This post is a part of TMP’s Historical Context series, where I share excerpts from my collection of vintage publications.
Much like the rival magazines in the 2004 rom-com 13 Going on 30, fan magazines of the mid-20th century were constantly competing for cover stars. By either coincidence or crafty, competitive scheming between the magazines, they sometimes ended up featuring the same star in the same month, leaving the fans to decide the battle between which issue would get bigger sales.
In November of 1954, Debbie Reynolds found herself caught in the middle of such a battle as she appeared on the covers of Modern Screen and Photoplay magazines.
Photoplay liked to toot its own horn by calling itself “America’s largest-selling movie magazine,” while competitor Modern Screen went for the even more snide “America’s greatest movie magazine.” How do these two mags measure up to each other when they each feature the same cover star?
The playing field starts out evenly, with both magazines featuring lovely cover photos of the star. I like Photoplay’s cover design a bit more, since the background is bright and Debbie’s smile looks more natural, but both covers are very nice.
The score is leveled still as Debbie appears in an advertisement for Lane Cedar Chests within the first few pages of both issues. “Debbie Reynolds agrees: planning is the first step to happiness,” the ad’s copy screams in an effort to woo movie magazine-reading housewives into buying their beautifully crafted wooden chests.
When it comes to feature coverage of the star, though, Photoplay has the advantage.
Modern Screen’s article on the star, titled “She looks like a bride,” is a largely speculative piece dishing all of the latest gossip on Debbie’s relationship with Eddie Fisher. Could it be that they’re fooling everyone and have already held a secret wedding ceremony? About three and a quarter pages (a two-page spread with the text continuing in the magazine’s back pages) are dedicated to the romance. The article explores whether or not Debbie and Eddie could be trying to “hide” their love so as not to scare off Eddie’s adoring female fans. But according to the article, Eddie doesn’t care much about his career. When Debbie allegedly expressed worries about their marriage hurting Eddie’s career, he is quoted as responding with “The best thing about my career is meeting you.”
While Modern Screen offers up an interesting little read about the couple, Photoplay’s article focuses less on gossip and more on Debbie’s backstory. “Gayer than laughter is she” appears in the mag as part of Ralph Edwards’ reccurring feature, “This is Your Life.”
The style of Edwards’ article is a bit odd, written in the format of a letter directly to the star herself, telling her about her own life as it has occurred. Unusual style aside, though, the feature is a very nice read. Packed with adorable photos of Debbie from infancy to the then-present, the article also includes biographical information about her, obtained through interviews with family, friends and Debbie herself. Photoplay quite obviously seeks to flatter the star, with Edwards writing “And you, the Texas youngster born of poverty on April Fool’s Day, are enriching the lives of millions with your laughter.” It’s a very sweet tribute to a very talented and lovable actress.
A note from Lindsey: Some day I’ll have a handheld scanner that can allow me to share full pages of these wonderful magazines… some day. As it stands I only have a flatbed scanner and have to be very careful with the spines of the magazines, hence the odd cropping on the images from inside the mags. I’ve also had to begin putting obnoxious watermarks on these scans because I’ve seen some of my old scans and screencaptures pop up around the internet without credit.