XOXO, Charla

I have so much to share about the Sundance Film Festival, which is happening right now, right where I live. But for now, I’m stuck in 1996, when, as a newly-minted editorial assistant at Glamour Magazine, I barely knew what Sundance was—all I knew was that my boss, the Entertainment Editor at the magazine, was here in Park City, going to movies, meeting celebrities, and, it turned out, planning a party. And today, the party came to a screeching halt, because Charla Krupp, the boss who was so much more than that to me, passed away from breast cancer. And it’s hard to believe that cancer got her—Charla, you see, was a force of nature all her own.

That January, she called me from Utah, way out here in the “801” (it was before Park City had acquired a different area code from Salt Lake City), to ask me to overnight a bunch of CDs to her condo—”Bari Nan!” she said, in that energized voice that always made her sound like she was about to impart crucial celebrity gossip, or maybe a state secret. “I need you to do me a favor! I decided to have a party, and I need some CDs! Can you go into my office and just pick out some good party CDs and ship them to me today?” We had stacks of CDs in the office, so it was pretty easy to find good party tunes. And it was easy to want to do whatever favor she asked—Charla was a great boss, and a terrific tour guide for one country bumpkin hire to learn from. It’s not lost on me that her birthday was the day before mine—because from the moment I met her, she’d somehow lead me wherever I was supposed to go. Heck, just shipping that package to a town that held a piece of my future, now seems like a literary allusion. Her husband, Richard, has referred to her today as a trailblazer—and in truth, her gift was opening doors, unlocking secrets (as she did in her books).

When she hired me, I was a shade of green that is particular to small town girls who move to Manhattan to make their way in the magazine world. I had memorized the company handbook, absorbed the culture as quickly as I could. And I was, at first, surprised by the ease with which she made her own rules—employees at the magazine were supposed to answer the phone with our names. Charla, though, sang “Hello!” into the receiver. Answering by name was beside the point—her greeting, her voice, were practically trademarked. She made her own hours—”If I’m out til all hours at screenings, I have to find some time to go to the dry cleaner and get my hair cut,” she said, by way of explanation of her 10:30am arrivals in the office. Soon, I would understand that she always made her own rules, blazed her own trails, did her own thing—well. Including the way in which she made many, many friends. In time, I became one of them.

But first, she would teach me—she would send me to screenings, offer me assignments that were just north of the coffee-getting and copy-making that were an inevitable part of my day. She made up excuses for me to go visit the office of our legendary Editor-in-Chief, Ruth Whitney, in the far corner of our office floor, to deliver manuscripts or special screening invitations. “Please tell Ruth that this is a premiere she should attend,” Charla would say, as though she wasn’t breaking a hundred unwritten rules that Editorial Assistants didn’t strike up a chat with the editor. These errands were not assigned just because she was too busy for these things. She wanted me to have exposure to the right people, the right opportunities. Once, she claimed to have left an important folder in the office when she was having lunch with Katie Couric, around the corner at the unofficial Conde Nast dining room (this was in the 350 Madison Avenue days, when there was no Frank Gehry-designed cafe in the big Times Square Tower the company currently calls home). She called me from the restaurant, “Could you please come around the corner and bring me that folder from my chair?” she asked. “I’m at the table with Katie.” Wowed, awed, stunned–and maybe a little curious as to why Charla needed a file full of manuscripts that had nothing whatsoever to do with Katie Couric, made my way around the corner in a flash, pausing to collect myself outside the restaurant and then adopting an “efficient bravado” from I know not where, when I addressed the hostess. “I have something to give to Charla Krupp,” I said. “Can you please direct me to her table?”

Her smile, when I arrived there, was beaming, genuine.

“OH, Bari NAN! You’re Here! You’re amazing! THAAAANK YOUUUUU!”

And then, as if she hadn’t planned this all along, she said:

“Katie, this is my fab-u-lous assistant Bari Nan. Bari Nan, this is my dear friend Katie Couric.”

There were nice to meet you’s, Katie turned her own dazzling grin on me, asked a few questions about working for Charla, where I came from, where I’d been to college, and then I excused myself, still absorbing what had happened. She had, I told Jeff that night, made up an excuse to introduce me to Katie. For no reason except to be nice.

As her assistant, I observed her doing favors for friends who hadn’t even asked, doting on her family members several states away, hosting her mother’s friends for tours of the magazine offices. And always, always the calls to Richard, several times a day, at his office at Time Magazine, or at home if he was working there.  Checking in, making plans, worrying that he hadn’t eaten—just connecting.

And there was nothing to keep her from doing the right thing—including wrangling an all-star lineup of special guests to pay tribute to Ruth Whitney, when she passed away, as if to right the injustice that was Ruth’s untimely death from ALS, and the unceremonious way in which she’d been replaced at the magazine not long before she’d died.

Over time, there would be more acts of personal and professional generosity, catch-up lunches to swap stories and industry gossip, which I loved, too. There were occasional lunches and phone calls—and lots of shocked “Whaaaaaat?”s when I told her that I was giving up my second Entertainment Editor job to move to Utah. There were promises to come skiing. There were calls when friends were coming to town…”can you take care of them?” She called me, once, unwittingly, when I was in the hospital, hours after I gave birth to my second child, asking for some information for her next book—unaware of what had just transpired. “Oh my GAWWWWD, Bari Nan. What have I done?! Why are you helping me NOW! You just had a BABY!” But she was the kind of person, the kind of friend, for whom anything you could do seemed like not quite enough. Afterward, she sent a lovely gift for the baby, including in the package a pair of simple pink leather travel slippers for me. “Pamper yourself,” the note read. “XOXO Charla.” Which was the way she signed all her notes and emails. XOXO, Charla. I took a lot of delight in calling her to tell her they were my favorite slippers to wear in the motor home. “Oh, Bari Nan, REALLY? A MOTOR HOME? Can’t you have a house in the Hamptons like everyone else?” This, from the woman who did nothing “like everybody else.”

One of our last conversations was a phone call I placed the minute I heard her dear friend, the publicist Ronni Chasen, had been shot to death. “Oh, Bari Nan! It’s awful!” Then, “I can’t believe you called. I can’t believe you remembered…” But she knew—she knew she was important to me, she knew I would always remember. She was grief-stricken. shaken, shocked—I listened, I offered condolences, I made her promise to come visit. I told her I loved her. Which I did, very much. I also liked her a whole lot. I know I’m not alone — she had many fans and friends. If you’re one of them, I invite you to share your favorite Charla memories in the comments.

For now, I’ll say this:

XOXO, Charla. You are missed.

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30 comments

  1. nicci · January 23, 2012

    Bari Nan, I didn’t know Charla. But I’m a fellow “country bumpkin” who moved to NYC to find amazing, brilliantand kind mentors in the magazine industry. I’m so so sorry for your loss – and for the loss of all who knew and loved Charla. Beautiful tribute.

    Like

  2. Lisa Cohen Lee · January 23, 2012

    Oh Bari Nan you brought me right back there with you, when we were all editorial assistants at Glamour. I could just hear Charla and her voice right now, and even the way she would come in and convince Ruth she just had to run a story about _______. What a time–I last saw Charla at Bloomingdales doing a tour for her book. She looked amazing, as she always did, and was a delight to talk to. She had this joie de vivre with a glimmer in her eye and a smile that was infectious. I had tears as I read your post. XOXO

    Like

    • Bari Nan · January 23, 2012

      Lisa, as I wrote, I was right back there–Nicci, you’ll appreciate this, even though you didn’t know her…and Lisa, you will because you did. She once told me (and meant it by way of offering me some encouragement) that I reminded her of herself when she first got to New York, when she didn’t know about hair and makeup and clothes. She said it after I got my first “city” haircut, having tactfully avoided telling me I needed one.

      Like

  3. Marisa Mandrea · January 23, 2012

    Bari, you took every thought out of my mind and put it so perfectly. I had the privilege of being Charla’s intern in 1998 at Glamour and her assistant at Eve.com the year after. I still sign my notes “Best!” because of Charla. She always wrote with these purple ball-point pens. I’ll never forget the time I ordered her a salad with leafy greens, chicken and no dressing and inside the salad was a worm. She screamed,”Marisa, there’s a worm in my salad! Call the health department!” She took me out for my first sushi lunch and always brought me to her Today show appearances because I was a broadcast major at the University of Illinois and knew how much I worshiped Katie Couric. Thank you for sharing your memories, they made me smile on this sad day.
    Best!
    Marisa Helfgot Mandrea

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    • Bari Nan · January 25, 2012

      Marisa,
      Thank you , THANK YOU for sharing this. I am cracking up at the worm moment–as I know there were so many similar moments in my time with her. Your memories, too, made me smile.
      XOXO
      Bari Nan

      Like

  4. Gail · January 24, 2012

    Bari Nan, what a lovely tribute. I enjoyed your Katie Couric story, and the “city haircut” anecdote!

    I overlapped with Charla briefly at Glamour in 1999. I didn’t know her–I sat far away and was freelance there for just a few months–yet I remember her easy smile passing her in the halls. She had an air of always being on her way to something fun and exciting.

    Years later, I smiled when a commenter on mediabistro said she’d sent submitted ideas to Glamour, and Charla Krupp personally took the time to call her and generously share her thoughts on breaking into the magazine business. Who, at her level of success, does that?

    I’m so sorry for your loss.

    Gail O’Connor

    Like

    • Bari Nan · January 25, 2012

      Gail,
      I feel like you and I have orbited each other for years. I’m so glad to hear from you, here. You’re right–her generosity was positively inspiring. If I can emulate half of it in my lifetime, I’ll be grateful. I’m so pleased you shared your impressions.
      XOXO

      Like

  5. Barbara Mendez · January 24, 2012

    This is exactly how I knew her to be…open, smiling, generous and lovely! I was Charla’s friend and nutritionist and I am just heartbroken over her passing. Thank you for writing this….it captures her perfectly! Best to you~ B

    Like

    • Bari Nan · January 25, 2012

      Barbara,
      I am sorry for your loss, too.
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts, and for letting me know I “nailed” it. It was surprising how close to the surface it all was for me.
      Best to you, too.
      BN

      Like

  6. Carla Oellerich · January 24, 2012

    Dear Bari, I am just a fan from a small town in Georgia. (Hephzibah) I loved watching Charla on the Today show and have wondered why she has not been on TV . I bought her first book and shared it with friends , who loved it and bought their own copies. I always made sure to tune in to the Today Show when she was on, she had such a great personality and great ideas. Some guests you remember and look for their segments and some you don’t… I remembered hers and took time to watch when Charla was scheduled. She was a joy to watch and of course I loved her advice. She seemed so down to earth and friendly , and I am sorry for your loss. I am going to buy her second book today. Sincerely, Carla

    Like

    • Bari Nan · January 25, 2012

      Carla,
      I’m so glad you took the time to respond to this post. I know how many of us in the industry liked, loved, respected Charla. But it’s wonderful to have heard from someone who “got” her without ever having met her. That’s her gift, for sure. Thanks for sharing. XOXO

      Like

  7. Stacey Angell · January 24, 2012

    Bari Nan, I didn’t know Charla personally, maybe because I was on the “other side”, in the Art Dept., learning from Kati just as you were learning from Charla. Reading your post took me right back to those days at Glamour and the nostalgia hit me hard. I’m so sorry for your loss…XO !
    Stacey

    Like

    • Bari Nan · January 25, 2012

      Stacey,
      I’ve been thinking about Kati nonstop these past few days. I’ll have to send her the link….
      XO

      Like

  8. Karen Murgolo · January 24, 2012

    Bari Nan, this was such a lovely piece and offered a first hand insight into Charla’s generosity and her spirit. I edited her two books: HOW NOT TO LOOK OLD and HOW TO NEVER LOOK FAT AGAIN. I was always amazed that Charla knew so many secrets, so many people, and always knew the right headline for a book section. And with a polite, “I just made a few tweaks,” she would send me back the flap copy I wrote, but totally rewritten by her so that it sounded juicy and made the reader realize she NEEDED this book! And I’m glad to hear she had been making her own rules for a while. She was the only author I allowed to see final pass of a book before it went to the printer; she just had to make sure we got all the last minute changes corrected (even though we have great proofreaders!). I will miss her calls and her emails with more great promotional ideas for the books. Charla was kind and generous and very smart. I will miss her very much.

    Like

    • Bari Nan · January 25, 2012

      Oh, and how she raved to me about you and your team–It’s funny, our lunches and chats were fairly infrequent, but she ALWAYS brought up how well-supported she felt there.

      I am not AT ALL shocked that she “made” you show her the final pass…

      I’m grinning at that one. I must say, hearing from so many people in her life is making me feel much less lonely for her out here in Utah. (Charla: “Utah???? Reaaaaaallllly???)

      And, Karen, I’m sorry for your loss—I know you will miss her dearly.

      Like

  9. Tanisha · January 24, 2012

    Bari Nan, thanks for sharing this. I was one of the Charla’s publicists on her books at Grand Central. Great story. My phone would ring…”Tanissshaaaa. It’s Chaaarllla….” and then we were on the phone for at least 45 minutes, leaving no publicity stone un-turned. She believed so strongly that women needed resources to empower themselves. Looking good is the pathway to feeling good. And vice-versa. There was nothing frivolous about her mission. I hope others truly understood this about her. XOXO

    Like

    • Bari Nan · January 25, 2012

      Tanisha! I can hear it…loud and clear. I’m laughing out loud. Thank you for that. I needed it 🙂

      Like

  10. Debbie Pike Olsen · January 24, 2012

    Bari Nan,
    That was such a beautiful tribute. I’m so sorry for your loss….I didn’t know you worked for her. I didn’t know Charla personally, but I knew who she was. I think anyone who worked at Conde Nast in the ’90s knew who she was. She was clearly a wonderful person.
    Debbie

    Like

  11. Norman Cohen · January 24, 2012

    I didn’t know her, but now I do and, thanks to your ample skills, know her very well. Your tribute is exquisite, a grand slam home run that somehow drove in five runs.

    Norman Cohen

    Like

  12. Sheri Lapidus · January 24, 2012

    Bari Nan,
    You captured her perfectly. I was the PR Director at In Style magazine for 11 years. My team and I spent many hours with Charla booking and preparing her for far too many TODAY Show segments to remember and many other appearances. She was one of a kind full of enthusiasm which came through in all she did. I was completely shocked and saddened to learn about her illness and death. She truly influenced those who knew her and those who didn’t.
    We all feel this terrible loss.
    Sheri

    Like

    • Bari Nan · January 25, 2012

      Sheri,
      I’m so sorry for your loss, too.
      Also, I remember when she left Glamour for InStyle, I thought my world was ending. (Of course, I wound up with two successive editors who also became lifelong friends…but I was such a kid, and she was such an excellent guide, I head no idea how it was going to play out). But I also remember how much she loved the whole team at IS, and how she jumped in there with both feet…I’m glad you have such fond memories of her, too.

      Like

  13. Carol · January 24, 2012

    Bari, you captured everything that was special about Charla. I met her back in 1978, my first summer at Conde Nast. I was a “rover,” which really meant I was a paid intern. One of my stints was at Glamour and that was where I met Charla who told me to “stop by her office if I needed anything.”

    We stayed in touch through the years. Every time I saw her, she reacted the same way. acting like we had seen each other three minutes ago. When her first book came out my company built her first website — and she loved that WE loved her book. Same thing with the second one. She never took her success for granted.

    I can still hear her saying…”Oh stoooooooop” whenever I paid her a compliment.

    The last time I saw her was last spring at a memorial service for a mutual friend from Conde Nast. She was busy making sure that everyone was introduced to the people that they needed to know, and that no one was wandering without someone to talk to, but that did not stop her from telling me at one point that she was talking to the people at SPANX about my idea for a tank bathing suit. She said, “I have not forgotten what you said.”

    She was vibrant, exciting and her energy was contagious.

    She is going to be so very very missed by sooooo many people.

    All best,
    Carol Fitzgerald

    Like

    • Bari Nan · January 25, 2012

      Carol,
      I was a “rover,” too…and once I met Charla (in spite of both my bumpkin haircut and the fact that my only “entertainment” clips were about the release of ET on VHS…in the Troy (NY) Record, that was that!

      I love reading about your friendship–it’s a classic Charla story. And your observations just reinforce everything I knew and liked about her. I can’t fathom that she’s not just a phone call away now.

      Like

  14. Michele Shapiro · January 25, 2012

    Brava, Bari Nan! What a beautifully written tribute. Well said!

    Like

  15. Bari Nan · January 25, 2012

    Thanks, Michele. Loved your comments on the FB page, too.

    Like

  16. cindi leive · January 27, 2012

    Bari Nan, what a wonderful way to pay tribute to Charla. I know she would have been proud! Thank you for capturing these memories. xxxx Cindi

    Like

  17. Pingback: Birthdays ROCK « Bari Nan Cohen

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