Monday, April 26, 2004

Topic A: Jay McInerney's Ex Wife's Plastic Surgery

Just what the fuck occurred with Tina Brown on last night's Topic A with Tina Brown? Was it the book deal (Thanks, Gawker)? As she gave her "hot pick," and she said goodnight, just before that sort of porny-speakeasy jazz music started wafting through the studio, and the credits rolled, she got a michievous twinkle about her eyes, then she leaned in to novelist-panelist Jay McInerney and asked about his ex wife, Helen Bransford, and her plastic surgery. And the fucking mike's were still live!

Did Tina know what she was doing?

Julie Breeson of Boston Magazine summed up the beginning of Bransford's facelift book thusly:

"Helen Bransford, author of Welcome to Your Facelift (Doubleday, 1997) and wife of Bright Lights, Big City author Jay McInerney, took the plunge at 47, getting lipo under the chin, a forehead peel, an upper-eyelid tuck, dermabrasion (removing fine wrinkles through an abrasion tool), and a standard facelift, all at once. The chronicle of her surgery began with what she describes as a 'trigger event.' Her husband came home one night after interviewing Julia Roberts and raved about the actress' beauteous attributes. Helen was understandably jealous, but Jay reassured her he had told Julia all about her, leaving out only the pesky detail of her age (Helen is seven years older than Jay). This sent her running pell-mell to plastic surgeons across the nation for advice, ultimately having her operation done near her home in New York City."

Despite the fact that Bransford wrote a book on her facelift, which is in the public record, Jay didn't feel like letting all 70 members of Tina's viewing audience (only kidding) in on his personal life.

Obviously, Tina felt the topic was too personal to bring up during the show, even though one of the topics was The Swan and all those nutty reality plastic surgery shows. So, uh, why the fuck bring it up when the mikes are still live, where evil bloggers like me could post it online for all the world to see?

"Now it seems so quaint that I would have (had) those reservations," he replied to Tina. And just as the show cut, bloated Brit Paul Theroux could be heard saying, " ... it's grotesque."

Oh, what The Corsair would have given to have been a fly on the wall in the ensuing, uncensored, chat on plastic surgery.

The UK Guardian's book section did a wondeful and snarky and gossipy profile of McInerney, which I reprint, in part, here, as he talks about life with his third wife, now ex-wife, Helen Branford:

"( A new life was) marriage to Helen Bransford, and moving to Tennessee. But now that, too, is over. This again raises the question always asked by Jay-watchers: is he really a good boy pretending to be bad, or is he actually as bad - as callous and brattish - as he can sometimes seem? Naturally he has always favoured the former view, and said two years ago, 'I think I've been trying to prove I'm a really bad guy for 20 years, that I'm not a mother's boy. But part of me is stuck with being a Catholic boy who is slightly shocked by things.' Part of him - but perhaps a decreasing part. He once admitted that, as a teenager, he was deeply influenced by the Playboy 'Adviser' section and he still retains that slightly tacky notion of sophistication - he really has to have a beautiful woman on his arm. And the emotional detritus is piling up."

Some people are deeply influenced by Nabokov, and others The Playboy Advisor. But what happens when one is influenced by Playboy Advisor?:

"(Jay) says he's not behaved so badly. 'I don't think I've left a trail of weeping women in my wake. I mean, the number of serious relationships I've had has not been into double digits. Merry [his second wife] once said I was a very dangerous man, but I don't know many people who would agree with her. I think I have a much more tempestuous and eventful amorous life than the average middle-class citizen, but I wouldn't agree that I necessarily behaved dishonourably. The score is about equal between me and the opposite sex!'

"Perhaps. His first wife, Linda Rossiter, was a half-Japanese model whom he met when he was living in Japan on a Princeton scholarship. The marriage lasted for precisely four months - she went off to the Milan collections and never came back. Then in 1981, while studying at Syracuse under Raymond Carver, he married a PhD student called Merry Reymond. He was still living with her when Bright Lights, Big City was published in 1984, and changed his life. He claims that no one thought he was handsome till he became a famous writer, but suddenly every door in New York was open to him, everyone was offering him cocaine, and models were passing him their phone numbers. It was exciting for him but confusing for Merry: 'She married a graduate student and woke up married to an MTV star.'"

The Corsair munches on popcorn, riveted to the screen, at the thought of the 80s, models passing telephone numbers and half-Japanese models:

"In 1987 he left her for a model, Marla Hanson, who was then headline news as a result of having had her face slashed by a mugger. Merry suffered acute depression, attempted suicide, and was in a psychiatric hospital for nine months. He paid the enormous bills, which wiped out his earnings from Bright Lights, and said, 'Yeah, I did feel guilty, but I paid a lot of money to expunge the guilt.' One of the best stories in How It Ended seems to relate to this period. It is about a famous actor going to visit his estranged wife in a psychiatric home, and wondering why he keeps delaying their divorce. 'Sometimes he suspected he was afraid to let go because she was the only person who wouldn't allow him to reinvent himself completely, into something bright and shiny and superficial... [She] was perhaps his best chance to remember and preserve the best of what he had been.'

"So he was slow to divorce Merry and never got round to marrying Marla Hanson, though they stayed together for four years. He remembers it as 'a very obsessive relationship, throwing glasses at each other, cheating on each other. It was very exciting.' But she left him in 1991, walking out with her portfolio and her diaphragm, just like his first wife. Within days, he rang an old friend, Helen Bransford, asked her out, and suddenly they were in love and married three weeks later at City Hall. She came from a very grand old Tennessee family (the family seat, Belle Meade, is now a museum) and he seems to have fallen in love with the South as much as with her. They bought a country ranch near Nashville, and he signed off from New York with his big valedictory novel Brightness Falls. His next novel, The Last of the Savages, was set in the South, and the interviews he gave on publication were all about horses, heirlooms, ancestors, and revealed a hitherto-unsuspected vein of snobbery. He claimed, 'I always wanted to live in the world that I have ended up living in.'"

The Corsair mouths the words, softly, reverently, "I always wanted to live in the world that I have ended up living in," pausing on the syllables, trying them on for size. The profile in the Guardian continues:

"But the Tennessee idyll was already flawed. Helen was 43 when they married - seven years older than him - and warned him that they might not be able to have children. He said he honestly didn't mind. But when she became pregnant within weeks of marrying him, he seemed to share her delight. Then she had a miscarriage. Then she had four more miscarriages. Then she turned to IVF. But her eggs were too old, and her uterus too old to carry the baby to term. Most women, I imagine, would have given up at this point, but she didn't. A friend of hers called Jesse, a country and western singer, offered to donate eggs, and Helen advertised for a surrogate mother to carry the baby. She found a waitress who was willing to do it for $15,000. Thus, with Jay's sperm, her friend's eggs, and her employee's womb, Helen created the twins, Maisie and John Barrett McInerney III. But it was touch and go. The waitress refused to give up smoking, much to Helen's fury, and then developed diabetes and kept going into labour. The twins were eventually born three months prematurely, weighing less than 2lb each, and had to spend 10 weeks in incubators. Helen wrote a gripping account of the whole saga for American Vogue."

Wait ... first she chronicles the "saga" of childbirth to twins in Vogue, then her facelift? Okay, (takes a breath, munches some popcorn), I just needed to puzzle that out ... let's continue:

"Jay's role at first was hardly more than sperm donor and bemused spectator. He'd always assumed he would be a father one day, but he was in no hurry. 'I never really cared that much. I just didn't get it until I saw them [the twins] and held them and got to know them.' The twins were born in 1995, the year he turned 40, and lost his own father - it should have marked the end of his long restless adolescence.

"But the next year there was an odd little warning sign that all was not quite perfect in the marriage. Helen had a facelift. She decided to do it, she said, because when Jay came back from interviewing Julia Roberts he remarked, 'I told her all about you. Well, everything but your age.' It was the first sign, to Helen, that the seven-year age gap was a problem - a problem for Jay, she thought. So off she went and had a facelift, and wrote an article, and then a book, about it. Jay said he felt 'a little embarrassed. But I have to say that I've benefited from it. She looks great, as good as she did when I first met her 14 years ago.'

"He once said that what attracted him to Helen was that 'She was so cool, like a guy.' She was the first woman he'd lived with who was not emotionally needy or wounded in some way. 'And,' he now adds, 'who wasn't emotionally unbalanced. Maybe that's one of the reasons why our separation is so amicable. She's not threatening to stab me in my sleep or stab any future girlfriends in my life!'"

So amicable, after the facelift ... hmmm. Most curious.

"But surely having a facelift and going to all those lengths to have children suggest that she was needy, or at least that she was worried about ageing? 'Well. I never quite understood those decisions. Neither of those decisions were pacts that I was in agreement with. Those were not moments of great concord , so I don't know how to answer for those decisions. Helen is a great eccentric - and I say that affectionately. I don't think anyone else would have had quite that response to that set of problems.'"


"Significantly, his next novel, Model Behavior, published in 1998, was set again in New York and marked what one critic called 'a return to the shallow end'. He had grown bored with country life, and was spending more and more time in their New York apartment, so eventually Helen moved there with the twins, bought an adjacent apartment (from Stephen Fry, who seldom used it) and tried to make a family home. Helen said it was fine for him to go out partying till three in the morning, as long as he didn't expect her to accompany him."

The Corsair audibly gasps, all wrapped up in McInerney's life:

"Inevitably, this soon provoked rumours that Jay was having affairs, though he insists that's not the reason they split up - 'We were having our own problems, all by ourselves.' One basic problem was that Helen wanted to be in Nashville and he wanted to be in New York. Helen had done New York in her twenties and thirties and wanted to get out - 'She didn't feel she needed all the social desperation, I guess.' Whereas he felt he belonged - 'It's my place, you know? It's the only place I've ever felt entirely at home. There's a wonderful fantasy element to life in Tennessee, and it was something I wanted to try but I don't think it was ultimately the life for me.'"


"They officially separated (in 2000), but Jay says the real crisis was (1999). Of course, he'd been through divorce before, but not when there were children. 'Children change everything,' he sighs. 'That's what makes it essentially really awful - that was what gave us both such trouble and regrets. And the resolution is somewhat melancholy, but at the same time I'm so relieved that there is some resolution, and so is Helen. We both get along much better now - we started as really great friends and that's what we've reverted to, and it seems to work very well.' He visits the children two or three times a month and recently went on holiday with them. The other day he accompanied Helen to a party in Nashville, which he says shocked some of their friends. Jesse, the biological mother of the twins, is still angry with him. 'She might be a little down on me - one always has to blame somebody - but I think she'll get over that. Because Helen is so incredibly non-judgemental that her friends are coming around now.'"

Damn ... Jesse's down on Jay, The Corsair writes that on his scorecard, then continues:

"But last year, he says, was 'a terrible, terrible year for me'. What made it so terrible was that he suffered writer's block - something that had never happened to him before and that he thought never would. 'With so much of my life in turmoil, I just couldn't settle in a place where I could concentrate. I couldn't get enough distance when my mind was so consumed by this life crisis, and I was really stuck for a while. I'm very happy that's over.'"

Okay, I'm only going to make one comment before directing you to the Guardian site to read the whole fantastic story here, which I went on from at length. Do I have this correct: The writer's block was the only point in this story that really caused him angst, the writer's block is that which really fucked up his year, like, not the girlfriend who was mugged and slashed, or the twins in Tennessee, or the case of the needless facelift, or even Jesse? (when is someone going to care about Jesse?)

Blame it on the Playboy Advisor.

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