Tina Brown has always been a disrupter.
Brown, who is credited with turning Vanity Fair magazine into what it is today, was kicked out of three high schools.
“That was what was so great about my father. He was so proud of having a disrupter as a daughter. He would go in and he would say ‘How sad it must be for you to have failed with this extraordinary girl,'” she told “CBS This Morning.”
The former Vanity Fair editor-in-chief was brought in to lead the magazine in 1983 after it failed to find its voice and gain advertisers. Her first cover, featuring actress Daryl Hannah, made an edgy statement about the publication’s future and was followed by iconic images of Madonna, Michael Jackson, Eddie Murphy, Cher and others.
Now, she’s pulling back the cover on her time as editor-in-chief of the magazine with “The Vanity Fair Diaries: 1983 – 1992” a dishy memoir comprised of the meticulous diary entries she kept during those years.
When Brown arrived in New York from London to take over the magazine, she wasn’t even 30 years old.
“New York was for me, having come from London, it was the capital of the action. I’m a girl of the arena. I like to be in that gladiatorial ring. And if you’ve been in London for four years editing, as I had been, that was exciting but nothing like being on Broadway, which is what I felt being in New York City was,” Brown said.
Brown says she first decided to make the jump from being a writer to being an editor after being assigned a story about go-go dancers.
“They asked if I would dance as a go-go dancer to get a sense of it, you know, like Gloria Steinem worked as a bunny,” Brown said. “And when I got off that dancing, I thought to myself, I think it’s time I made the assignments. I want to be the one to actually tell people what to do. No more of this. I want to be an editor.”
Despite her youth, Brown had already spent time editing The Tattler in London and says she had a very strong vision of what she wanted Vanity Fair to be.
“It was a sophisticated mix. I felt that American magazines were not combining literature with celebrity with arts with business. I saw it as this sort of gleaming package that was on the front edge of culture and it was all about how that would all mix together. So it was always about the search for the mix. The movie star piece, the crime piece, the pop culture piece,” she said.
While the direction of the magazine was important, Brown said the covers were “absolutely critical” to the magazine’s success, too.
“The Reagans were a critical cover for us. We got access to shoot them at the White House. We went to do that and I took with me Harry Benson, the great photographer. He was such a brilliant, mischievous mind. He brought with him a boom box and in the boom box was a tape of Frank Sinatra singing ‘Nancy (With The Laughing Face).’ As the Reagans walked in, he puts on the boom box and Nancy says let’s dance, darling. When they kissed, I knew I had the spread of a lifetime,” she recounted.
But as she was laying out the photos, she got a call that Nancy Reagan needed to approve the pictures.
“First I just hid,” she said. “I thought, I’m not sending them. I hopped onto the plane, took the shuttle down there and sat there for like three hours in the antechamber and finally persuaded them to run.”
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