Three years ago, New York Times media reporter and occult career-bender David Carr was taking a tour through South by Southwest and asked the festival's film person what movie he should see. She tipped him off to a movie called Tiny Furniture and he fell in love. He gave the movie and its creator/star, a 23-year-old woman named Lena Dunham, 1,000 words in the Times.
It was the first big write-up for Tiny Furniture and Carr "knew right away she would end up as a big deal." Dunham and Carr got dinner a month later and became fast friends. In the three years since, he's been a huge booster of her work, taking to various corners of the internet to spread the Dunham love:
People love to ankle bite her because she grew up well-situated, but nobody gave her a tv show for that. Nobody convinced Judd Apatow to co-produce because of who her parents were and HBO did not pick up Girls for a second season because she is wired.
It's true that Judd Apatow didn't decide to work with Dunham because of who her parents were. Instead, he chose to work with Dunham thanks to David Carr.
In 2010, Dunham had a blind script deal for HBO. What she was missing was the imprimatur of a Hollywood heavyweight. Meanwhile, Apatow, who is friends with Carr, was asking the Times columnist if he knew of any promising up-and-comers. Carr did know one.
Carr also knew, with his eye on the angles, that the director/writer/producer had a woman problem. Dunham was someone who could make Apatow's then-checkered track record with female characters disappear. Carr told Apatow to get a look at Tiny Furniture asap.
Apatow watched it and fired off an email to Dunham. Here's how she described it:
The title of the e-mail was "From Judd Apatow." I thought it was my friend Isabel pranking me. He said, "I saw your movie. I cried, which is not rare for me. But I laughed out loud, which is rare." Then he said a few things he liked that were really nice. Then he said, "If you ever want someone to give you a lot of money and screw everything up, we should talk."
By August, Apatow and Carr were talking about Dunham:
Saw Judd Apatow today and @lenadunham's name came up a lot. That kid gets around.— david carr (@carr2n) August 26, 2010
And two weeks later, Apatow and Dunham had a green light to do a pilot for an HBO show. Shortly after the HBO pilot was sealed, there was a meal that looked like a celebration:
Best night: @carr2n intro'd me to fois grois (he says "meat butter") and pinpointed the perfect name for a central casting hipster: Ainsley!— Lena Dunham (@lenadunham) October 22, 2010
And a few months later, they had another dinner:
Did dinner in Koreatown with @lenadunham. Now on to coffee and fully weaponized gossip.— david carr (@carr2n) February 8, 2011
And another meal:
Dropped 3hrs intro brunch on the finest weather day in a month. Then again, it was outside and with @lenadunham, so, best of all worlds.— david carr (@carr2n) October 8, 2011
And another dinner:
Saw @lenadunham for bite tonite. It's one thing to be young and that successful.Quite another to wear it as loose garment.— david carr (@carr2n) March 29, 2012
And yet another dinner:
And there have been PDA-moments. Like this:
And even more:
Lena Dunham reminds us all that apart from big talented, she is still a kid in a very charming way.— david carr (@carr2n) January 14, 2013
Carr and Dunham have obviously been strongly supportive of one another. In fact, in keeping with a tradition on the show, a few days after shooting on the pilot episode of Girls began, Dunham sent over a tweet to Carr.
Carr's daughter was a production assistant on the Girls pilot, the first of more than a dozen production credits that she lists on her website. She's currently a video producer at Vice.
Carr has been open about the fact that he's "in the tank" for Dunham. He hasn't written about her for the Times since that first story on Tiny Furniture (though he did conduct this loving Q and A with her in Hemispheres), so there's been little need to disclose his daughter's connection to Dunham or his devoted interest in her success (though he still does write about HBO and HBO's parent company, Time Warner, which have obviously benefited nicely from Dunham's success).
But if you're looking for the explanation of how this particular 20-something person, however well-born, has managed to seize such a firm hold on the Zeitgeist, it's worth remembering that she has one of the best-connected people in media rooting for her.
Carr's a fiercely loyal guy. In addition to his role as the Times' weekly media columnist, he's also become the Times' de facto Defender-In-Chief, something that might seem sort of surprising given his spit-balling alt-weekly background. On that point, he explained to Capital New York:
I am very tribal in my loyalties. Even though I grew up throwing rocks, the first 20, 25 years I was mostly hacking on daily newspapers and their foibles, and now I've not only gone native, I have turned into a reflexive defender of them.
He does that for Dunham. For Carr—a guy who has described himself as a skunk at the media world's garden party—the tribe keeps growing.
Photo by Wire Image.