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George Wayne Is Reviving R.O.M.E., His Cult ’Zine

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The lifestyle journalist George Wayne finds himself in an odd position. Because of money troubles, he says he takes out no more than $20 at a time from A.T.M.s. And yet he’s a regular at high-end restaurants like Cucina 8 ½ in Midtown Manhattan, where he was sipping a martini at the bar on a September evening toward the end of New York Fashion Week.

“Everyone lunches here,” he said. “It’s basically a cafeteria for hedge fund managers and big shots. It’s very undercover.”

He was wearing tinted Oliver Peoples glasses, a Charvet dress shirt, custom pants, a pair of socks decorated with what he called a “bingo” pattern and Gucci loafers. He was at Cucina 8 ½ to attend a fashion show by the designer Cesar Galindo.

Mr. Wayne, who refers to himself as “G.W.,” rose to prominence in certain Manhattan circles in the 1980s, when he started R.O.M.E., a photocopied publication filled with gossip and piquant commentary on celebrities, near celebrities, fashion people and nightlife creatures.

With its punky layout and snappy editorial voice, the zine grabbed the attention of media insiders and led him to roles at Interview, Paper Magazine, Allure and Vanity Fair, jobs that sustained him for roughly three decades.

But glossy magazine journalism fell on hard times, and so did he. Now, in a bid to turn things around, Mr. Wayne, 62, is putting the finishing touches on a new issue of R.O.M.E., which he said would be available this fall.

The new issue will be a kind of greatest-hits package meant to bring back the look and feel of pre-internet New York, with some new material thrown in. Mr. Wayne said he planned to print 200 copies and sell them at Left Bank Books in the West Village.

He also spoke of a potential special collector’s edition of R.O.M.E., wrapped in cellophane, that would be shown at the Georges Bergès Gallery in SoHo. But on Tuesday he said that part of the plan was in jeopardy because of a dispute with the gallery’s owner.

Mr. Bergès, who presented the debut solo exhibition of Hunter Biden’s paintings in 2021, said on Tuesday that he intended to go through with showing R.O.M.E. at his gallery. “We will have one properly displayed on the wall as art,” he said.

In an earlier interview, Mr. Bergès noted that his disagreements with Mr. Wayne were nothing new. “We get in fights and we block each other for a month and then unblock each other,” he said. “He’ll send me huge texts in the middle of the night about how I’m against him and I’m going to destroy him.” He added: “Truth be told, he’s one of my best friends. I love the guy.”

Differences aside, Mr. Bergès described R.O.M.E. as an important part of New York media history. “If you wanted to really get a feel of what was happening culturally or in fashion or with people, R.O.M.E. gave you that,” he said. “I think, in many ways, magazines changed the way they were doing things because of R.O.M.E., whether people knew it or not.”

In the nearly finished version shared by Mr. Wayne, the new R.O.M.E. is a blast of nostalgia, a scrapbook filled with vintage boldface names: Cindy Adams, Warren Beatty, Barbara Bush, Keith Haring, Rock Hudson, Madonna, Lee Majors, Tennessee Williams, Ed Koch and on and on. It also includes an imaginary conversation with Truman Capote and appreciations of Grace Jones and Naomi Campbell. At press time, Mr. Wayne was going back and forth on whether to include a feature on the 1999 movie “Black and White,” in which he and Mike Tyson had cameo roles.

R.O.M.E. had a cult readership in its heyday, and Mr. Wayne is probably best known for his former role as a cheeky interviewer for Vanity Fair. From the mid-1990s until 2015, he sparred his way through interviews with a hodgepodge of celebrities including Milton Berle, Jackie Collins, Fabio, Geraldo Rivera, Donatella Versace and Anna Wintour. His work for Vanity Fair and other magazines was collected in the 2018 book “Anyone Who’s Anyone: The Astonishing Celebrity Interviews, 1987-2017.”

These days, he is an editor at large for Park, a luxury quarterly magazine sent free to the homes of people in Manhattan with “annual household incomes over $500,000,” according to its media kit. “That’s how I’m surviving,” Mr. Wayne said. “Not only do you have to write, you have to go out and try and get ads.”

“I’m still hustling at my age,” he continued. “When you don’t have a Condé Nast contract, it’s sink or swim, baby. There are days when I live on $1 pizza. And there are days when I have a friend who has a restaurant I can go to and say, ‘You got to feed me tonight.’ And they will.”

Mr. Wayne grew up in Jamaica and attended Munro College, a boarding school in St. Elizabeth. He found his calling at 15, he said, when a school nurse introduced him to People and Interview magazines. “I knew then that I wanted to move to New York City,” he said. “I just loved it, reading about Bianca Jagger and Andy Warhol at Studio 54. That was it.”

He made it to Manhattan in 1984, shortly after he received a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia. He said he still lived in the same studio apartment near Washington Square that he began renting shortly after his arrival in the city.

“My little hovel is nothing,” he said. “I call it Lilliput. There’s a bunk bed and filing cabinets stuffed with my archives. That’s it.”

He came up with the idea for R.O.M.E. during his senior year of college. “I said to my best friend, ‘When I go to New York City, I’m going to start my magazine, R.O.M.E., and I’m going to put periods in between the letters,’” he recalled. “It doesn’t mean anything. I just thought, ‘Make it an acronym.’ And I love the word Rome. I’ve never been to Rome, but I love all it connotes.”

He has been assembling the new edition partly at SoHo Works, a members-only work space in Lower Manhattan. He said he was not a member but had managed to talk his way in.

“I want Generation Z to understand what they missed,” he said of his venture, between sips of his martini. “I just think these current kids are fascinated by the analog era.”

Near the bar, the model Carol Alt was chatting with the owner of Cucina 8 ½, August Ceradini, whom Mr. Wayne referred to as his “number one god-daddy consigliere.” Mr. Wayne took out his phone and snapped a picture of the pair.

“How are you, Carol?” he said as she walked by. “You look amazing.”

“Thanks,” she replied. “You doing good?”

“I’m hanging in there,” he said.

Ms. Alt moved with a group of people heading toward a large back room, where the fashion show was about to take place. Andre Landeros Michel, a fashion designer who was also on his way to the show, paused to recall discovering R.O.M.E. in 1992.

“I was like, This is so genius, such a genius idea, and created by Xerox,” he said, adding that he appreciated that Mr. Wayne made up for a lack of advertisers by photocopying ads from other magazines and pasting them into R.O.M.E. “If you didn’t have the advertisers, just Xerox them anyway,” Mr. Landeros Michel said. “He was so ahead of the curve.”

Before joining the others at the fashion show, Mr. Wayne polished off his martini and got the attention of the bartender.

“So, Jordan, I’m going to order some food, OK?” he said. “But you’re just going to keep it here. I’m going to take it home — to-go. August said I could get anything I wanted, so I’m going to take him at his word.”

He asked for the New York strip steak medium-rare, Tuscan potatoes, broccoli rabe and focaccia. When he tacked on an order for spaghetti, the bartender said it probably wouldn’t travel well and suggested tortellini or cavatelli in its place.

“Cavatelli,” Mr. Wayne said. “I love you, Jordan. You’re the best.”

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