“Where are you from, and what do you need from me?” is how the no-nonsense Cindy Adams greeted me in her New York City penthouse one afternoon this past summer. But it was just a few moments before the infamous New York Post gossip columnist relaxed and started sifting through photos of the memorable events and celebrations she’s attended over the course of her 91 years. Adams first joined the tabloid in 1981, after writing biographies of mavericks like Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno; Jolie Gabor; and Lee Strasberg, and conducting interviews for local television stations. Friend or foe, no celebrity was safe from the dirt Adams dished, and her name became so synonymous with getting the inside scoop that she eventually created a fragrance named Gossip—also the title of her four-part docuseries, which aired on Showtime this summer. “Everybody has an opinion,” Adams told me. “And that’s what gossip is.”
In 1952, Adams married her husband, the comedian Joey Adams, who was close with the famed gossip columnist Walter Winchell. The connection led to Adams’s becoming a writer herself. “Walter made and broke presidents of the United States. That’s how powerful he was. Now we don’t mean anything,” Adams said. “Joey is the one who pushed this. Not me. I didn’t want it. Don’t want it now. I still have it.”
Before she was Cindy Adams, she was Cindy Heller, a regular girl from New York. But she worked hard to become a teen beauty queen. “I was a model a thousand years ago,” Adams said. “I was ‘Miss’ this, and I was ‘Miss’ that.” In 1949, she earned the title of Miss Wallet (above), for which she posed inside a large wallet made just for the prizewinner.
In 1951, Adams was elected Miss Bagel. “They gave me a crown of bagels. A goddamn crown of bagels.”
Adams got her start as a writer by meeting with the first president of Indonesia, Sukarno (above, with Adams in 1965), about whom she eventually penned two books. “The first thing I asked him when I met him was, ‘Why do you wear the uniform?’ And he gave me a staid answer. I said, ‘I don’t think so, honey. I think you wear it because you know damn well you look handsome in it.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, you’re right.’ He started to laugh. That’s how I ended up doing the books. Because he loved me.”
Adams (above, promoting her fragrance in 1997) still writes for the Post four days a week, adhering to her afternoon deadlines with aplomb. But how relevant is a gossip column when anyone can log on to Instagram or Twitter to find out about mundane celebrity behavior? “Gossip is everywhere now,” Adams said. “It’s not a profession, it’s anyone. If you get cranky with someone, you say anything you want: ‘She wore a dirty shirt.’ ‘She was rude.’ ‘She gave me stale water.’ It doesn’t make any difference.”
In the 1990s, Adams struck up a close friendship with then First Lady Hillary Clinton (above, center), and they had such a good time with each other that they were once booted from the elite University Club in Manhattan. “It was Christmas. We were unpacking gifts for each other in a gigantic reading room and having too much fun,” Adams said. Thinking they were alone, Adams brought out her cell phone, which was against club rules, and attracted the attention of an elderly member, who was none too pleased. “He called the marshals of the club, and they threw us out.”
The Post has had a rocky history. Under conservative media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, the paper revolutionized tabloid journalism, but there was an FCC rule in place stating that no one could own a newspaper and a television network at the same time. In 1988, Murdoch sold the paper, and in later years, it fell into the hands of owners with less-than-sterling reputations (highlights of the charges against them included securities fraud, a murder plot, and a $460 million Ponzi scheme). The staff protested, but it was Adams who saved the day, when she called on every investor she knew to raise money and asked Governor Mario Cuomo to persuade the FCC to make an exception for Murdoch to own the paper again. Above: Adams at a rally to save the Post in 1993.
Adams attends scores of Broadway and movie premieres, but she almost always sneaks out after the red carpet interviews. “I see movies, but not always at big events,” she said. “I go with friends.” Above: Adams poses with members of the Wicked cast and her friend Liza Minnelli (Adams was a bridesmaid in the performer’s last wedding).
Just because Adams made a job out of dishing all the dirt she could on the A-list doesn’t mean she was ever much of a partyer herself. “I’m fine at my friends’ houses, but if I go to a big party, I’m not sure I have fun. I think, for me, it’s a job,” she said. “I went to Studio 54 when it opened. The noise, the clamor, the drugs, the drinking—I’m not that.” Above: Adams with Eartha Kitt at the Broadway debut of Dracula, the Musical, in 2004.
Another good friend of Adams’s is journalist Barbara Walters, who once requested that the columnist accompany her on a speaking engagement on a cruise ship that departed from a port near Rome. A plastic surgeon friend prescribed Adams some Ambien for the flight over, but accidentally doubled the dosage. “I was zonked out,” Adams said. “When they brought breakfast, my head was down in the omelet, and it wouldn’t come up.” Eventually, she had to be wheelchaired off the plane and onto the boat, while an unamused Walters looked on.
You might be hard-pressed to find anything in this life that Adams adores more than her Yorkshire terrier, Jellybean (she even wrote two books about previous pups, Jazzy and Juicy, in 2003 and 2007). “I had a dog named Rufus. He was a black Scottie, and he was run over,” she said of her first pooch. “After that, I couldn’t bear the pain anymore, so I didn’t have one forever. And my husband had been bitten by a dog when he was a child, so during my years of marriage, I didn’t have a dog. The week he died, I got a dog.”
These days, Adams works from her home office, whose walls and ceiling are plastered with Post covers. “Whenever I had a front page, we didn’t know where to put it, so we stuck it on the wall, and then it just kept going and going,” she said of the decor. “These are all of my front pages, every one of them.”
For a gossip columnist, part of the job is to attend soirées, going out multiple nights a week to premieres, afterparties, and launches—and looking fabulous while doing it. Above: A variety of Adams’s hairstyles through the years, which reflect her commitment to the craft. “At these events, people want to tell you something; they want to whisper something into your ear,” Adams said. “There are wackos who want their names out there: Jennifer Lopez, Kardashian. I need to write about them. They need me. Some of them are nice, some not.”
“There are casual friends that you go to dinner with, or that you trust, that you think will be nice. But a real friend is someone who is there when you need them,” Adams said. One of those loyal companions is Judge Judith Sheindlin (known by her stage name, Judge Judy), who is also Adams’s health advocate. They throw each other a birthday bash every year. “I don’t invite anyone into my home who’s not my friend; it’s my home. So when I give a party, it’s somebody that I trust.”
When Joey was alive, the Adamses would often turn up at events around the city together. “Joey was not the most famous comedian in the world. He wasn’t, in those days, a Bob Hope or a Seinfeld; he was second. But his lifestyle was No. 1,” Adams said. “He knew all the people. He had the phone numbers, the addresses. He was president of all the actors.” Above: The couple at the Russian Tea Room in 1993.
Source: W Magazine