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Face Lift for a Magazine That's Showing Its Age

November 03, 1995|PAUL D. COLFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Call it the rejuvenation of Modern Maturity.

America's largest subscription magazine, a bimonthly sent to 21.7 million members of the American Association of Retired Persons, has introduced an unexpectedly bold redesign in its November/December issue.

The issue includes an edgy, six-page photo essay on Halloween in New Orleans shot by Mary Ellen Mark, a slice-of-life cartoon strip by former Village Voice contributor Stan Mack and expanded entertainment tips from video maven Leonard Maltin and music critic Gary Giddins.

A cover story on "The Plot to Murder 'Murder, She Wrote' " (because much of the TV show's audience is north of 50 and doesn't command maximum bucks from advertisers) is aimed directly at Modern Maturity's audience. However, the overall look is snappier, more up-to-date. The magazine cites research showing that 50-and-older is much younger than it used to be.

The make-over was conceived by two highly respected designers--Walter Bernard, a former art director of New York and Time magazines, and his partner in WBMG Inc., Milton Glaser, a co-founder of New York magazine who created its distinctive logo.

For Bernard, 58, and Glaser, 66, to overhaul the staid Modern Maturity seems at first like Steely Dan entertaining at a church supper. Then again, the two men, closely identified with influential graphic designs of the '60s and '70s, were brought in to help the magazine reach a growing number of its readers who came of age during those decades.

According to editor J. Henry Fenwick, Modern Maturity enjoys a high level of loyalty among its older readers, but faces the challenge of getting people between 50 and 60 "to open the book and see something in there for them."

This is no small concern, because the first of the nation's so-called baby boomers, the more than 70 million people born between 1946 and 1964, will turn 50 next year--and become eligible for membership in AARP.

This month, Modern Maturity reports in a new feature that those reaching what it calls "The Big Five-Oh" will include rock star Neil Young and actress Goldie Hawn. Diane Sawyer and Bette Midler will join the ranks in December.

The redesign is a first step toward customizing the magazine so that retired and working readers receive different editions, beginning late next year.

"The guidelines we have for editors at Modern Maturity is that this is a magazine about change," Fenwick said. "It's about negotiating change and living with change."

A change that AARP no doubt would welcome is an increase in advertising revenue at Modern Maturity, whose offices are in Lakewood, Calif.

Modern Maturity's estimated $53.2 million in ads last year ranked it 41st among magazines, compared to another magazine attractive to older readers, Reader's Digest, which publishes only twice as often but generated $134.3 million in advertising.

Clearly the redesign is intended to make the magazine a more attractive environment for advertisers, a group that traditionally has been slow to recognize the spending power of the mature audience.

*

You Be the Jury: The first of the major players in the O.J. Simpson trial has landed a book deal. Deputy Dist. Atty. Christopher Darden has agreed to terms with Regan Books, a division of HarperCollins whose namesake, Judith Regan, has worked with Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh and Kathie Lee Gifford.

The deal for a Darden memoir, announced by Regan Books on Monday, was first disclosed in Maureen O'Brien's "Hot Deals" column in this week's issue of Publishers Weekly.

The price tag was said to be a whopping $1.5 million. Next up: Darden's partner, Marcia Clark. She was scheduled to make the rounds of New York publishers this week.

Random House is among the houses reportedly interested in publishing her story.

*

Bucking Tradition: With owlish specs, thinning hair and a face that's hardly new, Buck Henry seems an odd choice for the cover of a new magazine.

However, Fade In: is a new glossy about screenwriters, and Henry, an actor who has scripted many TV shows and movies, such as the new "To Die For," gives a lively interview about the keyboarding life.

Get this: He urges screenwriters to read books. "Try to make your mind do something it doesn't do when you're watching movies or, God forbid, reading scripts, which is the most depressing thing there is to do."

Fade In: like Premiere, draws its share of ads for new movies, but it comes at the game from the sidelines, offering screenwriting tales and advice, as well as frank conversation.

Fade In: is published quarterly by the Writers Network Inc. in Los Angeles. The number for subscriptions is (310) 275-0287.

*

More Bridges to Cross: Our copy of Publishers Weekly arrived last week encased in plastic designed to hold a flyer hyping a November memoir, Jana St. James' "Memories of Madison County."

This work of literature, being released by Dove Books, the Beverly Hills publisher of a bunch of O.J. Simpson-related titles, is said to bare the author's now-ended love affair with the married Robert James Waller, complete with hysterically windy letters and allegedly real-life parallels to the story that would become Waller's mega-seller, "The Bridges of Madison County."

* Paul D. Colford is a columnist for Newsday. His column is published Fridays.

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