'The Pickup Artist' Comes Back to Life in Spy Magazine Archives

An unflattering article about a notorious film director mysteriously disappeared from the defunct publication's online record—but now it's back

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Spy Magazine

A month ago in this space, we noted that the archives of Spy magazine were being put up, free for the perusal, on Google Books. Spy, whose heyday was from 1986 to about 1991, specialized in well-reported satirical assaults on the wealthy, the corrupt, and the buffoonish, all under the joint editorship of Kurt Andersen and Graydon Carter.

But as we mentioned at the time, we noticed something mysterious about the Google Books Spy archive: A famously skanky Spy profile by Vincenza Demetz about the film director James Toback—who is known for having written the screenplay for Warren Beatty's Bugsy and for having directed Exposed and The Pickup Artist—was missing.

The issue was up on Google Books (and can be seen here.)

But in a sort of digital parallel to the terrestrial cliché of a few pages surreptitiously sliced out of a library's copy of a magazine, the article in question was gone.

Interesting, Toback's Wikipedia page doesn't mention the Spy article, either.

The article—called "The Pickup Artist's Guide to Picking Up Women"—detailed how the director, sometimes disheveled and wearing a raincoat, would hang out on the streets of the Upper West Side in New York City, and approach women. According to the story, he would in rapid-fire fashion tell them that he was a Hollywood director and offer to show them his Directors Guild of America card. The pitch invariably ended up with an invite to meet privately—sometimes at an outlandishly late hour—to talk about appearing in one of his films. Demetz talked to 13 women he'd approached, all of whom had amusingly similar stories about the director's methods and risqué manner.

Depressingly, in researching that story I talked to a friend who said his daughter, then a 20 year old, had had the same experience with the director in 2007, 18 years after the original story was published. Gawker's found an example or two as well.

In any case, we go into all this to note that we've been notified that the site Scribd.com is also posting issues from Spy, including the March 1989 issue that featured the Toback story.

Finally, the piece, starting on page 86, can be read in all its skanky original glory, right?

Well, almost. We found Scribd difficult to use. On both Chrome and Firefox, on both a laptop and a PC, we had a hard time getting the pages of the article to resolve correctly.

Heavens, we though, perhaps a Toback-defending genie was at work here, too.

But using Safari on the Mac we finally got to look at the full piece—a main story, a three-page chart (a big fold-out in the original magazine) detailing his approaches to the different women, and a sidebar from the set of the movie he was then working on.

So enjoy. But note that story is not for the faint of heart—as the original Spy warning reads:

"This chart includes frank, explicit language, including the phrase, uttered by a man, 'Just touch my nipples and I'll come."

Presented by

Bill Wyman is the former arts editor of Salon.com and National Public Radio.

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