Vanity Flair

Interviewing the hottest celebs is just another day at the office for Jane Sarkin. But time at home is where the fun really starts.

Jane Sarkin has met royals, partied with Andy Warhol, and spent time in Tom Cruise’s bed (details on that later). She talks about the stars by first name—Nicole, Gwyneth, Julia. The longtime features editor of Vanity Fair organizes the magazine’s coveted Oscar party, sets up celebrity cover shots, and brainstorms the annual Hollywood issue. 

But Sarkin doesn’t gossip. No scoops on who throws temper tantrums, who is superstitious, who makes unusual food demands, or who comes late to the photo shoot looking terrible without makeup. The tidbits she offers—Mick Jagger is surprisingly shy; Julia Roberts changes diapers; Katie Holmes has a lot of energy—are, frankly, yawners.

“People would be surprised at how normal celebrities are,” says Sarkin. “People put celebrities on a pedestal. They think they breathe different air.”

Initially, one might think the same of Sarkin. Her New Vernon home is decorated with items she’s picked up in her travels, and the tabletop photos of her children were taken by renowned photographer and coworker, Annie Leibovitz. Sarkin herself, in one of her signature outfits—jeans, a crisp white shirt, and quilted ballet flats—looks just as girl-next-door glamorous as many of the celebrities she covers.

And she certainly does glamorous things. Last summer, Sarkin persuaded Tom Cruise to let Vanity Fair publish the first public photos of his daughter, Suri. Sarkin spent more than a week at the Cruise compound, eating, sleeping, roasting hot dogs, toasting s’mores around the fire—and lounging with the rest of the family in the Cruise bed, cooing at the baby. On one of those days, in an only-in-the-21st-century moment, Sarkin stood with Cruise and Holmes on a Colorado mountaintop as the sun was setting and paparazzi-filled helicopters hovered. The baby smiled. Leibovitz snapped the camera. It was, as Sarkin says, surreal: “Jane from New Jersey is in Telluride with Suri Cruise.”

For Jane from New Jersey it was just another pinch-me moment in a pinch-me life. As a child growing up in Hillside, Sarkin loved watching the Academy Awards; she wanted somehow to be part of that world. After graduating from the University of Vermont, she got her lucky break—a job at Andy Warhol’s Interview. Warhol was serious about the magazine, but during downtimes he would paint. Or party. It was a heady time. “We had a ball, we really did,” says Sarkin. “Andy was great to me.”

In 1985 she joined Vanity Fair, where she was nicknamed “the celebrity wrangler”—for cajoling big names to attend the magazine’s then-fledgling Oscar party, later for locking down interviews and cover shoots. “Everyone in Hollywood is obviously doing Vanity Fair for a reason. I get them there,” she says. “If you’re on the cover, you really have crossed into a different world. We demand a lot from our cover subjects.”

It is all still magic to Sarkin, which is surprising, because after more than two decades you’d expect her to be a bit more jaded and not so quick to use the word “amazing” when she talks about her job. Sarkin has an old-fashioned sense of the role of the media—that Cruise should be judged on the merits of his work and not the quirks of his personality. “Let him do what he wants to do,” she says. “He is making interesting movies; he’s got a great wife, a gorgeous family. What else can you ask of this person?”

Fame is not the same as it once was, she says. “It’s very difficult to be a celebrity today. You’re famous because you dropped your baby in the street, you didn’t wear underwear, or you messed up on an awards show. Everything is so fast; the paparazzi are like wild dogs.”

And that’s just one reason that Sarkin doesn’t dish. Which, in turn, may partly explain why she’s so successful.

It’s simple, say friends and family. Celebrities trust her. She’s grounded; she’s authentic. “People don’t let phonies come into their lives like that,” says Sarkin’s husband, Martin O’Connor.

The New Vernon part of her life is her priority. She met her husband in high school; they both attended the Pingry School in Elizabeth, and their children attend the school’s Martinsville campus today. Sarkin gets her kids off to school in the morning, then commutes to Manhattan. Her weekends are not spent at cocktail parties and clubs—she does things with her girls, Kate and Lauren, and hangs out with friends. It’s a big responsibility to be a working mother with two young daughters, she says. “If I’m not grounded, what could I expect from them?” 

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