"Aren't you going to ask me what my favorite color is?"
A smug teen-age "star" asked the question of Lisa Arcella, now editor of the New Jersey-based Tiger Beat Star. The query caught Arcella, then a neophyte teenzine reporter, off guard. Arcella, who had more serious issues on her mind, didn't know that the question was a standing joke among the young stars pursued by teenzines.
That incident suggests the past and the future of teenzines. While they still hunger for personal trivia, such as a star's height, weight, hair and eye color, the magazines are also trying to erase their fatuous images.
Readers of Bop, 16, Super Teen, Teen Set and other teenzines now can get their favorite stars' opinions on smoking, drug abuse, drunken driving and even premarital living arrangements.
Arcella attributes the new direction to the "new" teen-agers. "Kids want to be taken seriously," she said. With a nod to her readership of mostly 11- to 13-year-old girls she said, "Kids at that age want to be perceived as sophisticated, maybe beyond their years. I don't want to do something that talks down to them."
"There's been an absolute evolution," said 16 co-editorial director Randi Reisfeld. "I think it's partly because of society and partly because it's just time to be realistic."
Offshoots of traditional fan magazines like Photoplay and Motion Picture magazine, the teenzines got their start in the '40s, just a few years after a skinny Frank Sinatra sent bobby-soxers into swoons.
But publications such as Movie Teen, which featured "All Your Favorite Younger-Set Stars," had a preachy, parental tone. Jane Powell implored readers to "Look Before You Leap--Into Love!" Shelley Winters offered advice on "how to be a girl." Robert Cummings expounded on the travails of blind dates. (Noted Movie Teen: Cummings "is not only a well-known man-about-Hollywood, but a father, so he is qualified to discuss dates.")
Rock 'n' roll changed all that.
The teenzines capitalized on the fact that youths had music, even a language, to call their own. They began to push parental admonishments aside. But that doesn't mean they told youngsters the whole truth about their idols. Facts were fluffy.
Fictionalized diaries of reporters' afternoons spent with teen dreamboats (such as "My Date With Paul Anka") were a mainstay of the magazines in the '50s and '60s.
Also popular were "open letters" which allowed readers to empathize with the stars. In "What to Do While He's Away," 16's Georgia Winters advised Nancy Sinatra to try charity work, because then-husband Tommy Sands was in military service. Winters, who later used the byline Gloria Stavers, made such personalized features her signature.
Interviewers also strived for personal trivia: "101 Things You Never Knew About . . . (fill in the star's name)" was a standard headline. Such revelations as "he uses a green toothbrush" kept the readers happy.
"It was a period of time when things were kept more hush-hush than they are today," said former teenzine king Charles Laufer, founder of Teen and Tiger Beat. "Today you have rock stars coming out and saying they're bisexual, or you see four-letter words in print," he added.
Teenzines now increasingly refer to themselves as the "teen press." Some young and eager editors are trying to strike a balance between total honesty and the old rules developed to "protect" the readers.
"A lot of the people we're dealing with--publicists, for instance--don't realize the magazines have changed," said Arcella, 24. "They all have sort of the old concept of the magazines in mind."
Editor of Hollywood-based Bop, Charles' 22-year-old daughter Julie Laufer contrasted the two generations of teenzines: "Our idols aren't all presented as being perfect. There are stories that deal with drugs and divorce. When we deal with these issues, we use an angle that's going to help the reader."
Case in point: a Bop feature on stars who grew up with divorced parents. "They talked to us in ways to help readers whose parents are going through divorce," she said. "A lot of kids can identify with that."
Not that the teenzines have abandoned hyperbole. Translating the recent Bop headline, "John Stamos Talks: Sex, Drugs, Success," Laufer said, "He talked about how he felt about romance and love" as well as about friends who'd had brushes with drugs.
But by and large, teenzine attitudes are more "grown-up." At the 16 offices in New York, editors have overhauled their "fact sheets," which are filled out by stars. Gone is the query: "If you were stranded on a desert island, who would you want to be with?" In its place are such career-oriented queries as "When you go on the road with your band, what do you take with you to make you feel more at home?"
Such questions have to do with the teenzines' shifting emphasis, Reisfeld said. "Today we look at 16 as more of a People-type magazine for teen-agers. So now we concentrate on their professional lives. . . . "
Sometimes the readers chart new territory for the magazines.