Fun fluff: 20 years of People covers

MAGAZINES

April 03, 1994|By Mark Feeney | Mark Feeney,Boston Globe

There are guilty pleasures -- and there are guilty pleasures. Your weakness may be for opium smoking or investment opportunities in Arkansas real estate. Fine. Whatever. I'll take the "20 Years of People Covers" collector's edition of People. It's as addictive as opium, as forgetfulness-inducing as an Arkansas portfolio: a pop-cultural parade of 1,038 covers whose cheerful weightlessness is the next best thing to a night of reruns. In fact, it is a night of reruns.

Here are some vital statistics. Princess Di has had the most covers, 56 (31 by herself); runners-up are Elizabeth Taylor (13), Sarah Ferguson (12) and Cher (10). Ronald Reagan is No. 1 among presidents. Kennedys have been on 30 covers. The all-time best-selling cover was the tribute to John Lennon.

The first two times People raised its price, Paul Newman went on the cover in an effort to keep sales from dipping (it worked). The week Elvis died the unthinkable happened: Marty Feldman and Ann-Margret went on the cover. Nineteen covers have featured weddings -- alas, 25 have featured breakups or divorces. Alice Walker wrote to complain when the Clarence Thomases appeared on the cover. . . . And just so you don't miss anything, the issue comes with an index in back for looking up all your favorites.

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There are lead times -- and there are lead times. Runner's World (April) profiles choreographer Jacques d'Amboise, who has at least one marathon to his credit. Today, at 58, he's cut back to running three miles three times a week. "It's an effort every time I start," he says, "and a joy every time I finish." That's a sentiment those of us who try, however lamely, to keep lacing them up, can well appreciate. What's considerably harder to appreciate is how long this baby appears to have sat on the shelf. Written in the present tense, the piece centers on a performance whose audience boasts "a cross section of Manhattan's glitterati, including . . . jazz great Dizzy Gillespie." Nice little detail to provide some high-recognition local color? Well, yes and no: Dizzy died 15 months ago!

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There are best-selling authors -- and there are best-selling authors. Other than the number of books he sells, the most interesting thing about John Grisham is how basically uninteresting he is.

Maybe it's his legal training that ensures a certain blandness on the part of the man who gave us "The Pelican Brief" and "The Firm." Even so, no one would ever mistake this latest entrant in the brand-name novelist club for such idiosyncratic fellow members as Stephen King, who is scaringly smart as well as smartly scary, or Tom Clancy, everyone's favorite techno-toy boy. Mr. Grisham has his quirks -- he prefers not to wear socks, he shaves only once a week -- but you begin to get the sense reading the Entertainment Weekly (April 1) cover story on him that there may be a reason you read so little about him other than his sales figures.

Still, the story's done with the fluorescent-glow smoothness EW has come to excel at. That smoothness is evident in its post-Oscar roundup, too. Best in show goes to best supporting actor Tommy Lee Jones for his aside to best supporting actress Anna Paquin, who is all of 11. "I guess now you'll get the part in the school play."

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There are profiles -- and there are profiles. This week's New Yorker (April 4) is a case in point. Lillian Ross' visit with Tommy Lee Jones (yes, him again) is almost as good, in its way, as Mr. Jones' performance in "The Fugitive." On the other hand, Peter J. Boyer's attempt to overturn the conventional wisdom on Oregon Sen. Bob Packwood and his wayward history with members of the opposite sex has to be read to be disbelieved. As a young man, you see, Bob was a real shy guy -- he had to wear these Coke-bottle eyeglasses -- and, well, as Mr. Boyer explains, this "left a kind of learning gap in that subtle realm of communication which anticipates romance." You know, that subtle realm, the one where you don't grab the help or lay French kisses on unsuspecting passers-by. Truly, it's amazing what access can do to a reporter sometimes. The phrase "jumping into bed" comes to mind . . . no, scratch that. After all, there are figures of speech -- and there are figures of speech.

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