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Dueling Attitudes : Is this town big enough for more than one glossy monthly? Let's ask the editors of Los Angeles, Buzz

September 23, 1993|BOB SIPCHEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The 450 SL with the BUZZMAG vanity plates spirals up from the B-3 depths of the parking garage, freshly Armor-All'd tires chirping, upholstery redolent of leather, dark blue finish glistening from the detailer's weekly house call.

"The car's my one Los Angeles indulgence," says Allan Mayer, driving with the sleeves of his beige linen suit rolled up Baby Mogul fashion, his gold Mercedes key chain and gray-flecked ponytail swinging as his cowboy boot nudges the accelerator.

When Mayer, Buzz's editor-in-chief, arrived from the East Coast with two partners to launch the magazine in 1990, skeptics dismissed them as carpetbaggers.

Word was that the trio had waltzed into town with a view of Los Angeles as a realm of glitzy, ditzy rubes ripe for the pickin'. Savvy locals figured the interlopers' dream of creating "a regional magazine of national quality" would burst faster than the bubbles in their first bottle of Tynant.

But now drivers see his plates and eagerly wave copies of Buzz, Mayer says as he wheels his convertible into the scruffy industrial and residential Westside neighborhood surrounding Buzz's offices.

Such recognition is a great barometer of his magazine's rapidly rising fortunes, he says, aiming the car toward a trendy Santa Monica trattoria .

Later, on the haughtier side of Thomas Bros. Maps' Page 632, Lew Harris, editor of Los Angeles magazine, reacts to the word "Buzz" as if a barely audible insect were flicking against his window.

"Nothing would excite me more than to have a lot of magazines thriving in Los Angeles," Harris says, magnanimously, leaning forward in his ninth-floor Century City office, which offers a view onto the rooftop of Beverly Hills High and out to the distant Hollywood sign.

Alas, though, Harris all but says: This new magazine with the annoying name will likely meet the fate of so many other local upstarts: the city will splatter it with a half-conscious swat.

But enough of that. Harris would really much rather talk about the one "vital--really very vital" magazine that has survived 33 years in this ruthlessly indifferent town.

With the almost bashful look of a proud preschooler revealing a particularly heartfelt finger painting, Harris holds up September's issue, his magazine's debut of a trumpeted make-over by one of the industry's hottest designers.

The logo is "Endless Summer" orange; the black-and-white cover shot of Julia Louis-Dreyfus verges on erotica. And Harris (who drives a 1988 Mazda RX-7 convertible with an Alpine stereo that is, he says, his life ) seems almost embarrassed by the new look's sexy edge.

The face lift, he quickly asserts, has been in the works for some time and has nothing to do with some imagined rivalry. Besides, he says, "We have a very strong lock on this franchise. . . . If you look at the circulation figures, for instance, there's really no competition at all."

And Buzz's claim that its readers are even wealthier and younger than Los Angeles magazine's--hence, even more desirable to upscale advertisers?

Replies Harris: "Their circulation figures have been so bloated and preposterous . . . that I don't know how you could make any judgment on what they say their demographics are."

*

Los Angeles magazine was birthed in 1960, by investors with entrepreneurial drive and vision similar to the Buzz partners'.

The city was changing, they figured, becoming more cosmopolitan. It needed a voice.

For about $50,000, the group launched a New Yorker look-alike, "The Southern California Prompter--Guide to the Good Life in Los Angeles and Suburbia."

At the time, regional magazines didn't exist in their current form, says Geoff Miller, an associate editor at the Prompter and now Los Angeles magazine's publisher.

The first Prompter offered previews, reviews and features, including an article on "surf-boarding in Malibu."

An "Around Our Town" column included a glib guide for out-of-state visitors to the impending 33rd Democratic National Convention at the Sports Arena. It bemoaned the crowded freeways, offered advice on the fine dining and entertainment available here, and warned: "You may make our laws, send us to war . . . but don't expect us to take you seriously. "

Early issues of the magazine--soon renamed Los Angeles--were short on ads, although pitches for jewelry, perfume and the "Relax-A-cizor" suggest readers' needs haven't changed much.

"This must be the most complex possible urban environment to put out a magazine in," says Miller. "It really is a city that people carry around in their heads. . . . It took many years to get inside readers' heads, but once we had that formula worked out, the magazine really took off."

Los Angeles passed through several owners before landing with its current one, media conglomerate Capital Cities/ABC.

Harris joined Los Angeles in 1974, after a stint at Riverside's Press-Enterprise and five years at the Chicago Tribune.

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