Has gossip gone too far? For Cindy Adams, longtime gossip columnist for the New York Post, the answer is a resounding yes.
“It’s gotten too evil,” she says about the gossip trade. Back when she was starting out, in 1981, “we didn’t report people who were gay. We wouldn’t do that. We wouldn’t out anybody,” she insists. “All of the industry of gossip has just become too invasive.”
As this presidential election proved better than any other, accessing information about people (even very, very old information) has never been easier. And yet it is worth asking how much of that information is actually relevant to the public and how much of it should remain private. Are there things that everyone doesn’t need to know?
“The internet is a secret-spilling machine, and the spilling of secrets has been very healthy for a lot of people’s lives,” Nick Denton, founder of the now-defunct site Gawker, told Playboy magazine in a 2014 interview. Now those comments are deeply ironic. Denton would go on, of course, to pay dearly for one particularly big secret that Gawker spilled, after being sued by Hulk Hogan over a sex tape.
“The industry of gossip has
just become too invasive.”
But gossip does not necessarily need to be harmful. It can — and perhaps should — be fun. Historically, the word is derived from the word for a godparent, implying that people would chat and share secrets with the person who was closest to them. In Yiddish, the word “yenta” refers to an older woman in the shtetl (village) who would gather secrets about other people and disclose them at her will.
Cindy Adams’ column, which she has been writing for the Post for more than 35 years, is written in that spirit, shrinking Manhattan down to the size of a shtetl in which everybody knows everybody and Cindy knows everything about everybody. And she alone decides which factoids to disclose, and which to keep to herself. “You do have to be careful,” she warns. “You’re dealing with people’s lives.”
Her column has always been less a place for secret spilling than it is a place for readers to peek into the lives of the rich and the powerful, to learn who arrived dateless to a cousin’s wedding and maybe even an embarrassing (but not too embarrassing) story about a certain first-lady-turned-presidential-nominee.
Her columns are funny (“You can beat somebody on the head, or you can just tap them with a fan. I try to be humorous rather than painful, hurtful,” she says), and almost friendly in tone; her very first column had an item about how Jackie Kennedy liked to buy “real kosher chopped liver” from a “classy Madison Avenue emporium.”
Adams doesn’t have much to say about the Gawker case except she wasn’t a fan. “Between [Hogan] and Gawker, it’s a toss-up which is worse.” The site targeted Adams herself on occasion, writing nasty headlines such as, “Has New York Post Gossip Columnist
Cindy Adams Just Totally Lost it?”
Adams, for the record, has not lost it at all, and she still churns out four columns a week for the Post from the office in her Park Avenue penthouse, hitting the phones and fact-checking details about all the little tidbits she hears.
“Nobody knows something without
wanting to tell they know it.”
Remarkably for a gossip columnist working today, she does not use social media. “I have to write every single day, and it takes me five hours to do a column. So do you think after I spend all that time on the telephone, that I want to do more?”
She relies on her real-life social network of friends and acquaintances, from whom she can masterfully extract information. “First of all, nobody knows something without wanting to tell they know it. Sooner or later, they’ll all say, ‘Listen, you didn’t hear this from me, don’t let on that I told it to you. But…’ Or they’ll say, ‘Don’t mention my name.’ But they’ll all tell you something. They all want to.”
Written in a punchy style, each column lists quick notes about people, with some items so short it’s easy to miss them if you skim it. “It is New York,” she says about her column. “It’s in your face.” As if that wasn’t clear, every column ends with Adams’ now-iconic phrase, “Only in New York, kids. Only in New York.”
The same, of course, could be said for Adams herself, who is a born and bred New Yorker — “One of the four you’re going to meet in the whole city,” she once joked in New York magazine. Adams makes a lot of jokes. (She was married to her late husband, comedian Joey Adams, for 47 years, and she was very good friends with the late Joan Rivers.) But she’s also careful. Unlike her sources, she is not dying to tell you her own secrets, and since she knows all the tricks for getting people to spill them, she’s very good at deflecting personal questions.
When I ask how she feels about the presidential election, which she admits is awkward for her because she’s friends with both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, she replies delicately, “You try to go in between. They’re both terrific people.”
What Adams does feel comfortable doing is showing off the things she owns, and thankfully they are fascinating. Her sprawling penthouse used to be owned by the
tobacco heiress Doris Duke and is filled with treasures she has gathered on her travels.
The most incredible room may very well be her office, which is covered from floor to ceiling with New York Post covers of stories that she broke (“IMELDA: A Prisoner in Paradise” details what life was like for Marcos when she was on trial; “KICKED OUT!” tells the story of when Adams and Hillary Clinton were asked to leave the University Club
“because they’re old fogies, and we were talking too loud.”)
It would take days to discover all of the items in this room alone. High on a shelf, a Horsman “Cindy” doll perches. Doris Duke’s old bathtub sits against a wall, filled with memorabilia. (She and Joey had wanted to put it on the terrace, but the building wouldn’t let them. “We didn’t know what to do with it, so now it’s here,” she says simply.)
Even the bathroom is covered in art — albeit some are not pieces that Adams picked out herself. “I’ve been around for so long. People send them to you. This is Peter Max,” pointing to a piece. She shrugs, “You gotta put it somewhere — in the john! Where else are you going to put it?”
Photographs of Cindy with seemingly every world leader are sprinkled about the foyer and the living room. She can (and will) tell you a story about even the smallest item: a silver ashtray, for instance, was a gift from Roy Cohn and is engraved, “To Joey, With Appreciation for so many good deeds, so many laughs and so many years of friendship. Roy. 1981.”
But of all the treasures she owns, Adams’ favorite by far is her teeny Yorkie, Juicy, who lives in a small room off the kitchen and pads around the apartment with jewelry in her hair, trailed by a housekeeper.
(“It’s New Yorkie!” Adams exclaims when I ask if she would ever consider getting a different type of dog. The short answer: no.)
After her column, Adams is perhaps best known for her love of dogs, and even wrote a book, “The Gift of Jazzy,” about her first Yorkie, Jazzy, who was given to her as a gift by the television producer Michael Viner after her husband died in 1999.
When Jazzy started feeling ill, in 2003, she had a minister come up to the apartment to bless him. It got her thinking that all animals deserve to be blessed, and so she started hosting a Blessing of the Animals at Christ Church on Park Avenue. This year’s event, the eighth, will take place on Sunday, December 11.
Each year, roughly 800 people bring all sorts of animals to Park Avenue for the ceremony, which includes Christmas carols sung by a local high school, homilies by the minister and, finally, the blessings.
“I’ve seen his eminence the cardinal down like this on the floor with a little Chihuahua, trying to bless.” She crouches down on the floor to demonstrate. “The Chihuahua wouldn’t get up, and the mother couldn’t get the damn Chihuahua up. So the cardinal is down there.”
Any sort of animal is welcome to the event (though the larger ones, like police horses, must remain outside), and Adams says she’s seen “dogs, cats, birds, gerbils, turtles; some idiot last year came in with a fish in a bowl … police dogs, farm animals, llamas, chickens, pigs, ducks, goats.”
Though nothing has ever gone truly wrong, the entire thing is a mess.
“They’re coughing and they’re barking and they’re screaming and they’re shrieking and they’re peeing and they’re pooping and they’re growling all throughout it. And the ministers and the cardinal are talking above this enormous din,” she laughs. “They’re
unruly, and nobody cares.”
Chaotic, perhaps, but also a rather lovely metaphor for New York City — especially the New York City that Cindy Adams inhabits. In a beautiful, holy place, an unruly, slobbering mob misbehaves, howling miserably for attention as they wait impatiently for their moment.
Above them all, Cindy Adams presides, interested, amused — and watching every moment.