WITH GORGEOUS GEORGE GRACING our cover, we mark the 11th year that PEOPLE has plucked a Sexiest Man Alive from the burlier half of the world's population. The tradition began in 1985 when, as then picture editor Mary Dunn recalled, "we had this great picture of Mel Gibson but no story. After racking our brains, I finally said, 'Look, why don't we just put the picture on the cover and say, 'Mel Gibson: The Sexiest Man Alive!' "

This year we're breaking ground again by devoting a special double issue to the subject of male allure. "There were too many choices we just didn't want to leave out," explains senior editor Elizabeth Sporkin. "We decided to celebrate men in fields such as business, sports and literature" as well as the more obvious handsome entertainers. We also pay homage to all-time great knee-weakeners (Clark Gable, Robert Mitchum) and the young stars who remind us of those classics (Tom Cruise, Keanu Reeves). Finally, thanks to a wily suggestion from PEOPLE staff writer Chuck Arnold, we invited six "experts"—actresses Morgan Fairchild, Maria Canals, Lesley-Anne Down, Alexia Robinson, Carmen Electra and Elise Neal—to a roundtable discussion of what makes a man sexy.

The task of circumventing these sirens' conflicting schedules and assembling them in one room fell to Los Angeles specials chief Tom Cunneff, a 15-year PEOPLE veteran. The daylong interview and photo shoot—supervised by specials art director Phil Simone—ended with Cunneff's posing with the stars he had gathered. "I can't wait until my wife sees how hard I work," he told photographer Robert Sebree.

Through the bantering, Cunneff, who has been married for 11 years to Betsy, a flight attendant (they have a 2-year-old daughter, Katie), discovered new ways to impress the opposite sex. "Before this assignment, everything I knew about women I learned from Bruce Springsteen songs," he admits. Now he knows that leaving little love notes for his wife can go a long way. "I don't think guys realize how much that type of thing means to a woman," he says. "We're pretty much dunderheads when it comes to relationships."