Magazine article The Spectator

From Imelda to Sharon

Magazine article The Spectator

From Imelda to Sharon

Article excerpt

San Francisco

WHO is Phil Bronstein, the San Francisco news executive who has managed to capture the world's most desirable ageing starlet, the 39-year-old Sharon Stone? And how did he manage it? Many people, most of them readers of the beyond-the-pale American tabloids, have asked these questions for the last few months, as details of the relationship trickled from the actress's small inner group, and now people all over the world will undoubtedly ask them again.

A picture of the couple, with Mr Stone, er, Mr Bronstein or, perhaps, Mr Brown Stone, looking suitably pleased with himself, appeared on the front pages of the Monday papers. He is a handsome specimen, if one knows little about his personality. For his colleagues and subordinates in the world of San Francisco journalism, however, the questions haven't been about him, but about her. They all know him too well, and they wonder if she has any idea what she has got herself into.

Phil Bronstein is widely known as `Big Phil', even though he is surprisingly small in stature. He's called that for his machismo and, to put it bluntly, his prowess as a seducer. Aside from the psychological needs of Miss Stone, Big Phil owes to a surprising item of trivia his arrival at a position to which very many normal men must have aspired. His career as a journalist took flight thanks to a single lucky break: it was he who, leaping through the open doors of Malacanang, the residence of the deposed Philippines president Ferdinand Marcos, discovered that Madame Imelda Marcos was an obsessive collector of shoes.

Imelda's shoes made Big Phil famous, and eventually led to a real job as executive editor of the San Francisco Examiner, a now lagging evening sheet that is one of only two dailies in the city but which was once the flagship of the Hearst news chain. Of course, times have changed mightily since the days, portrayed in Orson Welles's classic Citizen Kane, when the Examiner stole the best writers away from its rivals, and when William Randolph Hearst could start a war by using inflammatory headlines. These days the movement of journalists is the other way, with reporters and columnists fleeing the Examiner for the morning San Francisco Chronicle, some out of physical fear of Big Phil.

Big Phil is no Billy Hearst, but he tries. Perhaps he saw a parallel between his acquisition of the blonde goddess and the Hearst-backed war that made Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines American property. That conquest began just 100 years ago this past week, and he may have been sensitive to the parallel.

Mr Bronstein loves to reminisce about his life as a war correspondent, and those privy to the talk at Miss Stone's parties have said it is one of the aspects of the romance with him that most thrills her. But Big Phil these days does his real fighting on the premises of his newspaper, not on faraway battlefields. And that means mano a mano, not editorial or ideological combat. In perhaps the most famous, or infamous, such incident to fill out his fearsome resume, Big Phil broke the foot of a leading political expert in San Francisco, Clin Reilly, during a contretemps in the newspaper's boardroom. The outcome was that Hearst Corporation paid out some $900,000 to Mr Reilly.

But Big Phil wasn't sacked. After all, twofisted journalism is a proud tradition in San Francisco; the founder of the rival Chronicle was shot dead in his newsroom back in the 1880s, and if the Examiner could not attract writers of the calibre of Jack London, one of the many local authors of distinction who wrote for the Chronicle, it could at least keep an editor who enjoyed, in his favourite phrase, `kicking ass'. …

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