"Hi Drew, I'd really like to talk to you, but there are many far more important people here for me to talk to right now"
--Jared Kushner, publisher of the New York Observer
|Jared Kushner at|
the New York Observer
In 1987, Arthur Carter began publishing The New York Observer
, the salmon-colored broadsheet covering NYC politics, show business, gossip and media. The Observer's
first editor was Carter's lawyer John Sicher, followed by SPY
magazine co-founder E. Graydon Carter, who left to edit Vanity Fair,
and was replaced by SPY's
Susan Morrison. Journalist Peter W. Kaplan became the Observer's
new editor in 1994 and one of his first objectives was to line up four artists to create the newspaper's weekly covers each month. Peter knew my work from SPY
and first called me with an assignment to draw senator Al D'Amato. We instantly hit it off, realizing we shared a mutual love of old comedy films, Frank Sinatra and MAD
magazine. Peter soon lined up the great caricaturists Philip Burke, Victor Juhasz and Robert Grossman as his other cover artists. He referred to the four of us as his "Murderer's Row", referencing the unbeatable 1927 New York Yankees starting lineup. Working directly with Peter, The four of us would create weekly covers for the NY Observer
(the NYO), for the next 15 years, with Barry Blitt drawing the small B&W cover caricatures.
My portrait of NYO editor Peter Kaplan in his infamous office,
drawn for his 50th birthday and published in the NY Times
In 2006, twenty five year old real estate developer Jared Kushner purchased the Observer
and Peter Kaplan continued on as editor. I would create over 50 covers over the next 10 years under the Kushner regime.
When I first talked with Peter about Jared, he seemed excited about the future prospects of the NYO with this young, wealthy new publisher, equating him to Orson Welles as the young Charles Foster Kane, purchasing a money-losing newspaper and injecting new life into it.
It didn't take long before I started picking up on slight pauses and hesitations during our conversations about how things were going, and Peter's pauses and hesitations spoke volumes. I sensed that things were perhaps not going according exactly to plan. I never pressed Peter for any details, we mostly talked about the Marx brothers, Jerry Lewis, Jack Benny, Popeye and Joan Blondell, but the writing seemed to be on the wall. Peter, who was passionate about the NYO, seemed increasingly frazzled during each subsequent phone conversation.
|2006 NY Observer cover, Sacha Baron Cohen as Ali G. & Borat|
original artwork purchased by Jared Kushner
The first assignment Peter gave me under the new Jared Kushner
regime was to draw Sacha Baron Cohen for a cover story, also in
the guise of his two characters, Ali G. and Borat
film was about to be released).
When the issue hit the stands the following
Wednesday, a very excited Peter called me to say
that Jared, a huge fan of Ali G., loved the cover and
wanted to purchase the original art for his younger
brother Joshua as a gift. Peter also shared with me
(in a more subdued voice), that this was
some really good news". Peter acted as Jared's
liason and we agreed on my fee, and at the end
of the conversation he said "Drew, thank you... thank you... thank you",
as if I had done him a tremendous favor.
In 2007, the NYO switched from the large broadsheet format to a smaller, trimer, tabloid size, yet still retained it's salmon hue. The first issue of the new Observer
featured my illustration of a Hillary Clinton floaty-head on it's cover, silhouetted from a larger drawing I'd created for an earlier issue. As a publicity stunt, the morning the issue hit the stands, the young publisher and the seasoned editor both hawked copies ("extry, extry..."), of the new tabloid outside Grand Central station as an Observer
photographer snapped away:
|Peter Kaplan and Jared Kushner holding copies of the new, tabloid-sized Observer|
featuring my floaty-head drawing of Hillary Clinton
Jared attempting to interest cold-morning NYC passerbys in the new tabloid
Later in 2007, the NYO celebrated it's 20th anniversary
with a big celebration at Manhattan's Four Seasons Restaurant,
which publisher Jared Kushner hosted.
My wife, Kathy and I were invited, and we arrived
to witness throngs of VIP's, media moguls, and young, tuxedoed real estate developers lined up to get in. The
only one of my fellow cover artists attending was my
friend Victor Juhasz and his wife Terri. A perpetually
beaming Jared and his future wife Ivanka Trump held
court and welcomed their friends and admirers. Peter
made a short, optomistic welcoming speech and
introduced Jared who discussed the future of the NYO,
as well as his fondness for the Four Seasons, which he would
wind up owning.
After Jared's speech, I told Kathy and the Juhaszs that
I was going to go introduce myself to Jared, knowing that
he enjoyed, and had purchased my artwork. Jared
was standing at the bar by himself holding a glass of champagne.
I approached him "Hi Jared, I'm Drew Friedman".
He grasped my hand while his eyes surveyed the crowds:
"Hi Drew, I'd really like to talk with you, but there are
far more important people here for me to talk to right now".
I quietly nodded and retreated back to my wife and friends.
Kathy asked me how it went and I repeated what he had
just said. She seemed shocked: "You're joking?" "No, that's
exactly what he said to me... and you know what,
I admire him for it, his blatant honesty... and...
I'm sure he's right, there are far more important people
here for him to talk to then me".
Meet The Trumps!
2008 NYO cover, original art purchased by Jared Kushner
By 2008 it was clear, at least it was to me, that the completely
frazzled Peter Kaplan was at the end of his rope and after
14 years would soon be retiring from his beloved NYO.
One of his cover assignments for me that year was to create a
drawing for an article about Donald Trump's large,
extended family, including Trump's ex-wives, his current
wife Melania, their new baby son Barron, his (then porky),
son Donald, Jr, and Trump's daughter and Jared's future
wife Ivanka (to this day I'm not clear why I wasn't asked
to include daughter Tiffany and son Eric. Such is their
continuing lot in life). I asked Peter if I should perhaps
hold back a bit as far as the caricatures went, considering
that Ivanka was Jared's impending wife and Trump his
father-in-law to be. Peter responded "NO!" Peter later told
me that Jared was pleased with the drawing. He must have
been, he purchased the original art from the
Scott Eder gallery.
Also in 2008, To help celebrate the 20th anniversary of the
NYO, an anthology, "The Kingdom of New York" was
published by Harper Collins, edited by Peter Kaplan and
designed by NYO Art director Nancy Butkus. It featured a
new cover by me (using the same Trump ref I had used for
my earlier "Meet the Trumps!" cover). Tom McGeveran
was now interim editor of the NYO, and Peter planned
to stay on at the Observer as an advisor, until the book was
completed, and a new perminant editor was chosen. A pub-
lication party would take place at the Soho designer
handbag store Longchamp, where Jared planned to formally
introduce his new editor, journalist Kyle Pope. Again, my wife
Kathy and I came to the party, this time attended by
all four of the "Murderer's Row" cover artists under Peter Kaplan's regime.
top: Me, Robert Grossman, AD Nancy Butkus, Philip Burke
bottom: Victor Juhasz, Peter Kaplan
Jared's fiancé Ivanka Trump, his brother Joshua and his
father, real estate magnate Charles Kushner were also
in attendance. The elder Mr. Kushner, on learning that
Kathy was married to me, gushed to her that what he
enjoyed most about his son's publication were the illustrated covers.
Marti Carroll, (owner of Longchamp), and Ivanka posed in front
of a blow-up poster of my cover, (which now hangs in my studio)
I decided to again greet Jared Kushner. He was
preparing to make his speech to the assembled crowd
when I approached him. Going over his notes, he looked
up and recognized me "Hi Drew". I answered "Hi Jared,
would you do me a favor and please mention my name
during your speech?" He looked bemused but said "sure".
Jared Kushner preparing to make his speech
A beaming Peter Kaplan addressed the assembled crowd, thanked
Jared, discussed how proud he was of the new NYO book,
and wished Kyle Pope luck as new editor, while also mentioning
that this was perhaps the first time a Pope replaced a Jew.
Jared steped up next, thanked Peter, introduced
his new editor and discussed the new NYO anthology and
said "the cover was drawn by Drew Friedman, who is here..."
he paused and continued "... and who I mentioned because
he asked me to", which got a laugh.
The New York Times announces Peter Kaplan stepping down as
2013 Anthony Weiner cover
I continued creating covers for the NYO after Peter retired
(he became editor of Conde Nast Traveler, an odd choice
considering Peter hated to travel), for all of Jared's rotating door of new
editors, starting with Kyle Pope, then Aaron Gell, and then
Elizabeth Spiers, founder of Gawker. During Elizabeth's tenure I created
the above drawing of embattled congressman Anthony Weiner
channeling Burt Reynolds. After this cover appeared,
Weiner finally retired from congress the following day.
cover featuring the NY archbishop Dolan, Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Lady Gaga
Elizabeth Spiers left the NYO in 2013 and journalist and
ex-punk rock musician Ken Kurson, a rabid comics fan and
the brother of Robert Kurson, author of "The Three Stooges
Encyclopedia" was hired as new editor. We hit it off.
Ken Kurson with Abe Vigoda, 2014
Mayoral candidate Joe Lhota
Under the new editors, the NYO became even more streamlined, the articles grew shorter and the focus centered more on tech, power brokers and especially Manhattan real estate. It was also transformed into a magazine, finally retiring the salmon to sea. New artists were hired to create cover art, and the "Murderers Row" that Peter nurtured for 15 years ended, although Burke, Juhasz and I continued to do occasional covers. I asked Ken to only consider using me if the cover article seemed to be a good fit for me, like the above Joe Lhota and Kevin Spacey, or this interior drawing of Gilbert Gottfried:
In 2013, Peter Kaplan died of cancer at age 59. Over 700 shocked and saddened friends, family members and admirers attended his funeral. Jared Kushner wrote this tribute to him for the NYO:
My final "encounter" with Jared came indirectly. I was contacted by an employee from Jared's real estate company "Kushner Industries". He told me I was Jared's first choice to illustrate a huge fold-out brouchure promoting luxury condos for sale in the Puck building on E. Houston St (where SPY magazine once had penthouse offices). Jared had recently aquired the Puck building. The complex job would include rendering the history of the building, detailed maps of all the available units, and dozens of drawings of notables who had either lived or worked there, a "Sistene Chapel extravaganza", to quote Victor Juhasz. The deadline was very tight and the whole job had very little appeal to me but I asked for what I felt was a fair fee, considering the amount of work and the short turnaround. The reply was basically a very low-ball counter-offer, and I was also reminded that "Jared knows what you illustrators get paid". I thanked him for that information and politely declined the job. Victor Juhasz would tell me later that he was also contacted and also requested what he felt was a fair fee for the enormous amount of work, and he was also reminded that Jared knew what you illustrators got paid. Victor also declined. I have no idea who finally accepted the illustrious assignment, if anyone.
My final cover for the NYO appeared in Dec, 2015, a portrait of the "world's greatest Cartoonist" Robert Crumb, (I concur), posed in his living room in France, for what turned out to be a highly controversial interview with him.
The NYO's new art director contacted me several times in 2016 to create covers, but I felt none of the ideas were good fits for me, especially an assignment to draw a positive representation of the Republican presidential candidate and Jared's father-in-law Donald J. Trump. The NYO had been one of the only mainstream publications to endorse Trump in the New York presidential primaries. I declined the job.
After Trump won the presidential election in November, Jared Kushner immediately ceased publication of the print edition of the Observer and he and his young family packed their bags and moved to Washington, DC. The rest you probably know.
(The Observer still exists as a digital website, dropping the "New York")
My thanks To Victor Juhasz
Most of the illustrations that appeared on this blog, as well as other
NY Observer cover illustrations created during Jared Kushner's regime, are included
in my latest book "Drew Friedman's Chosen People":