Gossip Guy: The Life and Times of the Daily News’ Dan Gross
One of the drawbacks of documenting the lurid behavior of people in such a parochial city is that you inevitably run into those people. I wrote about Cecily Tynan’s divorce, and later interviewed her next husband’s ex-wife, for whom the Action News meteorologist had left a catty voicemail. Anytime I saw Tynan afterward, she looked right through me. Phillies closer Mitch Williams once parked himself as far across a comedy club as possible to avoid being seated at a table with me as we both judged a contest. That was three years after I reported that he had been banned from his daughter’s CYO middle-school basketball league games because he’d cursed out a female referee.
You don’t attempt the polite hello and handshake when you run into Mayor Nutter the first time you see him after writing about him being out drinking with a lithesome young blonde around 1 a.m., or after you report that sources told you Fox 29 has video of the Mayor spanking a woman’s bottom while bowling with her—video that his media staff tried to convince the station not to air. (It didn’t air.)
Then there are the people who pledge lawsuits and trash you behind your back, but never come to you. These include the PR professional/socialite who threatened to ruin me after I wrote about the breakup
of her engagement and her stint in rehab. And the political consultant/pundit who had her lawyer call the paper when I dared to write about her pulling a “Don’t You Know Who I Am?” at Rouge and being subsequently banned from the restaurant.
I found these reactions hilarious.
Sometimes, I would be surprised to find out I was in the middle of a feud.
Sharon Pinkenson, the Rittenhouse butterfly and head of the city film office who’s best known for her shiny leonine hair, called to scream at me when I printed that Cameron Diaz and Toni Collette were staying at the Rittenhouse Hotel while filming In Her Shoes. “If anything happens to them, everyone will blame you!” she hissed. My next few Pinkenson items detailed her shushing other diners while having a Passover seder at the Palm, and similar shushing over Italian in South Philly. Then one day, we just made up. We had a lovely lunch, and she became helpful, even though she still almost never recognizes me.
The biggest turning point came when Michael Klein gave up his gossip column in the Inquirer and they didn’t replace him. (They tried: Inquirer sports columnist John Gonzalez refused to take the assignment and ended up leaving the paper to work at Comcast SportsNet.) The job became less fun. Without the daily impetus to scoop Klein, I relaxed a bit. The column suffered, because I wasn’t working as hard. It was also remarkable to see who my new friends were. Without Klein to leverage, publicists I’d rarely or never heard from were kissing up to me.
Things also started to change when my daughter was born two years ago. I wanted to spend time with her at night, not meander around parties having banal two-minute conversations. I had grown weary of the social-scene aspect of the job. Attending an event and leaving without a good item or meeting someone to cultivate as a source was a waste of time—time I didn’t have anymore.
Most days I loved the job, but sometimes I hated it. I perfected a smirk I used whenever someone would say, “I better not see my name in your column tomorrow!” or “This is off the record!” just minutes after I met them. The smirk was easier than “Dude, I don’t even fucking remember your name from 10 seconds ago, and you’re not interesting enough for my column. And that’s saying a lot.”