Behind The Camera: How 'Vanity Fair' Got Its 'Call Me Caitlyn' Cover The issue with Caitlyn Jenner on the cover had many people talking before it even hit newsstands. Editor-in-Chief Graydon Carter says the story took months of secret planning.
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Behind The Camera: How 'Vanity Fair' Got Its 'Call Me Caitlyn' Cover

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Behind The Camera: How 'Vanity Fair' Got Its 'Call Me Caitlyn' Cover

Behind The Camera: How 'Vanity Fair' Got Its 'Call Me Caitlyn' Cover

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

I don't know if many people have read the article, but millions of people have seen the cover photo for "Call Me Caitlyn," the cover of next month's Vanity Fair magazine, which has introduced Caitlyn Jenner to the world. She, of course, is the Olympic gold medal winner formally known as Bruce Jenner. Graydon Carter is editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair and he joins us from his office in New York.

Thanks so much for being with us.

GRAYDON CARTER: Scott, thank you, it's nice to be here.

SIMON: How did this come about? Did they come to you?

CARTER: No. In November, December last year, I spoke to one of our editors here and I said - I'd read somewhere that Jenner was, you know, in a transitional period - and I said, what if we offered beautiful clothes and a great photographer? And they turned us down at first and then came back to us in January and we started working on this in February.

SIMON: The photographer that you chose, obviously, Annie Leibovitz, and the magnificent clothes that are in there, although I...

CARTER: Right.

SIMON: You know, I've read that a lot of them (laughing) were ordered online, but, you know, from top-shelf people. But...

CARTER: Yes, very top-shelf, yes.

SIMON: ...What was that therefore? I mean, do you think that sent a certain kind of message as the kind of article you wanted to do?

CARTER: As soon as we had a go on this, we had a lot of access - Buzz Bissinger, who wrote "Friday Night Lights," and who has won the Pulitzer Prize, was the writer, and he virtually embedded at her house during this whole transition period. And I wanted Annie to shoot her. Annie does our iconic covers. And for the clothing, we couldn't go to designers because this was completely secret to almost everybody. We didn't tell everybody on staff. And so rather than going to designers and borrowing clothes, she had to go out and actually buy clothing.

SIMON: And so you couldn't go to - I'll throw in a name - Oscar de la Renta, and say, please design something?

CARTER: I didn't want anybody to know. I want the - I wanted to use the Internet. Magazines are always complaining that the Internet is devouring their lives, and I wanted to use the Internet to our favor to release this in a certain way.

SIMON: And what made Buzz Bissinger - probably still best-known for "Friday Night Lights," although he also wrote "Shattered Glass" - the right person to write this profile?

CARTER: Well, Buzz has a fascination with clothing. I didn't realize, actually, that Buzz has had experiences with cross-dressing himself. That came as news to me, and I only read it when I read the manuscript he turned in. But Buzz is very much an old-school type of journalist and I wanted somebody who would be willing to spend a lot of time and who would understand this. And he's a wonderful writer, on top of that.

SIMON: Yeah. How'd you manage...

CARTER: And a very empathetic writer.

SIMON: Yeah. And how did you manage to keep it a secret?

CARTER: We had security at the photo shoot, we had security at the printer, and we released it on Monday, but a week before it goes on newsstands because that way we can control it. Once the magazine is printed and gets into trucks and starts heading to various ports around the country, you've lost control of it. But we've sort of designed a new way to release a big story in a magazine.

SIMON: And I have to ask to get this on the record. Caitlyn Jenner is reportedly a person of means, but was there any payment involved?

CARTER: No, we've never paid for anybody, ever. And I don't think Caitlyn Jenner is a - I don't think she's rich by any stretch. I think she's sort of - she does fine. But there was - no, never a payment and never discussion of a payment.

SIMON: How do you balance revealing a story that is personal to the point of intimate with selling magazines? And I know this is an old editorial question - how do you decide what goes into the magazine, what remains personal?

CARTER: You know, Jenner was on this "Kardashian" television show, where I assume almost nothing was off-limits. And I don't think we took anything out of the story that was risque or anything like that. Buzz's story, with a small edit, is very much what appears in the issue, and that's something they discussed during the three months they were together.

SIMON: Look, Graydon, Vanity Fair is well-known, and it's not The Economist and it's not The Financial Times, but how do you answer the question, why does this wind up on the cover of a magazine?

CARTER: Well, the thing is, you know, we're a global magazine - the cover we design here goes around the world - and the issue, it's followed by a brilliant story by William Langewiesche about a soldier in Iraq who witnessed a sort of mass execution on the part of other soldiers. And it's an even longer story than the Buzz Bissinger story, but that - you know, I have to move the freight and - on the newsstand, like any other magazine editor does. And then as it stands, there are fewer and fewer forms of celebrity that work globally. And it comes down to the world is big but the common interest of global citizens, it gets smaller all the time.

SIMON: Graydon Carter, editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair, thanks so much for speaking with us.

CARTER: Scott, thanks so much.

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