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Aug 31 2017
Princess Di & Prince Dead: How A Great Lady's Death Gave A Porn Company One Of Its Greatest Hits Comments (0)

Screen Shot 2017-08-31 at 10.54.12 AM(Image by Alejandro Mogollo — buy his stuff here)

Princess Diana died August 31, 1997 — 20 years ago today. I remember it vividly for many reasons, not least of which because I had a job to do ...

Working for a now-defunct porn company that also published non-porn magazines (including, beginning the following year, a teen-entertainment mag I conceived), I had been doing some celebrity one-shots for them. This consisted of IDing a famous person who, for whatever reason, had enough catchet to inspire tens of thousands of people to buy a whole, one-time-only, special magazine devoted to them.

They were so bad at it that they had put out a random title on the Beatles (very popular and iconic, but odd timing), Hillary Clinton (she was first lady then and NOT popular!) and George Burns (who had just turned 100; the mag probably sold 100 copies). 51iOGnXQyLL

That aspect of the company led me to do a title on Leonardo DiCaprio, and to suggest specials with one theme but more than one public figure, like Hollywood's Hottest Hunks (Tom Cruise, George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Antonio Banderas and Keanu Reeves for the first edition; Will Smith, Mel Gibson, David Duchovny, Leonardo DiCaprio and Matthew McConaughey for the second).

Yet, there was always the knowledge that we would hop on any interesting celebrity deaths.

One Sunday, I was sleeping in and got a call at home from the company's second in command, a vile woman who seemed to move about the place with the dress sense and demeanor of a North Korean dictator-king. She grunted at me about doing a magazine on Princess Diana and I was totally lost. Why was she, and not the company's Sydney Greenstreet-esque owner? Why this idea, and why on a weekend? We had just done a magazine about her the year before that wasn't particularly successful.

“She die,” I was told coldly. “See the news.”

I was completely shocked, even though I had not been a a fan (nor had I disliked her) — it seemed unfathomable.

Also unfathomable, I was charged with licensing images for a tribute magazine that would be respectful and lavish — on a budget.

I could look it up, but I think the budget was $2,000, plus I was paid all of $800. For that, I wrote a long essay about her life and death and grabbed images. This was pre-digital, so I had to physically go to the hastily opened offices of places like Retna to make deals. The images I chose and the text I wrote in a matter of hours were fashioned by our designer into an insert that went into all the unsold copies of our Diana tribute from the previous year. I've never been accused of having a bad eye or being tight with my own or other people's money, so I splurged on a stunning Lord Snowdon image of his relative Diana for the new cover.

It was a little awkward that this new cover and new insert were weighted down by a magazine written when Diana was alive, but we took care to point out that this was an update.

And so, Princess Diana died and BioGraph Presents: A Tribute to Princess Diana was born. (The long titles on specials were often just to differentiate common titles within the system, since I on my shoestring budget was competing, on behalf of my company, with People, Us and the rest. It also tied the title to the parent publication.)

Some find it ghoulish, but I never did — news has many sad elements, and there is a thirst for this kind of thing. It makes people feel better, it makes people (not me!) money and if done tastefully, it does no harm.

What harm it did do was to my sleep, because I had to write and arrange the thing — working with the designer, of course — solo. The company took care of the mechanics, which involved using one of their pre-existing bipads (that unique number that appears along with the UPC code). This meant whichever established title owned by the company that was normally published under that monthly or quarterly bipad couldn't appear on the newsstand at the same time as the out-of-nowhere special, or at least it meant there was a chance newsstands would receive the new title, go by the bipad alone, and remove the title that preceded it. That sucked if the other issue had just come out. My memory is we used BioGraph's bipad and that the previous title was stale anyway. It might well have been BioGraph Presents All That: Hollywood's Hottest Black Women. Yeah.

Regardless, my tasteful tribute was rushed onto the stands in a few days, which was another huge hassle for publishers then and, probably, to a lesser extent now, one involving paying chains through the nose. It helped to have a powerful distributor, those entities that ran (run?) print publishing with a paper-mulching fist. My Diana mag hit either the same or almost the same day as the tributes from the major players.

91xfeo1XovLLord Snowdon's portrait of Diana decorated my cover. Snowdon died at 86 this year. (Image via BioGraph Presents)

Sold for $4.99 in the U.S., I was told it scanned a million copies, an absurd number even then, when people, y'know, bought magazines.

And that's how Princess Diana's demise enriched a porno king. Said king had his flaws, but I liked him. Certainly more than I liked his henchwoman. Most of his henchwomen and henchmen, actually. When the porno king dropped dead on his private tennis court less than three years later, nobody published a magazine about him — but I've always regretted I didn't publish a New York Magazine article about him, the man who made his money from death — “the little death” and several big ones.

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