Hollywood Reporter Senior Writer, audience favorite RuPaul’s Drag Race judge, native New Yorker, music lover, author, Angeleno and so much more. Merle Ginsberg’s career takes her from red carpet in Cannes to initimate interviews with top celebrities to fashion features. Today, her beat includes fashion, style and beauty at the Hollywood Reporter.
For our readers who don’t know, where did you work before THR?
After a stint at SoHo News, I was music critic at the Village Voice. From there I became the first female Random Notes editor at Rolling Stone — a scary and incredible experience. I wound up meeting and falling in love with the rock star, Warren Zevon, and moving to LA. In L.A., I was a writer for Entertainment Tonight and, then, got a job at E Entertainment, which led to a job producing and writing at E! News. Eventually, I became West Coast Arts Editor of W and WWD.
Did you always want to be a journalist?
As a teenager and in my early twenties, I wanted to be an actress and participated in high school and college plays. One day I woke up and just said to myself: I am a writer not an actress.
I went to NYU graduate school and was close to getting a doctorate in literature. I was about to graduate, and it dawned on me that would mean teaching in the Mid-West. That was when I left and started to work at SoHo News.
You are a New Yorker living in Los Angeles. How do you compare the two lifestyles?
Both are the most amazing cities on the planet. I’ve been in almost every major city in the world and think LA and NY are the most special. They are also two of the most dramatically different cities in the world. For me, New York is all about the stimulation, energy and rush while Los Angeles is emotionally indulgent and chill. I love them both.
Do you drive?
Yes! I got my license in November 2012. The best part was we had a Car Mitzvah at the Four Seasons. We had cupcakes with cars on top of them, champagne — the works.
I am still a big bike rider as I don’t own a car and it’s one of the ways I stay in shape. For a while, I rented an electric Fiat and I am hoping to buy one soon.
What is your beat at THR?
Originally, I was hired as the Rambling Reporter for gossipy but factual reporting but that soon evolved. Now I am Senior Style Editor. My beat is basically anywhere that entertainment and fashion crossover. Plus, I do very sophisticated and science-oriented beauty stories. One of my biggest projects is the Stylist Issue with our Style Editor Carol McColgin.
What does that entail on a day-to-day basis?
It changes all the time. Dealing with Hollywood means dealing with seasons. From the Emmy’s in September – all the way to Oscars, it’s awards season and we cover it heavily.
We are always looking for interesting fashion trend stories that are brainy and geared toward Hollywood.
How do you approach the Style Issue?
Carol McColgin and I do the entire Style Issue together. THR watches the actresses in film, TV and music closely. Carol and I talk all the time about who looks good and basically file it all away in our brains. When it comes time to actually do the issue – we talk and talk. It’s very serious and affects people a lot.
Stylists can be on it the list more than once but their ratings will most likely change. If their client list is very prominent on the red carpet that year, their rating may be higher. For example, this year it was Elizabeth Stewart. She styled so many of the leading ladies so well — Cate Blanchett, Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts and Jessica Chastain.
Janice Min is a legendary EIN. What is it like working with her?
I didn’t know what to expect. Janice is just so impressive and amazing. She has a great sense of humor and can laugh at herself. What I really love about her is she has absolutely no diva room. She is always working harder than you and almost always accessible. Finally, she is really appreciative of stand out stuff and makes it a point to let you know. Many of THR staff has received flowers or gift certificates for a job well done.
What have been some of your favorite celebrity interviews?
People have been asking me that all my professional life. There’s a group of people that I have been interviewing on and off for 25 years. It includes Jodi Foster who is such a smart woman and so much herself. Annette Benning is one of my heroes. Julianne Moore I love and adore and consider a friend. Nicole Kidman who I’ve interviewed many times over the years.
Jeremy Irons – one of the greatest actors of all times, is such a great interview. I interviewed him at the Beverly Hills Hotel and I gave him a ride in my dilapidated old Mustang from the 70’s to the Ivy Restaurant on Robertson. I think the windows were blown out, ghetto style, and I never repaired them! He was totally cool about it.
What was one of your best all-time scoops?
Most recently, I broke Brad and Angelina Jolie were engaged. Working at W, I got the first interview with Meg Ryan when she broke up with Dennis Quaid and with Russell Crowe. I convinced Winona Ryder to pose for the cover of W wearing a free Winona t-shirt (after her shoplifting moment). Not only did it show how much she trusted me, it was a bestselling issue.
What was it like being a judge on RuPaul’s Drag Race? The fans seem to miss you.
I hear that a lot. I had the best time. I learned more about hair and makeup than I ever have in my life. The greatest gift from that experience was that I got to be funny. I took a turn in my work and really developed my comic voice. As a result, I am actually writing a book of comic essays.
This question is a cliché, but we think you’d come up with a great answer. If you could have anyone living or dead to a dinner party who would you invite?
Authors are seminal to me, and the reason I became a writer. Virginia Woolf, Collette, Anais Nin, Henry James, Edith Wharton and John Keats, who is the most sensitive.
Who is your favorite writer, journalist, fiction, whatever?
Currently obsessed with Paul Auster and Paulo Coelho. Plus, the journalist Daphne Merkin.
– This interview has been edited and condensed. As told to Erica Roseman