“BIO is traditionally our longest section,” says Ross Drake, 44, who has edited that department for the past six years. “The stories are essentially truncated biographies either of people in the news or people we think readers ought to be interested in. And these stories can be the most rewarding because writers have a chance to get into their subjects in some depth.”
As Ross points out, BIO does not rely on formula. “We have broken nearly every rule we ever had,” he says. “We’ve done fictional characters like Huckleberry Finn, people long dead like Charles Dickens, relative unknowns like George Meegan, who walked from Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America to Point Barrow, Alaska. We’ve written about Albert Sabin, the developer of oral polio vaccine, New Yorker cartoonist William Steig and the Plasmatics punk rocker, Wendy O. Williams.”
This week the subject is Dr. William Nolen, a respected surgeon who all but lost his practice in a mid-life bout with drugs and alcohol. It is a moving story as told by senior writer Kristin McMurran (p. 112). But whatever the subject, says Ross, “BIOs ought to have a certain amount of style. And they ought to contain some surprises, allowing people to know more about the person than they knew before. We can be provocative. We got a fair amount of angry mail after free-lancer Jim Kunen wrote about Howard Stern, an abrasive radio personality who we felt represented a trend.”
Ross was already a seasoned journalist when he came to PEOPLE one month before the magazine was launched. He was born in Lewiston, Maine, the son of parents who were both high school English teachers. Graduating from Amherst (’62), he started as a reporter on the Middle-town (Conn.) Press, moved on to the Hartford Times, took six months off to travel Europe with his wife, Enes, before returning to work at TV Guide for two years and at Newsweek.
Drake, who also edits IN HIS/HER OWN WORDS, CRIME and ON THE JOB, commutes from Norwalk, Conn. where, come Christmastime, his children, Shana, 12, and Ross, 8, benefit from dad’s annual children’s book roundup. A third-generation Red Sox fan, Drake waxes philosophical about his team. “Except for the Celtics,” he says, “you become acquainted with the tragic sense when you root for the Boston teams, especially the Red Sox.” Well, maybe this year.