For the past few months, Susan Lester has spent an inordinate amount of time with the famous. “I walk into one room, and there’s Cher, into another to be with Steven Spielberg, then another to see what’s going on with Harrison Ford,” she says.
No, Lester doesn’t have a far-hipper-than-thou social life; the celebs she’s talking about are video images. As executive producer of People Profiles, a weekly series that will air on CNN beginning March 23 at 10 p.m. ET, Lester is in charge of creating 10 hour-long celebrity biographies. The subjects—drawn from the 25 “Legends” in our 25th-anniversary issue—include, in addition to those above, Oprah Winfrey, Elizabeth Taylor, Christopher Reeve and others. “Most of the people profiled were generous with their time,” says Lester, who has worked in television for nearly 30 years and won three Emmys. “And that makes the shows rich and personal.”
With help from the subjects and their friends, Profiles staffers tracked down rare photos and footage. Gilda Radner dances with her dad in old home movies; yes, that bellboy in a clip from the 1966 film Dead Heat on a Merry-Go-Round is Harrison Ford, uttering his first onscreen line (“Paging Mr. Ellis!”). What did Lester conclude after more than a year on the project? “When Spielberg talks, he sounds like a guy who loves what he’s doing,” she says. “I think that’s true in a lot of the interviews. Rich-and-famous is a nice by-product, but in most cases, the driving goal was to do something they loved.”