By People Staff
December 30, 1996 12:00 PM

Watching this image is enough to give you whiplash. In the early ’90s she tried scandal, handing her panties to David Letterman, painting the town with women on her arm and publishing an explicit picture book called Sex. Still, her album sales sagged, and the best scripts went elsewhere. So this year a restless Madonna, 38 and counting, again took the public pulse and finally got her chakras correctly aligned. Meet the improved and acceptable ’96 model: movie star, music mogul, mother-next-door.

Madonna identifies with Argentina’s former first lady, whose mid-century life she yearned to bring to the screen. “People were angry with Evita,” she wrote in a diary for Vanity Fair, “for the same reason they are angry with me today. We are women with success and power.” Her amperage is already juicing up music and fashion. “You Must Love Me,” from the Evita soundtrack, made its debut on the Hot 100 list, and designers are busy running up Eva-like frocks, anticipating a 1940s fashion fad. In the middle of the hoopla last October, Madonna delivered what she calls “the greatest miracle,” Lourdes Maria Ciccone Leon. Although boyfriend-father Carlos Leon, 30, the singer’s former trainer, remains more in the background than Margaret Thatcher’s Denis, the subdued star has edged toward propriety. She traded her startling pink Hollywood mansion for a single-story home in Los Feliz and acquired Fisher-Price intercoms for her daughter’s nursery. But she hasn’t lost her spunk—or her media savvy. “Goodbye, everyone,” she said, rolling off for a cesarean section after 12 hours of exhausting labor, “I’m going to get my nose job now.”

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