the take

‘The Simpsons’ in ‘Vanity Fair’: An Imagined Oral History

Courtesy of Fox

Graydon Carter, editor, Vanity Fair: I can’t remember if it was my idea or someone else’s, but I definitely was the one to give it the go-ahead. After all, I edit Vanity Fair, don’t you know.

John Ortved, author, “Simpson Family Values”: I pitched an oral history of The Simpsons, and my editor thought it was a great idea with the movie coming up. It was my editor who sold Graydon on the piece; he told me that Graydon was under the impression that it was another O.J. Simpson story, and that I was Dominick Dunne, and it would be better just not to correct him.

Charles Townsend, CEO/President, Condé Nast Publications: I can’t say I read every issue of Vanity Fair, but I read it at every opportunity. And I think it’s still as brilliant as ever.

John Ortved: We thought the story would be a piece of cake. After all, these are comedy writers — they’ll be hilarious!

Matt Groening, creator, The Simpsons: Yeah, I didn’t talk to that guy.

James L. Brooks, producer, The Simpsons: I didn’t talk to him.

Sam Simon, executive producer, The Simpsons: They have a section about how I was the unsung hero of the early years of the show, and about my arguments with Groening, but I didn’t talk to them.

George Meyer, writer-producer, The Simpsons: There’s this whole bit in the piece where everyone says I’m the godfather of the writer’s room, and they mention that famous New Yorker profile of me, but I didn’t talk to anyone.

John Ortved: Well, it turned out to be harder than we thought to get staff on the record, but we felt pretty comfortable that the actors would get onboard.

Dan Castallaneta, voice of Homer: I didn’t talk to him.

Julie Kavner, voice of Marge: I just didn’t want to talk to Vanity Fair.

Yeardley Smith, voice of Lisa: I didn’t talk to him.

Nancy Cartwright, voice of Bart: I didn’t get on the phone, no.

Phil Hartman, voice actor: I would’ve talked to them, but I’m dead.

Harry Shearer, voice actor: You know, I meant to, but things just got so busy. I think Azaria talked to him.

Hank Azaria, voice actor: I gave them a lot of great quotes!

John Ortved: So in the end we had a lot of trouble getting people. As I said on the Contributors page, “Trying to get an in with The Simpsons was like trying to infiltrate the Mob.”

Fat Tony, Mobster: Mr. Ortved did make an attempt to speak with me, but his efforts were, I am afraid, unsuccessful.

John Ortved: A lot of the old writers and producers did talk to us. Brad Bird gave us two nice lines. Conan O’Brien was a lifesaver.

Conan O’Brien: I fucking made that piece. Amid a sea of arid Rupert Murdoch and Barry Diller quotes, my hilarious stories about Conan’s early days on the show, and my tidbits about George Meyer and Matt Groening, wow. Plus I give a fantastic quote at the end about my work on The Simpsons living forever that is kind of sweet. Give me the National Magazine Award, bitches!

Courtesy of Vanity Fair

John Ortved: About a month after I turned it in, my editor called me and said, “We’re putting your story in the same issue as the Barbaro piece.” I won’t deny that I was pretty nervous. At that time Buzz Bissinger was the king of the magazine article, and his stories were pulling in huge ratings, movie deals, the works.

Buzz Bissinger, author, “Gone Like the Wind”: I was like, who’s this upstart in my issue? At the time I was very upset because my Barbaro piece was supposed to be on the cover but got ditched at the last minute for Shia Freaking LaBeouf. Then I made the movie deal with my cuz, and I didn’t worry about it so much.

Graydon Carter: In the end, I’m very proud of our piece on George Plimpton.

John Ortved: I’m sure a lot of bloggers and Internet snipers will have problems with it, but after like 400 oral histories, it gets hard to bring anything fresh to the table, and I thought we maintained high quality through to the end.

Comic Book Guy, proprietor, The Android’s Dungeon: I thought it was okay.

Simpson Family Values [VF]

‘The Simpsons’ in ‘Vanity Fair’: An Imagined Oral History