01 December 2013

Peter Kaplan: A General Kind of Love

Peter Kaplan, A Civilized Man, November 1992

Peter Kaplan died of cancer Friday. He was 59.  A couple months ago,  I called him on his cell since he never answered his office phone.  He answered with a curious, "Hello?" I'm guessing because of the mysterious area code.

"Mr. Kaplan, this is John Tinseth and I don't mean to sand bag you on your cell, but I just wanted to let you know what was going on with the M book, and we're gonna make it an E book 'cause it was impossible to get in everything we wanted hard copy, and the proofs from the printer in China sucked, and we'd like to insert  filmed interviews in the E book with folks who knew and worked  on M, and since you wrote the last cover story, would you be interested in doing an interview?"

This was said at roughly the same speed and pentameter as Ralphie asking Santa for a Red Ryder  BB gun.  "Sure," Kaplan said,  "I'd be happy to help in any way that I can.  Just let me know when you wanna do it." Getting the firm order, I thanked him and said goodbye before he could change his mind and kick me down the slide. The second I hung up, that monumental exuberance, like a parachute opening, would change to paranoid dread as I wondered how I'd ever get Kaplan on the phone again, or,  if he even meant it.  This was New York City after all and people like Peter Kaplan had bigger fish to fry --  Little did I know what was going on...

From the NY Times obit, he had been diagnosed last Summer.  When I found out this morning, all I could think of, being the selfish asshole that I am, was what a gyp.  My first meeting with Kaplan was for a 3PM lunch in an Irish pub in April of 2012.

Peter Kaplan Mar 28, 2012

Dear John Tinseth,
Hi. We haven’t met—but I am a great fan of The Trad.
I would very much like to speak to you about M magazine and your new book—a topic of plenty of importance around here. Do you have time for a drink in the next couple of weeks?
Peter Kaplan
Editorial Director
Fairchild Fashion Media

We were meeting in his building lobby and at the last minute I grabbed an Observer from a news stand and spread it out in front me while crossing my legs on a Barcelona ottoman while trying to look relaxed.

"John?" he said.  I lowered the paper and saw him smiling.  I stood up and offered my hand --  Just to shake, but from what I knew about Kaplan, it was a proposal as well.  He wanted to talk about M Magazine and the book.  I wanted to work for the mother fucker.  I folded the Observer and tossed it on the ottoman.  Kaplan frowned and pointed at the pink paper, "You're leaving the paper?" "That's not a paper anymore…" I whined, "it's classified ads for real estate."  Kaplan didn't laugh but I saw a small grin.

On May 23, 2012, at 3:50 PM, "Kaplan, Peter"
wrote:  Just got out. Want to meet at Starbucks on Third and 47th? 

After that lunch, we'd get together a couple more times at a Starbucks around the corner and, never would I have guessed,  our last meeting in his office.  By then he knew.  We talked about a story I did on Charlie Davidson and the Andover Shop.  I could tell he didn't like it but he said it just needed a little tweaking.  I left feeling like I had let him down.  I also felt like a phony trying to be part of something I wasn't qualified for.  I still do. 

From: John Tinseth <the.trad@yahoo.com>
Date: November 12, 2012 11:10:13 AM EST
To: Kaplan, Peter
Subject: Cup a coffee for a Vet?
It's the only card I have. 
From: John Tinseth [the.trad@yahoo.com]
Sent: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 08:31 AM Eastern Standard Time
To: Kaplan, Peter
Subject: Fwd: Cup a coffee for a Vet?
On Nov 13, 2012, at 8:43 AM, "Kaplan, Peter" wrote:
Dear John I am so sorry. I have been out of the office a lot lately. Let us schedule a phone call. Peter 

We talked a handful of times afterwards but I never saw Kaplan again.  I wanted to.  Anytime I found myself close by his office and Starbucks, I'd hope to bump into him on the street.  It never happened but I could feel his presence walking that avenue ever alert for his tortoise shell glasses, khakis, blue oxford button-down and dusty foulard tie.

The Trad, never a financial success, has given me rich access to some of the most interesting people.  It's funny, but I think of the Army the same way.  I didn't make any money but I met men I will never forget. I don't think it's too far off the mark for Peter Kaplan to be my favorite general.  Like the generals I worked for, our relationship was not intimate, but it was about love and that's why some people can lead and most of us can't.


M.Lane said...

A really nice post. A very interesting fellow.


Oyster Guy said...

"Like the generals I worked for, our relationship was not intimate, but it was about love and that's why some people can lead and most of us can't."


That is some epitaph.

tintin said...

ML- Thanks. Most of the men in fashion media are not interesting. Which is why this hurts.

Oyster Guy- Soldiers have an understanding of what love is for their leaders. Sometimes it's just as simple as the men who saved their ass. Kaplan didn't save me but he tried to help me and I have no idea why -- Which is why I loved him.

Yale Hollander said...

I've been a fan of Kaplan's work for well over 20 years. I was shocked and saddened to hear of his passing. This piece is an outstanding tribute to the man and perfectly frames the image I've always had of him as I've divined from both his editorial pieces and the accounts of others who knew him well. Thank you.

Oyster Guy said...

Tin, it looks obvious to me why he wanted to help you, it's because "you get it." Most can't.

Ben said...

Being the selfish asshole that I am, I thought to MYself "he's gonna make me buy an e-reader now. And I'll do it, too."

But it does sound like Kaplan's passing is a big loss. What was his last article for M?

Unknown said...

John, Another perfect set piece which, as usual, has something of you in it and a lot about what makes the other player in the narrative stand out. The Observer under Kaplan was cherry and this goes a long way to describing why. Wonderful writing.

Smitty said...

Tintin, thanks for introducing me to an extraordinary man. In addition to what you shared above, I read the New York Observer story about him and his many contributions. Your love for him is very clear and understandable to me. My he rest in peace.

tintin said...

Thank you all for your comments. Ben, M's last issue was a cover story on David Letterman. I'll post it this week along with a piece he did on '50s TV for Esquire in the early '90s and I'll throw in a surprise that Clay Felker did on Peter.

There is a wonderful remembrance of Peter by NYO reporter and close friend, Phillip Weiss here: http://gawker.com/peter-kaplan-a-remembrance-1475013328

GSV JR said...

i stopped leaving comments here b/c every time i read a post like this, i correlate it to a pers exp of mine, which, i believe, does your writing a disservice. well, i used to think that. now i think that's testimony to the strength of your writing, that it compels the reader to at least find some analogous exp w/in their own purview.

just fucking loathe calling something that does this "good," or "great," so i'll just tell you it compelled me to draw from an analogous exp w/in my own purview, and, for that, i'm grateful.

tintin said...

Great comment, Stew.