I knew Bonnie Fuller at one of her low moments–very low, in fact. She had been dumped as editor-in-chief of Glamour by Conde Nast, and, as she says in her new book, with its long, long, long title The Joys of Much Too Much: Go For the Big Life–The Great Career, The Perfect Guy and Everything Else You’ve Ever Wanted (Even If You Are Afraid You Don’t Have What It Takes), she wondered if she would ever be hired again.
She had reason to worry. Bonnie, who describes herself in the book as a “geeky Canadian Jewish girl from a dysfunctional family” with “bad hair ” and “adult acne,” had in a few short years turned herself into the most buzzed-about–and highest paid–women’s magazine editor in New York. Climbing relentlessly up and up, she went from editor-in-chief of a teen-magazine called YM to replacing Helen Gurley Brown at Hearst’s flagship Cosmopolitan, boosting circulation and dumbing-down editorial along the way.
Then she jumped to Glamour, Cosmo’s direct competitor–not, as it turned out, such an astute move. At Conde Nast she dared to tangle with Anna Wintour, Vogue’s own Cruella De Vil, and even talked to Hearst about bouncing back as editor of their Harper’s Bazaar. Conde Nast was not amused and cut her loose at the end of her rich contract. Hearst remained chilly because of her earlier slap-in-the-face defection.
When she worked for me–just for a few months–Bonnie helped to create a prototype of a home decorating magazine called Living Room, a project which, as she says in her book, she had been “thinking about for years.” I seem to recall Living Room was a magazine the company had already been working on, and wanted to re-focus–but in her book, Bonnie often seems to see things her way.
At her low point, when we worked together, I did find her professional, hard-working, and totally convinced that good magazine editors, especially herself, deserved seven figure salaries and lots of perks. I may have agreed that was a swell idea, but the company we were working for thought otherwise.
Bonnie’s book, crammed with how-to advice, is written in a perky girlfriend-to-girlfriend manner. There are lots of bullet-marked suggestions like “Cancel That Guilt Trip” and “Jump-Start Your Own Life,” as well as sidebars full of tips, such as “Always keep a thong in your desk drawer to avoid the dreaded ‘Visible Panty Line.’” But her style as a boss, it is alleged, was never as friendly. In fact, in the magazine world, tales of her rudeness and imperiousness are legion. It is said she tends to keep staffers waiting hours for her okay on copy while she is off exercising. One of the suggestions in her book is “Be a Good Listener,” but staffers say she can cut off conversation with a curt “Stop talking.” For a while, disgruntled former staffers even started an “I Survived Bonnie Fuller” website full of such anecdotes.
In the book she also declares “Show Loyalty to Your Boss,” but Bonnie has jumped from one magazine to its competitor, not once, but twice. After her brief low-key stint with me, she went to Jann Wenner’s struggling US Magazine and really did turn it around. In just a few months, she helped create the whole-new multimillion-dollar category of celebrity weeklies. She does have great instincts. And yes, blame her for Bennifer, Brangelina and wall-to-wall coverage of Britney Spears.
But then she left US Magazine, moving on to bigger bucks–and, as it turned out, bigger problems–trying to turn the trashy tabloid The Star into another version of US. In the book she talks a lot about the success of The Star (which many question) and another magazine she recently created on the same theme called Celebrity Living. Unfortunately, Celebrity Living closed last week.
What is most interesting about The Joys of Much Too Much is how oddly old-fashioned it is. While Bonnie was always brought to magazines to rev them up and make them more contemporary, her slight self-help tome could have been written in the late 1970s, when women were encouraged to do it all to have it all.
She is very critical of women nowadays who want to simplify their lives, and even more critical of the new and successful magazines that tell them how. And she seems unable to understand that a lot of women would not think her description of her day–”I’m usually up at 6:15 A.M. and out the door by 7 A.M. so my husband gives the kids breakfast, One of us arranges to be home by 7 P.M. most nights. We never take business trips at the same time“–is exactly the picture of a joyful family life.
Bonnie has had her share of rough times. Two of her four children have been seriously ill, and I’m sure that being gossiped about continually has not been easy. But her book is a very shallow take on her own life and what she’s supposed to have learned. So, in The Joys of Much Too Much you really end up with very little.
–Myrna Blyth, former long-time editor of Ladies’ Home Journal and founding editor of More, is author of Spin Sisters: How the Women of the Media Sell Unhappiness–and Liberalism–to the Women of America. Blyth is also an NRO contributor.