Straight Up! Paula Froelich Takes America’s Unlikely Idols to Task
Few writers strike as much fear in the hearts of wayward starlets and errant politicians as Paula Froelich, who has been bludgeoning boldfaced names with her “Page Six” pen for almost nine years. But, when she arrives at Employees Only in Manhattan’s West Village one rainy morning in late April, the New York Post gossip columnist immediately dispels any concerns that the devil might, in fact, wear YSL. “I didn’t know if I should get too dressed up,” she says, smiling as she steps into her designer heels. A born storyteller, Froelich pouts and laughs for the camera while sharing anecdotes about celebrities and their silly scandals — a culture she has immersed herself in since quitting her job at Dow Jones to work under “Page Six” editor Richard Johnson nearly a decade ago. This June, Simon & Schuster will release Mercury in Retrograde, Froelich’s debut novel about three women from very different backgrounds who share the same address. With wit and charm — and at least one reference to real-life tabloid fodder — Froelich taps into Candace Bushnell territory, creating a world where women love their Blahniks as much as the next Bradshaw. A few days after the photo shoot, we caught up with convivial social-vault to discuss the rag trade, the sweetest revenge, and the wrath of wronged front-page personalities.
Has this novel been in the works for a while? It took about a year to write. At “Page Six,” you get used to writing one paragraph at a time, so it’s always nice to do something longer. [Film producer] Elaine Goldsmith-Thomas once said to me, “You’re a great writer, but here’s the problem: You’ve got a lot of great furniture, but you need a house to put it in.”
When reviewing the book, [novelist] Gigi Levangie Grazer compared you to Dorothy Parker, which is pretty great company to keep. Were there any specific writers you hoped to emulate? This is going to sound silly, but I was just trying to write the way I talk, the way I tell stories.
Your friend Lizzie Grubman told New York that she wasn’t exactly pleased with your fictional account of her SUV accident in the book. [In the summer of 2001, the publicist crashed her car, while under the influence of alcohol, into a group of people outside a Hamptons nightclub, injuring 16 of them. She served 38 days of her 60-day jail sentence, and was released early for good behavior.] The characters in the novel are from three different backgrounds and three different social strata, and, at one point, hers was the only story that could connect them all together — something that they could all talk about because it was on the front page of the paper for so long. You have to write about what you know; otherwise it won’t be truthful. But no one is going to read the book and be like, “Oh, shiznazz!” I think that Lizzie’s is the only blatantly obvious one.
Has it affected your friendship? We’re very good friends and we talk all the time. She’s fine. She even wrote on her Facebook page: “I’m reading the book and loving it.”
As someone who was raised in Ohio, and worked at Dow Jones before ever considering a career in celebrity gossip, I’d imagine your first few days at “Page Six” presented a major learning curve. Oh my god, there was totally a learning curve. But I went out every night for two-and-a-half years straight, so that I could meet people. And then I became part of it, you know? I’ve definitely had some of those moments, though, where you’re sitting on a yacht in Saint-Tropez, thinking, “How did I get here? What is going on?”
And, “What would my parents think?” After two years at BlackBook, my mom still swears I work at Redbook. [Laughs] I remember walking into a green room and seeing the head of a huge media company — I’m not going to tell you who — and a bunch of people who worked for him eating ’shrooms.
In what ways has the industry changed since you first started? It has become easier for everyone to be famous, so you suddenly have all of these people who want to get into this business, not because it’s a rewarding job, but because they can be famous. And then you can’t do your job, by the way. [Former New York Daily News “Gatecrasher” columnist] Shallon Lester, for example, recently sold a show to MTV, and said the first day she signed up, “I just want to be famous,” which is probably why she was never very good at her job to begin with. Good luck to her — if that’s what she wants, that’s what she wants. I think a lot of journalists get to that point, where they want to become the people that they are covering.
You’ve never been tempted? Right now, I’m promoting my book, so, ironically, I’m in the press. Otherwise, no, I haven’t. I’ve seen what fame does to people, and know that there’s a downside to everything. I remember hanging out with Sean Stewart [Rod Stewart’s son, a regular on the short-lived series Sons of Hollywood, as well as season two of Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew], and we were talking about his career. I was like, What career? And he said, “Reality shows!” I didn’t realize that was a career, and it’s never been something I’ve aspired to. But good luck to you, Shallon. Good luck to you, Sean. And good luck to you, Kim Kardashian.
Have you ever regretted a story you’ve written? No, but Edie Falco once accosted me. She came up to me two years ago and said, “I swore if I ever saw you, I would give you a piece of my mind. I’m absolutely furious. You wrote about my cancer!” I said, I absolutely did. I listened to her for about 10 minutes, and when she had run out of steam, I said, “Are you done? Would you like to hear my side? A: I have job to do. B: The National Enquirer would have come out big with it. So we worked with your people — over exact writing and verbiage — to be as sympathetic and as nice as possible, and we made it a very small item and nipped it in the bud. You lost your hair and everyone knew it wasn’t for a role. We kind of did you a favor.”
I’d imagine you run into that sort of vehemence all the time. A lot of people freak out: “How dare you write that I was dancing on tables and flashing the crowd with no underwear on. How dare you!” [Writer] Michael Wolff wigged out because I wrote that he was getting divorced after he was found cheating on his wife with a woman who was the age of his daughter. So I said, “You don’t think that’s newsworthy, Michael?” He got very paranoid, screaming that Rupert Murdoch and Col Allen [Chairman and CEO of News Corp., which owns the New York Post, and its Editor-in-Chief, respectively] told me to write this story — which was absolutely not true. I was like, “Dude, I write about boldfaced names — that’s my job — and you are a boldfaced name.” And he was like, “I wasn’t one until I wrote Murdoch’s book!” He’s been on TV for 10 years, he tried to buy New York magazine, he used the press when he wanted it to get high-profile jobs at Vanity Fair, and now he’s saying he’s just a humble writer? And, yes, it is news when a New York newsmaker leaves his wife of many, many years — and, by the way, he also happens to be trying to kick his wife’s mother out of the apartment he told her she could live in for the rest of her life — for a 28-year-old, social-climbing blonde.
What about the longstanding rumors that you have a hit list? Let me make this clear: There is no hit list. Let me also make this clear: If you really don’t like somebody, the worst thing you can do is not write about them. If you give them any ink, it propels them forward.
It must get so tiresome writing about the same deadbeat celebrities. You can see a train wreck coming ten depot stations away. And it’s kind of sad because you also see the pile-on happen. And then it’s also sad because there are some publications that just make things up. When Britney Spears went after US Weekly a few years ago because they had written a story about an alleged sex tape, she tried to sue them for libel based on the idea that they had damaged her reputation. Well, it got thrown out of court at the end of the day, because the judge ruled that she had no reputation to defend. That same thing can be applied to a lot of those girls: Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, and Kim Kardashian. If you are a publication that is dependent on numbers — by the way, “Page Six” is not dependent on numbers and we have the same standards as The New York Times — you can write any scandalous headline you want.
Have you ever killed a story, not because you were concerned about its authenticity, but because you thought it might hurt someone? I kill my stories all the time. I only print 10 percent of what I know, and I only repeat 20 percent.
I’ve heard that you don’t like dressing up and going to events. It’s been nine-and-a half years! Still, no one’s going to be like, “Where’s Paula, the homeless woman on the corner?” But do I really want to go to a black-tie gala, and sit around in five-inch heels while watching everyone parade around like it’s prom night? There are some things that are interesting — the Time 100 gala was interesting. I got to meet [economist and the author of Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working and How There is a Better Way For Africa] Dambisa Moyo, [French Vogue Editor] Carine Roitfeld, and [former member of the Dutch House of Representatives and outspoken critic of Islam] Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who wrote Infidel. Those people are interesting to me. What’s not interesting to me is walking into a place filled with people who are not that educated.
When you aren’t obligated to attend a fancy event, where do you like to spend your nights out? I like to go to Raoul’s. I like anything with an outdoor section. I love the Bowery Hotel. I love Employees Only. There are places that I like but have to leave in, like, a second, like subMercer, because I’m claustrophobic.
You don’t strike me as someone who is easily intimidated, but you must have been in that situation before — maybe in an interview? You know, it’s weird, but I don’t really do interviews. I go out to dinner or for drinks, and everyone has a story. What’s not interesting to me is, “What’s your next project?” There are so few people willing to answer actual questions who haven’t been PR’d to death. At this point in time, everyone is so celeb-friendly. Nobody wants to be mean to anyone, but the problem is that there’s no gray area. Calling somebody out on their lies, or on their antics … is that mean? A year ago, Paula Abdul went around everywhere saying, “I am not addicted to drugs. I’m just loopy.” And everyone gave her one hundred percent coverage, but they knew she was lying. So, a year later, it came out: “Oops, turns out I am addicted to drugs.” Same with Paris Hilton: “I didn’t do [fill in the blank],” because she’s a sociopathic liar. And she gets all the press in the world. There has to be a point where someone says, “You know what? I’m not interested in repeating your lies.”
Photo by Victoria Will.