By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
In 1999, Kliger and Lalli began the courtship that would lead to their current estrangement. Kliger had been named president and CEO of Hachette that spring, and he had already told Kennedy to look for new backers. That summer, Lalli, reincarnated as a consultant, talked to Kliger about start-ups and some other roles he might play at Hachette. But after Kennedy's sudden death in July, Kliger saw a marketing opportunity and decided to keep the magazine alive. Several months laterafter interviewing candidates from Jonathan Alter to Harry EvansKliger settled on Lalli as his EIC.
Inside the company, the new hire fueled speculation that Lalli was being groomed to replace Hachette editorial director Jean-Louis Ginibre, who is nearing retirement. But Lalli was apparently "not as secure as he thought," says a Hachette insider. Some scorned Kliger's hiring of Lalli as a "sympathy move," a sentimental gesture to rescue an "over-the-hill" friend who had been kicked out of Time Inc. While Kliger had bought out the Kennedy family's share of George and promised to finance the mag for two years, some insiders "sensed he was calling everyone's bluff" and would only keep it going for one. One source claims that Kliger saw George as a "free PR campaign" that could get his name in the paper.
Furthermore, says one insider, "corporate never signaled" its intention to give Lalli the job of editorial director. Sources point out that Ginibre, who was hospitalized at the time Lalli was hired, is more likely to choose as his successor someone focused on building the brand internationally, such as his deputy, François Vincens. Says Lalli, "I was never misled by anything Jack said to me."
Next week: Throughout 2000, "The warning signs were all there," according to one staffer. "There were not many days when the prospect of George's closing was not imminent."