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Longtime New York Observer Editor Peter Kaplan Dies

He Most Recently Served As Editorial Director At Conde Nast Division
Peter Kaplan (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Conde Nast Publications)

Peter Kaplan (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Conde Nast Publications)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — Former New York Observer Peter Kaplan died this week at the age of 59.

Mr. Kaplan’s wife, Lisa Chase, said her husband died Friday of cancer in New York City. Mr. Kaplan edited the weekly Observer from 1994 to 2009.

He was credited with honing the paper’s snarky tone and with hiring writers who became influential voices of their era.

Mr. Kaplan hired a then-unknown Candace Bushnell to write a column about love and dating in 1994. Bushnell’s column, “Sex and the City,” inspired the hit HBO series starring Sarah Jessica Parker.

“The more cancellations we got for her column,” Kaplan wrote in New York magazine in 2011, “the more the paper knew we had hit the jackpot.”

Other writers who worked under Mr. Kaplan at the Observer include Joe Conason, who is now editor-in-chief of the political website The National Memo, and Nikki Finke, who founded Deadline.com.

After leaving the Observer, Mr. Kaplan was hired as the editorial creative director at Conde Nast Traveler.

In 2010, he was named editorial director of the Fairchild Fashion Group, now Fairchild Fashion Media, a division of Conde Nast Publications. In that capacity, he oversaw Women’s Wear Daily, Footwear News, Menswear, and the Fairchild Books Division, according to a New York Post report.

But Mr. Kaplan’s role as a cultural arbiter was perhaps best exemplified by the creation of several fake Twitter personae in his honor, including Wise Kaplan, Cranky Kaplan and Real Kaplan. Wise Kaplan’s profile identifies him as “New York Oracle.”

In a BuzzFeed column, writer Doree Shafrir recounted working for Mr. Kaplan. She described him as a “wonderfully idiosyncratic writer” who was known for describing Ava Gardner with the lead paragraph, “The barefoot contessa wore rubber thongs,” in a New York Times article.

Shafrir also described Mr. Kaplan as “a spotter of talent and a mentor to dozens of writers and editors working today,” who recruited people from media ranging from college newspapers to trade publications and literary journals.

“Getting hired by Peter Kaplan felt like getting tapped for the most thrilling secret society ever, and Peter loved hiring people. (He hated firing people; it was rumored that, in fact, he had never personally fired anyone),” Shafrir wrote.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Kaplan is survived by their son, David; three children from his first marriage to Audrey Walker and two brothers.

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