As I prepared to interview Fran Lebowitz, my friend and colleague Tim Cahill told me that she’d appeared on the cover of Outside magazine. This surprised me so I did a bit of digging and ended up writing this sidebar to accompany my story — click here for my story in the Press Democrat. Below is the sidebar about Lebowitz’s unlikely appearance in Outside.
A hard-smoking New Yorker and avowed city dweller, author Fran Lebowitz was perhaps the least likely person to be featured in Outside magazine.
Yet she graced the cover of the August 1983 issue. You might never know by looking at the image that the photo was shot in Manhattan.
Here’s how it happened: Lebowitz — who had written, “To me the outdoors is what you must pass through in order to get from your apartment into a taxicab” — was approached by Outside magazine to be the subject of a feature story. “I don’t know how to camp,” she told them.
A persistent editor persuaded her. Lebowitz headed for the great outdoors with writer E. Jean Carroll and photographer George Butler.
She brought a Brooks Brothers suitcase and wore a camel hair coat because, she said, she didn’t own a down jacket.
The trip was one night on private land in Pennsylvania, or maybe it was New Jersey. She can’t remember. What she does remember is that it was deer-hunting season and she heard gunshots. To prevent becoming the punchline of a local news story — she could imagine a hunter being quoted as saying “I thought she was a deer” — she asked to go to a nearby store to buy some orange clothes.
Butler had brought steaks from Lobel’s, an esteemed New York butcher, and they grilled them and ate under the stars.
“We finished this dinner. It was like eight o’clock,” Lebowitz told The Press Democrat.
“So I said, ‘What are we going to do now? We’re in the middle of nowhere. But I remember on the way here on the highway we passed a movie theater. Why don’t we go to the movies?’ They said, ‘We can’t go to the movies. That would be cheating.’ … And they put up the tent, one tent, which I really objected to.”
Some time after the trip, an editor called Lebowitz and said they needed to re-shoot the photos.
“I said, ‘I’m not going to the country again.’ So we went to Washington Square Park (in lower Manhattan), near where I lived at the time.”
In the photo, Lebowitz is sitting on the grass and wearing her camel hair coat, her left arm leaning on her suitcase, a metal camping cup by her side.
“They made a tent,” she recalled. “I sat in front of the tent, and they took a very close picture. And that’s what was on the cover of Outside.”