Interview Magazine: A View on the Inside

Warhol and Interview magazines

We were saddened to hear of the demise of Interview magazine (1969-2018) this week. It was not specifically a gay magazine, but its sensibilities and staff certainly were. Of the trio of magazines that launched at about the same time — The Advocate (1967), After Dark (1968) and Interview (1969) — only The Advocate claimed to be what it was, a magazine for gay people. That being said, Interview kept some of the most talented and interesting LGBT people in New York working — Bob Colacello, Fran Leibowitz, Lance Loud, and Cris Alexander to name a scant few. The magazine was one of the first to employ celebrity-on-celebrity interviews, often simply transcribed from the tapes for pages and pages of gray text. Andy wanted everything left in, even conversations with the waiters. With Interview, Warhol made celebrity worship a campy sport. We contacted one of our former editors in chief, Jeff Yarbrough (now the realtor to the stars in Beverly Hills), to tell us about his heady days as a writer for Interview. —The Editors

Before serving as editor in chief of The Advocate in the 1990s, I was an ’80s go-to interviewer for starlets on the hunt for publicity, like Michelle Pfeiffer for Grease 2, Kelly McGillis for Top Gun, Jennifer Jason Leigh for Last Exit to Brooklyn, and Patsy Kensit for Absolute Beginners, to name a few. The women were terribly young (as was I) and the publication on whose pages our tape-recorded chats appeared was Andy Warhol’s Interview, which closed its doors this week. Andy was interested in youth above all things; surfing on the exuberance, innocence, and recklessness of a wild bunch of mostly coke-snorting celebrities.

I met Andy at Studio 54, and after a talk about my flaccid English literature degree, he suggested I freelance for “the magazine.” “People will like talking to you,” he said while he looked me up and down. I took my assignments first from editor in chief Robert Hayes (who died of AIDS), later from Andy’s editorial protégé Gael Love, and finally from editrix Ingrid Sischy (former editor of Artforum). While I was getting to know Ingrid over dinner at Indochine, a lens from her eyeglasses kept popping out and falling into her food. She’d methodically fish it out of her soup and pop it back into her L.A. Eyeworks frames. “She’s great,” Andy would say.

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Above top: Liza Minnelli, right, chats with Bianca Jagger during showing of designer Halston's fall-winter collection May 2, 1980, in New York. At left is artist Andy Warhol; Above left: Ingrid Sischy, left, and her girlfriend Sandra Brant attend the Vanity Fair Tribeca Film Festival Party April 16, 2013, in New York. Above right: Jeff Yarbrough in the 1980s.

These superstar editors’ ability to match interviewers with subjects is what made the content of Warhol’s magazine overheat. Andy would occasionally do an interview too, which in the case of Diana Ross devolved into a discussion of chocolate mousse. He liked an offbeat anecdote and was always on the prowl for insight, gossip, and confrontation. Some of the interviews I did crackled with conflict, which the editors loved.

“You don’t like anybody,” Andy said to me one night at an advertising dinner at Club A. But that wasn’t the reason I probed my subjects deeper than the magazine’s mission statement required. All I knew about interviews was from reading Playboy as a teen. I was more interested in people’s opinions about the news — wars, politics, scandals — and getting them to open up about their private/sex lives. When I asked Glenn Frey if he’d slept with Carrie Fisher (yes, there was context), he replied, “That was Don” (as in Henley). And then, “Maybe once.” On its surface, the monthly magazine was focused on fame, but if you paid keen attention to the transcripts, tales of childhood abuse, psychological torment, and insecurities would peer from behind Richard Bernstein’s pastel-riddled cover art.

I guess it’s no surprise that the post-Warhol Interview (the asset was sold off years ago) is closing amid its own tales of unpaid bills, accusations of inappropriate behavior, and unjust firings. It has been a years-in-the-making decline (both in editorial talent and circulation), but Interview’s comet trail will continue to shimmer. Without Interview (and its gay older brother, After Dark), there would be no glossy, celebrity-filled Advocate issues. In fact, “The Advocate Interview” (which I dubbed some of our newsmaking celebrity cover stories) was my way of mashing up what I learned from Interview’s editors with what I wanted our LGBT magazine to become — a place where the famous addressed our community’s issues directly.

As I take the hit of the disappearance of another editorial touchstone, I look to a shelf where a few cassette tapes are stacked. In my handwriting are “Elizabeth Taylor,” “Randy Shilts,” “Magic Johnson,” and “Larry Kramer” — all Advocate Interviews. Near the end of each tape I asked each of them the same question, one which Andy the Artist once suggested: “Ask them what their favorite color is. And why.”

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Above: Covers by Richard Bernstein

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