Like an increasing number of Yalies, this spring break I pursued an externship. I sported a skirt and a security pass and spent the week in New York City at People Magazine. There I shadowed Anne-Marie Cruz ’95, a reporter who writes the Star Tracks and Chatter pages. Here’s a brief account of the glitz, the glamour, and the laborious fact-checking that is the magazine biz.
Monday: People Office
9 a.m.: I arrive at the Time & Life building, look way, way up and get that vertigo feeling. Inside, I pick up my week pass and meet my sponsor, Anne-Marie. In the elevator up, my ears pop from the altitude. I notice a group of women, impeccably dressed. The Impeccably Dressed Women get off on the 26th floor — InStyle Magazine. Ah. Anne-Marie and I continue till the 31st floor. There, she leads a tour of the floor: offices, conference rooms with stunning views of the New York skyline, a well-stocked kitchen, and finally my office. That’s right, my office. (OK, well, the actual occupant is away for the week. But we can pretend.)
10 a.m.: Mail arrives. A pile of magazines — People Weekly, Sports Illustrated, Time, Martha Stewart, Entertainment Weekly, InStyle — is dumped into my lap. Glossy-paged heaven. Anne-Marie pops by with my first assignment. I’m to explore the “research library” and search for People’s funny quote of the week. The “research library” is a large, computer-laden room stocked floor to ceiling with magazines and newspapers. My mission: skim news headlines but pore over the arts sections. No sweat, that’s how I read papers anyway.
11 a.m.: Photo layout meeting. In a swanky conference room, I join the cluster of reporters and executive editors who choose photos for the Star Tracks spread. Apparently the photo lady gets inundated every Friday with 9,000 paparazzi photos, wades through them all weekend and chooses the best 100. From those, she selects 10 to show the editor.
Tuesday: People Office
3 p.m.: Phone interview with Serena Williams about toothpaste. Serena’s the “New Face” of Close-Up toothpaste. I’m supposed to ask as many toothpaste-related questions as I can fathom. I’m hooked up to a phone-tape recorder contraption and wait, feeling oddly nervous, having just lost the ability to speak. I scan the list of suggested questions: What is your favorite toothpaste flavor? Did you and Venus ever get in toothpaste fights as kids? The phone rings and my voice magically returns. The interview proceeds without a hitch. Facts learned: Serena’s favorite toothpaste flavor is Close-Up (no surprise there). No, she did not get in toothpaste fights with Venus. No, she does not believe in the tooth fairy. And finally, the beauty product she keeps in her racquet bag is, surprise, surprise, a tube of Close-Up toothpaste.
9 p.m.: The magazine closes on Tuesday nights, which means reporters meticulously fact-check captions for spelling and content mistakes. So when I’m fact-checking a caption for a Brad Pitt photo, I have to confirm with 3 sources that Pitt is spelled P-I-T-T. No joke. This goes on for hours.
Wednesday: HBO Movie Premiere.
6 p.m.: I follow Laura Downey, another reporter, to the premiere of “Normal,” an HBO film starring Jessica Lange and Tom Wilkinson. We flash badges at security and are led across the red carpet. Inside, we join other photographers and media behind a red velvet divider rope where we practice our questions. I’m instructed to interview any and all minor celebrities that walk by. “Ask them about fashion and pets. We love fashion disaster stories and pet anecdotes.”
6:30 p.m.: No limos in sight, and the reporters are getting antsy. The guy from Extra! tries to cover his massive pit stains and walks around nervously, constantly clearing his throat. Finally, minor celebrities begin to seep in. Camera lights flick on and the place is ablaze with light. Kim Cattrall makes a catty entrance and Laura nudges me. I inquire about her most embarrassing fashion moment. Surprisingly, she takes me seriously and bemoans last year’s Golden Globes when her dress strap snapped and she had to get it repaired in the bathroom. In a stroke of genius, I ask if she considers herself the “sexiest in the city.” She laughs, says no, and thinks that New York is the sexiest “because it’s open 24/7.”
Jessica Lange finally enters, and the press starts shouting, “Jessica! Jessica!” Laura does too, and we get our minute with her. She discusses her role and what it was like seeing Tom Wilkinson dressed as a woman — the film is, after all, about a man undergoing a sex change operation.
After the interviews, we’re handed screening passes and ushered upstairs to the theater. On our way up we see Jessica Lange discreetly leaving her own screening — guess she can’t bear to see herself on the big screen. The theater’s packed and the film is clearly made-for-TV. But there’s free popcorn and Coke, so I’m happy.
Thursday: The Regency Hotel
Today’s the much-awaited one-on-one interview with Sigourney Weaver. I leave the office with Laura and we rush onto the subway. When we realize we’re on a southbound train, we get off and decide to walk the 16 blocks to the Regency (Sigourney’s hotel). Her publicist calls — we’re late. We start to jog. It starts to rain. Traffic is crazy and loud. Finally we get to the hotel drenched and breathless. We slip into the elevator and get off on the second floor. Sigourney Weaver and entourage are nowhere in sight. Ten minutes of anxious inquiry leads us to the 19th floor where we’re greeted by Sigourney herself. She’s stunning, poised and articulate. And man, she’s tall. Five feet 11 inches in flat shoes. We’re ushered into a hotel room and questioning begins. Laura asks most of the questions about her new film project (“The Guys”), her adolescent daughter, and her dog’s wedding, complete with prenuptial agreement. I ask what she thinks of this year’s acting roles for women. She thinks it’s been a great year with meaty roles. I ask if a female director will ever win an Oscar. She thinks yes, that it’s no longer a gentleman’s club.
Friday: People Office
It’s my last day on the job, and I spend it transcribing interviews and researching (read: reading more magazines). I pass my last hour with Anne-Marie, recounting the week’s events and eating Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans. I can’t stomach the “vomit” flavor, but the “dirt” flavor is amazing — it actually tastes like dirt. I sadly leave the office to catch my flight home to Canada. I exit the building feeling exhausted but exhilarated. I cross 7th Avenue to my subway stop, glancing left and taking in Times Square. The lights, the sounds, the eternal energy. I love, love New York.
What I didn’t get out of spring break: a rest or a tan.
What I did get: A rare and amazing understanding of how the magazine biz works, some wonderful new friends and contacts, and even one of my Kim Cattrall quotes published in this week’s People. Oh, and a whole pile of magazines to read on the plane.