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Scientology's Vanished Queen

After the wife of Scientology leader David Miscavige disappeared from public view, in 2007, those who asked questions were stonewalled, or worse. Now interviews with former insiders provide a grim assessment of her fate:

This cryptic explanation only fueled the mystery. Had Shelly fled the church? Was she in hiding? Some Scientology defectors believe she was exiled to one of several secretive and heavily guarded bases the church owns in remote western locales. There, the sources say, those who are banned endure lives of isolation, menial labor, and penury. The reason, they claim, is simple. “The law [in Scientology] is: The closer to David Miscavige you get, the harder you’re going to fall,” says Claire Headley, an ex-Scientologist who, along with her husband, Marc, worked closely with the Miscaviges. “It’s like the law of gravity, practically. It’s just a matter of when.” (The church of Scientology declined Vanity Fair’s repeated requests to interview the Miscaviges. In so doing, church representatives dismissed most of V.F.’s sources as disgruntled apostates, and called V.F.’s questions “ludicrous and offensive.” Additionally, the representatives described Shelly Miscavige as a private person who “has been working nonstop in the church, as she always has.” They also point out that I have written critically about the church in the past.)

AUTHOR:Ned Zeman
PUBLISHED: March 1, 2014
LENGTH: 21 minutes (5446 words)

Seduced and Abandoned

The full, gossipy story of how Rupert Murdoch met Wendi Deng, and how their 14-year marriage fell apart amid rumors of affairs:

The passionate note surfaced amid the flotsam of a shipwrecked marriage. It was written in broken English by a woman to herself, pouring out her love for a man called Tony. “Oh, shit, oh, shit,” she wrote. “Whatever why I’m so so missing Tony. Because he is so so charming and his clothes are so good. He has such good body and he has really really good legs Butt … And he is slim tall and good skin. Pierce blue eyes which I love. Love his eyes. Also I love his power on the stage … and what else and what else and what else … ”

The woman was Wendi Deng Murdoch, the Chinese wife of the Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch. The note, not revealed until now, could have been one of the few pieces of evidence in their surprise divorce last year, had the case come to trial. “Tony” was the former prime minister of Great Britain, Tony Blair.

AUTHOR:Mark Seal
PUBLISHED: Feb. 19, 2014
LENGTH: 45 minutes (11473 words)

How to Write About Tax Havens and the Super-Rich: An Interview with Nicholas Shaxson

Last year Nicholas Shaxson published a Vanity Fair article, "A Tale of Two Londons," that described the residents of one of London’s most exclusive addresses—One Hyde Park—and the accounting acrobatics they had performed to get there.

Shaxson’s piece was one of the best long-form pieces I read last year (I did in fact believe this before I met him, but you can take that with a grain of salt if you’d like), and last week I asked Shaxson to sit down with me for a proper conversation about how the story came about and whether it achieved what he wanted.

PUBLISHED: Feb. 12, 2014
LENGTH: 7 minutes (1938 words)

Mia's Story (1992)

Following Dylan Farrow’s open letter detailing her sexual abuse allegations against Woody Allen, a look back at Maureen Orth’s original 1992 Vanity Fair report:

There was an unwritten rule in Mia Farrow’s house that Woody Allen was never supposed to be left alone with their seven-year-old adopted daughter, Dylan. Over the last two years, sources close to Farrow say, he has been discussing alleged “inappropriate” fatherly behavior toward Dylan in sessions with Dr. Susan Coates, a child psychologist.

PUBLISHED: Feb. 1, 2014
LENGTH: 42 minutes (10618 words)

Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Our favorite stories of the week, featuring Washingtonian, New York Review of Books, Vanity Fair, Financial Times and Full Stop.
PUBLISHED: Jan. 24, 2014

Darkness in August

An account of a senseless murder of a 22-year-old Australian man in Duncan, Oklahoma:

In June 2012, in neighboring Velma, a 16-year-old girl, Braylee Henry, had gone into the Tee Pee Totem convenience store to get a soda. She encountered Miles Bench, a 21-year-old man who worked there. Bench, apparently infatuated with Henry, allegedly beat her to death with a blunt instrument, dumped her body, and then was arrested driving her car. (Bench has pleaded not guilty.)

People in Duncan and surrounding towns were shocked by the brutality of such crimes. They responded with admirable largesse for the families of the victims. But the crimes were passed off as aberrational blips. On the morning of August 16, nobody thought violent crime was trending up.

PUBLISHED: Jan. 17, 2014
LENGTH: 30 minutes (7546 words)

Reverse-Engineering a Genius

How did Johannes Vermeer manage to create such photo-realistic paintings in the 17th Century—and did he get help? A Texas tech company founder named Tim Jenison decided to try to find out if Vermeer could have used a camera-like contraption to create his art, by recreating one of the paintings himself:

Jenison decided to construct a version of a device that Vermeer himself could have built and used. And since he had no training or experience as an artist whatsoever, he figured he was the ideal beta user of whatever he rigged up.

He was in no rush. His R&D period lasted five years. He went to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. “Looking at their Vermeers,” he says, “I had an epiphany”—the first of several. “The photographic tone is what jumped out at me. Why was Vermeer so realistic? Because he got the values right,” meaning the color values. “Vermeer got it right in ways that the eye couldn’t see. It looked to me like Vermeer was painting in a way that was impossible. I jumped into studying art.”

PUBLISHED: Dec. 8, 2013
LENGTH: 11 minutes (2762 words)

The Lonely Guy

Todd Purdum argues that President Obama’s isolation from the rest of Washington, D.C., has made him less effective as a politician over the last five years:

Obama is far from the first president—or the first suddenly world-famous figure—to keep his own counsel or to rely on the tightest possible circle of longtime advisers and old, close friends. More than 20 years ago, when Mario Cuomo was seen as the Democratic Party’s best hope for taking the White House, one knowledgeable New Yorker assured me that Cuomo would never run, because he could never bring himself to trust the number of people required to undertake an effective campaign. In February 2007, the week Obama declared his candidacy, his confidante Valerie Jarrett told me that she had warned him at a backyard barbecue in Chicago the previous fall, when his book tour for The Audacity of Hope was morphing into a presidential campaign, “You’ll never make any new friends.” Obama has since worked overtime to prove the prescience of Jarrett’s view.

PUBLISHED: Nov. 10, 2013
LENGTH: 12 minutes (3042 words)

Vanity Fair, The Rebirth

Condé Nast executives, editors, designers and writers look back on the 1983 relaunch of Vanity Fair, which originally stopped publishing in 1936 and had been folded into Vogue:

As word leaked out that the company was pumping more than $10 million into the magazine, the sniping began. An enterprising Chicago Tribune reporter tracked down Clare Boothe Luce, who had been a V.F. managing editor in the 30s, and asked her what she made of the relaunch. “I do wish the new magazine could be as wonderful as the old,” she said, “but I don’t see how it can.” New York magazine also weighed in, long before the debut, with a skeptical piece reporting that Locke’s job was in jeopardy. Newsweek joined the fun, too, calling the prototype “aggressively ugly” and averring that there was an “uncertainty about Vanity Fair’s editorial focus.”

PUBLISHED: Oct. 15, 2013
LENGTH: 31 minutes (7759 words)