That British GQ Story About Elaine Is Indeed a Nasty Piece of Work


That British GQ story about Elaine Kaufman — the one in which writer Michael Wolff remembers the late restaurateur as a “Toscanini of crassness” — is now online. As promised, it is a nasty read. But it also says as much about its writer’s failings as Kaufman’s.

Wolff spends much of the piece criticizing Kaufman mainly for looking like Elaine Kaufman. “She would slog through her restaurant,” he writes, “like a punch-drunk prizefighter, or a low-class madam, or a public-house wench vastly past her prime … and, given her size, taking up far more space than the front room in her narrow establishment could afford.”

As well as being a fatty, she was a “loud, stupid, uncomprehending woman,” “grotesque,” a “freak show,” an “odd amusement,” and “gross.” Given that this is GQ, of course, it’s unsurprising that Kaufman would be lambasted for committing the sin of not being the kind of woman who could appear half-naked in the magazine’s pages. It’s also depressing.

Kaufman, of course, made plenty of enemies during her time, and certainly wasn’t a saint. But from most accounts she wasn’t a coward, and if there’s one way to describe waiting until someone dies to write nasty things about them for a handsome fee, it’s cowardly. It would also be easier to take the story seriously if Wolff himself wasn’t renowned as one of the most ill-mannered men in journalism (full disclosure: we used to fact-check his stories); Wolff accusing Kaufman of rudeness is a bit like Muammar Gaddafi accusing Idi Amin of insensitivity. Some might argue that Kaufman got the writer that she deserved, but others might argue that long-standing personal grudges should be inscribed on bathroom walls rather than in the pages of major magazines.

[Via Grub Street]