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As embedded in the fabric of New York as the politicos, parvenus, and gate-crashers she’s covered in her column for the New York Post, the 86-year-old Adams is still out on the town most nights, notebook in hand and digging for dirt. Here, she reflects on her 36-year career chronicling the lifestyles of the rich and felonious.
There aren’t many true gossip columnists left. At the risk of sounding indelicate, do you sometimes feel like you’re the last of a dying breed? Well, I will say that what passes for gossip today is a departure from what we used to do. Most of it now is boring celebrity news—and vetted [by the subject] at that. But I think gossip has changed because the customs have all changed. The dialogue is changing. I never said, “Yo, bro,” when I met somebody. I didn’t grow up with transgender. I didn’t grow up with two gay men having twins. I didn’t grow up with people in dresses that are slit all the way up to their boobs or all the way down to their behinds. I didn’t grow up with everyone hating the president. Everything is changing, not just gossip.
How exactly did you get into gossip? I started when my husband [comedian Joey Adams, who worked at the New York Post] met the editor of a little rag called Our Town and they were looking for a columnist and Joey suggested me. That’s how I really started, with this weekly nothing column for a weekly nothing newspaper. They paid me five dollars a week, and not steady. Half the weeks they forgot. I was still living on Fifth Avenue with a driver and that kind of thing and making five bucks a week.
You eventually moved to the Post in the early 1980s. Tell me about one of your famous early scoops—when you visited your friend the shah of Iran in the hospital. I knew the shah from my travels. Every time His Majesty came to town I was received, and every year for years and years Joey and I would go to Tehran and be received at the Saadabad Complex. I walk into the hospital, past all these great journalists staring daggers at me because I’m going to see the shah and they can’t even find out if he is using a bedpan. Here is this man who had ruled a great kingdom, who had been thrown out by an ayatollah, dying. He was sitting in crumpled white silk pajamas and his feet in slippers dangling over the edge of his bed. On one wall of his enormous suite was a huge poster of a gorilla with a legend underneath that read, and I remember it like it was yesterday, not 35 years ago, “Cheer up! Things have got to get better.” I wasn’t a pro, but I realized that was my story.
Do you have any sacred cows today? I wasn’t brought up with a silver spoon, but I was brought up properly. I live properly. I don’t know what the taboos are today. Almost none, I imagine. I go with what is in my gizzard. I won’t out anyone. I won’t harm anybody. I do it all with humor.
Here’s the thing: You can no longer have exclusivity, because it’s a ten-second news cycle. All you can do, in my view, is to have a sense of humor. You can get away with anything if you’re funny. Gossip is news that’s entertaining.
How do you keep up with the Kardashians and other celebrity newsmakers? Not with social media, that’s for sure! I don’t like any part of that. I read all the newspapers and magazines. I have television. I keep up. I still go out two or three times a week.
What’s your take on the power that PR people wield these days? They are so, so important. [Laughs] It’s ludicrous! Years ago we didn’t have these independent gatekeepers. We dealt with the movie studios. I often feel like saying to [PR people], “You are here because you need us. You want us. You don’t like us, but you can’t sell your movie without us.”
Are you able to circumvent them? I don’t always have to. People often come to me. My face is known. Not to everyone, but to enough people. For example, I was at the recent opening of the movie Lion with Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman. There was an enormous amount of protection for her. You know, “Whatever you do, don’t speak to Nicole or make eye contact with her!” They give me a chair. They give me a chair these days because they figure that I’m not able to stand any longer. In comes Nicole Kidman. She came right over to me and started talking away. In the course of our conversation she claimed not to know the word schmatte. I was like, “For Chrissake, Nicole, how Aryan can you be? Everybody knows schmatte means the ‘fashion industry.’” She proceeded to tell me all the Yiddish words she did know—all mispronounced, by the way.
How do you satisfy your readers and not alienate your friends? You can do something with a pickax or you can do something with a tweezer. I pick at them, but in the end they laugh.
So who do you get silly with—friends like Judge Judy? Well, they are not First Ladies! My only family are my friends, like Judith, and my dogs. It nearly killed me when I lost Jazzy, the second Jazzy, and wanted to throw myself under the wheels of a speeding truck. I have been on the ASPCA board, and every year I do the blessing of the animals at Christ Church at 60th and Park.
Has the ASPCA forgiven you for wearing a fur hat to its board meeting? [Laughs] Yes! You know, I eat fish and wear leather, so it’s hard for me to make the connection, but it was a stupid move on my part. Don’t let anyone tell you that fashion doesn’t matter.
Do people get the wrong idea about you? Maybe. I think people get an awful impression of me from reading the column—smart-ass, brassy. I don’t think I am really those things. I have a sense of humor, and I can laugh at things, including myself.
Cindy Strikes Again
1981, on Jacqueline Onassis: [She] is into chopped liver. Real kosher chopped liver. Buys it off a classy Madison Avenue emporium...
1990, on Donald Trump’s wedding to now ex-wife Marla Maples: So what if it’s tacky? Calm yourself. We’re talking about crap tables and slot machines, baby. We’re talking about the quintessential hype.... This is a guy who is very savvy, and he will turn a negative stream of publicity into a positive one.
1997, on Hillary Clinton: Stuffy 1997 Manhattan club boots First Lady. Old coots tossed me out too.
2009, on Brad and Angelina (via a psychic): Bad news.
2014, on Joan Rivers’s death: Her hospital room got decorated by Preston Bailey (who organized daughter Melissa’s long back wedding—now divorced) with flowers, bows, plants. Joan’s blanket? Dennis Basso’s white faux mink. CDs play Oklahoma!