Fame and Smart: Shooting for the '90s Hip

Times Staff Writer

In Magazineland, the 1990s are already here. And editors are deploying phrases like "luxury cool" to shape the post-yuppie mind-set.

This sense that the future is now--and possibly was yesterday or even the day before--is the adrenal kick behind two new entries into the top end of the consumer magazine market. Any uncertainties about where they stand on the social/periodical chart is erased immediately by their titles--Fame and Smart.

Fame is the ultra-glossy, hyper-with-it brainchild of New York financier and public relations executive Steven Greenberg, who reportedly exhorts his staff onward to the November issue launch by saying, "You're only new once." Meanwhile, a Fame prototype quotes Socrates--"Fame is the perfume of heroic deeds"--to potential advertisers and subscribers.

The magazine, which bills its general subject as "Success in the '90s," promises a monthly mix of articles and photos on fashion, fitness, politics and, above all, fame--how it's "bought, sold, borrowed, inherited and, sometimes, earned."

An automobile column will be called Carnal Knowledge. A column on relationships, Love and the Law, will be written by a divorce lawyer. Edna Buchanan, Pulitzer Prize-winning police reporter for the Miami Herald, will write a column on high-society murders. Psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, credited with coining the phrase "burn out," will offer advice on Surviving Success.

Insights and Secrets

Also featured will be Butler's Revenge, a monthly column of insights and secrets about the rich and famous from butlers and other servants. Make that former butlers of the rich and famous.

Smart is the somewhat less glossy but still very slick offspring of Terry McDonell, a former managing editor of Rolling Stone and, most recently, an assistant managing editor at Newsweek. McDonell's is a hip-pocket venture, a quarterly that debuted this month strictly on newsstands.

But while Smart was frugally financed, according to McDonell, it put the money up front, buying the talents of writers such as Hunter S. Thompson, Jay McInerney, Peter Maas, George Plimpton and Jim Harrison. The Plimpton entry, for instance, is a sampler from his forthcoming oral biography of Truman Capote.

The omnipresent Jack Nicholson is pictured on the cover in a leering crouch and is profiled inside. But there's also what might be called an anti-celebrity piece, a photo spread on waitresses in New York and California. Smart's motto comes from writer, editor, critic and curmudgeon H. L. Mencken: "One smart reader is worth a thousand boneheads." Mencken called his own magazine Smart Set.

Of the two, Fame seems almost certain to attract the most attention, partly because its marketing strategy probably compares favorably with Soviet plans for the invasion of Western Europe. More than 400,000 copies of the premiere issue will be printed and advertisers are being guaranteed a circulation of more than 200,000. It will be "carefully targeted to the most ideal, upscale, dual audience imaginable," according to promotional materials.

Priced at $3, the magazine will be showcased next to the cash register in newsstands at the nation's 20 biggest airports, West Coast manager Brett Vinovich said, adding that it also will be carried in 1,700 chain bookstores nationwide. Complimentary copies of the first issue will be distributed to 165,000 people with a net worth of more than $1 million in the top 30 per capita income states, which apparently means that 20 states are populated with underachievers.

Interview Imitation

Fame's editorial ancestor is late artist Andy Warhol's Interview magazine, the oversized, newsprint journal that has spawned a crowd of imitators, including at least two in Los Angeles. Most notably, the editor is Gael Love, who held the same position at Interview. Vinovich, himself an Interview veteran, said, however, that Fame, with its coated paper, laser-printing and typical magazine sizing, intentionally bears little resemblance to Warhol's creation. "It used to be chic and hip to print on newsprint," Vinovich said, explaining that the copycat syndrome has reduced the technique to "mall level."

At Smart, editor McDonell is also preoccupied with what's coming down the trend highway. But his approach is, of necessity, more low key, he said.

Jokingly estimating that he published 150,000 copies of the magazine for "what it costs Vanity Fair to throw a party," McDonell said Smart is a labor of three years. Deals to hitch the magazine to big backers fell through, he added, noting that he finally raised the money--well under $1 million--to bankroll the venture himself. Costs were kept low partly by producing the magazine's text and design entirely on Apple MacIntosh computers.

McDonell said his goal was to produce "an old-fashioned magazine" that is "editorially driven instead of marketing driven." But he added that he has given in to some truisms of the marketplace--namely the celebrity cover and a fashion layout, both deemed crucial to attracting today's smart readers.

Defining What's Hip

McDonell said Smart, at $2.95 per copy, fits roughly into a grouping that includes Vanity Fair, Esquire, Details, GQ and Fame. All of these, he said, are trying to define for their readers the latest in what's hip. They also are "trying to redefine the general interest, popular magazines," he added. His entry, McDonell said, seeks to bring together in one place articles on the newest in the arts, media, politics, fashion and design that isn't available from any other single source.

A California magazine claims to be the country's circulation leader. Based on figures compiled by the Audit Bureau of Circulations for the first six months of 1988, Modern Maturity, a bimonthly based in Lakewood and published by the American Assn. of Retired Persons, said it surpassed last year's top magazine, TV Guide, a weekly. Modern Maturity said its average paid circulation was 17,924,783. Circulation figures put the monthly Reader's Digest in second place with 16,964,226 while TV Guide was third with 16,917,545.

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