This Day In History: March 4

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On March 4, 1974, actress Mia Farrow from The Great Gatsby graces the cover of the inaugural issue of People, a weekly celebrity and human interest magazine spotlighting the personal lives of notable and intriguing people. People remains one of America’s best-selling weeklies.

People’s founding editor Richard Stolley came from the newsweekly LIFE, where he’d been assistant managing editor—and gained fame for acquiring the Zapruder film of J.F.K.’s assassination. In his first editor’s letter for the new publication, Stolley said People would focus on “the headliners, the stars, the important doers, the comers, and on plenty of ordinary men and women caught up in extraordinary situations.” The emphasis would be on people, not issues.

The inaugural issue, which cost 35 cents and had 72 pages, featured articles about people as varied as Exorcist author William Peter Blatty, fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt and Marina Oswald, the widow of John F. Kennedy’s assassin. It also gave voice to the wives of missing-in-action Vietnam servicemen and the family of kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst.

The first issue, printed in black and white except for the cover, had an initial press run of 1.4 million copies. (A test issue with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton on the cover, released in 1973, had flown off the shelves, offering proof of concept.)

Since that launch in 1974, People—now both a magazine and a website—has run regular features about pop stars, movie and TV notables, royals and more. Special annual issues trumpet buzzy lists like “The 100 Most Beautiful People” and the “Sexiest Man Alive.” The magazine has also showcased pop-culture reviews, product picks and human interest stories. Its annual “Half Their Size” issue, for example, focuses on the extraordinary weight-loss successes of ordinary people. A regular feature spotlights “Heroes Among Us.”

While Hollywood fan magazines and gossipy tabloids had long existed, the launch of People helped bring entertainment and celebrity reporting to the mainstream media, spawning copycat publications like US Weekly and TV’s celebrity newsmagazine “Entertainment Tonight.” The magazine has earned respect for its refusal, unlike tabloids, to publish unsubstantiated rumors.