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JFK Jr., George, & Me: A Memoir

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Overview

As John Kennedy Jr.’s creative director for George magazine, Matt Berman had a wonderfully collaborative and fun-loving relationship with America’s favorite son—his story is told here with unprecedented candor and wit.

The Kennedys—their poise, the family secrets, and their grace in the face of unimaginable tragedies—have captured the imagination and interest of the public for more than fifty years. Now, colleague and friend of JFK Jr., Matt ...

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JFK Jr., George, & Me: A Memoir

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Overview

As John Kennedy Jr.’s creative director for George magazine, Matt Berman had a wonderfully collaborative and fun-loving relationship with America’s favorite son—his story is told here with unprecedented candor and wit.

The Kennedys—their poise, the family secrets, and their grace in the face of unimaginable tragedies—have captured the imagination and interest of the public for more than fifty years. Now, colleague and friend of JFK Jr., Matt Berman, offers us a unique look at John’s life as both a professional and “regular guy.”

When talented creative executive Matt Berman took a meeting with John Kennedy, Jr., in 1995, he was immediately hired to serve as George’s creative director, thus beginning an unforgettable journey, both personal and professional. We follow Matt through his first days at the magazine as he navigated the choppy waters of what would be the most-talked-about magazine launch in history, helmed by a supremely confident and charming John. Wry and instantly likeable, Matt shares not only his own personal story of his relationship with John, but also valuable life and work lessons that he learned while working alongside him behind the scenes at George. But most importantly, through Matt’s recollections, we see a John Kennedy that the public never got to know. Matt paints a vivid portrait of JFK Jr., that only a select few have ever seen, offering a touching and honest tribute to John’s legacy.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
02/24/2014
Berman shares stories from his tenure as creative director of George magazine, including his encounters with a host of celebrities and his experience working as J.F.K. Jr.'s second in command. The author's humor and self-deprecation make for a lot of fun moments as he takes readers behind the scenes of many photo shoots, dishing on celebrity behavior such as Barbara Walters's playful flirtation with a notoriously disagreeable photographer. In addition, Berman details the creative process leading up to the launch of George with the iconic cover featuring Cindy Crawford dressed as George Washington. Most noteworthy though is Berman's insight into the character and work ethic of his late boss, J.F.K. Jr., who he describes as an elder brother figure. Berman's admiration for his friend and coworker is evident throughout the book. He is portrayed as a talented, sincere, and charismatic guy who was known to poke fun at those he loved and could win over a room with his impromptu Fonzie impression. It is Berman's palpable grief and musings on wasted potential at the loss of his friend that make this more than a celebrity-tell all. (Mar.)
Library Journal
10/15/2013
Berman currently runs his own advertising agency, Picture Book, but in 1995 he was hired by John Kennedy Jr. to serve as the creative director of George magazine. Here he recounts his relationship with JFK Jr., both personal and professional.
Bookreporter
“Told with unprecedented candor and wit. . . . Matt paints a vivid portrait of JFK Jr., that only a select few have ever seen, offering a touching and honest tribute to John’s legacy.”
New York Post
“Berman seems to have saved every photo and scrap of paper from those days.”
USA Today
“Nearly 15 years after Kennedy died in a plane crash at age 38, Berman is looking back at those heady days and recalling his friend in a new memoir."
Vanity Fair
“For a shy young art director, being hired to design John F. Kennedy Jr.’s new magazine was both daunting and exhilarating.”
Julie Klausner
A perfectly-timed, personal, funny and fascinating look back on the mid-90's publishing world. I read it in one sitting.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451697018
  • Publisher: Gallery Books
  • Publication date: 5/20/2014
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 76,814
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Matt Berman

Since the 1990s, creative director Matt Berman has been collaborating with some of the most influential photographers in fashion and art to create some of the industry’s most enduring imagery in print. In 1995, Matt was hired by JFK Jr., to serve as the creative director of George magazine. He wor­ked side-by-side with John until his death in 1999 to craft his boss’s unique vision for a new kind of magazine. Matt then moved to Paris and continued to serve as creative director on several French magazine titles and advertising campaigns. Presently, Matt is at the helm of his own image-driven advertising agency, Picture Book, in New York City and Los Angeles.
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Read an Excerpt

JFK Jr., George, & Me


  • I first met John in 1994. I had been working at Elle magazine on Madison Avenue for four years. The French publisher Hachette owned Elle, and I’d gotten the job by cold-calling the art department, trying to sound blasé but determined to work there. A girl with a singsong Parisian accent answered the phone, “Hello, may I help you?” She turned out to be the art director, Olivia Badrutt, and invited me to come in and meet everyone. I started working for her that day.

Elle was run by a group of French businessmen led by a dashing CEO named Daniel Filipacchi. Daniel would rush through the offices wearing a pair of solid gold Cartier glasses and leather-and-fabric loafers with the exact same fabric made into a matching tie. He looked like a movie producer, a French Bob Evans, and acted as if he had exactly two minutes to sign a seven-figure deal. Daniel had come to New York with two other Frenchmen, named Régis Pagniez and Jean-Louis Ginibre, to launch the French soft porn magazine Oui, which was giving Penthouse a run for its money. Oui showed full frontal nudity, but it was art directed with a lot of style, more like a European fashion magazine than typical porn mags.

The guys were about the same age as my dad, but Dad and his friends were nothing like this. While my dad’s wild weeknights were about playing racquetball with Bill Greenbaum and picking up Chinese takeout on his way home, these guys went out late at night to jazz clubs and hot spots like Raoul’s, Nell’s, and Le Zinc. They came to work in limousines, took three-hour lunches, and flew to Paris on the Concorde.

Régis, the publication director, knew everything about art and food and film. He had the most refined taste of anyone I’ve ever known. His daily uniform was a Brooks Brothers blue blazer, pale blue oxford shirt, gray flannel pants, and Hermès shoes. I liked the idea of having a uniform and invented a junior version of my own, wearing Levi’s, a navy agnès b. zip-up sweatshirt, and Paraboot shoes. Régis was a legendary art director. I stood beside him assisting in any way I could, pouring his Coke into a glass (he would never drink from the can) and Xeroxing a word in ten different sizes so he could select and place the perfectly proportioned headline next to the perfectly cropped photograph.

The editorial staff of Elle was largely from the upper crust of Parisian society. Everyone’s father or husband or brother was somebody well known in Paris. The fashion editor who dressed the models for the covers was the daughter of Jean Louis David, the Vidal Sassoon of France. The food editor was the wife of Jean-Pierre Cassel, the famous French movie star, and the mother of the actor Vincent Cassel, who as a teenager used to hang out at the office and help his mother on shoots. On the business side, there were people who had fathers, uncles, or friends in the French government. My laid-back Brazilian intern was well connected among the senior executives and wasn’t exactly worried about job security. She took thirty-five minutes to do a round-trip job at the copy machine, slowly sauntering down the hallway like she was strolling along Ipanema beach without a care in the world. There were several attractive women at the office who held less important positions, like editing the astrology page or the travel stories, and I always wondered what credentials they had. Later, I learned that some of them were former Air France stewardesses who, I imagined, had been hired at thirty thousand feet by the Hachette playboys.

I took note of what my French bosses ordered in restaurants, and I listened to what they said about how people should behave. I tried to understand what they considered chic, which was always understated. It was the industry’s best graduate program in style, and I was getting paid for it. When it was my turn to order at a restaurant, I followed the rules I’d learned and never ordered a beef carpaccio appetizer and a poached salmon entrée; meat and fish were never mixed. When white wine was poured, I’d hold my glass by the stem to be sure my hand didn’t warm the chilled Sancerre; when red was on the table, I held my glass however I liked.

The subject of food and weight triggered lots of reactions. I was at a staff lunch at Café Un Deux Trois on West Forty-fourth Street, and a waiter asked me, “Would you like fries with that?” I heard Sabine Cassel tsk-tsking from the other end of the table, “Oh là là, il est trop jeune pour être si gros.” (He is too young to be so fat.) I realized five pounds overweight meant fat in France. I once asked another editor how I could knock off a few pounds and she said, “Matt, have you seen pictures of those people in Auschwitz?” I nodded, acting cool, though I was horrified at where she was headed with this. “Did they look fat, Matt?” I shook my head from side to side. “Do you know why? Because they didn’t eat.”

What mattered at Elle was beauty, and there was plenty to learn about that. I was standing next to Régis looking at the December 1988 cover of supermodel Yasmin Parvaneh (later Le Bon). It was a photo of her head and neck, the background blurred. She wore a black turtleneck, small gold hoop earrings, with her hair pulled back in a tight bun. “It’s so boring,” I said. Régis replied, “Matt, this cover is good, because this girl is the perfect age.” I was learning a new language. I couldn’t speak it yet, but I was starting to hear it.

Things at Elle were scrutinized in a way I hadn’t imagined. From the width of a typeface, to the length of a skirt, everything was judged. I once bought a chartreuse shirt to try to break out of my safe navy blue sweatshirt routine. Olivia shook her head from side to side and said, “Oh là là, Matt, you are too white to wear this color.” Seeing my crestfallen face, she said, “Well, maybe if you get a tan.” Régis added, “Or if you were black.” I wore navy the next day.

Elle didn’t look like anything else on the newsstand, with its crisp Swiss design and in-your-face photos. It had a bold point of view in its photography, as well as in its styling, mixing clothes in a way Americans weren’t used to. We did profiles on Régis’s fashion designer friends Azzedine Alaïa, Jean Paul Gaultier, and Claude Montana. They would come into the office to drink red wine, admire our postcard view of midtown, and watch us lay out the magazine.

Years later, while I was living in Paris, I sat next to Claude Montana at a café, Le Nemours, at Palais-Royal. There was no mistaking him, with his fried and dyed orange hair, bright blue quilted leather bolero jacket, skintight red leather pants, and motorcycle boots. He was by himself, eating a parfait glass full of fromage blanc and sipping white wine. Seeing him, I was transported back to 1988 faster than hearing George Michael’s Faith. I took a gulp of wine for courage and leaned toward him, reminding him who I was. He was a little tipsy, but he was kind to me and chatted for half an hour about his childhood with his strict father, his rise to fashion superstardom, and his fall from grace. It was sad to see him there, all alone, dressed in his outfit, and it made me miss the madness of the ’80s, when there were people like him to inspire us.

Along with fashion, we did profiles on Régis’s artist friends Red Grooms, César Baldaccini, and David Hockney, as well as layout interviews with stars Winona Ryder, Johnny Depp, and the B-52s. While we were shooting the B-52s, one of our Parisian stylists handed Kate Pierson a dress to wear for the picture. Kate held the dress in front of her by its straps and in her precise Southern accent declined, saying, “It’s aw-fully conservative.”

I’d been close to famous people before, on the street or in restaurants, but for the first time I was in a professional environment interacting with celebrities. To see them doing mundane things like asking where the bathroom was or making a personal phone call fascinated me. Were they just like everyone else? To test the waters, I walked up to Fred Schneider, who was eating a plate of pasta salad, and asked, “How’s the food?” “Not bad,” he answered while chewing. To me it felt like magic. They were real.

In the ’70s, nostalgia for the golden age of Hollywood, especially the 1930s and ’40s, had been everywhere. The Sting, Paper Moon, and Chinatown were huge hits, there were Marlene Dietrich film festivals at Radio City Music Hall, towels at Bloomingdale’s had Garbo’s face printed on them, plaster statuettes of W. C. Fields stood in every card shop, and Andy Warhol was featuring Rita Hayworth in Interview magazine. When we were ten or eleven, my cousin Adam and I went to see the movie That’s Entertainment! and we became obsessed seeing all the dried-up old movie stars commenting on the spectacular movie clips. I bought a book advertised in the back of the magazine Rona Barrett’s Hollywood called The Movie Star Address Book, and Adam and I sent out letters to stars asking for autographed pictures. It became a competition, and we’d compare notes week to week. I’d phone Adam: “I got one from Bob Hope today.” “I did too,” Adam responded, stealing my thunder. “Mine says, ‘To Matt, Best, Bob Hope.’ ” Adam, with an evil chuckle, answered, “Well, mine says, ‘To Adam, Sincerely, Bob Hope.’ ” We’d compare our collections of photos, marveling that these famous people had taken the time to sign a photo and mail it to us; they seemed galaxies away from our lives in Stamford. I shut Adam down for good the day I received an envelope with the return address of 70 North Rossmore Avenue, Los Angeles, CA. I opened the manila envelope and pulled out a glossy photo that read To Matt, Sin-cerely, Mae West, in orange marker.

At Elle there were often famous people in the office. Each day at around 1:00 p.m., I’d look up from my work to see who was coming in to meet Régis for lunch. Frequently, it was one of the cover models, like Elle Macpherson or Ashley Richardson or Rachel Williams, who entered the art room like graceful giraffes. My favorite guest was the Trinidadian actor Geoffrey Holder. Holder was a longtime pal of Régis and his wife, Jamie, who had danced in some of Jerome Robbins’s companies in the 1960s. Holder would walk in cheerfully bellowing, “Ha, ha, ha, hello, Régis,” in that unmistakable deep voice we all recognized from his 7UP commercial that aired constantly in the 1970s.

Those were the days when magazines grabbed you by the throat. There were no websites or email blasts or blogs. Elle and its competitors had to catch your eye as you strolled by a newsstand. Today’s magazines, with their tiny type and blocks of information all over the page, seem confusing compared to the way Elle used grand gestures to garner attention. A model dressed in red from head to toe beside two words—Red Alert! A tightly cropped, sun-kissed face on the cover of a summer issue with the command Face the Heat. A portrait of an immaculately made-up brunette dressed in simple shades of beige cashmere with one word printed on the cover: Perfect.

Growing up with my grandparents, it seemed that elegance was perceived as more. My grandmother would say that her perfume, Joy, from Jean Patou, was “One hundred dollars an ounce. Imagine?” She’d gush about someone, “She had an engagement ring from Harry Winston the size of a golf ball.” And describing a restaurant: “The steak was so enormous, Grandpa had to bring half of it home.” At Elle, elegance meant less. The French said, “Americans eat too many meals” and “The tits are too big in this country.”

I was one of the few Americans in the office who were accepted by the French. Most of the American staffers were treated like punching bags and couldn’t do anything right. I was determined not to fall into that mold, so I listened to their opinions, watched my actions and words, and played the part. I kept up with their off-color sense of humor and was proud to be dubbed Le Cretin Mongolien by Régis (basically, “the stupid retard” in English). I loved getting his attention knowing that the people he was not interested in were completely ignored. I remember one of the saucier gals warning me to be careful of a tacky editor, saying to me in a smoky voice, “If she tells you that you look nice today, you go home and burn all of your clothes.” Knowing a bit of French, I’d chuckle as I overheard comments like “Oh là là, quelle fesse” (What an ass) or “Sa robe est affreux” (Her dress is hideous).

The non-French part of the staff was made up of hardworking New Yorkers who had worked at other magazines and were responsible for getting Elle out the door every month despite the Europeans’ “work habits.” These poor souls were kept waiting until noon for the French to arrive at work or for film from a shoot to arrive at Kennedy airport, then they were challenged to write an editorial essay to accompany a close-up photo of a model’s bare ass. I remember the beauty editor staring at one of these booty numbers from all angles and saying, “I guess I can talk about moisturizing after the beach . . . ?”

As I hunched over my drawing board doing mechanicals (the pre-Macintosh way a magazine was made), the stories I heard were incredible. There was a wedding in Ibiza where a top Hachette executive and his bride took their vows in the nude. A famous photographer took his giant penis from his pants and shook it in front of a group of bikini-clad models in order to get an animated reaction. An older, attractive blonde editor invited her town car driver up to her apartment after a long day at the office.

My buddies on the floor would call me the “house servant.” There were hazards in being the house servant. I remember once being transfixed by the ember of Melka Tréanton’s cigarette as she gestured flamboyantly while telling a long story. Melka was a legend in the fashion world; she discovered Jean Paul Gaultier and Thierry Mugler. Just as she finished her story, her hand flew back and her cigarette went sizzling into my forearm. “Je m’excuse,” she said offhandedly. I’ve never been so proud of something so painful.

I was the diplomat between the two continents. Régis would send me to the editor with something like “Matt, go to Marian and tell her that this word is too long to do a nice layout.” Shooting the messenger, Marian would shout, “You go tell Régis it’s a duck in a tangerine sauce! There is no shorter word for tangerine!”

Being the link between the two continents provided me with lots of time with the magazine’s senior editors, and I lingered in their offices whenever I could. At first, my behavior was extremely polite and respectful. I remember a chic Italian editor, an Olivetti heiress, once saying to me, “Matt, how did you get to be so good-natured?” I walked away immediately thinking that “good-natured” was a word you’d use to describe a dog’s disposition. I was beginning to be pigeonholed as the benevolent servant boy to these connoisseurs, and I was anxious to become an equal.

My family hated snobs and often spoke about real people or good people; they had no interest in high society. In 1980 I was with my parents in Heathrow airport waiting for a flight to New York. I was fascinated watching a wealthy-looking mother with long blonde hair, dressed in slacks and high heels, holding a giant Gucci handbag. She reminded me of Jerry Hall. She was chatting to another woman and allowing her beautiful young daughters to run wild around the waiting area, disturbing everyone. I was sitting patiently on a bench with my cousin Gary doing Mad Libs when one of the little girls asked us for some of our candy. We let her choose some from our bag, and as she skipped away, my dad said, “I don’t like people like that.” My parents said things like “Who does she think she is, dolled up like Marilyn Monroe?” or “I remember them when they didn’t have two dimes to rub together.” Elle editors were the opposite; appearances went far. Physical beauty or being a member of a famous family impressed them, but brains, style, and humor were equally valued, and I had no choice but to shoot for the latter.

I met Marian McEvoy the day she arrived in New York from Paris. She was brought in to replace the magazine’s editor-in-chief, who was on her way out. After fifteen years in Paris, Marian was better suited than her predecessor had been to navigate the French mind-set. Marian came straight to the office from the airport wearing an enormous black Russian fur hat and matching hand warmer. I’d never seen anything like that before. She was beautiful, like a young Vivien Leigh with white skin, red lips, and a widow’s peak. Her dark hair was pulled tightly back and tied with black grosgrain ribbons. On a random Tuesday she would be dressed immaculately, ready for a dinner party; Yves Saint Laurent suits, mile-high heels, and about five hundred necklaces of gigantic pearls, massive crosses, and several different gold chains. I loved Marian, and she became a big sister to me, showing me the ropes at all the big-time media hangouts like Da Silvano downtown on Sixth Avenue and Michael’s on West Fifty-fifth Street. When I would reach the boiling point with the French, she’d calm me down with her sage advice over drinks at a dark corner table at The Carlyle.

My other grown-up pal at work was the fashion director, Jane Hsiang. Jane was a knockout, a former model from the ’60s. She was born in China, came to New York in her teens, and was discovered by the fashion photographer Derujinsky. Jane had a small, chic apartment on Sutton Place, and for some reason she always made it clear to the staff that she was of Mandarin descent. After seeing black-and-white pictures from the 1930s of her beautiful mother, with her jet-black, bobbed hair, wearing elegant Western attire, I told Jane she was a “Merchant Ivory” Chinese person, which made her howl. There was a nude photo of Jane shot by Bill King, and though it hung prominently in her living room, Jane would run over and hide it dramatically with her body. She was outrageous, with a wide-open smile and a laugh that was actually more of a scream. She had an endless supply of stories from her modeling days, and I’d beg her to tell my favorites: flying to Los Angeles to meet with producer Albert Broccoli for a Bond girl role, and partying so hard on arrival that she slept through the audition, or rappelling off the roof of her West Village town house on her stuntman husband’s back and on the trip down accidentally catching a glimpse of her nerdy Jewish neighbors having kinky sex.

No one knew better than me how to get Jane going. She could walk into the art room completely pissed off about something and I’d change her mood in a minute, saying, “Jane, none of this matters, what matters is how many times your legs alone were in Vogue magazine!” Jane would immediately forget her emergency, scream, and in her Chinese accent remind everyone in the room, “Oh, you know, I had a very good body!” Then she’d catwalk back and forth around my desk, saying, “I have fantastic legs!”

One night I picked Jane up at her apartment for dinner. She was wearing black leather pants, a skintight tank top, and high heels. When we got into the elevator, she stepped back against the wall, put her fists on her hips, and stared straight at me: “Little Buddy, does Aunt Jane look like an old hooker?” I laughed, excited for an Aunt Jane evening. Jane was a snob and would say the most horrible things right to your face, but somehow what she said was so absurd that it was funny. Sitting at an outdoor café, Jane once said, “Little Buddy, people are made up of four things.” She began to count on her fingers: “Looks, education, breeding, and talent.” She gathered her fingers into a fist and drew it to her chest, saying, “I have all four. You only have two!” We both cracked up to the point of almost crying, yelling, “I have two!” and “You have four!” To this day I haven’t had the courage to ask which two I had.

After working at Elle for four years, I felt it was time to move on. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but there was no position to grow into at Elle, and I felt I’d learned enough to be able to art direct a magazine myself. Feeling slightly disloyal, I phoned upstairs to the executive floor and requested a meeting with the publication director of all the magazines, Jean-Louis Ginibre. There was a bit of a rivalry among the men who worked under Daniel Filipacchi, and I felt that although Jean-Louis and I hit it off, no doubt he also liked the idea of poaching Régis’s protégé. The other magazines that Jean-Louis oversaw were strong, but they lacked the flair of Elle. Coming from the nerve center of the company’s crown jewel, I held a state secret—I knew how to design Elle magazine.

Over the following two years, Jean-Louis would become the most important mentor of my life while turning me into Hachette’s top design gun. I loved Jean-Louis, and he treated me like a son. Several times over the years at a restaurant table, he would clasp his hands over mine and say, “Matt, I love you.” When I’d laugh and squirm, trying to hide my discomfort with his honesty, he’d repeat himself as if to make sure I knew he meant it. “Matt, I love you.”

Jean-Louis had a son named Jean-Noel, who was my age and felt like a long-lost, long-distance brother to me. Jean-Louis would fill me in on what was going on in his life, always reminding me, “Matt, he is Jewish like you, his mother is Jewish!” I would ask, “If he’s Jewish, why did you name him Jean-Noel, like Christmas?” When Jean-Noel was in town I would play down how close Jean-Louis and I had become; I’d say, “I’ve already got a father, he’s all yours.” Jean-Louis and I attacked each new project together: the redesign of an interiors magazine, a custom project for Sony, or, in spring 1995, the top-secret logo design prototype for a new political magazine. After a few days of working on it, I had a good idea of what my next task would be.

“Matt, wear a jacket on Monday, I would like to invite you to lunch,” Jean-Louis said, sounding like Maurice Chevalier. He knew if he didn’t tell me to wear a jacket, I’d stroll into work in my newest uniform of Levi’s corduroys and a navy crew-neck sweater. Asking me to wear a jacket meant he had something important to discuss. On Monday, I met Jean-Louis at his usual place, Le Bernardin, on West Fifty-first Street. We sat at his usual spot, table number one, and the waiter poured the wine. He stopped the waiter when there were two drops in my glass. “Do not give him too much, he has to work today.” The owner of the restaurant, Maguy Le Coze, came over and kissed J.L. on both cheeks as he introduced me for the fifth time. J.L. put his arm around her waist and wagged his finger at her, saying, “Make sure you are here next Wednesday. I am coming to lunch with a major celebrity.”

Having been in the magazine business for forty years, J.L. was blasé about stars. But that day he acted cagey and secretive. After a few slabs of buttery monkfish, he confirmed my hunch. “Matt, I think we are close to a deal with Kennedy.” He gulped his wine. The whole town was buzzing with John F. Kennedy Jr. sightings as he went from publishing house to publishing house looking for a partner to launch his political magazine. “If you like, next week you can meet him, and if he likes you, maybe you can work with him.” Feeling that this was a long shot, I guess I didn’t look sufficiently excited. Jean-Louis began to tease, “Imagine, Matt, ‘I am working with John Kennedy,’ ” trying to get a reaction. He wiped his mouth with his napkin and raised his eyebrows, saying, “My boss, John,” and then, “My friend, John . . .”

I was more interested in musicians and movie stars than politicians. I hadn’t followed the Kennedys over the years and didn’t know anything about John. After working for years with two great design mentors, I knew I was qualified for the job but was apprehensive about working with a celebrity. Jean-Louis reminded me that John had never worked in magazines before, and he would be learning from us. Still, I was concerned about how John would behave and what he’d be like to work with every day. I went to the bookstore and bought a paperback called Prince Charming to try to get a sense of who I’d be working with. It was all very abstract, so I decided to wait and see what would happen.

Three weeks later, the deal was done and Jean-Louis assigned me the task of designing the logo for John’s new magazine, George. I didn’t get much direction about what I was supposed to create. All I knew was that Hachette needed a logo and a prototype fast in order to start selling advertising for a fall launch. I gathered strong images that I found mostly in British men’s magazines like The Face and Arena and started to place the letters G-E-O-R-G and E in different fonts to see what felt right. I began to fill my wall with dozens of mock George covers with different logos. I was shooting in the dark. I didn’t know much about John F. Kennedy Jr., politics, or who exactly would buy this magazine, but I knew what I liked to look at, and I went with my gut.

JFK Jr. was temporarily housed in a conference room in the Hachette building. I was in an office down the hall, with a Xerox machine outside my door. I couldn’t concentrate, because the copier was constantly in use; either all the Xerox machines at Hachette had suddenly broken down or word had spread that you could catch a glimpse of John if you stood there long enough.

The phone rang one morning. It was J.L. “Matt, I would like to bring John Kennedy to look at the logos you are designing.” I put on my sport coat and sat at my computer, trying to crank out even more solutions than I had already. Within a few minutes, Jean-Louis appeared at my door with John. “John, I would like you to meet Matt Berman.” As I shook John’s hand, I noticed that our hands were similar in size, and we exchanged a nice, firm handshake. His gaze was open, honest, and nonjudgmental. I was immediately at ease and knew I was in the presence of a kind person.

I never really read that book I’d bought about John. I skimmed over a few chapters but mainly studied the pictures in the center of the book for any signs of what he might really be like. The photos didn’t tell me much; it was the same selection you see today when you Google JFK Jr—John with Jackie, John peeking out from under President Kennedy’s desk, John saluting President Kennedy’s casket, and the usual beefcake photos of John with his shirt off. The book shed no light on the real John and I didn’t know anyone who knew him, so I did what I always do when I’m lost: I turned to astrology—even though I know it’s bullshit. I went to the Strand bookstore and sat on a stool scouring through books about star signs. John was a Sagittarius and I am a Gemini. According to the books, we were astrological opposites and a perfect match. Reading further that Sagittarius is a fire sign and Gemini is an air sign, I decided to wait for the flames.

The few celebrities I’d seen around New York never looked the way I expected. I spotted Madonna once, and she was pretty but tiny. I was on a checkout line with Ed Norton, and he came across as someone you might have gone to high school with. When I saw John Kennedy for the first time, there was no disappointment. I studied the familiar face I’d seen in so many photographs. Large, wide-spaced brown eyes, arching down toward the sides of his face, like his mother’s. Thick, wavy hair like his father’s. The features were so familiar. There was nothing ordinary about John. He looked like a movie star.

In my office that day, John commented as I enlarged each logo to the size of my computer screen. “That one looks like a skateboarding magazine.” “That one is kind of fashiony; too thin or something.” “That one’s kind of cool, try it with a little g.” Leaning back in his chair, he confessed, “I’m kind of bad at this stuff. Which one do you guys like?”

I was distracted by an Arena magazine on my desk with Daryl Hannah on the cover. John had dated her; it had been in the tabloids. I was uncomfortable and didn’t want him to think I’d been reading up on him. The magazine was inches from John’s hand. Still looking at the screen, he reached over and turned it facedown. We agreed to take a break and look with fresh eyes later on.

Hours later, I got a call from Araminta, the receptionist. “Matt,” she said in her impossibly slow Southern drawl, “John Kennedy is at reception for you.” She could have gotten the name wrong; she once forwarded me a call from Richard Avelon’s studio (not to be confused with Richard Avedon, the world-famous photographer). I ran out to get him. “Hey, Matt, I wanted to ask you if you’d mind if my girlfriend takes a look at those logos later. She’s a little more into that stuff than I am.” I thought, It’s all over; she works at Calvin Klein and knows the coolest people in town. She’s going to have me replaced with one of her fancy friends. “No problem,” I said.

Half an hour later, I was eating potato chips in my dismal gray-carpeted office, glad to have a moment to myself. I took a sip of Snapple and turned to see a beautiful woman leaning into my doorway. “Are you Matt?” she asked. I looked up, squinting in the harsh fluorescent light. Great, she had caught me smeared with potato chip grease. She came into the office and offered her hand and a huge smile. “Hi, I’m Carolyn.” She was gorgeous in a flowered summer dress and high heels. Wavy dirty-blonde hair framed her face. She crouched close behind me, her face almost resting on my shoulder as we looked at the logos together. She smelled incredibly good. Thrusting her hand into my bag of chips, she said, “I’m starving, can I have some?” “Ooh, I like that one!” she said, smudging my screen with one hand and brushing crumbs off my body with the other. Later, she told John, “The logos are young, cool, they look exactly right.”

I was in love. And I got the job.

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 22, 2014

    Real and personal

    I really enjoyed this personal account and his truthfulness. I got a very real insight into jfk jr.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2014

    Wonderfully witty and touching

    A powerful and touching tribute that is impossible to put down.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 31, 2014

    This book was a quick read that left me wanting to know more. Ge

    This book was a quick read that left me wanting to know more. Getting an inside peek into GEORGE magazine, 90s NY and how JFK Jr. was as a boss and friend was a treat. 

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

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