These are some of the things Bill Regardie has done:
He took the Auto Train to Florida and had Ridgewell's cater his rolling suite. He seized and held the record for the most bottles of Dom Perignon drunk by a "reasonably sized group" at Joe and Mo's (23 $100 bottles by 19 people). He arrived at The Palm wearing shorts and roller skates. He gave friends and associates silver satin jackets decorated with the words "Money, Power, Greed." He spent $5,000 on a full-page newspaper ad telling his wife Renay he loves her. He purchased a $65,000 Cle'net automobile on a whim and soon sold it for $48,000 on another whim.
This is why he did them:
He felt like it.
"I do what I want," says the 44-year-old executive publisher of the monthly business magazine Regardie's. "Why shouldn't I?"
Bill Regardie always wanted to be successful, and now he is. The man who (and he delivers this fact gleefully) was fired from just about every job he ever held until he was 31, has in the past decade become a grinning Washington success story.
In 1973, he started a real estate marketing research firm, Housing Data Reports, that did very well. In 1975, he started the giveaway directory to the housing market called "New Homes Guide," which did even better, made him a millionaire and remains his big moneymaker. And in 1979, he started the magazine Real Estate Washington, which was originally aimed at the real estate community but later evolved into Regardie's, The Business of Washington.
That glossy publication is mailed free to 28,000 of what Regardie calls "the most important people in the city," with another 7,000 copies sent to newsstands. It has only 2,500 paid subscribers.
Last year it was a finalist in the American Society of Magazine Editors' annual awards in the category of general excellence for magazines with circulations under 100,000 and was named best local business magazine in the country by the University of Missouri School of Journalism. So far this year, ad sales are 28 percent ahead of last year, and last month, the magazine was named an ASME finalist again.
But doing what Bill Regardie wants goes far beyond publishing the magazine.
It means wearing clothes that suggest life is just one long brunch with friends. The khaki slacks, colorful sweaters and casual shirts. The gold chain resting against the curly graying hairs of his chest, easily visible since Regardie almost never wears a tie and doesn't bother with shirt buttons for the top six inches or so. And for outdoors, the coyote jacket, a sand-colored puff of fur purchased because "it never made sense to me to waste fur only on women."
And finally, it means reveling in all of it, in the clothes and the money and the success and the fact of being Bill Regardie.
"I have, without question, the best slot, the best position of anyone in the city," he says in the high-pitched voice of the spunky kid next door in a 1950s sitcom.
Friends and colleagues and people who benefit from his largess describe him with words like impulsive, creative, wild and childlike. People who wouldn't call themselves friends use the same words, although with less affection. Given the opportunity, Bill Regardie himself would probably agree with all of them. If he is what the tactful call "a character," it is not accidental.
"Bill likes to be in center stage," says his wife Renay, who glistens with as much gold as her husband and is president of Housing Data Reports while he spends his time overseeing the two publications and having lunch.
"That magazine is Bill," says an old friend, Carol Marchesano of the advertising firm Goldberg/Marchesano & Associates Inc. "It's casual. It acts like Bill acts -- it's somewhat irreverent. It talks like Bill. There's an edge to it like there's an edge to him, and it's colorful like Bill."
Regardie says he had to work hard to convince his partners Randy Bartow and Michael DeSimone to let him name the magazine after himself when they changed it from a real estate to a business publication. People, he said, would be intrigued by a magazine with "identity."
"This is about as ego-driven a town as any," he says. "And besides, that's who I am.
"In business, aggressiveness is more important than intelligence," he says. "We're based on the theory that you are what you seem. There was a story in Playboy that was called 'Sex in L.A.' It said that when you drive up to a party in Beverly Hills in a Rolls-Royce convertible, no one cares whether it's yours, you rented it, you stole it, you paid cash for it, it's your girlfriend's. All that matters is you have it. You are what you seem."
And Regardie knows the best thing to seem is successful.
"It was all based on the premise that we could produce a good editorial product," he says. "We could also produce a good piece of design, but unless it was crammed full of ads, first it wouldn't make a lot of money and second we wouldn't have the appearance of making a lot of money."
One way Regardie makes his magazine look like it has already arrived is to print it on slick, heavy paper. Result: extra heft that belies the small circulation (Washingtonian, for example, has a paid circulation of 135,000). He also works with people who share his idea of what success looks like.
In 1979, he brought star ad salesman DeSimone into the business as a partner the day after DeSimone left his job as local ad director at Washingtonian. Philip Merrill had just bought the magazine, and DeSimone had been told his responsibilities and lucrative commission contract would be cut.
Henry Fortunato had no journalism experience when he joined Regardie's in 1980, but the recent graduate of Georgetown who had just left the university's public relations office had other credentials: lots of story ideas and a flack's enthusiasm for his adopted home town of Washington. The 29-year-old is now the magazine's top editor.
Three years later, Regardie hired Terry Dale as art director, and the pages of the magazine were soon filled with slashes of neon colors, type that seems to expand and shrink elastically and aggressive photographs, like one in the March issue of a rat, seen from underneath, that runs almost completely across a two-page spread. Some find the design too frenetic, but Regardie loves it.
"You have to grab the people by the lapels," he says, his second favorite motto after the succinct "Money, Power, Greed."
Regardie's grabs the lapels in a variety of ways, most of them visual. Dale illustrated an article in the March issue on the National Geographic with an old photograph of a Zulu bride and groom, the Geographic's first photo of a topless woman. The caption: "Get a load of them Zulus." An article last year on the prophylactic industry was accompanied by a photograph of a condom blowing languidly on the edge of a twig.
And it grabs them by blurring the lines between the ads (with the pictures of happy businessmen and glistening office buildings), the "service features" put together by the advertising staff (with the pictures of similar happy businessmen and lists of "luxury homes" and commercial properties for sale) and the copy (with the pictures of still more happy businessmen).
Some say the magazine is too often a booster for local business. There was, for example, the 1984 story about National Tire Wholesalers. Several months after the story ran on this supposedly successful company, it went broke.
"We didn't come down anywhere near hard enough on them," Regardie says. "In fact, we missed the story."
One free-lance writer who has published in the magazine suggests that Fortunato's background in public relations is telling.
"They really are cheerleaders, and want rah-rah stories about local companies," says the writer. "They tend to work from the headlines back. They have some good, punny headlines. Then they try to find a story to go with it.
"They're not really interested in journalism as far as I can see -- they just want a nice magazine, yet they're taken very seriously. I think it has to do with the whole project -- the presentation. They have a lot of good writers and the stories are sort of offbeat and interesting, but it's really very unprofessional when you get right down to how they work."
Staff members say the magazine is becoming harder hitting and point to a piece last July about funding behind Walter Mondale's presidential campaign that first disclosed the existence of unreported funds contributed to the political action committee Mondale set up to explore his presidential bid.
But even if the magazine doesn't become tougher, maybe many of its readers -- 87 percent of whom are male -- won't mind. "Successful business people all have nice egos," says real estate developer Jeffrey Cohen, "and the magazine fits in very well."
Regardie was clever or lucky enough to start his magazine when entrepreneurs and the local business magazines that cater to them were hot, and to capitalize on what staff members see as a change in Washington's self-image.
"In Washington, we tend to think nationally," says Fortunato. "Local business people -- in the past those people were sort of second-class citizens in the glamor department. This is the first time local people have something that is for them."
It's rare a story gets into the magazine that doesn't personally interest him, Regardie says.
He grew up in Columbia Heights, the son of a salesman, and went to American University, where he met Renay.
He assumes his readers share his background, tastes and curiosities. A readership survey conducted by McGraw-Hill Research last year found that the average reader of Regardie's is 42, spends an average of $10,600 each year on clothes and has a net worth of $1,210,000.
All of which sounds remarkably like Regardie, who lives in a house in Kalorama with Renay and their 12- and 16-year-old sons, who refers to the "massive incomes" he and his wife make and who is no stranger to the joys of consumerism.
"He does what rich people do with their time," says art director Dale, who previously held the same position at The Washington Post and Washingtonian.
For Regardie, the life of the rich consists of two-hour lunches, no long nights at work and frequent vacations. Last year -- New Year's in Jamaica, a weekend in Puerto Rico, a one-week trip around the world, one week in California, three weeks in France and Switzerland and three days in Scotland. This year, he wants to go to China, Renay wants to go down the Amazon.
Enter Regardie's Kalorama house and it's immediately clear who lives there. In the dining room, there's a painting of a paunchy Bill and buxom Renay dressed in something approximating royal medieval robes, gold coins dribbling from their fingers and a bright "Regardie's" written above their heads.
Everything is big, from the massive TV screen to the Sergio Bustamante papier-ma che' animals (two ostriches beneath a tree in the two-story living room, a crocodile and a penguin in the dining room) to the deep couches filled with elephantine pillows. To sit down in this house is to sink.
"You have to understand what keeps us together," Bill says, nearly lying down in one of the couches, Renay wedged against him. He pauses, setting up his punch line. Renay doesn't let him get away with it this time.
"Healthy competition," she says quickly.
"We once had a competition to see who would get on a bank board first," he says.
There was no winner.
"Nobody asked us," she says.
That's how it goes. One starts a story, the other continues, the first interrupts, the second demurs, the first insists. They both smile. It's a game.
Ask about that full-page ad in The Washington Post celebrating their anniversary and she says, her smile constant, "I thought it was fun." Press a little bit and she says, "We used to joke -- when we separate, who is going to get the ad in the paper first. Mine is all designed and ready to go."
The healthy competition came to a crisis in 1977, when the Regardies ran Housing Data Reports and New Homes Guide as a team out of the same office. On what they now call "Fun Tuesday," they split. They ran no ad and got back together 36 hours later, but the businesses were permanently sundered.
"It was familiarity," says Bill. "You just reach a point, you get too close."
"It was competition, too," Renay says.
"No," he says. They look at each other. They smile their two smiles.
It's a draw.
Whether Regardie is a true Natural Man or a carefully cultivated sybarite, he doesn't see much point in restraining himself.
Take his 1982 speech to a meeting of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce. Arlington County, he said, is the best place to live in metropolitan Washington, and part of the reason is the small black population.
"For Arlington County you have fewer undesirables, depending on your own particular bigotry, than any other jurisdiction in the Washington area," he told the group. "You have few gays, except for the Iwo Jima monument area, and it's a lousy place for a pickup in this cold weather. And if you're a racial bigot, there are few blacks . . . "
A month after Regardie spoke, Washington Post columnist William Jones reprinted excerpts from the talk, spoke to people who criticized Regardie's description of Arlington County and then chastized Regardie for expressing views that "pit one jurisdiction against another."
Regardie's answer to Jones was simple: "I totally believe everything that I said."
"I also went after Bill Jones," he says now. When Jones left The Post for a position at Pepco, Regardie included a small notice in his magazine that began, "after years of undistinguished service at The Washington Post . . . " He later ran a letter from Post editors in support of Jones.
"The interpretation was that because I said what I wanted, which I believed was based on fact and on an analysis of a situation, in his words, and in his view only, I was a racist," says Regardie. "No one else in the audience felt that way. That accusation has cost me a good bit -- I won't say a good bit, but at that time, it created a concern."
By now, Regardie says, the concern has faded, and Jones calls the episode "ancient history."
"I wouldn't say his flamboyance is offensive," says Peter Sturtevant, a friend of Regardie's and headmaster of The Maret School, which one of Regardie's sons attends. "He's just very easy, and I think that means he can get away with a lot he couldn't if he was more abrasive as well as being unusually clad."
And according to Regardie's friend and lawyer Edward Weidenfeld, Regardie's idiosyncracies are useful affectations. "Bill Regardie and the growth from Real Estate Washington to Regardie's is a classic example of the management technique of letting everyone know what their job is but letting them perform it in their own way. In that way, his dress is a statement to the people who are working for him."
Regardie's Georgetown office is filled with what he calls "toys": rubber chickens that he offers to visitors as mementos, a model airplane hanging from the ceiling, a Nerf basketball hoop and balls, a tube of silver glitter just in case someone needs it, a rubber replica of a private part of the male physique, the "Divine Shrine" (a changing exhibit of photographs of transvestite movie star Divine).
"We wanted to make this a place where people want to be," says Regardie. "There are no rules on dress. There are no rules if you keep a bottle of rye in your desk. But you have to work."
And if they work Regardie stays out of their way, say staff members and free-lancers, who speak of him in bemused voices, like team members discussing a frisky mascot.
As for the competition, neither Washingtonian editor John Limpert nor owner Philip Merrill want to talk about the man or the magazine on the record, but numbers suggest Regardie's poses no real threat to the city magazine.
"Paid circulation is a very big expense," says partner DeSimone. Mailings -- first to attract subscribers and then to keep them -- don't come cheap. Partner Bartow adds that advertisers aren't put off by the small paid circulation because surveys show people who receive Regardie's read it.
"Just put it this way," says DeSimone. "It's been making money for a while."
And giving Regardie what he values most: a good time.
"The main thing is, it has to be fun," he says.
"I now know a number of people in the federal power structure. I could easily play in there if I wanted to. All I've got to start doing is those kinds of articles and inviting them to dinner and you get easily caught up in the embassy crowd and the diplomatic and the State Department crowd. Frankly, I'd rather stay home and watch the news and yell at my children. But that's there, and you look at it, and you realize you can have it all if you want it. It's there for the plucking."
And the search for fun continues. Regardie is now planning a weekly news magazine that will be a cross, he says, between Time and New York magazine. He says he needs $15 million to $20 million to get it going, and he has already started raising the money.
And what will he call it?
Regardie smiles his pudgy, contented smile. With his own name already taken, there is only one choice.