Thursday, August 7, 2008

We're all Jane Friedmans

It's not quite as powerful as General MacArthur's pronouncement "I'll shall return" after retreating from the Philippine islands during World War II, but Jane Friedman, the recently deposed former CEO of Harper Collins, told a party of well wishers in New York last night:

"This is my transition party...This is my transition party."

On reflection, it sounds more like something a diplomat of the British empire might say during their own farewell party, after being told they were to be shipped back home for having fraternized too closely with the natives.

In some ways this was always true of Jane. She was, for CEO of a global publishing company, approachable, accessible even. Perhaps it was the fact that she started out in publicity (at Knopf) and never lost the touch. Her career path was a lot like an enlisted man getting promoted into the officer corp and then turned into a general. It doesn't happen all that often and only after fighting more than a few battles. Let's just say Friedman was no armchair general. (Of course, sometimes, she couldn't control her adjutants -- Judith Regan anyone?)

The last time I saw Friedman it was just two days before she was pushed. She was hosting a party on the Fox Studio lot in Los Angeles and, flanked by the two men who subsequently became #1 and #2 at the company, was shaking hands with well wishers as they made their way up a red carpet lined with a phalanx of gossips, photos and journos direct from Fox central casting. And though the party was itself studded with minor celebs who were Harper authors -- Kevin Nealon, Jamie Lee Curtis, "adult" film star Ron Jeremy (who was enthusing about the book "Marley & Me") -- it was clear who the Queen was that night, even if the remainder of her reign was short.

I'm struck by one detail from her "transition party" in New York last night. Everyone, it seems, was issued an Jane Friedman mask to wear as she entered the party. I can just visualize the scene -- a who's-who of New York publishing all donning Jane's face in sympathy. It was as if the crowd was itself acknowledging "We're all Jane Friedmans" and none of us are safe.

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