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Editor's Memo

Posted on

There’s something special about every picture in PEOPLE. Each is usually full of life and often fun. But making them that is hard work for Picture Editor Mary Dunn and her staff. It’s hard work for the hundreds of photographers who each year submit 750,000 photos from which we select the 5,000 best. It’s hard work too for the people in the pictures. We demand amazing things of them.

Take John Moschitta. He’s the guy on the Federal Express commercials who talks faster than the government spends money. Talking fast is not an easy thing to illustrate. To try, for our April 18 issue, photographer Mark Sennet put Moschitta in the bottom of an L.A. pool for seven hours at a submerged desk equipped with a palm, a phone, a hidden oxygen tank and fish—all of which cost $1,627. The idea was to show bubbles coming out of Moschitta’s mouth, quickly. It didn’t quite work. When I saw the picture, I couldn’t understand what this poor man was doing underwater. So we ran a shot of him on dry land instead. Moschitta says he always wanted to take scuba-diving lessons, and he ended up learning for free. But, he adds, “You have no idea how heavy a suit gets after soaking.”

We’re never sure our ideas will work until we see them printed. For a June 20 story on Anne Edwards, who’d written a book about Gone With the Wind author Margaret Mitchell, Dunn decided to pose the subject as Scarlett O’Hara. The problem was the photo had to be shot in Connecticut; Rebel territory, it’s not. But photographer Mimi Cotter tracked down a Civil War-style dress, then found a Yankee version of Tara. As she was setting up the shot, a motorcycle gang roared past. ” ‘Way to go, Scarlett!” they shouted. Cotter knew the picture worked.

Taking pictures is not the sedentary profession it might at first seem to be. For a June 6 story about Dudley Moore as a concert pianist, for instance, we decided to have him play a piano on the beach near his home; to do that, we had to rent the piano, hire movers, get a police permit and cordon off the beach. We did not hire the neighborhood dog that ambled by and got into the printed photograph.

Shooting our Feb. 28 cover of Brooke Shields in Israel required the patience of Job. The outfit that Brooke’s mother, Teri, had chosen wasn’t appropriate for a desert scene; it was the kind of long-sleeved dress you’d wear to a tea dance. So photographer Mary Ellen Mark went to a Tel Aviv bathing-suit maker for the scanty, sexy outfit Brooke wore. Mark then hired a Bedouin camel jockey and his animal to pose with Brooke. The camel was less than impressed; it spat at Brooke. But the picture was magnificent.

Some stars appreciate our efforts as much as we appreciate theirs. Saturday Night Live’s Joe Piscopo (Jan. 10) convinced his disgruntled makeup and costume people to work overtime turning him into Frank Sinatra, Jerry Lewis and other of his characters for our camera. Humorist Russell Baker wrote a column about climbing onto a roof for a shot. “The worst part,” he wrote, “was imagining how the obituaries would read: ‘PUBLICITY-CRAZED BOOK PEDDLER SUCCUMBS AFTER TUMBLE.’ ”

Others are not so pleased with our ideas. Bette Midler, who is 5’2″, declined to pose inside a four-foot-long white wicker baby carriage to illustrate the fact that she’d written a book about a baby; instead, she pushed the pram, and for an hour during the picture session the story’s writer, Andrea Chambers, rode inside, holding up Bette’s book for the camera—though those photos finally were rejected. Dustin Hoffman was, at first, reticent in his session. But photographer Raeanne Rubenstein soon warmed him up—a little too much perhaps. Dustin had so much fun doing the Jan. 17 Tootsie cover he decided it would make a good shot to drop his pants.

“Home takes,” as we call them, also are a vital part of our coverage: catching people in their own element, relaxed and just being themselves. We give you a look at personalities that no other magazine can. That is the essence of PEOPLE, and we hope you enjoy it.

Happy Holiday.