A City Built of Clay

New York Magazine, July 6, 2008.


Yet rise and stand he did. He introduced himself. His name was Clay Felker. He had a booming voice, but it wasn’t so much the boom that struck me. It was his honk. The New York Honk, as it was called, was the most fashionable accent an American male could have at that time, namely, the spring of 1963. One achieved it by forcing all words out through the nostrils rather than the mouth. It was at once virile … and utterly affected. Nelson Rockefeller had a New York Honk. Huntington Hartford had one. The editor of Newsweek, Osborn Elliot, had one. The financier Robert Dowling, publishers Roger Straus and Tom Guinzburg had the Honk, and so did Robert Morgenthau, who still does, as far as that goes.

Unfortunately, Clay Felker didn’t even rate being in the same paragraph with toffs like them. Custom-made toffery he was clad in, but he was also pushing 40 and jobless, on the beach, as the phrase went, panting, gasping for air, a beached whale, after coming out the loser in a battle for the editorship of Esquire magazine … not to mention the corner suite with north and east views of 1963’s street of dreams, Madison Avenue in the Fifties, that came with it.

Yet in less than six months from that same day, in that same jerry-built eight-by-ten-foot bullpen at a doomed newspaper, he created the hottest magazine in America in the second half of the twentieth century: New York.

New York Magazine