The Sordid Details

Last Wednesday, the writing was on the wall for Details editor Michael Caruso, when the New York Post's Keith J. Kelly ran a story predicting his demise.

But Caruso was apparently being kept in the dark by his bosses, even as they cast about for his replacement. He called a staff meeting that day, calling the rumors "negative spin" and "a nonstory," according to one person who was present. "The general tone was, 'We're doing great, our numbers are up, uptown says they're happy with me and let's crush Maxim, rah, rah!' "

Why was Maxim his enemy? Not just because it's the men's magazine of the moment. (Maxim picked up 200,000 readers in the last six months, bringing its total rate base to 650,000— compared to Details's 525,000.) And not just because last fall, Condé Nast editorial director James Truman nudged Caruso to copy Maxim's bikini- clad cover girls.

In fact, the scent of Maxim was right under Caruso's nose: Truman was about to dump him for Maxim editor-in-chief Mark Golin. By Friday, several gossip columnists had received calls saying that Caruso was "a dead man walking," and Golin had begun negotiations for his new job.

According to several Caruso confidants, he believed his job was secure because Details's newsstand sales were way up, with the December issue selling 205,000, 20 percent higher than December 1997. But according to Monday's New York Post, Caruso only gained 50,000 readers in almost two years— small change compared to Maxim's leap of 400,000 in 1998 alone.

Over the weekend, Caruso was in Los Angeles making arrangements to launch the April issue, which is devoted to Hollywood. He flew back on Sunday night, and was summoned to Condé Nast headquarters at 350 Madison Monday morning. There, Truman and Condé Nast CEO Steve Florio informed him that he was out of a job. That afternoon, Caruso called a staff meeting in the Details office downtown. "He starts with a joke," recalled one attendee. "He says, 'The good news is, I can keep the juke box.' " (Caruso kept an old Wurlitzer in his office.)

As he defended his product and thanked the staff, two women began to cry. But at that moment, neither Caruso nor his staff knew the name of his replacement. Later, two staffers said they were stunned it was Mark Golin, because Caruso had been assured that Condé Nast did not want to clone Maxim. Said one, "It's amazing that they would just eat the competition like that."

Golin sees it differently. "If I were going to do Maxim, I would stay at Maxim," he says. But before he starts his new job, Golin has some other details to work out. As of Monday, he was still under contract with Maxim until the end of April.

Caruso could not be reached for comment.

Sugar's on Top

Bert Sugar is perched on a bar stool, wearing his trademark fedora. The man is a ubiquitous boxing commentator, author of dozens of books, editor of Fight Game magazine— and the last of a dying breed. Today, the lanky old fart is explaining how he came to write what he calls "the seminal book on wrestling."

"It's a missing culture," Sugar says, waving a cigar in one hand and a drink in the other. "Most media don't want to cover pro wrestling because it's choreographed. But to me, wrestling is a wonderful spectacle."

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Pro Wrestling was published by Macmillan last month. But Sugar, now 62, got his first taste of wrestling in Washington, D.C., in the 1940s. He recalls listening to a morning talk show when the host said a sports question was coming up. "All I remember is, the answer was 'Jim Thorpe', and I won two tickets to a wrestling bout." The match featured boxing champ Primo Carnera and Gorgeous George at the Uline Arena downtown. But Sugar didn't have a way to get there on a school night, so he invited his mother.

"Mom thinks Primo Carnera is still the heavyweight champion," he recalls, "so she gets her furs out of storage. She gets a limousine and we go to this bout and I'm in heaven." The god of the moment was Gorgeous George, a college-trained wrestler who wore long blond hair and a fur-trimmed robe. "When I saw him enter the ring with a valet spraying the corners with a flip can, I just thought he was wonderful. This was showmanship. This was every-girl's-got-to-have-a-gimmick!"

In his book, Sugar cites the rise of Gorgeous George as the exact turning point between the early days of the sport ("when the whole essence of wrestling was the promoter trying to skim and scam the locals") and its postmodern incarnation as a tournament for chanting fans who are all in on the joke— but pretend not to be.

"With his bobby pins and his bleached hair, Gorgeous George became the progenitor of most of the performing we see in sports today," Sugar proclaims, rattling the ice in his glass. "I can't see a dance in an end zone without thinking, 'That was Gorgeous George.' He changed wrestling into the spectacle that it is."

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