Barney! Biz! Bluebonnets!

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

"There's one problem: I don't believe in democracy," he says. "If the city wants a monarchy, then I am your man. Besides, I think I'd be the first mayor of Austin ever to be assassinated."

If so, the suspect list would be long. Near the top would be Robin Rather, the chairwoman of the Save Our Springs coalition, Austin's leading environmental advocacy group. She says Levy hurts his own causes because "the way he goes about arguing for them frequently involves sliming other extremely good causes," such as the ones she advocates.

"He likes to lob grenades, hurt other people and justify it by saying he's trying to fight for his cause," says Rather, the daughter of CBS News anchor Dan Rather. "People know he overdramatizes, so nobody takes him seriously. He has managed to alienate anyone who might team up with him. He needs to ask himself whether he really wants to be productive for his causes or whether he wants to continue taking cheap shots just to amuse himself."

Mike Levy's Law of Life 33-C, as recited by the man himself: "Any great enterprise ultimately is the reflection of one person's taste, vision, judgment and interest." At Texas Monthly, Levy says, that one person is editor Greg Curtis.

Like the magazine itself, Curtis's tastes and interests have mellowed with age. His vision and judgment of the Texas he wants reflected in the magazine can be difficult to decipher. As Curtis delegates an increasing amount of authority to deputy editor Evan Smith, Levy may need to amend his law, because the magazine now reflects the tastes, visions, judgments and interests of two men.

Two men quite different from each other.
Curtis, 54, has been with the magazine since the first issue and has been its editor since 1981, his longevity rare and remarkable in the high-stress world of magazine editing. Once a hippie, he is now a martini aficionado.

Despite his years on the job, Curtis remains a mystery to many of his co-workers, including some who have worked for him for several years. A private man who chooses his words carefully, colleagues say much of what they know about his private life they read in last year's Dallas Morning News story profiling him. Writers often resort to reading his body language to figure out what he thinks about story ideas they pitch to him.

"He has a great intellectual nature to him, but he doesn't feel the obligation to immediately reveal it," says Hollandsworth, 41, who has written for the magazine for almost ten years. "He's comfortable to have others give their opinions while he listens and contemplates. He keeps his own counsel."

Tall and fit with an enviable complexion that looks as though he's spent an hour in the dressing room with a makeup artist, Curtis breaks several rules of good writing when he speaks, including those pertaining to run-on sentences and overuse of interjectory clauses. In another life, he would have made a fine philosophy professor. He applies logic and theory, however befuddling, in defining the Texas he tries to reflect in his magazine.

Texas, he says, finally is overcoming its long-standing fear of being viewed as inferior in everything from education to the arts.

"I think that the ability to move and be at ease in a cultural way is sort of the defining thing that has occurred in terms of the Texas psyche in contemporary times," Curtis says.

In turn, the contemporary Texas Monthly favors stories that affirm the richness of Texas culture, massaging the Texas ego all the while. Does Curtis believe Texas Monthly's job is to make Texans feel good about Texas?

"I wouldn't put it that way, but if I have to answer that question yes or no, the answer would be yes," he says. "But the way I say it, the way I think about it is this: I have this theory that every magazine should be able to express what it's about in one sentence. And Texas Monthly is a magazine to help people understand Texas and enjoy Texas. That's it. That's what we do. And everything in the magazine falls into one of those two categories or both. And nothing in the magazine is not about one of those two things.

"We're for Texas, 'for' in the utilitarian sense and 'for' in that we are on the side of Texas. But I want the state reflected in our magazine to be real. It has to be real for people to understand Texas and, for that matter, to enjoy Texas. We assume the people who are here want to be here; they've staked out their lives here, and they want to have the best life they can, and in order to do that they want to understand the place where they live and enjoy the place where they live. And we tell them how to do that."

Curtis says there is room in his definition for the magazine to expose the underbelly or defects of Texas. He does not agree with criticism that the magazine is more prone to boosterism these days.

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