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.