Kevin Sessums, the celebrity journalist, has smoked a joint with Heath Ledger in Prague; he's sparred with Barry Diller; he's even been scolded by Barbra Streisand for not mentioning how "f*ckable" she is in a story he once wrote for Vanity Fair. But nothing rivals his tête-à-tête with Courtney Love:
She kept me waiting for hours. Hours! She was upstairs at her house -- that's when they used to let you come to their houses -- and I was downstairs looking around the living room. There was a little Buddhist altar with a little box on it. I opened it up and there was coarse, thread-like stuff in it.
I was like, What the f*ck is this?
I started sniffing it and all of a sudden I heard, "What the f*ck are you doing?"
I looked around and it was Courtney.
I said, "Well, what is this?"
"Those are Kurt's [Cobain's] pubes," she said, "Will you please put them back."
Before all this Hollywood madness, Sessums was a self-confessed "Mississippi sissy," who preferred to gab with the girls than roughhouse with the boys in his youth. "My love of language comes from sitting inside the house with the women," he told The Slant during a Skype chat in March, "listening to them talk, while all the other kids were outside playing."
Those formative coffee klatches taught Sessums the art of conversation and imparted an Oscar Wildean sense of comic timing -- "knowing how and when to make a joke," he says -- skills that enabled him to confidently roll with Hollywood heavyweights, like Tom Cruise, Madonna, Johnny Depp, Jennifer Lopez, Hugh Jackman and many others, when he became a celebrity writer for Interview magazine, Vanity Fair and more recently, The Daily Beast.
Yet no matter how beautifully written, smartly executed or thought-provoking his celebrity coverage has been, he has always felt like "a poor stepchild," in the home of respectable journalism.
In Sessums's view, celebrity occupies a paradoxical position in the magazine world. On the one hand, the public's insatiable appetite for stories about the rich and famous is the engine motoring newsstand sales and revving up online traffic. On the other, the literati deride it as a necessary evil to fund journalism of serious consequence. No one knows this contradiction better than he does.
From his cottage in Provincetown, MA, Sessums, the editorial director of the new LGBT magazine, 429, gave The Slant an inside look at working the underappreciated celebrity beat for legendary editors Tina Brown and Graydon Carter at Vanity Fair. He also reminisced about the good ol' days when PR people had less power, magazines gave you more space (6,000 to 10,000 words) and celebrities offered you weeks of their time instead of hours.
In honor of long-form and Sessums's heyday, this post runs more than 5,500 words. But it's full of so many revelatory anecdotes about Hollywood stars and surprising insights that it's a quick and exhilarating read. Promise.
Read our Q&A with Sessums at The Slant: There's Always More to the Story.