13-Dec, 16:25

11:11, February 16 319 0

2017-02-16 11:11:10
Shunned by Vogue, Joan Juliet Buck Seeks Inner Peace

RHINECLIFF, N.Y. — When Joan Juliet Buck completed the first draft of her new memoir, “The Price of Illusion,” for Atria Books, the manuscript was over a thousand pages. “It was like a deposition,” she said, an apt description considering the material she had to cover.

In 2000 Ms. Buck, known for being the only American woman to edit Vogue Paris, was abruptly dismissed after nearly seven years there, and sent to rehab by her boss, Jonathan Newhouse, chairman of Condé Nast International, for a drug problem she did not have. (Though she said she agreed to go because it was part of her severance package, she also admitted that with a writer’s perverse curiosity, she wanted to see firsthand what went on in a drug-treatment center.)

Eleven years later, as a contributing writer for American Vogue, Ms. Buck received a different sort of public drubbing. She had been assigned a profile of the first lady of Syria, Asma al-Assad, a piece that was published under the cringe-making headline, “A Rose in the Desert,” just weeks before the Assad regime began torturing and bombing its own people. In the aftermath, Ms. Buck was exposed to the outrage of the internet, and Vogue declined to renew her contract. (Months later, the article was scrubbed from the magazine’s website, and Anna Wintour, Vogue’s editor, issued a statement deploring “the actions of the Assad regime in the strongest possible terms.”)

“They probably called me because wiser heads than mine had turned it down,” Ms. Buck said of the assignment. “I wish I had.”

On a recent Monday afternoon, Ms. Buck, husky-voiced and animated, was in the basement of the Morton Memorial Library, a corner of which she rents as an office and has outfitted like a Bedouin’s tent. She has been holed up here, on and off, for the last three years, working on her memoir and trying to shed, not altogether successfully, the material relics of her former life. (She rents an apartment in nearby Rhinebeck.)

Last year, she auctioned off a Cartier watch, Hermès and Chanel bags and her mother’s sapphire-studded compact, along with more idiosyncratic belongings, like a collection of R. Crumb comics. Ms. Buck’s library has been only slightly culled to 7,000 volumes, which are spread out between a storage unit in Poughkeepsie and on walls of steel bookcases in this basement.

In the wake of the Assad piece, Ms. Buck, now 68, said she was “tainted, like a leper,” and developed lesions on her feet that still cause her to limp slightly. Still, she had her defenders.

“I think she was very shabbily treated by Vogue,” said Tina Brown, who has edited two Condé Nast titles, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. “Frankly, it was an editing responsibility. You don’t just blame the writer. Not renewing her contract was harsh and she had no doubt why it was. The fact is, the piece comes in, there are a lot of eyes on it, and a lot of discussions. For Joan to be excommunicated for her work was very shabby.” (A spokesperson for the magazine declined to weigh in.)

Ms. Buck said: “There was so much opprobrium sticking to me. I was so flayed. My life as I knew it had vanished. And so it was a process of trying to figure out, Where did I come from? Where am I going? What really happened? I didn’t know, until I wrote the book, that I had the right to my own life, that I could tell my own story.”

Ms. Buck’s first memories are of a pink palace outside of Paris, a 19th-century copy of the Grand Trianon and an early stop on her parent’s self-exile from McCarthy-era Hollywood. Her father, Jules Buck, was a movie producer whose best friend was John Huston, an Army buddy whose life he had saved. Mr. Buck struggled to find work after leaving Los Angeles. Ms. Buck’s mother, Joyce, was an actress whose best friend was Lauren Bacall. At the pink palace, Jacques Tati and Federico Fellini were impish dinner guests. Ms. Buck learned to speak French before English, setting Frenchness firmly inside her, as she writes, “as a hunger for rules and form that went unmet in the margins of my family’s fantasy of a beautiful French life.” When a French nanny told her that her Jewish family had killed Jesus Christ, Ms. Buck, just 7, apologized politely.

The Bucks landed in London, where Jules would discover a young Peter O’Toole and arrange to have him cast in “Lawrence of Arabia,” after which the two men formed a film company. Ms. Buck grew up partly in the eccentric households of the Hustons, playing dress-up with Anjelica Huston, a surrogate sister. Jules’s fortunes rose with Mr. O’Toole’s, only to vanish when they had a falling out over “The Ruling Class,” their 1972 film. Hurt and humiliated, Jules was later found to be a manic depressive.

A mod teenager in 1960s London, Ms. Buck dressed in Biba and was a guide to that world for Tom Wolfe, who memorialized her, as a composite character, she said, in a newspaper article that would later appear in his 1968 book of essays, “The Pump House Gang.” When the author wrote her a letter that read, “Come to Rotten Gotham,” she enrolled at Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., but dropped out after 15 months to work as a fashion assistant and book critic for Glamour magazine. She was wary, at first, of sex. “I had an idea that I couldn’t do it until I could make my own living,” Ms. Buck said.

In her book, Ms. Buck gives her sexual guardedness a Marxist interpretation, “a question of ownership,” as she writes. “I belonged to my father until I could earn my own way.” Unsure of her looks, she would nonetheless have love affairs with Donald Sutherland, Eric Rothschild, Jerry Brown and a married European academic with whom she stayed involved for 15 years. Leonard Cohen was an admirer.

Since her teens Ms. Buck has scrupulously noted dialogue in her diaries, which she has saved. “I’d think, ‘Oh, he hasn’t called, did I say the wrong thing?’” she said. “The only way I could get a handle on what had happened every day was to write down what people said, not what I felt.”

Of Mr. Brown, she writes that he told her, “You’re part of this vague elite, you don’t come from anywhere, you don’t represent anything.”

Ms. Buck once worked for Jeanne Moreau as an assistant, and for Guy Bourdin, the French fashion photographer. She met Andy Warhol when she was 22, and he made her the London correspondent for Interview magazine. “I became a slightly plump It Girl,” she writes.

When Ms. Buck and the English writer John Heilpern, now a contributor to Vanity Fair, married in London in the late ’70s, her friend Karl Lagerfeld made her wedding dress; Manolo Blahnik, a friend since they were teenagers, was her attendant. (That dress, a ruffled mauve confection, now lives in the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

After the couple moved to New York in 1979, Ms. Buck wrote “The Only Place to Be,” a novel about “people who wanted to be famous,” she said, though “it was too long and didn’t really have a plot.” Still, it wasn’t badly reviewed, and its publisher, Jason Epstein at Random House, promoted Ms. Buck, to her chagrin, as “the intellectual Judith Krantz.”

When her marriage to Mr. Heilpern ended after five years, Ms. Buck writes, “I’d tried to have a normal life and failed.”

She recalled a fight toward the end of the marriage, when Mr. Heilpern accused her of coming to New York to be a success, and she accused him of wanting to be a failure. “Then he said,” as Ms. Buck remembered, “‘And neither of us got what we wanted.’”

Ms. Huston described Ms. Buck as someone “who combines essences of Coco Chanel and Isabelle Eberhardt” — the cross-dressing, 19th-century Swiss adventuress and author. “She likes potent things,” she added. “I think Joan has a good deal of courage, and often finds herself in rather stringent situations, and maybe she has a taste for that.”

The rehab saga is a fine example. When Ms. Buck checked into the Arizona clinic, the required drug and alcohol tests came back clean. Its director was mystified when Ms. Buck begged to stay. “I have nowhere else to go,” she told her.

Absent a diagnosis, Ms. Buck was put in a room with suicide survivors. Noting that her father was bipolar, she wondered if there was a test for that, too. When those results, from the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory, also came back “normal,” save for “some evidence of paranoia” — Ms. Buck had answered “yes” to the statement, “People are plotting against me” — she signed up for kickboxing, Adult Children of Alcoholics, Sex Addicts Anonymous and Anger Management. While she was there, Mr. Heilpern sent her a clipping from Page Six reporting she had punched her publisher. When Ms. Buck called her lawyer to ask, “Is that legal?” he replied that she was a public figure and had no recourse. Ms. Buck was incredulous: “The editor of French Vogue is a public figure?”

Ms. Buck will tell you she was miscast as its editor, but others will disagree. She upended what had been the magazine’s rather staid coverage, often devoting its pages to single-topic themes, like film, sex and quantum physics. She also nearly doubled its circulation.

“It was the best period of French Vogue,” Mr. Blahnik said.

Ms. Brown said: “To me, she transformed the magazine. I thought she brought a wonderfully intellectual raised eyebrow to the whole thing. It became a magazine that people talked about.”

She added that she was baffled by the rehab tale. “I don’t know why it happened,” Ms. Brown said.

Ms. Buck said that when she asked Mr. Newhouse why he thought she was a drug addict, he told her that he was concerned because she had lost weight, a surprising response from an executive overseeing a Vogue title. (A spokesman for Mr. Newhouse said he wasn’t available for comment.) A story had also circulated about syringes falling out of her purse onto the floor.

In the book, Ms. Buck speculates that the syringe rumor derived from her habit of carrying vials of seawater given to her by a spa and tipping them into drinks, to boost her electrolytes. During the recent Hudson Valley visit, there was much spritzing from a small bottle of lavender and thyme oil, a product she picked up from Catherine Deneuve, and which she pressed into a visitor’s hands as a prophylactic against the germs of other passengers on the train home.

After French Vogue and the rehab stint, Ms. Buck moved to Santa Fe, looking to make a home for her aged father, who had been in her care through much of her time in Paris, though he died before she was able to move him there. (Early in her tenure at French Vogue, her mother had died of lung cancer.)

“She picked up the tradition of the men and women who used to inhabit Santa Fe,” said Richard Buckley, a former editor of Vogue Homme, “the black sheep who didn’t belong anywhere else and could be who they wanted to be there. And she gave pretty good parties. I don’t mean wild parties where people are hanging off the chandeliers, just ones with interesting people. Where else but Joan’s would you meet Tuesday Weld?”