A combination of earlier magazine work and new blog posts

The Princess and the Editor

Tina Brown’s new book, The Diana Chronicles, documents not only the life and death of England’s most beloved royal but also the evolution of celebrity culture itself.

August 31st will be the 10th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana. It will be marked, in part, by a slew of new books on Di hitting stores. But the one that has created the most buzz is The Diana Chronicles by Tina Brown (Doubleday, $27.50). The British-born magazine editor ran Tatler before taking over a moribund Vanity Fair, increasing its monthly circulation from an anemic 200,000 to more than one million. (Among other triumphs, Tina was the one who put a naked, seven-months-pregnant Demi Moore on the cover-an iconic image that has been copied dozens of times since, but never as well.) Then, after making Vanity Fair the hot mag of the moment, she took control of the venerable New Yorker. Founded in 1925 and an institution of literary achievement, it nevertheless was foundering by the early 1990s. Tina turned the magazine around, making it readable, lively and timely, and in the process took its circulation from a weekly 175,000 to 1.1 million, the largest increase in magazine history. During her time at Conde Nast, Tina cultivated writers who went on to luminous careers, including Dominick Dunne, Jeffrey Toobin, Lawrence Wright, Connie Bruck, Maureen Orth, Sidney Blumenthal,

Ken Auletta and Adam Gopnik, and also tapped into established authors such as John Updike and Norman Mailer. (David Remnick, one of her early writers at The New Yorker, now runs that magazine.) And Tina also knew how to corral the best photographers, from Annie Leibovitz to

Herb Ritts and Helmut Newton.

In August 1999, with partners Harvey and Bob Weinstein, the owners of Miramax Films, she launched her own magazine, Talk, a general interest monthly. My husband, Gerald, had written for Tina at Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. Now he had a broad investigative article on the death of Princess Di for Talk’s premiere issue. And we were both there when the magazine had its opulent launch party – a multimillion-dollar extravaganza for which Tina took over Liberty Island-loaded with celebrities, politicians, business tycoons and literary giants. The fireworks display rivaled New York’s annual Fourth of July spectacle.

When the Weinsteins pulled the plug on Talk after two years of enormous distribution but no profits, Tina went on to host her own CNBC talk show before taking a leave of absence to write The Diana Chronicles, for which she received a seven-figure advance. Ocean Drive is one of a small handful of publications that had an advance peek at the book before it was published last month.

Tina was in South Beach recently, and Gerald and I joined her for dinner. We were surprised to learn the woman-who was awarded CBE (Commander of the British Empire) from the Queen of England and is married to the legendary newspaper and book editor Sir Harold Evans-had never been to Miami. She was in for a weekend visit with her 21-year-old son, George, and staying at the Delano, the hotel that had been owned by her very close friend Ian Schrager. But then it seems everyone is a close Tina friend. When former British Prime Minister Tony Blair visits New York, he stops at Tina and Harry’s East Side home for dinner. Bill Clinton stops by for drinks. Norman Mailer takes the kids out for a play day.

So, between lots of sushi, sake and wine, we had a chance to catch up with what is happening in Tina’s world, aside from the fact that she looked as great as when we saw her a few years ago (she has always been a mix of Princess Di and Diane Sawyer, and with a super brain to go with it). Our wide-ranging conversation covered everything from her book to what was new in her life to our celebrity- obsessed culture. She is never without a strong opinion: Her willful nature got her expelled-”for insubordination,” as she calls it-from three English boarding schools before she finally settled in at Oxford. And we also learned some new personal info.

Her father was a prominent figure in the British film industry, producing the first Agatha Christie mystery films (he had briefly been the first husband of actress Maureen O’Hara). And Tina’s mother was the personal assistant to actor Laurence Olivier before becoming a hugely successful columnist-”she was the Maureen Dowd of her generation,” says Tina.

And while few people think of Tina as anything other than an iconic editor, early in her career she was an award-winning journalist who worked at both The Times of London and the Telegraph, and had a regular column at Punch, the esteemed magazine of humor and satire. Now her career had seemed to come full circle, as she returned to her writing and journalistic skills with her Princess Di book.

“The favorite part of the book for me was reporting, I just love that,” she told us at China Grill. “I always loved it and missed it enormously as an editor. I love going down a rabbit hole and into that tunnel, having it take you somewhere you didn’t expect. Once I got into the real swing of it, and found my voice, then I was excited. It took about three months until I felt it was right.”

Why Diana, I asked her? “Well, I had all this material since I was at Tatler, the 10th anniversary was coming up, and everyone has two or three books they want to do, and it was now or never to do this one. I also liked the idea of exploring London society and how it crossed with celebrities. It’s as much about celebrity culture as it is about Diana herself.”

Was the book more difficult than expected? “I did enjoy some of the writing, and about halfway through, you realize there is a real book there and you just want to finish it. Harry and I stayed in Quogue [their country home on Long Island) and declined every invitation from October to January. You can't even go for a drink. I didn't get dressed for three months."

So what about Diana herself? Tina had once said that when she initially met Di for lunch she thought the Princess was a little too tall and a tad too blonde. Although she was far too kind to say so, those of us who knew Tina gained the distinct impression that she thought Di clever and calculating, but not the brightest bulb on the chandelier.

"Actually, I've finished this book liking her a lot more than I expected to," Tina told me. "She was a deeply flawed individual, but what she was up against was so much more formidable, and she got an extremely bad deal from the royal family. But she would not back off. I really came to admire her very much. She refused to go under and decided instead to fight. At times, she could be melodramatic or immature and she fought with whatever weapons she had, and those were her image and the media. She became a really quite important figure in the end."

Diana came from an aristocratic family and knew the rules of the game, even though she was only 20 when she married the British heir to the throne, Prince Charles.

"The royals completely underestimated her, in part because she had an academic transcript the size of a postage stamp," said Tina. "But she had a tremendous media savvy, and street smarts. She learned so fast how to make the media work for her."

Many of us related to Princess Di precisely because she wasn't perfect. She complained about her loveless marriage in a BBC television interview, an airing of royal dirt that was considered scandalous at the time. She had affairs with everyone from an army officer to an Indian doctor. She suffered from bulimia. Diana might have been set to become the next Queen of England, but she was battling her own demons. Still, at the same time, she was the first royal to hold an AIDS baby, she went to Africa to help fight leprosy, and she made the removal of land mines her own personal campaign. That sense of compassion made her far more than a stick figure in a diamond tiara.

"She had a unique gift for connection," Tina told me. "On a global screen it was magnified. It was like the Pope's. But she was also in many ways a girl who was always going to be a fragile thoroughbred. If she had not married into the royal family, she would have had a house in the country, a flat in London, two kids, a life just like her sisters."

It seemed to me that much of the problem in the Di and Charles marriage was that they had not married for love, but rather because Di could pass the elitist society standards set by the royals and also be a virgin capable of producing an heir to the throne.

"No, Trisha, I don't actually think that is right," Tina said. 'They shouldn't marry for love. The best thing someone like Prince William can do is to marry a simple plain duchess. If you are pretty, you are like Di, and that is the problem that came up with Kate Middleton [William's last girlfriend]. She was a pinup royal. It is the pressure of our celebrity culture. She couldn’t take it, it was frightening for her. This type of pressure can make you go off the wall-look at what happened to Lindsay Lohan.”

From Tina’s research, it was only near the end of Di’s life that she realized how much Charles actually meant to her. “She would have gone back to Charles in a heartbeat,” said Tina, “if he had wanted her. She finally came to understand her role. If he had met her at 30, she might have even been able to deal with the Camilla thing.” And Charles thought Di was a wonderful mother, even though they had little in common. She had zero interest in pheasant hunting or his organic gardening, and he hated the limelight and the paparazzi-packed openings that she relished.

“She did not want to blow up the monarchy,” Tina said. “She did not want a republic, and she very much wanted William-who is as traditional as his father-to one day be king. She would not have been happy that William and Harry are out boozing every night. I mean, that’s how they lived during Henry VIII. She would have put a stop to that. In the end, William is his father’s son: He is a Windsor, and not a Spencer.”

So The Diana Chronicles is on its way to being a major best seller (note: when it was published it spent several months on the New York Times bestseller list). What is next for the iconic editor and writer? Another book?

“I would want to start up a national magazine,” she said, ” but it takes five years, a tremendously hazardous business unless you have enormous big- company backing. The media is so relentless about profits and making them fast. I am a great believer in magazines, but there is no magazine I want to edit right now. I would if there was one, but not one I see.”

Tina’s obviously an ambitious woman, but her family is as central to her life as her career. “I cannot imagine a better husband than Harry,” she told me. She met him while free-lancing for the London Times’ style section when he was the paper’s editor.

“Not every man wants a woman so strong,” she said, “but he doesn’t feel any threat. He loves strong women, and he is not worried about his ego being challenged. I can completely focus because Harry is always there, and he is a huge mentor, a great critic-and he was fantastic on my book. He gives me tremendous confidence. My two children also play a great role, huge, a great thread. My daughter and I are best friends.”

Tina stared away for a moment. Normally she is rapid-fire with her answers. “I’m thinking about what you asked,” she said, “about what’s next. My skill sets don’t have to be print. I would just like one crack at running something that would bring me together with all the great talent that I have access to-so many things I want to do and say. Another venture could be TV or movies, or producing good plays.”

Run a Hollywood studio? “Sure, I’d be open to anything creative.”

Then, just as fast as she touched on her dream careers, she was back to The Diana Chronicles. “It is more than just a book about Diana; it’s also a book about England in the ’80s and ’90s. Celebrity culture has only gotten bigger. Electronic convergence creates a perfect storm-it makes fast careers, people going up very quickly and then down very fast. This is the story of all of it.”

Florida Glamour and a Miami Beach star derm

“Her New Book Promises to Change How Your Skin Looks”

Until now, the most famous person born in the tiny northwest Texas town of Lubbock was recording artist Buddy Holly. That might change in the next month or so as another Lubbock native-Miami Beach star dermatologist Leslie Baumann-launches her revolutionary book The Skin Type Solution: A Revolutionary Guide to Your Best Skin Ever. Purchased a year ago by Random House, Baumann’s book already has hundreds of thousands of advance orders-well on its way to instant bestseller status-and her promotion of it, from Good Morning America to just about every national talk show, will likely make her a familiar household name by this summer. Move aside, Buddy Holly.

Baumann took some time out from her crammed prepublication schedule to sit down with us in her sprawling 9,000-square-foot top-floor spread in the Miami Heart Institute, a year-old setup with unobstructed views of Miami Beach, Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The first thing that strikes you upon meeting Baumann is the impression that it isn’t possible she’s the doctor who has achieved all the things listed in her multipage curriculum vitae: She designed and created the University of Miami Cosmetic Center in 1997, the only university-run clinic in the United States devoted to researching cutting- edge cosmetic procedures. She has been quoted numerous times in magazine such as Allure, 0, Elle, Vogue and Good Housekeeping, as well as newspapers such as The New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Los Angeles Times. And in addition to her research work-her worldwide travel schedule to speak at pharmaceutical conferences guarantees platinum mileage-award levels-her patient practice has been so busy that she has refused to take new clients for two years (her center has other doctors and a small army of nurses and assistants). And the reason it’s difficult to imagine that the Leslie Baumann you’ve just met is the one who has accomplished all of those things is that this 38-year-old woman seems more like 25: Her high-pitched, little girl’s voice is a

Leslie Baumann will likely be a familiar household name by this summer.

cross between Melanie Griffith and Marilyn Monroe, and her flawless skin doesn’t have a wrinkle or sunspot on it.

But it doesn’t take long to figure out that behind the little-girl countenance is a serious brain committed to her career and profession. Despite growing up in a family of lawyers, she wrote a letter to her grandmother while in second grade declaring she wanted to be a pediatrician. By college, she had opted for dermatology. In medical school she met her husband, Roger, a third-generation Miami Beach native whose grandfather, Leonard Wein, was one of the founders of Capital Bank and Mount Sinai Hospital. The high- energy Leslie-who calls her husband her “mellow leveler -converted to Judaism when they married, and the couple is now raising both of their sons Jewish.

When it was time to do her residency in 1994 she wanted to come to Miami, since it was her husband’s town and had one of the best dermatology programs in the country. Six-hundred applicants applied for six spots, and Leslie nabbed one. The university encouraged her to do her research and work there, and she accepted.”‘ became the first person to have a role like that with a university,” she says. Baumann considered herself a trailblazer in much the way that her three role models-Elizabeth Arden, Helena Rubinstein and Estee Lauder-had been in their lives.

While she built up a client list, Baumann paid the bills by doing research. At the time, pharmaceutical giant Allergan was doing trials on Botox. “Allergan sent me around Asia to teach doctors how to use Botox,” she recalls. “When I grew up, Dallas was the biggest city near Lubbock. So I just loved the travel.”

Word soon spread that there was a new rigorous center for testing. “We were swamped with trials and soon were busy with patients,” she says. Today, the university’s cosmetic center is the biggest in the country, just ahead of its counterpart at New York University. Just 21 residents are accepted annually. ‘We do it all, the toxin trials, the creams, the fillers. We apply stringent FDA levels to raise the bar on the cosmetic companies. We refuse to lie about the results. A trial can be manipulated, but we wouldn’t do it. Early on we met resistance, but we wouldn’t budge, and now they have all come around to us on our terms.”

By 2001, her practice was booming-despite her reputation as Dr. No, a-doctor who routinely refused requests from patients whom she felt wanted too many or unnecessary procedures. “My patients are my calling card,” she told us. “I don’t want people thinking my work is anything but the best.” She was known as Dr. No for refusing patients who wanted too much work done.

While pregnant with her second child, she wrote a textbook-the $150 book has sold 4,000 copies, a respectable number in the academic field. Still, she felt there was another book to write, a more commercial one, but she wasn’t sure what it was. A column she wrote for Skin & Allergy News was a nice outlet but didn’t satisfy her desire to write something more substantive.

Fortunately, work experiences pushed her in the right direction. “Some people were just coming in for consultations on skin care, and I would have to ask all these questions before deciding what skin type they had and what ingredients would work best. So I did a preprinted handout for them to fill in. Patients loved it.” Baumann’s catalogue of skin types grew from four to 16. She then gave 500 of her patients an expanded questionnaire, and through their feedback, developed a 64-question form. “Around this-time, I thought maybe I should put this all into a book.’

A mutual friend put Leslie in contact with Arthur “South Beach Diet” Agatston, who recommended his agent. In 2004, New York publishers-eyeing the book as the next health-related South Beach phenomenon-began jockeying for the rights. The result Random House’s Bantam Dell division paid a more than $1 million advance, a staggering sum for a first- time commercial author.

The Skin Type Solution tries to take the chaos out of skin care and to rescue those who feel overwhelmed by the hundreds of choices they are confronted with in Sephora or a department store. The book is designed for all age groups, and everyone takes the skin-type questionnaire. Then, based on what type you have, Baumann tells you which products to use and which to avoid. “I want to be the Consumer Reports of the cosmetics industry,” Baumann tells us.

So how does she balance, being a leading national dermatologist, a wife, a mother and a soon-to-be best-selling author? “For me, life is like juggling. Each part of life is a ball-husband, kids, boss. People make a mistake and assume that all the balls have to be up at the same time. But it is just that no ball can hit the ground, and I am focused on not letting anything hit the ground.”

Nonetheless, it all still seems a bit unreal to Baumann. “I just wanted to have something to hand to my patients, and it is so crazy, I ended up with this book. I am so totally excited.” But Baumann knows there is more to her career than rolling back years for patients and selling The Skin Type Solution. “I want to contribute something to the dermatology world. I want to do something that matters in the cosmetic derm world other than just filling wrinkles. I am not curing cancer. I want to find something that fills that part of me. With the book, I am empowering women to be able to make their own decisions and not believe all the marketing B.S. out there. In the end, you can’t be too motivated by money. I earn one-fifth in academic medicine compared to what I would earn in private practice. But I love my job and what I am doing.” A full professor at the University of Miami, she is now trying to raise $2 million to endow the Leslie Baumann Chair, a permanent position for cosmetic dermatology at the university.

“I am passionate in life, whether it’s my kids, my husband or my work. And I’m young, so I’m excited about things I’m going to do in my career that aren’t even on the radar yet. I want to be on the cutting edge all the time.” Baumann likes to operate on 10 year plans, and since she opened her clinic in 1997, it means she is nearing the end of her previous big life plan. “I haven’t done my next 10-year plan yet,” she says with her infectious smile. “You’ll just have to be patient and see what happens next.”

The Skin Type Solution is the cutting edge now. Where Leslie takes it in the future is anyone’s guess.

Real Time in Miami

This month, outspoken HBO political commentator and comedian Bill Maher brings his insightful wit to the South Beach Comedy Festival

Prolific comedian, actor, writer and producer Bill Maher is celebrated for his political satire and sociopolitical commentary. After hosting the late-night television talk show Politically Incorrect on Comedy Central and ABC (on which Gerald was a guest three times), he is now the star of Real Time With Bill Maher on HBO. Last summer, the New York City native also debuted an Internet-exclusive talk show on Amazon.com entitled Amazon Fishbowl, the first ever episodic program on a major website.

His frankness, however, famously cost him his ABC show. On air, along with conservative political commentator Dinesh D’Souza, Maher said, ‘We have been the cowards lobbing cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That’s cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it, it’s not cowardly. Stupid maybe, but not cowardly.” Lost in all the brouhaha was the fact that D’Souza had raised the topic, and Maher was merely amplifying what D’Souza had said. Still, so soon after 9/11, he was attacked by right-wing pundits, and advertisers such as FedEx and Sears, Roebuck pulled their ads. The show was cancelled on June 16th, 2002. Six days later, Maher received the President’s Award-for ‘championing free speech’-from the Los Angeles Press Club. In a recent broad- ranging interview with Maher, who will appear in Miami on January 20th (his 51st birthday) as part of the South Beach Comedy Festival, we discussed politics, social issues and religion.

OCEAN DRIVE What do you think of the Barack Obama phenomenon? Is he just a blank canvas onto which people project whatever they want?

BILL MAHER: Well, they did that with George Bush. Actually, that comparison is unfair to Obama, because he is not like George Bush. But also, he doesn’t have a very long record. People are starved for a leader; we are bereft of them. Well just have to see how Obama plays out in the primaries, when he is asked real questions and is under scrutiny. Anything’s possible in politics.

What do you think about the Rumsfield memo [a leaked memo in which the ex-Defense Secretary called for major changes In Iraq tactics two days before he resigned)? is it just covering his ass?

It's a little late to cover his ass. You would need military camouflage to cover his ass. These officials wake up to things so late, they just don't know what other people are talking about or have been writing about. Bush once said he didn't read the newspaper, and I made fun of it. But it really wasn't funny, and the last leader to do that was Louis XIV. He went around France and people would say, The kingdom is so great.' Bush would just have to read one of [New York Times writer] Thomas Friedman’s columns once in a while instead of listening to the ass kissers around him.

So what is the solution in Iraq?

There isn’t one. No one in either party has one Packing up and getting out is no easy answer. All the people who predict what will happen in Iraq make me so angry, because none of them have been right so far. We aren’t even that good about predicting what will happen two or three months down the road. Remember blowback [the theory that US. actions often lead to unintended consequences)? If we leave, what will be the blowback? Will there be a worse bloodbath? Possibly. But it's going on anyway. And what does it matter except in U.S. lives? They are going to wipe each other out, if it happens in a spasm of violence or more slowly. They have already killed everyone who could build a country, or those people have fled, or they have been radicalized. Only a nest of vipers is left, apart from us. I don't know how many more U.S. lives will stave off the inevitable. The talking heads act like they know the answers. These people only care about power and who is in power. And bringing in Syria and Iran to help us is a joke. We threw them into the 'axis of evil,' tried to get rid of their leaders-who are bad-and there is simply no way they are going to help us. The people we thought were going to throw flowers when we arrived were there, but they are all gone now.

Switching gears, ex-Saudi ambassador Prince Bandar has his Aspen home for sale for $135 million. The top- 10 listed homes in America average $74.5 million. Corporate titan Barry Diller's compensation was $295 million last year. The gap between the ultrarich and the poor has never been bigger. Do you favor a heavy tax on the rich?

Hmm, I have to go now (laughs). The government already takes half. Even over a few hundred thousand, they take half. I don't know if the government should take more than that. A larger tax is not a bad idea, especially on the ultrarich, and the amount should be on whatever is more than I could make.

So what is causing the problem between rich and poor?

Well, even though we elected the Democrats, there is no far left to address these social issues. There is a far right. But besides [Bernie] Sanders (the first socialist elected to the Senate) or Ralph Nader, there is no far left. No one talks about cutting the defense budget by a few hundred billion. You never really hear talk about shifting the tax burden. Politicians always talk about the middle class but never the poor. John Edwards does, but he’s about the only one. I like Edwards, Biden, Obama and Hillary Clinton. It is a blight on our record that such progressive countries as Pakistan and Chile have had female leaders and we haven’t. You know what the U.S. and Kazakhstan have in common, beside the Borat jokes? The vote for women was approved in both countries on August 26th, 1920. We have finally caught up to Kazakhstan.

You mentioned Nader. Did he cost Al Gore the election?

Nader didn’t cost Gore the election. Gore cost Gore the election. There is always someone else in it, and they can’t count the votes right anyway in this country, so you have to win decisively, that’s the rule. Gore was the sitting Vice President in an administration that had guided the country through relatively good prosperity, and he should have defeated a nothing candidate from Midland, Texas. The son of a mediocre President. I mean, his father wasn’t Alexander the Great. The Democrats lose by going after the NASCAR voters, by goose-stepping, by moving to the right, by pretending to be conservatives, by being ashamed of the liberal word. That is exactly what Hillary is doing now. And as for Kerry, he was not a good candidate, but he could have been a good President.

So what is the hang-up here? Why can’t we invoke ‘liberal’ anymore?

Many people would support a liberal. Seventy-nine million who could have voted in the last Presidential election did not. Most who didn’t vote are progressives. Poor people can’t get the time to vote and are so discouraged by their life, and their needs are so dire that they can’t imagine that voting for Kerry or Bush will change anything. And guess what? They’re right. Kerry wasn’t even talking about raising the minimum wage. These voters can be energized, but no one is speaking to them. Evangelical Christians organize and their faithful follow, but progressive people are asleep at the wheel.

What about 2008?

I like Hillary. But she isn’t electable. Giuliani would be a strong candidate and would do well in the general election, but he can never get the Republican nomination. He has a liberal social résumé, divorced his wife, lived with a gay man and dressed up as a woman.

What about your own politics?

I come from parents who were liberal Democrats (a Jewish mother and Catholic father), and every right winger says I’m liberal, but I have many viewpoints that aggravate my liberal friends. For the last 28 years, since Republicans have sold themselves off to pharmaceutical companies, the Christian right and big money, I have voted Democratic. But they don’t represent me. They are just slightly better than the other clowns. (He did vote for Dole in 1996 against Clinton, but says it was a sentimental vote for my parents’ generation. Clinton had that election locked up. Ed Rollins (a Republican strategist) told me that if it was a prize fight, he would have stopped it’)

Moving on to one of your favorite topics, religion. Atheist? Agnostic? What role should religion play in America?

The government’s position should be that we have no God officially. We are a secular country. But have you seen the new documentary Jesus Camp? It’s a little scary when people like this think they have the truth. Remember a few years ago when General Boykin said that our God was better than Allah? It’s silly to say you know the absolute truth. I don’t know. To say, ‘I know 100 percent,’ is too arrogant. It seems like nothing else is out there, and it is supersilly to think that some humanistic God ever existed. That’s no more sophisticated than paganism. It is equally silly that the three major Western religions wear as a badge of honor the idea that, We are monotheistic.’ That has all the characteristics of the sun god and all the other silly gods.

Have you noticed that almost all religions are dominated by men? Is it about power?

They are male-orientated because religion is simply a tool. Priesthoods use religions to retain power over women. For instance, when The Passion of the Christ came out, I didn’t think it was anti-Semitic. Jews didn’t put Jesus to death. He was put to death by a priesthood, because they guard their power, and he was a rival to the Jewish priesthood. Any priesthood would have done the same thing.

A few quick final questions. Are you still for privatizing some of social security?

Yes.

Ending corporate welfare?

Yes.

Legalizing gambling, prostitution and drugs?

Yes, to all three.

All drugs?

Yes, all drugs.

Still a big PETA [People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals] fan?

Absolutely.

How about the pharmaceutical and health-care industries? You’ve often said they make money out of curing people who are made sick by consuming society’s unhealthy food. True?

Yes. I’m not a vegetarian. I’m more concerned with food’s purity. I never eat chicken unless it’s hormone- and antibiotic-free. Just don’t eat the poisonous food they feed us, because the pharmaceutical companies then get to treat the symptoms with their drugs.

What about vaccines, do they work?

No way. I would never get a flu shot. It gives you the flu. By the time you get a vaccine made months earlier, it doesn’t prevent the flu. You just need a strong immune system.

Last question. Where do you see yourself In five years?

Still on HBO, if they want me. Look, I just turned 50. Every decade you are a new person. I don’t know where I’ll be, but it will be someplace interesting.

The Real Jorge Perez

As he prepares to launch his downtown property Icon Brickell, the Related Group’s majority owner remembers his vivid past-and looks toward a radiant future in Miami.

On a prime five acres in downtown Miami, adjacent to the Miami Circle and Brickell Park, a large banner announces, “Icon Brickell.” Those two words cannot convey the enormity of what will happen there in the next few years. By 2008, three ultramodern glass towers, ranging from 52 to 60 stories, will be built. A veritable small town will have 1,800 residences, with homes fetching pre-construction prices starting at $400,000 and running to several million for sky lofts and bayfront lanai- style townhouses. Leading Miami architectural firm Arquitectonica, in conjunction with the Parisian-based arbiter of cool Philippe Starck, have concocted a development that will transform downtown Miami, the skyline and how people view luxury living.

Icon Brickell is one of the largest projects under way in Miami’s greatest-ever building boom. In a town where 7,000 condominiums were built during the 1990s, 62,000 luxury condos are now on the drawing board. If they all get completed before the much talked- about bursting of the real-estate bubble, these projects will redefine not only downtown Miami, but also largely deserted or blighted neighborhoods running along Biscayne Boulevard into midtown and the upper east side, and even Wynwood.

Standing across the street from the site of the future Icon Brickell is 55-year-old Jorge Perez, the son of Cuban parents, raised in Argentina and Colombia. The majority owner of The Related Group, the largest force behind the South Florida boom, Perez is an extremely likable entrepreneur. Sometimes described by friends as “an incidental billionaire,” he has created an enormous personal fortune by doing simply what he loves-real-estate development. A rags-to-riches success story, Perez is a poster boy for capitalism at its best.

But another man also stares at the empty parcel of land. He too is 55 and the son of Cubans, but his background was not as an enthusiastic booster of capitalism. Instead, he was the head of his college’s Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), a radical 1960s organization at the forefront of the anti-Vietnam War movement. Most people would expect this former SDS leader to be against the unbridled development that gentrifies neighborhoods into ones that mostly only the affluent can afford.

Of course, the two men are the same. So how did the young student who embraced a leftist agenda for a post-Vietnam America end up as Miami’s condo king?

The path to his success is not as strange as it might first seem. And often in his career, the roots of his social activism have been evident. But instead of taking to the streets to protest the system, he has used the power of money and the force of his personality for change.

We meet Perez at La Piaggia, a Saint-Tropez- styled semiprivate beach club at the base of one of his buildings, the luxe Murano at Portofino in South Beach. Perez meets one of his partners, Tom Daly, and his long-time attorney, Matt Gorson, a senior partner at one of the nation’s largest law firms, Miami-based Greenberg Traurig, at La Piaggia every Saturday for a business lunch. Although they have a party to attend that night-a birthday bash at fellow real-estate developer Thomas Kramer’s Star Island mansion, complete with a million-dollar fireworks display-what is supposed to be a half-hour interview turns into hours of leisurely conversation and a rare personal glimpse into the man who is often thought of only as a developer of luxury high-rises.

Perez, dressed in off-white linen shorts and an open-collared short-sleeve shirt, is at once charming and approachable. He is consistently enthusiastic, whether talking about one of his projects, some art he just acquired, or even a pizza he found the night before. “Awesome” is one of his favorite words.

“Real estate is his passion,” says Gorson. “For Jorge, he has hit the lotto.”

“You either love real estate or you don’t make it in this business,” says Perez. “I’ve always said that real estate is half art and half science. The science part you can learn, but the art you’re born with.”

The traditional profiles done about Perez say he came to the U.S. to study urban planning. “That is a good story,” he confides, “but I was actually just following a girlfriend from Colombia to America. I went’ to Miami Dade Community College because she was at a nearby school. And when she moved north, I went to Long Island University.”

When he broke up with her, he considered returning to Colombia. He had written and produced a play there while in high school, which was well received and presented in the national theatre. (“I don’t write anymore,” he says somewhat ruefully. “In my business it is all sound bites.”)

“Instead of going back, I decided to travel.” He trekked through Europe “and fell in love with cities, with the architecture of Paris and London. It set a fire in me.”

He returned to America and spent a semester at Berkeley. Still studying economics and philosophy, and involved in campus politics, he went to graduate school at_ the University of Michigan. His new pursuit, however, was a master’s degree in urban planning.

He ended up in Miami because of another girl, this time-his first wife, Debbie, whom he married on graduation day. Their honeymoon was in Key West. “And when we returned,” says Perez, “I had an interview with the guru of urban planning, Anthony Downs, and he wanted me to become his assistant in Chicago. I was celebrating!” But when he told Debbie, she was crestfallen. Having grown up Michigan, she did not want to move to Chicago.

With his parents in Miami, the Perezes instead moved to Florida. The graduate-school dean helped Jorge land a job in Miami’s Planning Department.”

Two years later, in 1978, he left for a private company that did market studies for real-estate projects. “I knew nothing about market research when I got the job,” he admits, “but I told them I could do it.” With the intensity typical of his career, Perez gathered every public document from the company and “spent two months, reading 24 hours a day to figure out how to do market surveys. When I finally started, they thought I was brilliant.”

The following year, 1979, Perez was again itching for change. His social conscience dovetailed with his real-estate interests in several projects for affordable housing. One of his competitors was New York developer Steve Ross. “Steve was single,” Perez recalls. “When he came to Miami, I set him up with some dates, and at that time both our fathers were dying of cancer. We bonded.”

Late that year they founded The Related Group. With the same force that drove him through grad school and mastering market surveys, he began building government-subsidized rentals. Eventually, Perez graduated to market-rate garden apartments and within five years was Florida’s biggest apartment builder.

At the time Perez was becoming the apartment king, others were making reputations in the luxury-condo market. German-born Kramer came to South Beach and bought 35 acres south of Fifth Street. (“He had ‘OPM’ to play with,” Perez told us. “‘Other people’s money.’ “) Kramer planned to build the neighborhood’s first tower, Portofino. His partner was Daly, who was then riding a wave of success thanks largely to his Aventura condominium community, Mystic Pointe.

But by 1995, Kramer and Daly had financial difficulties as costs mushroomed. To the rescue came Perez. With his unblemished business record, he locked up a $53 million construction loan, and the 228-unit Portofino was built. And when Kramer ended up in litigation tying up the rest of his land, attorney Gorson, who represented both men, arranged for Perez to buy it.

“Kramer had paid $9 million for that land,” recalls Gorson.

“I paid him $52 million,” says Perez. Today it would be worth about $580 million.

Perez was not certain then that condos were the right way to go. In May 1997 he told The Miami Herald that apartments were a “much safer business than condominiums.” “It’s still true,” he says. “Condos have a much greater risk, but with the same amount of work, you can make five to 10 times as much on condos as on rentals.”

First came Murano at Portofino in 1999 (its pre- construction prices of $300 a square foot set a record-”If you had told me then that the average price in South Beach would be $1,000 a square foot,” Perez told us, “I would have said you were smoking too much”), then Murano Grande and Icon South Beach, and now, under construction, the ultraluxe Apogee, where apartments start at $4 million.

In between, Perez has been busy doing what he promised himself when he launched his company: “Most developers come from business backgrounds where profitability is the only goal. My goal was always to change the urban environment.”

Five years ago, Perez built the $550 million ($80 million of which was taxpayer money) City- Place, an enormous project that overnight revitalized West Palm Beach’s dormant downtown. Covering 11 city blocks, with hundreds of condos, 80 upscale stores, and ten restaurants, CityPlace was a critical and financial success. “It was a model for city living,” says Perez.

Perez had CityPlace in mind when he combined work, play and living in his downtown Miami project One Miami. Within sight of Icon Brickell, One Miami will add 900,000 square feet of high-rise housing for professionals now commuting from the suburbs.

After driving through the downtown area a couple of years ago and finding it mostly deserted after dark, Perez became convinced that the city’s urban core needed transformation into a pedestrian neighborhood. “They say people won’t walk in Miami, that it is too hot,” says Perez, “but we intend to prove them wrong. There is no great city in the world that does not have a 24-hour downtown district. Miami has to change. It will.”

Besides Icon Brickell and One Miami, Perez has more than 50 other major projects under way, more than at any time in Related’s history. Included are major complexes in Fort Myers (again remaking the downtown), and even a 522-unit Icon in Las Vegas, east of a Ross Dress for Less store.

“The lack of being satisfied drives me,” he says softly. I do have a lot of moments of happiness-. They come from my wife [he married a nurse practitioner, Darlene, four years ago] and my children. And I have great happiness with each project, but then I want to go on to the next one. I am never satisfied.”

But he has moderated some of his early career behavior. Gone are the self- admitted temper tantrums, replaced instead by notepads filled with “to do’ lists for colleagues. He is better at accepting constructive criticism.

“Yes, I am a workaholic,” he admits, “but now I recognize other important things in my life.” He used to stay at the office until 10 p.m. Now he leaves for home by 5:45. Between 6 and 7 he either plays tennis or works out at his personal gym.

“I am very disciplined about my time now,” he says. “I didn’t want another ruined marriage. When I finish at 7, I put on the Miami Heat, or do a few hours of work with my wife and child with me. It’s not all about work any longer!’ Darlene also visits job sites with Perez, sharing his enthusiasm for the business. That helps their relationship flourish.

While Perez might have a better balance, that is not to suggest he is any less aggressive in staying on top of Florida real estate. Related prides itself on getting projects done at 10 to 15 percent less than the costs of other developers and then rapidly selling out by pricing preconstruction units slightly under the going market rates.

“We would rather sell things fast at a fair value for our buyers and a decent profit for us,” says Perez, “than try to eke out the last dollar of profit on each project. We want to move product. Our goal is to sell quickly – get in and get out.”

He fully expects that at some time-he is too smart to hazard a guess when-real estate will deflate. “It is extremely cyclical,” he notes. “A lot of developers have forgotten that. There will be a correction. It is simply impossible to sustain the supply coming onto the market. South Florida has led in growth and will be the first to go down. Once it starts, the herd mentality will take control like when stocks fell in 2000.”

He is preparing for the inevitable downturn by storing away lots of cash. Related did $500 million in business in 2000. It doubled to $1 billion by 2003 and doubled again in 2004 to $2 billion. Perez says his profit margins are between 20 and 30 percent. He believes he is well situated to weather any slump and has tried hard to limit the number of speculators in his projects, requiring strict approval for anyone buying more than one unit. “And I can turn any project under development into rentals or office suites if I have to. I have deep pockets, but June 2005 other developers might not be so lucky.”

Perez also has increasingly pursued other passions. He is a major contributor to the Democratic Party, so it did not surprise many when Bill Clinton offered him his choice of an ambassadorship to either his native Argentina or his childhood home Colombia. He turned it down in order not to lose the time with his children. And his love of art has produced not only a great personal collection (Monet is his favorite), but also cast him as one of ton appointed him to the National Endowment for the Arts, and Perez recently gave $5 million to the Miami Art Museum, while agreeing to help raise much of the still needed $175 million to build a new structure in Bicentennial Park.

“It’s part of my passion because I want this city, Miami, to be even greater than it is,” he says enthusiastically. “Miami has come of age. Ten years ago, people came here for the beach. Now they are coming for the energy, the restaurants, the museums. It is becoming such a cool town. It excites and feeds me. No city in America has the same potential.”

Perez may be famous, and he can sit comfortably with U.S. Presidents, foreign dignitaries and the gatekeepers of South Florida high society. But he has not forgotten his simple roots. Recently he went for a sandwich at a Publix deli counter near Related’s headquarters. A few older Cuban women stared at him. One walked up.

“Are you Jorge Perez?” she asked.

“Yes.”

Suddenly all her friends rushed over and in a torrent of Spanish told him how proud he had made them to be Cubans. Their excitement was real, the same as if young music fans had a chance encounter with their favorite rock star. To these Cuban emigrants, Perez is a legitimate hero, a singular success in America.

Perez, always the gentlemen, asked them about what they did and their own lives before thanking them and returning to the deli line. He was holding ticket number 42, and they were only serving 21. I’ll never get back to the office, he thought.

Then a young Cuban deli worker furtively beckoned him toward her with a flick of a finger. She took his ticket and simply asked for his order.

The man who can get President Clinton to take his call anytime had just received a much better vindication of who he is and what he had accomplished. The simple Cuban women who clamored around him, the worker who let him jump the deli line-these are the people who matter.

“I can’t tell you how important that day was for me,” he says. “The bigger you get, the more people bullshit you. People always tell you you’re great. I can get an award from an organization about the charity I do, or my businesses, but that day at Publix was special. Those are the people I want to relate to. I never want to lose that.”

He leans back and looks out at the water and the parade of pretty girls sunbathing nearby.

“Life is excellent,” he says, as much to himself

as to us.

What Price Hip?

John Leland knows hip. The 45-year-old New York City native has had his journalist’s eye on the center of modern hip since the mid 1980s. That was when he was writing travel brochures for a tour operator, and heard about the launch of a new music magazine, Spin. An avid music fan, Leland sent an unsolicited letter proposing that Spin let him write a column on 12-inch singles, which then ruled the music biz (he has a personal collection of several thousand). The mag’s founder, Bob Guccione, Jr., son of Penthouse’s owner, liked the idea. Leland carved out a niche at Spin. His smart opinions and writing earned him an enormous following of fans who flipped immediately to his column and to learn about key new bands, performers and releases. By the time he left Spin in 1989, he was the music editor. Now a reporter at The New York Times, he has had stints along the way as editor in chief of Details, and also the editor of Newsweek’s Lifestyle section. But anyone who had any doubts that Leland is an expert in hip will become a believer if they pick up his thoroughly entertaining and critically acclaimed book, Hip: The History (Ecco, 526.95).

In Miami for the Book Fair in November, he sat down with us at South Beach’s Big Pink café for a talk about his book, life and career. What is most striking about Leland on first meeting him is that he isn’t at all the snobby arbiter of style and cool that one might expect from his stature on the subject. Yes, he might sport an obligatory royale (a tuft of hair under the lip), but he is utterly approachable and without pretense.

“It’s the question I am asked most often,” he says, flashing a smile that seems as natural to him as a scowl does to George Bush. “No, I’m not hip. And I don’t want to be the Miss Manners of hip.” Dressed in open-toe sandals, simple pants and an old T-shirt, all of which would be a fashion bar from Mynt, Leland didn’t play at being cool by toying with sushi-grade tuna and Vox vodka, but instead went straight for the BLT, chased down with plain water and then some black coffee. There were no cigarettes. No role-playing.

“When my agent came up with the idea for the book,” he says, “I was wary of it. I actually thought it would be a book about the cool kids in the school cafeteria written by the guy who never got to sit with them. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized it dealt with the questions I had been asking in my journalism for 20 years.”

Leland did not want to make it “an arrogant book.” He succeeded. Hip manages to be the most comprehensive and accessible history of the word in print. Leland’s research is thorough. He seems to have listened to all the music, read all the books, watched all the movies. And he writes with the confidence of someone in absolute control of his material. Eschewing sound bites, Leland instead offers up a serious blend of sociology and history that might surprise some readers attracted initially by the strikingly contemporary cover (very hip).

“My biggest surprise in doing the book was how far back all these things go,” he says. Leland isn’t kidding. ‘The word goes back to the 1700s. It was brought to America by slaves and came from the African Wolof tribe. ‘Hipi’ is ‘to open one’s eyes,’ and ‘hepi’ means ‘to see.’ During the 1910s and 1920s, the commercialism about hip was just as prevalent as it is today, and there was just as much discussion about the youth culture in 1913 as there was in 1993.”

Leland covers the usual trappings of the Lost Generation and the Harlem Renaissance, but he pushes into uncharted territory with his analysis that hip is very much the story of American race relations. Blacks and whites have liberally borrowed, interpreted and assimilated everything from music to language from each other. According to Leland, hip is simply the result of European immigrants and African slaves building a new nation, the process of inventing themselves as Americans.

“Purism is boring,” he says. “I prefer the hybrids that fill our lives, when people on one side borrow from people on the other.” A perfect example is what he calls the “white boy who stole the blues,” a consistent thread that runs from Mark Twain to Elvis to Eminem.

“It’s not symmetric, but both whites and blacks need each other. You can’t get to Myles Davis without white sources. You can’t get to black English without white English.”

The people who make hip often operate on the edges of society: outlaws, gangstas, dope addicts, dropouts, gays and lesbians. From Harlem’s jazz musicians to Greenwich Village’s beatniks to youth cultures such as punk, graffiti art and hip-hop, hip is never conventional.

“There’s a restlessness to really hip people,” he says. “They aren’t mainstream. And they often are deeply flawed, as with Miles Davis, Jack Kerouac and many others. Sometimes, they are less likable once you know more about who they were.”

There is an entire chapter on drugs and the role they have played in hip, with a long roster of hipsters who self-destructed through dope, mostly heroin. “What dope offers,” Leland writes, “is a suspension of responsibility, a fuckup’s version of grace.” But he is also convinced that “nothing is hip about taking drugs to be hip.” Hip, as Leland is quick to point out, can rationalize “poor choices in life. It can squander money, love, talent, even lives.”

But while the truly hip might often be those marginalized in society, Leland is convinced hip would die if it were only stuck with them. The media is needed to broadcast to the wannabes what is hip and fashionable. Today the Internet compresses the time it takes people in remote towns to find out what is hot in inner cities thousands of miles away. And large corporations have packaged and sold hip to an entire generation that thinks it’s possible to buy it from a store shelf.

That doesn’t bother Leland as much as one might expect, because he thinks it’s just part of what companies in a capitalist society do-try to find ways to make people want their products-and few things work better than selling cool. “But real hip,” says Leland, “is much more than what you wear or drive or where you live. It is also a form of enlightenment.”

But more than anything else, Leland has come to understand that “hip is always subjective.” It’s why a good crowd of people at a dinner party can debate all night whether Run-DMC, Jay-Z, Chuck D., Tupac Shakur or Eminem is the real deal.

Hip is a wonderfully entertaining look into a cultural concept as hard to pin down as it is compelling. But Leland is certain that South Beach fits the definition of the word to which he has devoted an entire book. “Absolutely,” he says with a big smile. “South Beach is the theme park of hip.”