Rosie editor said she worried about her job

Saturday, November 1, 2003

NEW YORK -- A former editor of the now-defunct Rosie magazine testified Friday she avoided frequent disagreements with star Rosie O'Donnell because she was afraid she'd lose her job.

"I picked my battles," said Cathy Cavender, Rosie's editor-in-chief from December 2000 until she was fired in June 2002. She said she came to realize O'Donnell was "pretty sensitive," and things Cavender thought were innocuous rankled the star.

"I'm asking you to be as direct as you can be with me," O'Donnell once e-mailed Cavender.

At another point O'Donnell insisted: "I am not a tyrant."

O'Donnell and the magazine's publisher accuse each other of destroying the publication by seeking complete control. Gruner + Jahr USA is seeking $100 million from O'Donnell; she asks $125 million in a countersuit.

Cavender testified that producing the monthly -- launched in 2001 and aimed at middle-income women aged 18 to 44 -- involved continuous give and take with O'Donnell. "I felt that if I disagreed with Rosie too much I would lose my job," she said.

Modeled in part after O, the successful Oprah Winfrey magazine, Rosie got off to a strong start with circulation close to 3.5 million. But the magazine stumbled in 2002 as conflicts emerged between O'Donnell and the editors. The monthly folded soon after O'Donnell resigned in September 2002.

The monthly's front cover -- generally the key to strong newsstand sales -- caused most of the disagreements, Cavender said. O'Donnell wanted more of an edge to the magazine, with covers featuring boxer Mike Tyson, killer Lyle Menendez, murder suspect and actor Robert Blake and a female accomplice of mass murderer Charles Manson. Cavender nixed them.

She also wanted British pop star Boy George on a cover because she was preparing to produce his play "Taboo" for Broadway, Cavender said.

"I would rather go down breaking records and amazing people than stay at the shore watching the brave ones swim," O'Donnell told Cavender in an e-mail.

G+J executives, however, thought the magazine was already too edgy and were nervous about declining newsstand sales, Cavender said.

"The concern was about trying to have a circulation of 3.5 million, which is hard to do if you publish photos of Mike Tyson on the cover," Cavender said.

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