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#VanityFair: The Latest Hollywood Issue Is Stirring Up Controversy for Reese, Oprah & James Franco (& Old Memories For Me)


When I first saw Vanity Fair’s Hollywood Issue, it stirred all sorts of memories for me, but I’ll get back to that…

When everyone else first saw the 24th annual issue, they noticed Reese Witherspoon had a third leg (to me it looks like the lining of her dress) and then Oprah somehow acquired a third hand. Another retouching controversy. One wonders if this is done on purpose these days. People love a good “gotcha” retouching scandal.

But then, it came out that what we WEREN’T seeing was an even bigger deal that extra hands and legs… James Franco was shot by cover photographer Annie Leibovitz, but then digitally erased after a L.A. Times’ report about allegations of sexual behavior that the women said was inappropriate.

A Vanity Fair spokesperson told The Hollywood Reporter.

We made a decision not to include James Franco on the Hollywood cover once we learned of the misconduct allegations against him.

People magazine has reported that,

His team wants him to continue making public appearances. He thinks he can save his image. He looks like he hasn’t slept for days. He’s just a mess.

This whole process has been very hard on him. He’s been shaken up.”

Sad news for him maybe, but more so the women involved…

Well, back to that initial reaction to the cover and someone who has never appeared on it before. Editor-in-chief, Graydon Carter. He’s tucked in next to Robert de Niro. Graydon is stepping down after 25 years at the helm of what I’ve always considered THE best magazine in the world..

I first worked for Vanity Fair under Leo Lerman and Tina Brown in the early 80s. In the early 90s, I was a freelance art director and the magazine’s then art director, David Harris, asked me to come in and work on a special portfolio they were calling, “The Hollywood Issue”. It was not a thing yet, just another gig, but it was fun to be back at VF as many of my co-workers were still there.

Annie had shot the entire portfolio, so it was mostly just us cropping pictures in the planning room by blowing them up on the copier, editing them and then figuring out an order. I did work on the cover too, which was a montage of groups of people shot together and then to advertise the issue, I created a billboard layout for Sunset Boulevard, with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in drag as the final punch line image. I can’t seem to find the actual pic of the billboard (I just moved my studio) but I’ve mocked it up here. Annie shot all of the women in lingerie and she may have planned this idea but I think it was coincidence as Lemmon & Curtis remed to be just reprising their Some Like It Hot roles for a ’94 update.

I worked on it the whole operation for two months, which included overseeing a massive illustration of the entity of Hollywood at dinner at Morton’s, created by artist and master caricaturist, David Cowles. This involved faxing photographs and him faxing each drawing back each head for approval. David retained the rights to the drawing, so after the issue appeared and a six month embargo we were planning to sell a limited edition of a this 30 color etching. Vanity Fair decided they didn’t like that idea and paid us, quite a lot, NOT to do it.

Speaking of cost, Graydon mentions that first Hollywood issue cover in his farewell editor’s letter

“After an exhilarating life at Spy and a giddy, shoestring year at The New York Observer, being given the editorship of Vanity Fair was truly like being given the keys to an almost fictional magazine kingdom. Back in the day we didn’t even have budgets. S. I. Newhouse, Jr., our legendary proprietor, just said to spend what you needed. In the late 90s, we were having lunch and I told him that I had some good news and some bad news. He said, ‘What’s the bad news?‘ I told him that the Hollywood Issue cover we had just shot might well be the most expensive magazine cover ever. Si thought for a moment, then asked, ‘Well, what’s the good news?‘ I said it looked like the most expensive magazine cover ever. Only Si would have smiled at such news.”

That was a LONG time ago and now Graydon is stepping down to do other things. I left magazines 10 years ago (after being the art director and creative director for Us Weekly & OK!) Now, I’m a full-time artist/writer, upstate mostly, in my recently converted gas station/ painting studio/ gallery and Nicole Kidman, the only person to grace the first and the latest Hollywood Issue, is still picking up awards.

Some things never change. (If you want to see all 24 VF Hollywood Issue covers, go here…)

The first Hollywood Issue cover cover with the addition of Curtis & Lemmon, which became a billboard on Sunset Blvd in ’94

(Photos, Annie Liebovitz)

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