July 28, 2021

Richard Stolley, Founding Editor of People Magazine, Dies at 92

“I think the climate in the country was absolutely right for this type of magazine,” Mr. Stolley said in 1978 in an interview with his hometown newspaper then, Greenwich Time, in Connecticut.

He said he believed that by the 1970s, the interests of readers of mass magazines had shifted away from the political turmoil of the 1960s and toward personalities. Still, Mr. Stolley said, he was never sure whether People had spawned personality-driven journalism or whether it had tapped into something already in the zeitgeist.

Either way, the magazine focused relentlessly on humans, not issues or trends. Mr. Stolley had rules about covers, which had to grab readers at the newsstand in an instant.

“He said that pretty sells better than ugly, young sells better than old, movies sell better than TV, TV sells better than sports and anything sells better than politics,” Hal Wingo, his longtime colleague at both Life and People, said in a phone interview.

Although immediately popular with readers, People was dismissed by some journalists, including some at Time Inc., as a celebrity gossip sheet, Mr. Wingo said. That prompted Mr. Stolley to break his own rules about covers. To show that the magazine wasn’t just a showcase for celebrities, the second cover featured Martha Mitchell, the chatty wife of former Attorney General John N. Mitchell, who was embroiled in the Watergate scandal. The third featured the oil tycoon J. Paul Getty.

Much of the early going was trial and error. One of his biggest mistakes, Mr. Stolley often said, was not putting Elvis Presley on the cover when he died in 1977 at 42. Mr. Wingo said it had not occured to them because the magazine had never featured a dead person before.

In 1980, when John Lennon’s murder shocked the world, Mr. Stolley did not think twice. The Lennon cover was long the magazine’s best-selling issue.

Article source: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/22/business/media/richard-stolley-dead.html

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