Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Lennon Conspiracy Revisited

Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently excoriated a reporter who revealed Emanuel’s travel plan to Cuba. It is generally thought that he was taking umbrage after a difficult interview. But most reporters are respectful of itinerary and family information, and Emanuel may well have had reasonable expectations that were violated.

This brings me to the legendary example of the danger of this sort of privacy violation. One of the good things about People Magazine is that it provides an archive. So I will give you the offending article directly. This was in the Chatter column 11/10/1980:

“Hanging 5
Reportedly worth more than $150 million, John Lennon stands to augment that considerably when his new album, Double Fantasy, which he made with wife Yoko Ono, comes out this month. Where does all that money go? Well, the ex-Beatle has been investing heavily of late in the works of a young artist. Patrons of a gallery on Manhattan's Upper West Side saw one of the canvases when an employee of the Lennons brought it in to be framed. The artist turns out to be son Sean, 5, who painted a green-and-brown cottage for Dad's 40th birthday in October. A white wood frame was added for $44. According to a salesman, the Lennons have had nearly 100 of Sean's paintings framed there. This is not merely a case of indulgent parents. With five giant apartments in New York's Dakota, four dairy farms, a Palm Beach mansion and assorted country homes, the Lennons clearly have a lot of wall space. “

People Magazine prints itinerary articles, so this one is not unusual. The information given is also available in a book, John Lennon, One Day at a Time, 1976, which People explicitly references in their description of Lennon’s killer, Mark Chapman. The difference between the article and the book, of course, is that the article is current, while the book may have been out of date. Wikipedia cites Lennon’s wealth as being an explicit betrayal of Chapman’s Lennon idealization:

According to Chapman’s wife Gloria, "He was angry that Lennon would preach love and peace but yet have millions [of dollars]." Chapman later said that "He told us to imagine no possessions, and there he was, with millions of dollars and yachts and farms and country estates, laughing at people like me who had believed the lies and bought the records and built a big part of their lives around his music."[15]

There is a difference between common local knowledge and publication for a much larger audience. I remember bumping into Harold Washington at a local breakfast stop after his usual was outed by People. He may have also been avoiding a waitress who tried to force oatmeal on him.

Shortly after Chapman killed Lennon, People published an article on Jackie Onassis with where she often shopped and lunched. The Time Inc. corporate brass was visiting Chicago and I along with the rest of the employees was invited next door to Holiday Inn to meet them. I happened to be talking to the CEO and I said:
-I know you don’t involve yourself in editorial decisions.

He smiled.

-But isn’t it a bit much giving Jackie O’s itinerary? Wasn’t Lennon enough?

This isn’t as foolhardy as it might sound. In those days a programmer could always find work. I fully expected him to laugh and ask for my badge. Instead the CEO turned and ran.

I noticed that People seemed to be concentrating on celebrities living around Central Park. As well as the Lennon mention and Onassis article, there was an article on Woody Allen and Mia Farrow. At the time there was a furor about Trump tearing down the Bonwit Teller department store and building his first tower. There was a lot of outrage on the Upper East Side about Trump’s disproportionate skyscraper looming over the park and the celebrities were out in front in opposition. Trump totally played them. Unlike the following successful campaigns against development this one didn’t get much press. The failure to stop Trump tower solidified the opposition to future projects. New York plays rough. 

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