When Harry Wed Tina: Ben Bradlee Hid a Tape Recorder in the Bushes

Sally Quinn, Ben Bradlee, Harry Evans, Tina Brown.

From the book, My Paper Chase, by Harry Evans. A longtime British editor, Evans moved to the United States in 1984 and edited The Atlantic Monthly Press and then U.S. News & World Report. In 1986 he was the founding editor of  Conde Nast Traveler and from 1990 to 1997 publisher of the Random House trade group.

In 1968, when Ben Bradlee took over the editorship of the Washington Post, I’d been editing the Sunday Times [of London] for a year, so we got together to compare notes and become friends. Later on, the timing in our personal lives was the same. He fell in love and made a second marriage with his paper’s intrepid and glamorous young Style writer, Sally Quinn.

I’d been amicably divorced for some time from Enid. Bradlee thought I was being much too slow about popping the question to Tina, which I was, largely because I feared she wouldn’t say yes. “What are you waiting for, Evans? She’ll get away!”

I seized a moment on a short vacation we took to Cape Cod in August 1981. She was under the weather, so I said it would be prudent to have a blood test, without mentioning that a blood test was required for marriage. Sweetly, she fell for it. Then I popped the question. With our legendary impatience, we decided to do it immediately. I called my coconspirator Bradlee, and he suggested a perfect site for the Brown-Evans civil marriage at the end of that week.

The Bradlees had just finished restoring the near-derelict Grey Gardens, the shingled beauty of a house near Georgica Pond in East Hampton on Long Island which had been the fabled retreat of Phelan and Edith Bouvier Beale, uncle and aunt of Jacqueline Onassis Kennedy. At a day’s notice, a number of close friends managed to make it to Grey Gardens. Tony Holden, the former Sunday Times journalist; Mortimer Zuckerman, the real estate tycoon with whom I’d become friends when he’d come to London two years back to ask me to edit his first media acquisition, the Atlantic; journalist Marie Brenner; critic John Heilpern; essayist Nora Ephron; and Sunday Times New York correspondent David Blundy, with his daughter Anna, who was maid of honor.

Bradlee was the best man. He hid a tape recorder in the bushes so that Handel could join us as Tony Holden walked the bride through the bougainvillea and the presiding judge pronounced us man and wife. After champagne and cake, we drove into Manhattan for a honeymoon—all of one night at the Algonquin. In a simultaneous moment of panic at what we’d done, we exchanged promises that we could part at any time simply by returning a signed piece of paper. The next day Tina had to go back to London to her job editing Tattler magazine. I had to meet Henry Kissinger at the Rockefeller family estate in Pocantico Hills, New York, where I was editing the second volume of his White House years.

Two years later we were back in America for good.

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