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Spy magazine' was a satirical monthly founded in 1986 by Kurt Andersen and E. Graydon Carter, who served as its first editors, and Thomas L. Phillips, Jr., its first publisher. After one folding and rebirth, it ceased publication in 1998. Spy was named after the fictitious magazine that employed James Stewart's character, Macaulay "Mike" Connor, in the movie The Philadelphia Story.

Primarily a magazine of satirical journalism and humor, but also featuring some more serious investigative journalism, the New Yorkmarker-based Spy traced its influences to "H. L. Mencken and A. J. Liebling and Wolcott Gibbs from the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s; parody-Time-ese of the ’40s and ’50s; New Journalism of the ’60s and ’70s; Private Eyemarker, the scabrous (and much jokier) British fortnightly; and the ways we just happened to write," as Andersen and Carter would later write in Spy: The Funny Years. It specialized in intelligent, thoroughly researched, irreverent pieces targeting the American media and entertainment industries. Some of its features attempted to present the darker side of celebrities such as Arnold Schwarzenegger, John F. Kennedy, Jr., Martha Stewart, and especially the real-estate tycoon Donald Trump and his then-wife Ivana Trump. Pejorative epithets of celebrities, e.g. "Abe 'I'm Writing As Bad As I Can' Rosenthal" and "former fatgirl Diane Brill" became a Spy trademark.


Despite its relatively short life, Spy was among the most widely acclaimed and discussed American magazines of its time, chiefly for its detached and ironic tone, its use of quasi-scientific charts and tables to convey information, and its elaborate, classically influenced typography and layout.

Spy briefly broke even in 1989, but was ultimately not successful as a business, particularly after a recession affected the U.S. economy beginning in the early 1990s. The founders sold the magazine to European buyers in 1991; several months later, Carter left the magazine; Andersen departed 18 months later, replaced by Tony Hendra. The magazine briefly ceased publication in 1994, was revived soon after under new ownership, and finally went out of business in 1998. Its last editor was a recent Harvard graduate, Bruno Maddox.

In October 2006, Miramax Books published Spy: The Funny Years (ISBN 1-4013-5239-1), a greatest-hits anthology and history of the magazine created and compiled by Carter, Andersen, and one of their original editors, George Kalogerakis.


Spy's popular features included "Separated At Birth?" (side-by-side photographs of two different celebrities, similar to Private Eye's "Lookalikes") and "Celebrity Math," which presented thumbnail headshots atop simple mathematical models representing the components of celebrities (e.g., Fabio - Catherine Deneuve = Billy Ray Cyrus).

The magazine also specialized in often elaborate stings and hoaxes that explored the American phenomenon of celebrity. Notable efforts in this regard include: the purchasing by the magazine of a bona fide Scottish noble title, a test of the U.S. Postal Service in which letters were addressed only with the photo of the intended recipient (The letter sent to John Cardinal O'Connor was successfully delivered), and, to test the ethical limits of the public relations industry, the successful pitching of a chain of fast-food restaurants that served freshly-ground rabbit meat burgers and was fronted by a fuzzy-eared mascot who told customers how delicious his species was to humans.

For a humorous magazine, Spy was often aggressive about straight feature reporting. In the summer of 1992, it ran the only serious investigative story on President George H.W. Bush's alleged extramarital affairs with Jennifer Fitzgerald and other women. The following year, Spy ran an article entitled "Clinton's First 100 Lies," detailing what it described as the new president's pattern of duplicitous behavior. After O.J. Simpson was acquitted on charges of murdering his former wife and her friend, Spy ran a cover story under the headline "He's Guilty, By George!" presenting a long list of details that its writers said proved conclusively that Simpson was the killer; he did not sue. The cover illustration parodied that of the much-hyped premiere issue of George magazine, with Simpson standing in for Cindy Crawford. Spy used lawyers to vet such potentially libelous material, but its stories often angered their prominent subjects, occasionally driving away advertisers.

Editorial staff


  • Separated at Birth? (1988, ISBN 0-385-24744-3): A collection of photos from "Separated at Birth?"
  • Private Lives of Public Figures (Drew Friedman, cartoons from Spy, 1990)
  • Spy Notes on McInerney's "Bright Lights, Big City/Janowitz's "Slaves of New York"/Ellis's "Less Than Zero" and All Those Other Hip Urban Novels of the 1980s (1989, ISBN 0-385-24745-1): A CliffsNotes-style look at the literature of the eighties
  • Separated at Birth? 2: The Saga Continues (1990, ISBN 0-385-41099-9)
  • Spy High (1992)
  • George Kalogerakis, Kurt Andersen, and Graydon Carter, Spy: The Funny Years (2006, ISBN 1-4013-5239-1)


  • Spy Magazine Presents: Spy Music (Vol I)
  • Spy Magazine Presents: White Men Can't Wrap (Vol II)
  • Spy Magazine Presents: Soft, Safe & Sanitized (Vol III)

See also

External links

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