is and how far she will go to get what she wants. As the book progresses, it tells the story of how Anna worked her way up to being the editor at Vogue. Along the way, there were many people she stepped on to get to her position. She can easily be seen as some to hate, but her story of becoming an editor is to intriguing. In some ways Anna’s life can be seen as being easy, but Oppenheimer points out that it isn’t. He reveals Anna’s flaws of being once a do-gooder, to in a sense as becoming a mean girl. Oppenheimer’s writing in mediocre. His writing is dry and distant, with some inserts of awkward jokes. He covers about a chapters worth of her history and almost no information about her current family or children. There are some pictures of Anna that are helpful in identifying people in the book. Oppenheimer seems to be more interested in the cattiness of the fashion world, than about Anna. Overall, I would recommend this book for finding information about Vogue’s top editor and her story. The book was informing and did show the true side of the fashion world and how cruel it can be.
I love fashiom so it was very cool to read aboit one of my role models, anna wintour. I think she is just a very buisness like person, and that shes not as mean as everyone thinks. I hope one day to be as succesful as her. I mean, if you are that succesful, you dont have to be kind and loving.
go outside whitch is the best thing ever! Talk to u later! Bye.