There was a rumor going around the week I first launched Avenue magazine back in September of 1976: everyone was saying that I was delivering copies of the magazine from the back of my Rolls-Royce. Well, nothing could be further from the truth—but, I suppose it might have helped generate a little excitement in the beginning anyway—Channel 7 News and the New York Times were both going on and on about it. The truth is that I saw a city of fascinating people who needed a local magazine, and I had the connections and the energy to give it to them. My friends from Time magazine were among my first writers and editors—including Michael Schnayerson, and later, Graydon Carter. It was going to be a magazine about architecture, business, and lifestyle—a pictorial version of the New Yorker. I was desperate for Arnold Newman to photograph the great architect Gordon Bunshaft for me, so I offered to be his assistant on the shoot and got him to do it for $75 dollars. I also managed to get Arthur Sulzberger in the magazine too—and once he said yes, well, then everyone from the media world wanted in, including Rupert Murdoch.
We photographed him with his wife and three kids when they were all still in britches: HBO should have dropped that photo into a silver frame and placed it somewhere prominently in their show Succession, with a wink. Leo Castelli was among the first people I pitched ads to, and he said: “Judy, I’ll take three.” He didn’t even ask the price! Leo said to me, “I’m buying art here today…we won’t worry about price.” Ha! I wish they all took such an opinion.
It was fun in those early days, and I think my timing was right because it really took off—despite the fact that I didn’t even yet have an office. If someone asked you what 25,000 copies of a magazine looks like—would you know? I sure didn’t know back then, so when the printer asked me where he should deliver them, I just said: drop them all off at my Park Avenue apartment. Well, I quickly learned what 25,000 copies looked like. Stacks and stacks of them were piled up in every room of our home…the hallways, the pantries—I think Peter and I were lucky the floors didn’t cave in under the weight!
Then there was the matter of how to get them in the front door of Manhattan’s best addresses. I managed to get my driver Sol and his two kids to deliver them, but first I ordered them custom uniforms of gray trousers, a white shirt and a blue blazer with “Avenue” embroidered on the pocket. Our first issue had a doorman on it, so what doorman was going to say no to such a cover, hand-delivered by such a well-dressed trio? And for the record…the car wasn’t a Rolls, it was a limo! Of course we also had a massive truck carrying the bulk of the issues, trailing behind the limo by about a block, and Sol would just go back and restock from the truck whenever they’d run short in the limo.
The Upper East Side was our initial hub, but we soon expanded internationally to France, England, Italy, Germany—even Japan and China.
Avenue was the first American magazine into Beijing in 1993. It was a showstopper—a really good reception around the world because everyone wants to know what New Yorkers do and say. And they still do: 44 years is remarkably long time for a trademark to still be thriving. And I’m very happy with the new leadership running Avenue today. I couldn’t run it forever, and Charles Cohen has a such a clear vision for the magazine; he really understands luxury. I’m looking forward to Avenue’s next chapter, and if I see a Rolls dropping off copies of the magazine on my block any time soon, I’ll just know it’s Charles’s sense of humor.