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Fame Comes Out Swinging in First Round of Glitzkrieg

Times Staff Writer

Actress Robin Givens may have poured out her heart to Vanity Fair but when it came to picking a new divorce lawyer, she went to Fame.

Givens, seeking divorce from heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson in a case that has devoured untold tons of videotape, ink and paper, is featured in a long, generally favorable article in the November issue of Vanity Fair, now available on newsstands.

Earlier this week, however, Givens dumped controversial West Coast palimony attorney Marvin Mitchelson in favor of New York lawyer Raoul Felder, who just happens to write a column called “Love and the Law” for the new magazine Fame, due out next week.

A peek at an advance copy of Fame shows a certain easy pre-science on Felder’s part about the Tyson-Givens divorce battle. Prefacing a column about the legal perils of unmarried couples who live together, Felder writes, “Marriage, that most secure of social institutions, seems increasingly to have become the breeding ground for nothing less than the worst of battles and betrayals.”

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Experiencing Wealth

The speed of events in the Tyson-Givens affair caught Vanity Fair--which also contains a pop-psychology profile of Republican vice presidential candidate Dan Quayle by Gail Sheehy--somewhat off balance, though. The monthly quotes Givens as saying: “I had no idea what I was getting into, but what do you do? You’ve got to make it work. I got married forever. This is a person I wanted to work with. . . . This is a commitment I’ve made. Right now I’m standing strong.”

While all this appears to be coincidence, it nonetheless seems to indicate the overlap of the two magazines in the marketplace of glitz, glamour, wealth--and the vicarious experience of all three by their readers. And though far from identical, the two journals seem destined to duke it out in a fight for dominance as purveyors of upscale popular culture.

One portent of this is that the two New York-based monthlies already have come up with the same future celebrity. In its “fanfair” column Vanity Fair devotes part of a page to Drena De Niro, daughter of actress Diahnne Abbott and Robert De Niro. In its column called “The New,” Fame gives the 21-year-old De Niro a full-page photo.

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Moving beyond the similarities, the first issue of Fame--cover price $3--proves to be extremely slick and single-minded about the details of notoriety. (Not to mention the material goods that cushion the rough edges of fame--such as the two-page advertisement for the Bentley Turbo R, a hopped up, 140-m.p.h. version of the venerable British automobile. There’s a toll-free number to arrange an appointment for a test drive.)

In an essay on fame, Truman Capote biographer Gerald Clarke notes that the currency of fame has been devalued to the point of debasement. After citing artist Andy Warhol’s axiom that “in the future everybody will be famous for 15 minutes,” Clarke writes: “Alexander had to conquer most of the world and name 18 cities after himself in order to have ‘the Great’ attached to his name. . . . All Donna Rice had to do to be awarded her 15 minutes in the glare was to spend a night with Gary Hart. Almost anybody who has a little gimmick--involvement in a sex scandal will do very nicely--or a lot of money can be a celebrity today.”

Meanwhile, in her editor’s letter, editor-in-chief Gael Love notes that “there is also a lasting fame, the product of achievement.” She lists cover subject Clint Eastwood and New York Yankee Dave Winfield, who also is profiled in the premiere issue, as examples.

Love, a former editor of Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, created Fame in less than a year with the financial backing of publisher Steven A. Greenberg. In her column, she warns: “You can become famous if you’re not careful--and even if you are. The media machine is in place: We need pictures, we need print, we need human fodder to fill the pages. So supply and demand have finally intersected at the place where they can do the most good--here, in a periodical that lists as basic society’s desire for achievement, both good and bad, and the recognition of it.”

‘Butler’s Revenge’

Besides meditations on renown, Fame’s first issue contains several titillating looks at the life--and death--of the rich and famous.

Edna Buchanan, Pulitzer Prize-winning police reporter for the Miami Herald, debuts as a contributing editor with a story on the unsolved 1987 murder of millionaire boat racer Don Aronow, gunned down in his Mercedes 450 SL by somebody shooting from a Lincoln Town Car. Buchanan points out that the fatal bullet “nicked his gold Rolex” before it “plowed into his chest on a downward angle, and pierced his heart.”

Elsewhere, in a tattletale column called “The Butler’s Revenge,” it is reported that the home of actress Brooke Shields and her mother, Terry, is equipped with a closet that is actually a disguised security retreat. According to a former servant, the steel-cased closet “contains its own internal locking system and air supply, plus a telephone and electrical system wholly independent of the home’s regular utility services.”

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Whether Fame becomes famous with this kind of fare remains to be seen. But for a while at least, the magazine will be nearly inescapable. It will be prominently featured in airports and chain bookstores. About 165,000 free copies of the 500,000-copy press run are being mailed to homes with a net worth of more than $1 million. Circulation is guaranteed to be 200,000 copies.

Jay Levin is passing the editor’s chair of L.A. Weekly to Kit Rachlis, formerly executive editor of New York’s Village Voice. When Rachlis arrives next month to assume the title of editor, Levin said the title of editor-in-chief, which he holds, will be retired. Levin will retain the title of president, he said.

Levin said the hiring of Rachlis foreshadows no dramatic changes at the Weekly, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year. But Levin added that evolutionary changes can be expected, particularly in terms of tackling more in-depth stories and expanding the paper’s pool of contributing writers.

Meanwhile, Levin said he will turn some of his attention to helping develop an alternative television network, a conference sponsored by the Weekly on the future of Los Angeles, to be held early next year, and the celebration of the paper’s first decade.

Smart magazine, launched as a quarterly last summer, will become a bimonthly when the second issue arrives in February, says editor-in-chief Terry McDonell.

Pronouncing himself well-heeled enough to move to new offices and to hire someone to answer the phones, McDonell said in a telephone interview from New York that about 75% of the first issue’s press run of 155,000 copies have sold. The 116,000 copies in readers’ hands represent a considerable payoff for McDonell, who gambled he could make the magazine go strictly on newsstand sales and with no promotion budget. In Los Angeles, all 30,000 copies of the magazine--with Jack Nicholson on the cover--sold out, McDonell said.

McDonell, a former managing editor of Rolling Stone and assistant managing editor of Newsweek, said the second issue will have a press run of 250,000.


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