When Writers Are Lost in Space

The Karl Lagerfeld obits in the New York Times and Washington Post both had the great line, “I’m very much down to earth. Just not this earth.”

I loved the line because it captured a few writers I worked with.

The most expensive example was the man who wrote a tell-all piece about Jack Kent Cooke, the late owner of the Washington Redskins. He had been Cooke’s driver before he got fired and we helped him write a piece describing what it was like to work for the rich and mercurial Cooke.

After the story was published, Cooke sued the Washingtonian, alleging that we shouldn’t have published the story because the driver had once said he had been abducted by space aliens and taken to Alpha Centuri, a star four light years away from the earth.

On the advice of counsel and an angry publisher, we were able to settle the case but only after Cooke made us spend many thousands in legal fees plus a $50,000 payment to charity and an apology in the magazine.

It wasn’t the only time that the magazine’s editors, talking about what it was like to work with a writer, suggested that the writer didn’t seem entirely earthbound. Maybe writers say the same about some editors.



  1. Barnard Collier says

    Hunter Thompson.

    He was the Robin Williams of print.

    He was a string in South America for the New York Herald Tribune when I was the Trib’s Latin America correspondent. He made it his business to know what was going on by taking an active personal part in the situations he covered. He quite literally loved the effects of chemicals on the human mind and body. He was in his antics made him at times seemed to be that of a lost alien from someplace like Mork.

    One night, when he paid a rare visit to his desk in the back of the Trib newsroom, he gave me a hand written chart he’d drawn of how the moods he wished to create in a story matched up with the drug or drugs he believed enhanced that mood.

    If I still had that chart I’d go on Antiques Roadshow with it for the appraisal but I wouldn’t sell it.

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