The Velma Kelly and Mama Morton of newsletters is punching high, kicking low, and rethinking just about everything, from Sarah Silverman to Boomer grandpas to a writer we called Finchie.
Following in the esteemed shuffle-ball-changes of Christie Brinkley, Brandy (Norwood), Michelle Williams (as in child of Destiny), Brooke Shields, Rita Wilson, Lisa Rinna, Erika Jayne, Jessica Simpson’s little sister, Bruce ’n’ Demi’s eldest, and that lady from TLC’s Trading Spaces1—takes deep gasp of breath—Pamela Anderson, 54, is hoofing it as Roxie Hart in Broadway’s Chicago. (A role that, we must add, is quite special to the Spread team, who are both fierce defenders of the 2002 Rob Marshall movie adaptation and Gwen Verdon megafans who relished every moment of the 2019 limited series Fosse/Verdon.) Pam’s casting is at first glance a soft, set-it-and-forget it comeback in the wake of Pam & Tommy, the ultra-buzzy, kinda-grody Hulu bio-series starring2 a pair of colossal prosthetic breasts—and an animatronic penis, for good measure—that Anderson wanted no part of. But here’s the twist: She’s apparently quite good in the part! Audiences are raving! Which brings us joy.
Pam is one of the Spread’s two all-time favorite blonde bombshells; the other being the tragic Anna Nicole Smith. (Your reading list: Start with this 2014 Anderson profile, which, thanks to the brilliance of writer Jessica Pressler, we willed into existence. And if you haven’t read Dan P. Lee’s epic 2011 New York magazine profile of Smith and her 90-year-old billionaire-husband, J. Howard Marshall—matter-of-factly titled “Paw Paw & Lady Love”—now’s the time.) Lucky for us, both will soon be up for cultural reconsideration. Netflix is making a docuseries on Pam’s saga, with her consent/participation, and also one on Anna Nicole’s devastating rise and fall. Are these part of the exhaustive, exhausting trend of revisiting wronged ’90s women through the wised-up gaze of today? Yes, definitely part of all that jazz! And are we nevertheless pumped for them? You betcha.
Give ’em the old razzle dazzle,
Rachel & Maggie
PS: Is it really only a week ago that we were curled up in a little ball over the Roe leak? Tomorrow the Senate is expected to vote on the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would offer federal protection to abortion access. Don’t get your hopes up: The bill is not backed by all 50 senate Dems. And the two supposedly “pro-choice” Republican senators, Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), have put forth a separate abortion rights bill. The point of tomorrow’s vote, it seems, is to make every senator show their cards—revealing where they stand on the issue—before the Supreme Court makes its final Roe decision, and we all go to the polls for the midterms in November.
PPS: Please hit the like button for this post. Thanks!
Did I help “invent” Finchie?
For months now, I’ve devoured the wave of scammer-TV shows as ravenously as the next girl, usually marveling less at the fabulists at the center of these tales—from Anna Delvey to Elizabeth Holmes to Uber’s Travis Kalanick—and more at the suckers in their thrall: the investors, the advisors, the hangers-on who were so completely taken in by what seem like such obvious lies: Oh come on, I always think, You fell for this crap? Well. Last week, Vanity Fair dropped a two-parter on Hollywood’s hoax du jour: Not only is it the most Spread-y story ever, but the drama kicks off with an essay that ran in Elle, where Rachel and I met and fell in love. Nutshell: For years, Grey’s Anatomy staff writer Elisabeth Finch, known as “Finchie” to friends and colleagues, mined her own, extensive medical record—a rare form of cancer, followed by chemo, kidney removal, and more—as fodder for the show’s storylines, all while taking frequent leaves for treatment, mental health, and all manner of personal tragedy. Except that, as Evgenia Peretz’s reporting reveals, it seems doubtful that Finchie ever had cancer, or chemo, or a bum kidney; or that she was abused as a child by her own brother; or that she personally cleaned up the remains of a friend who was killed in the tragic Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. As laid out in the Vanity Fair series—and as we can confirm here!—Finchie’s career as a first-person medical expert was launched by an essay she—and therefore we—published in Elle, back when she was writing for the Vampire Diaries. The essay was about working in Hollywood through a rare diagnosis of chondrosarcoma, a form of bone cancer, in her thirties. That story got her the job on Grey’s. And yeah, folks, I fell for the pitch, commissioned it, and edited it. Not only that: I went to bat for it in editorial meetings, over and over. The standard girl-gets-cancer narrative was a little too straight “women’s magazine” for my boss, who (rightly) wanted something with an original angle, or a specific sense of relevance. I helped Finchie craft an essay about the surprising, starry outpouring of support and empathy after she underwent treatment at the Mayo Clinic (or, I guess, didn’t…? OH MY GOD!). When she got sick, Hollywood had her back: A crowd of actors, writers, producers, and the like sent her photos holding up the motto of her favorite show (and mine) Friday Night Lights—“Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.” First, because I know you’re wondering: Yes, the story went through fact-checking. I don’t remember the details of the process, because it was years ago. But I know our fact-checkers would have verified things like the definition of chondrosarcoma; the correct location of the Mayo Clinic. They would not have checked her medical records, and it’s unlikely they interviewed her doctors, because: HIPPA. (Some people who write about their own health do consent to let their doctors talk to reporters and fact-checkers, though often the doctors still refuse—such is the strictness of privacy around health care.) Finch also walked into Elle with some credibility, or at least familiarity: One of her best friends was one of our top profile writers, who had known her during her cancer saga. Sadly, I now assume this writer, who loved her dearly, had been duped, too.
What I can’t stop thinking about are the weeks and multiple drafts I spent honing that essay with her, for her—which, it seems, helped pave the road to her even bigger ruse at Shondaland. I worked hard to make that essay sing, tightening it, clarifying it. That was my job, of course, but I was also driven by fear: If it wasn’t good enough, I’d have to tell this funny, warm, self-deprecating, generous writer who, little by little, was becoming my friend, that we were killing not just her story, but what felt like her life story. Which for all I knew might live on longer than she did (no dice on that one: Sometime over the past couple of months, Elle seems to have scrubbed it from their site). No way was I going to tell a writer roughly my age, single at the time, and possibly dying of cancer, that the story she’d bared her soul in was dead. A couple of times over the course of the process, I shed actual tears at the prospect of having to have that dreaded conversation. (This scene is easily fact-checkable: Rachel witnessed my mini-meltdown.)
The VF story recalls the many people who went to great lengths for Finchie—not just the friends who dropped everything to help, and the wife who overlooked lies and inconsistencies in her own relationship, but the colleagues who gave her preferential treatment at work, and extended her deadlines, always giving her the benefit of the doubt. Of course they did: Finchie was doing all this with cancer. I admit, the story has made me mentally retrace my steps, question my professional instincts at the time. I’ve learned something about taking writers’ personal stories at face value. Still, I hope I’m never the kind of person who instinctively doubts a person’s story about their battle with cancer. Maybe I’m not all that different from Rachel Williams, the photo editor (from VF, naturally) who jetted off to Marrakech with Anna Delvey and threw down her corporate card, assuming her $62,000 would be reimbursed. Or from the lab assistants at Theranos, who seemed so gullible to me for believing that Elizabeth Holmes, Girl Genius, really did have a secret department with hidden blood-testing technology that actually, uh, worked. Or maybe the people who duped them were just as convincing as the one who, it seems, duped me. I don’t want to be a hardened skeptic, at least not about a story like this one. So Rachel, what’s your takeaway from the Finchie files?—Maggie
Maggie: Because not only was I your work wife during the editing process you describe, I hung out with Finchie multiple times at parties in L.A.—and bought her story hook, line, and sinker!—my takeaway is that… this should be a movie! And Elisabeth Moss should play you. Or Rosemarie DeWitt. Love you!—Rachel
All aboard the post-Roe roller coaster: How’s week two treatin’ you?
Yesterday morning I called my mom in Jackson, Mississippi, to debrief after a bustling weekend of gardening, pressure washing, making fresh-from-the-farmer’s-market salads (her), staying up all night long with a screaming toddler, playing social secretary to a tween and a teen, entertaining out-of-town guests, and attempting and failing to read the paper (me). Her opening salvo: “Did you hear what Tater said?” At that point, I had not yet heard what Tater—aka Mississippi governor Tate Reeves—had said this time, but I could guess the category; he loves hurling horrible ideas with dire consequences for women into the already-sweltering Mississippi climate. “He said we in Mississippi aren’t gonna go after birth control…yet,” she said. Even for Tater, it was a record- scratch of a comment.
That left me despondent and nauseated. The chasm between anti- and pro-choice was too vast—we were doomed. Still, I had to start plugging away at my weekly Spread-mandated reading, including Kerry Howley’s New York cover story, “The Woman Who Killed Roe.” The article considers the political and cultural history of abortion in American through the story of Marjorie Dannenfelser, the woman who worked her way up the anti-abortion ranks and eventually got Donald Trump to agree to only nominate Supreme Court justices likely to overturn Roe. As expected, it was heartbreaking, but—cornball as it sounds—it also gave me a little hope. Howley’s ability to telegraph the fear and humanity of the “other” side while writing for a lefty magazine, yet never swaying from the truth that abortion is a moral necessity and that what her subject has done for the cause of its legal demise is abhorrent—is extraordinary. On Twitter, Howley boiled down her mission thusly: “I wrote about the radical decontextualization of the fetus—and how it broke our politics.” It’s a high-wire feat accomplished with breathtaking access to anti-abortion activists and, of course, the incredible timeliness of the piece arriving within days of the Roe leak. Please read it.
In the same issue, Rebecca Traister—whose creative thinking I’ve begun to marvel at as much as her talent and conviction—writes an ultra-persuasive take, blowing up the widely held assumption that the end of Roe won’t change the lives of the privileged all that much. Her reasoning is brutal, expansive, and sound, and I need every Republican-voting “fiscal conservative” (bleh!), especially those with daughters, to splash their faces with cold water and, if needed, pull out their bifocals, and read this essay.
Somebody say bifocals? Atlantic goddess Helen Lewis, who for years covered the abortion wars in Ireland, has bestowed upon us a refreshingly service-oriented piece on “How to Win the Abortion Argument.” My favorite suggestion on her handy-dandy list is that we emulate “Grandfathers for Yes.” Allow Lewis to explain: “This was exactly what it sounds like: a group of seniors (the demographic most likely to be pro-life) campaigning for abortion rights. Baby Boomers weren’t being scolded that they didn’t ‘get it’ by young activists; instead, Grandfathers for Yes presented pro-choice beliefs as sensible, compassionate, and mainstream.” Dear Dad, I finally know what I want for my birthday!—Rachel
Read Lewis’s how-to piece here.
Power to the…Peoplehood?
Maybe it’s because my own gullibility is achingly fresh in my mind (ahem), but when I read Katie Rosman’s story in the New York Times this past weekend about Peoplehood, a new mental health/wellness venture from the two female cofounders of SoulCycle, all I could picture was Anne Hathaway’s Rebekah Neumann, staring deep into Jared Leto/Adam Neumann’s eyes right before he walks into his corporate beheading, and intoning in her weird, deep, stalker-guru voice, You’re a fucking supernova. (Sidenote: Hathaway’s high-neck blouses, wide-leg jeans, and strong blazer game in WeCrashed are my absolute #stylegoals—I guess “rich dilettante wife” is kinda my thing—and I don’t understand why this has been such an under-discussed topic: Where is the Cut’s shopping guide to Rivka Style??) Back to Peoplehood, which, Huh? OK, I know I said I didn’t want to be a hardened skeptic like 45 seconds ago, but y’all: From the looks of things, this is for-profit group therapy led by non-therapists, a place for people to vent about their fears and anxieties to strangers—a little like AA but instead of church basements it takes place in chicly white-washed, Instagram-friendly spaces with blond-wood chairs, potted plants, and slogan-art taped—how young!—to the walls. (Literally, I could HEAR Rebekah shouting to “my architect” Bjarke—as in Ingels—as she gesticulated wildly in the WeGrow space.) Are people still buying wellness-speak spouted by corporate entities? When a company tells you they’re selling self-improvement and community; when they tell you that, in the words of Peoplehood, “We are modern medicine for the loneliness epidemic”—or, in the words of WeWork, that they’re here “to elevate the world’s consciousness”—and yet they won’t tell a reporter how much money they’ve raised or how much they plan to charge for this so-called cure—I want to know who who among us is saying, Sign me up! As for my initial premonition, about Rebekah Neumann? Several paragraphs into the article, I got to this: One of the two cofounders, Julie Rice, actually worked at WeWork! And is the basis for the series’ Elishia Kennedy character, played by America Ferrera—the one Rebekaha turns on. I’m telling you Rachel, my instincts aren’t all wrong.—Maggie
Read “Workouts for the Self” here.
The spiritual weight of sixteen pounds.
Eight days ago, Kim Kardashian—a woman whose life’s work is about pulling off glamorous visual stunts for all the world to ooh and aah—accomplished a feat squarely in her wheelhouse for the Met Ball showing up in Marilyn Monroe’s actual “Happy Birthday Mr. President” dress. (I realize Maggie mentioned this event last time we met; bear with me, I’m going somewhere new.) Though both Kim and Marilyn are famously curvy, Kim’s bodacious bod didn’t initially fit the dress; and so, she dieted hard, losing 16 pounds in three weeks to make it work. That detail rubbed some people the wrong way. People such as Riverdale star Lili Reinhart and our former colleague Ruthie Friedlander—cofounder of a group called The Chain which does the great work of supporting fashion-industry women who’ve struggled with eating disorders—called it dangerous, arguing that influential people have a responsibility to not wade into these waters. Look, I’m not immune to body issues or insensitive to eating disorders—hardly!—but Kim’s diet? Struck me as ho-hum. Who hasn’t cut carbs to fit into a slinky bridesmaid gown or an ultra-tailored tuxedo? Not that Kim is among us; in all matters of body, she is in her own category. I guess I just don’t see why Kim, who over the last decade and a half has done more for the mainstreaming of the non-skinny body than any other human, is a worse offender than the dozens, if not hundreds, of stick-thin celebs and models also in attendance who doubtless starve themselves year-round to fit the sample-size mold and yet never cop to it. Can’t we let Kim do Kim, for her and for us? Being able to shoot up with botulinum toxin, or eat only boiled chicken breast for a few weeks, or do a cleanse that, sure, might screw with us in the head a little—isn’t it all part of body autonomy? Can’t we all exercise what little control we have left? Even as I type this, I feel like I may have gone off the deep end and try as I might can’t find the ladder. Has the Roe news caused me to lose my mind along with my rights?? Maggie! Send me a life preserver! Set me straight!—Rachel
RB, two things come to mind:
I mean, has Kim done so much for the non-skinny body? That’s easy to say, but what she’s glamorized is just as unrealistic and possibly even more unattainable—skinny in some places, inflated in others. I do agree that Kim’s body is her canvas, a performance art vessel that she seems to spend 93 percent of her time grooming and the other seven percent showcasing. Starving herself briefly to fit into a dress doesn’t seem all that different from the time she trussed herself into a corset so tight she had to ride to the Met Gala in a van, standing up: It’s all body modification. I have a feeling, though, that young girls did take it to heart: After Kim starved herself, with professional supervision, for a single party—how many teenagers resolved to starve themselves for prom?
Writer Melissa Febos strikes me as the anti-Kim. She loathed her large breasts ever since they arrived, at age 11, cutting short her tomboy childhood, and instantly making her a target for the attention of boys. “Over the next 25 years, my breasts drew attention that I would not otherwise have received. Like a sexual beacon, they signaled to men everywhere,” she writes. But as a feminist, and a queer woman, “I thought that I needed to accept my body, to love my body and find it beautiful, to successfully reject the internalized messaging of the patriarchal culture.” Rachel, her story, published today in the New York Times and titled “The Feminist Case for Breast Reduction,” gets at themes you and I talk about all the time—and that are not entirely removed from the Kardashion conversation: What makes a body irregular “enough” to warrant surgery, and what’s better/more virtuous: Learning self-acceptance? Or taking measures to get a body you can accept?—Maggie
Maggie, You did it! You set me straight on the Kim stuff. As the parent of a tween girl, a toddler girl, and a yet-to-make-her-debut girl, I’m totally with you on not wanting a single teenybopper to starve herself for a prom dress. Even if that means we all miss out on Kardashian glamour-theater, I guessssss. Re: Febos’s essay—hot tip! And more power to her.—Rachel
Just a few favorite bites of celebrity candy from the week.
Gwyneth Paltrow appeared on the Spread’s favorite network newsmagazine program, CBS Sunday Morning, this week, in a bid to educate audiences about how problematically expensive diapers are for low-income mothers and to wish her daughter, Apple—rumored to be coming to my local college in the fall—a happy 18th birthday. Strangely, Gwyneth reads her cue cards more like a low-battery robot than an Oscar-winning actress, which had the surprising effect of making me really like her! Gwyneth, she’s just like us, blah blah blah, etcetera etcetera. Watch the segment here and visit Baby2Baby, which distributes essentials to families who need them, here.
Sarah Silverman, whose memoir The Bedwetter is now an off-Broadway musical, sat down with Melena Ryzik at a coffee shop in Union Square—and thanks to Silverman’s candor and Ryzik’s powers of observation, I feel like I was there, too! The piece also gets into Silverman’s singularity as an ultra-famous, establishment comic who has evolved with the cultural times and miraculously become a political bridge-builder in the process. Read the encounter here.
Rihanna and I are due soon! And while I’m wringing my hands over Tate Reeves’s latest scary-bozo comment and whether we should start I Love That For You or finish Somebody Somewhere before bed tonight, she is behaving more wisely, by taking care of herself and sharing those delights with all the rest of us. (Not that y’all want to see me performing this same routine!) Watch the video here.—Rachel
In case you just want to hang out with us between now and next Tuesday…
Friend-of-the-Spread Kate Byrne invited us on her (video! eeek!) podcast—vodcast?—Women Advancing to talk about why we launched this gorgeous beast of a newsletter and how we get ’er done each week. Check it out here.
Enter at your own risk: The manic Mother’s Day postmortem.
We’re putting this lil’ roundup last. Why? Because every year, though we are both now mothers, we find Mother’s Day to be awkward—commercialized and exclusionary and able to dredge up emotional shit like no other day of the year—and the scourge of content that washes up on the media landscape with it, honestly, to be a little distasteful. And this year, with the Roe brief leak, our heads are full-on spinning. But there are a few gems in this year’s crop, including some smart book reviews and a couple of social-science reads that we thought interesting. Here, a quickie, take-it-or-leave-it reading list:
Also starring Lily James and Sebastian Stan.