Life, etc

The life and times of Jane, The Original

By Branko Brkic & Rebecca Davis 2 July 2012

This story is about the life of a formidable, tough woman. A beautiful woman, a bright visionary and bare-knuckled fighter, all at the same time, perhaps not always in the same order. A woman who made SA's magazine history a chapter of her life. And a woman who inspired many who came in her wake. By BRANKO BRKIC and REBECCA DAVIS

The original title of Jane Raphaely’s memoir – many years in the making – was to be The Recipe. Conceptually, it involved a tie-in with food; a theme which indeed runs throughout the book. Possibly because Jane didn’t always have enough to eat: as a girl growing up in WW2-era Stockport, an impoverished town near Manchester, she recalls scouring the woods for nuts and fruits “to pad out our tiny allocations of basic food stuff”. At some stage, the book was even intended to end with a selection of recipes. But it’s probably for the best that the version of Raphaely’s memoirs, shortly to hit shops, is entitled simply Jane Raphaely: Unedited. The Recipe would suggest that there is some easily digestible formula ready to be followed to replicate Jane’s life, which in reality is more a cocktail of mad adventures leading to the massive personal imprint she made on a society – and magazine industry – in turmoil.

To replicate her success, of course, is impossible, as a whole CNA shelf of failed magazines can attest to. Knowing Jane is to know that her career is largely the formidable character of the woman herself. 

Yes, she got in on a market – English-language women’s magazines in South Africa – when it was practically embryonic. When Jane was asked to launch Fair Lady for Naspers in 1964, there had only been two other attempts at similar publications previously, and both had failed. It’s a far cry from the situation today, where the market is so saturated that it takes someone either very brave or very foolish to think their new publication might be able to get some foothold, or the all-important advertising spend. But pioneering an entire genre – which is essentially what Raphaely did – also takes an extraordinary amount of chutzpah: that hard-to-define Jewish quality which Jane possesses in spades, and then some. 

Chutzpah is the underlying narrative of her life. There is no space for self-pity in Jane’s account; chronicling the privations of her childhood, she writes nonetheless: “It is possible to be poor without feeling underprivileged. I consider my childhood to have been a happy one.” She admits luck to have played a major role in her achievement. But not unlike Gary Player’s “The more I practice, the luckier I get”, she has worked her butt off to make the luck come her way. From the time when most little girls are still playing with dolls, barely into double digits in age, Jane Fullman became an agent for a clothing mail-order company. Jobs in British shoe shops and factories followed, before a rather unscripted and all-too brief period of national celebrity on the US TV quiz show, during the course of which she was offered $24,000 to marry her co-star on live TV. (She declined, pining for one Michael Raphaely.)

It’s hard not to wonder if some of Jane’s drive doesn’t come from a desire to succeed where her mother didn’t get the chance. She describes her mother as a promising figure within the Labour Party in Stockport, who was never allowed to realise her true potential as a politician because her husband warned her that to do so would expose his secret – a second family elsewhere in the North of England. But some of her drive is probably equally attributable to that unpleasant philandering alcoholic of a father. It is because of him, she writes, that “faced with misogyny and bully boys, I either smile and wave or transform myself into a Titan with nerves of steel and answer back so sharply that they wince.”    

Unedited is both more and less revealing than you might imagine. The chronicle of Jane’s childhood is extremely frank, with a brutally candid account of the psychological strain placed on the family by her sadistic aunt Billee. Moving into later life, she is substantially cagier: anyone looking for a tell-all on what dynamics are like within the ‘Raphaely dynasty’, for instance, will have to stick to gossip columns, as the focus shifts from the private to the professional, and the Life of Jane becomes Times of Jane.

Her skill has always been to identify gaps in the market and run for them, and she has always been a daunting opponent. When in 1984 she announced her intention to publish Cosmopolitan in South Africa, rival publishers Caxton broke the news to her that they had already registered Cosmopolitan as a newspaper – a regulation of the Department of Interiors at the time, without which there could be no publication. All seemed lost, or at least subject to a lengthy court battle, until she was tipped off in Pretoria that Caxton’s flagship title, Style, was not registered as a newspaper. Jane promptly ran off to register Style, and then phoned Caxton to inform them that she would only give it back in exchange for the registration of Cosmo. Not entirely surprisingly, she won.

Persuading Oprah Winfrey to allow her to publish O Magazine in the only market outside the States, in 2001, was a particular coup. Jane describes a nerve-wracking meeting with Oprah to pitch the concept, in which they produced mock-ups of a South African O Magazine and then “wrapped 30 issues in turquoise tissue, having been told this was her favourite colour, tied them with cord clinched with a porcupine quill, and tucked them into kudu leather dispatch cases, stamped with the O insignia”. 

Oprah was sold, and the rest is history – though Raphaely does hint intriguingly at a spat between the two media divas, after Oprah announced at last minute that she would not be attending the South African launch. Raphaely had heard that the reason for this was Oprah doubting the safety of the country, and shot off an email saying “in no uncertain terms” that it would be bad for South Africa if Oprah did not arrive. There was no response. But later that year Oprah said in an interview that what had kept her from South Africa was a feeling that ‘something’s not right’. Raphaely writes: “The moment I heard that I regretted my hasty e-mail more than ever. I am the last person in the world to disrespect a premonition.”

The kind of gender obstacles Raphaely had to encounter along the way may seem scarcely credible to today’s enlightened young women and men. It is easy to forget these days that it was not in her interests, as a young Fair Lady editor, to be paid very much, because married men whose wives worked were taxed at a higher rate. Married women were also not allowed on to Nasionale Pers’s pension scheme because it was assumed that they would be taken care of by their husband’s pension scheme. “It took me years to realise that if I wouldn’t fight for my own financial rights, I should have fought for the other people on my team,” she writes in hindsight.

Looking back and having a benefit of time to think and wonder, these days Jane says she regrets not participating more actively in politics, though her day job made it a virtual impossibility. “One of the things that gives me hope now is that there are women in South Africa in leadership positions like Helen Zille, Patricia de Lille and Lindiwe Mazibuko, who aren’t afraid to take charge and take decisions that will benefit this country,” she says. “Ultimately, they will be judged by their results, like the women who are currently in power in Iceland, a country which is enjoying a phenomenal recovery after economic disaster.”

She was happy to fight other kinds of gender battles, however. Jane’s been taking on the subject of rape in South Africa for many decades, ranging from a 1973 column for Fair Lady urging women to fight back, “rip the rapist’s trousers off and send him shrieking into the night” to organising Charlize Theron’s ‘Real Men Don’t Rape’ campaign in 1999. She refers to herself as a “feminist” throughout the book; when asked what kind, she replies: “A pragmatic one”. Raphaely’s feminism appears focused on female empowerment rather than tackling sexism: she likes to quote the 17 year-old schoolgirl who said, upon the opening of Oprah’s Academy: “Men have always ruled the world but this is all over now because we are coming…but don’t worry, we are prepared to share”. 

Sharing power may not be one of Jane’s fortes, though. While her book might have benefited from exposure to an external publisher, Raphaely made the decision to publish it all in-house. This was partly due to the fact that Associated Magazines (publisher of Marie Claire) had all the necessary resources to do so. In truth, it owes more to Jane’s preference for being in control of all aspects of production. “Maybe I’m a control freak,” she admits, but the thought doesn’t seem to trouble her much.

Control freaks tend not to be easily pleased, so don’t ask Jane if she’s happy with Unedited. “Of course I’m not happy with it!” she cries. She re-wrote the book twice and says it still had to be practically pried out of her hands for publication. This kind of thoroughness is part of her make-up, and what makes her a famously exacting boss. Former Fair Lady editor Ann Donald, who got her big break when Raphaely offered her the job as Features Editor on Cosmopolitan, recalls meeting her while Donald was still a “complete rookie” as the editor of Longevity: “I expected a brief meeting with her, but she spent about two hours with me grilling me on my magazine covers – which were pretty dreadful in hindsight.”

But stories of Raphaely’s toughness are juxtaposed with warmth and willingness to bring people together are also legendary within the industry. “Jane is renowned for her networking skills – she arranged for Xhosa teacher Anne Munnik to teach the new national anthem to the Springbok rugby team ahead of the 1995 World Cup, as one example,” says Donald. “She uses this skill very generously, and never forgets people, even after they have moved on. When an opportunity presents itself to put people together who she believes have a mutual interest (even if there’s no benefit to Jane or her magazines), she does so.”

A life lived as richly as Raphaely’s must inevitably involve mistakes and regrets amidst all the triumphs. When asked about these, she paused at first, offering the book as a reference, but then sent a mail two days later. 

“Chris Hani is one of the missed opportunities that haunts me,” she writes. “I saw him once at George Airport and we stood staring at each other. I started towards him to shake his hand and express my thanks for the way he often said that South Africa belonged to everyone who lived here, but an officious young bodyguard interposed herself between us and the moment passed.”

On a personal level, she says she wishes she had spent more time alone with each of her children. “I should have travelled with them separately, to places that I still haven’t seen: Kashmir, Tibet, the Hunza Valley and Vietnam. Then I would have been able to listen to them without interruptions from the others. This should be written on the slip when you take delivery of them,” she emails.

Every book, as every life, has its own story. Jane Raphaely’s life is a bundle of experience and emotions that is beyond the reach of many an occupant of this planet. Not an easy woman, she shines brightly still. Creative people, determined people, people who create the new worlds are never easy. You have to be prepared to bust a gut to get there. The life of breaking boundaries and smashing frontiers can’t be lived by just any plain Jane. But for all of us who come in her wake, she remains Jane, The Original. DM

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