Barney! Biz! Bluebonnets!

And other signs that Texas Monthly's brain trust doesn't have a neuron left

"Greg's style is antithetical to the publisher's style," Draper, who now writes for GQ, told the Morning News. "Mike Levy is a hands-on, maybe even thumbs-on, manager. You feel his breath on your back every moment of every day. At Texas Monthly, the primary job of the editor is to deal on a daily basis with the publisher.

"I have a lot of admiration and exasperated affection for Mike Levy, but he can be a very unpleasant person. The writers are not made to feel that unpleasantness because Greg deals with it. Most people who had to do that would, in a week, be out of there like a kerosened cat. But Greg shows the stress only on the rarest occasions."

Levy reacted by disinviting Draper to all Texas Monthly 25th anniversary events, banning him from the magazine's offices and sending an unflattering letter about him to his former colleagues. The two still do not speak to each another, although Draper says he hopes and suspects Levy's hard feelings will blow over.

"I'm not sure his reaction bespeaks of anything other than Mike gets his feelings hurt easily, especially by people he considers in many ways to be part of his family," says Draper, who still lives in Austin.

Levy justifies his reaction this way: "Draper left having told everyone that the magazine made him what he was, that he would be nothing without Texas Monthly, and then he goes out and tells somebody that Greg Curtis's job is to keep Mike Levy away from the writers. You know, it just really upset me because it wasn't true."

Levy, 52, founded Texas Monthly at age 26 with a loan from his father and has overseen its evolution into a magazine that raked in $23 million last year in gross advertising revenue. He views his role as the magazine's advocate. No doubt about it: He is Texas Monthly's biggest promoter. He's been known to visit important advertisers in person to extol the magazine and praise them for their support.

When Levy sold Texas Monthly to Emmis Broadcasting of Indianapolis in January 1998, both he and Curtis entered into two-year contracts with their new boss. The pair hope and expect their tenures will extend well past 2000. That decision mostly rests with Emmis's chairman and chief executive officer, Jeff Smulyan. A wildly successful businessman, he nevertheless remains a pariah in Seattle several years after buying the Seattle Mariners baseball franchise because he threatened to move the team to another city. He was run out of town when local owners came to the rescue, buying the franchise from Smulyan and keeping it in Seattle.

Smulyan says he has no unpleasant surprises in store for Levy and Curtis. "You can never say never, but that magazine reflects the passion of both of those guys, so we would like to see them stay," he says. "We love what they do. We're obviously very proud of the product, and we think they do a spectacular job."

Levy started his successful venture boasting little experience in journalism or the magazine industry, working as a copy boy for United Press International in his native Dallas and later in Philadelphia while attending the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. While back east, he also sold ads for Philadelphia, a respected city magazine.

He takes great pride in giving Curtis total autonomy over the editorial pages of Texas Monthly, a hands-off philosophy that is rare and admirable among magazine publishers, especially those with megalomaniacal tendencies. When "Joe Nick went nuts," as Levy describes it, he gave Patoski assurances that despite his anger, his job was not in jeopardy because Curtis was the only person authorized to fire him. Levy neither attends meetings where story ideas are discussed nor reads a new issue until it is just about to be sent to the printer. He does that on purpose so Curtis and the writers can be assured he won't order changes to the copy.

To his credit, Levy has not exploited the pages of his magazine to broadcast his strong views about Austin city politics. Levy believes that Austin should spend more time and money on police protection and emergency services as opposed to other issues that dominate city attention, particularly environmental protection. No story questioning Austin's commitment to public safety has ever appeared in the magazine.

"Mike is not a shy person," says Bruce Todd, who was mayor of Austin from 1991 to 1997. "That may be an understatement. He certainly was bold and aggressive not only in making pleas for more funding on the issues he cared about, but also in criticizing us when he thought we were doing something wrong. He's up-front, close and personal, straightforward and sometimes blunt. His forceful personality turns some people off, but I found him to be a good source of information."

Levy regularly sends faxes to city officials, business leaders, media representatives and anyone else he thinks should be privy to his opinions. The faxes often are lengthy stream-of-consciousness diatribes. Levy's obsession with local politics has some in Austin figuring he has a future in it, perhaps as mayor. But Levy is blunt about the likelihood of that ever happening.

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