When Michael Solomon got the position of Editor-In-Chief of Premiere magazine in November of 2000, I was terrified. I had been working there since 1996, under Jim Meigs as head man, and while Jim and I had an often tumultuous relationship, on balance he really cut me a whole lot of slack in terms of my being an overdrinking, coming-in-to-the-office-at-11-a.m.-on-a-GOOD-DAY, quarrelsome querulous asshole. Whether my reputation had preceded me or not, I had a sense I was gonna have to straighten out a bit, or at least show a Willingness To Perform, for the new guy.
Didn't take me long to get my chance. As it happened, Michael, who despite my intimidation I took an immediate liking to when I saw that one of the first things he installed in his office was a sliver tray bearing two large tumblers and a bottle of Johnny Walker Black, had an idea that he wanted to make a BIG splash with his first issue. Investigative reporter John Connolly (with whom I had done some stuff at Premiere during the Meigs era; I won't go into it here, as I need to save SOME material for a memoir that I'll actually get frigging PAID for) had an idea: Schwarzenegger, who was a well-known woman-chasing-and-pawing dawg with—ew!— pig valves in his heart, and whose oft-speculated-upon political ambitions were showing signs of stirring again, and who Connolly had excellent materials and/or sources on. Just put me on a plane, Connolly pretty much said.Looking very serious, Solomon asked me, "Can we do this?" I practically jumped into his lap and started drooling. "Sure, I mean four weeks isn't that long if you want it for the January issue, but it shouldn't be a problem." The last big piece I had worked on with Connolly had taken eight months of reporting and vetting and long meetings with lawyers and publicists from pitch to actual publication. What can I tell you guys? I wanted to keep my job.
So out John went. We had worked out that as speed was of the essence, we would write-as-we-go. That is, Connolly would fax me notes or just tell me shit over the phone and I would craft prose based on them; not in my customary conversational piling-up-subordinate-clauses style, but in a terse, sometimes mildly ironic, slightly moralistic tone during the setups leading to just-the-facts-ma'am passages of scandal data. John was a real pit bull in terms of pursuing individual stories, and would go after any lead, so another part of my job was narrowing his focus. There were a number of different Arnold-behaving-badly themes he wanted to pursue, and just to keep the fucking thing moving, or because I didn't much care, I would discourage this, encourage that. I remember having a devil of a time having PAL videocassettes of Arnold copping a feel off of a British morning show hostess converted to NTSC, but once that happened, well, there he was. "Playful," I think his claque referred to this sort of thing as.
Of course Arnold's legal representatives, once word got out that Connolly was turning up at greater Los Angeles body-building hangouts got out, took umbrage, and their pushback approach was two-pronged; first, they tried to remind the Premiere editors what a Bad Person John Connolly was (there had been some stock market shenanigans in which his name had been mentioned, back in the Golden '80s), and then, rather peculiarly, coming right out and telling us just which bits of Arnold scandal they considered actionable, as in, "if you say [X], we'll sue." Almost a roadmap, one of our own lawyers noted, a bit bemusedly, as it turned out to be an incredible helpful document as we vetted the finished piece.
I remember being at the Sundance Film Festival in January of 2001, having two-to-three hour conference calls with Connolly and Hachette's legal team and Premiere's fact-checkers (and let me mention that Hachette's legal people were always incredibly helpful and encouraging to us whenever we did sensitive stories, which you wouldn't necessarily think if you know certain aspects of the history of U.S. Premiere at Hachette) and thinking, "Holy crap, we're really pulling this off." We had a GREAT headline ("Arnold The Barbarian"), Matt Mahurin did a really creepy photo-illustration, and our stuff was fucking airtight. What it all meant in the larger scheme of things was completely beyond my ken at that moment, but at least I wasn't going to get fucking fired.
You know who did get fucking fired? Michael Solomon. Before he had even served out a year as Premiere's editor-in-chief. And believe it or not, the Arnold story represented the first couple of nails in his coffin. Yeah, we got A LOT of Hollywood blowback from Schwarzenegger's claque: irate letters from very big-name collaborators, many of them women, complaining at how disappointed they were that Premiere was trucking in such baseless garbage and what a great guy Arnold was. (And I do believe, incidentally, that the protestations of Schwarzenegger's great-guyness were entirely sincere; after all, don't we all have friends who are generous and kind to us and may be less than entirely gallant in other respects, about whom we tend to say, "Oh, that's just X?" when we hear stories of them doing things that aren't so cool?) Every day for like two weeks there were a bunch of new letters, and the names: James Cameron, Jamie Leigh Curtis, Emma Thompson (whose verbal wrist-slapping was hand-written; I remember thinking she had the most beautiful handwriting of any living person that I had ever seen) and so on. But there was no black-balling, no "We'll never work with Premiere again" grandstanding. From any of them. It was just due-diligent noise-making. Because, as much as they liked the fellow, they really did know what was up.
No, the blowback that counted actually echoed that which we got from our readers, many of whom were up in arms that we were "picking" on Arnold. It wasn't just a matter of people thinking highly of Schwarzenegger; because of his rags-to-riches story and Terminator awesomeness, people actually had quite a bit invested in the idea of thinking highly of Schwarzenegger, and they just didn't want that messed with. Quite a few of the bigwigs at Hachette, both French and American, apparently looked at "Arnold the Barbarian" and said "Why are they/is he doing this?" Hachette had acquired U.S. Premiere in order to unify it with the international editions of the book; aside from that, the company never really had much of an idea of what to do with it. THIS, however, they did NOT want to do. So the fellas upstairs all of a sudden got a little bit skeptical of the young man who had been their exciting new fair-haired boy just about ten weeks before. Michael was out in October, I think. And now when people cite the history of reputable Arnold scandal-mongering, all they talk about is the 2003 Los Angeles Times piece. Well, Premiere was there first, and we didn't get sued. Next time I see Michael Solomon, I think I'll buy him a drink.