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Filled With Nothing But Sweetness and Lite : Magazines: In Style offers a peek into celebrity homes-- without revealing any of their dirty laundry.

November 04, 1994|JEANNINE STEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Imagine a world where famous people happily escort you around their gorgeous homes, let you share in their family rituals and give you recipes for their favorite gourmet foods.

That world does exist--in the glossy, flossy pages of In Style magazine, a 6-a-month-old offshoot of People that dishes out celebrity life lite.

Lite as in an eight-page spread of former sitcom star Alan Thicke's recent Santa Barbara wedding to former Miss World Gina Tolleson. ("Guests who'd gathered in Thicke's verdant pasture sipped . . . sparkling water, lemonade and iced tea beneath a billowing white canopy as a string quartet played classical music.")

Lite as in a personal tour of singer Anita Baker's Grosse Pointe, Mich., home that begins with new mother Baker making barbecued chicken for the four-months-pregnant reporter.

And lite as in three pages devoted to Finola Hughes' beauty regimen.

Finola who ?

She's on the NBC show "Blossom."

It doesn't get any fluffier than this, with stories on Candice Bergen's family photos, Jason Priestley's favorite moisturizer and Kelsey Grammer's engagement party, all spun out like so much journalistic gossamer.

"As far as I can tell," said USC journalism professor and magazine writer Clancy Sigal, "it's a marriage of Architectural Digest, Martha Stewart Living, Elle and a sprinkling of People. . . . It's mildly glamorous, mildly earthy, mildly mild."

That In Style can share a newsstand each month with publications touting every last shred of sordid O.J. gossip is a tribute to America's schizophrenic appetite for celebrity info.

"We know people are fascinated by celebrities," said In Style Managing Editor Martha Nelson in the understatement of the year. "The question for me was, what could you do with celebrities that hadn't been done before?"

Not to suggest that showcasing the soft-focus side of celebs' lives is uncharted territory ("Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," anyone?). But In Style has managed to carve out one big niche--stars' private parties.

Each issue escorts readers to one invitation-only event, be it Gabrielle Carteris' baby shower, Melissa Gilbert's 30th birthday party or Joan Rivers' black-tie charity dinner. Accompanying recipes help readers re-create the menus at home.

This kind of access is unusual, which is why celebrity weddings are often shot from helicopters with telephoto lenses, turning readers into voyeurs.

"I wanted a magazine with beautiful photos, and you don't get those by hopping out of the bushes," Nelson said. "We weren't going to be running around paying off someone's assistant or gardener to get information. I wanted it to be a magazine that felt comfortable and easy."

Some stars have been easy sells, others have taken months to persuade.

"I was actually really nervous about doing it," said actress Gabrielle Carteris (Andrea on "Beverly Hills, 90210"), whose baby shower was featured in the July issue.

"When I was pregnant I tried to do certain things for my baby--I wanted her to know how proud and happy I was during the pregnancy, and this was something I could chronicle, it was for her. . . . (The magazine) guaranteed that they would not in anyway infringe, and I could tell them to leave if I wanted them to, but they were so respectful. . . . In Style is about good feelings."

The tabloids were after Thicke for coverage of his wedding, but he and his bride decided on In Style. The tabs came anyway, hovering overhead in a helicopter.

"I think we both agreed that having one publication document it with our supervision and approval was fine. . . . They definitely augmented anything the wedding photographer did," said Thicke, whose ABC series "Growing Pains" ended in 1992. "The only other reason we would have done it was for the publicity, and we did not choose that at all. . . . Unless your career thrives on tabloid coverage--and mine doesn't, I'm not a high-profile tabloid guy--you have nothing to be gained by wedding publicity."

Knowing that there would be no pesky reporters bringing up delicate issues (such as the pair's 22-year age difference) must have been something of a relief.

"I knew it wasn't going to be a gossipy expose kind of piece," Thicke said, "and we didn't want that kind of piece, we wanted the puff piece. . . . On your wedding day you want a puff piece, and if you don't deserve it on your wedding day, when do you deserve it?"

Singer Baker was already an In Style fan when the editors approached her. They laid out her 15-room house near Detroit in a spread that also included pictures of her, husband Walter Bridgforth, son Walter and new baby Edward.

Although she had never offered so much access to a magazine, Baker felt the moment was right.

"I was caught at a time when I wanted to show everybody my baby," she said. "I would stop people on the street and say, 'Do you want to see my kids?' I was at that stupid stage of euphoria--I still am. But I wanted to show my babies, I was decorating the house, and doing the current album."

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