The inventor of PEOPLE died last week at the age of 87. He was Andrew Heiskell, who was chairman of our parent company, Time Inc., when he came up with the idea in the spring of 1973 for a weekly magazine devoted to personalities in the news. It was an unusual suggestion for a distinguished corporate big shot, whose jurisdiction was business, not editorial. That may explain why the editors were a little slow to react. But Andrew prodded, and in August of that year an issue of PEOPLE was tested in 11 cities. The test was a big hit, as he had predicted, and the magazine was launched in March 1974.
Andrew was its fiercest champion, especially in the early days, when advertisers and much of the magazine industry, including some of our Time Inc. colleagues, were dubious. I was the first editor of PEOPLE, and he was a frequent visitor to my office, to find out how the covers were selling (better and better) and how the small staff was holding up (more and more tired). He even made an occasional call on major advertisers, which is far more unusual for the chairman of the board than suggesting magazine ideas. I remember one lunch with a particularly obnoxious head of a cosmetics company, whose ads we desperately needed. Andrew was his witty, urbane, unruffled self while the man insulted everyone at the table. I wanted to punch the guy. Andrew’s charm worked. We got the business.
Andrew and I had only one serious disagreement. The test issue had used typewriter type for the stories and captions, an effort at raffish informality. When I became editor, I switched to a more conventional typeface, over his objections. He later admitted, “It was the worst single idea I ever had for PEOPLE. What I thought looked breezy, everybody else thought looked cheesy.” He wasn’t wrong very often.
As PEOPLE matured into a huge journalistic and commercial success, Andrew took justifiable pride in its paternity. He made a point of meeting all the subsequent editors, even after he had retired from the company. He peppered them with questions about their plans for PEOPLE—a relentlessly curious man, eternally young in his fascination with contemporary society, as enthusiastic about the magazine you hold in your hands as he was that crucial day 29 years ago.
Richard B. Stalley
Senior Editorial Advisor, Time Inc.