THE INSPIRATION FOR THIS WEEK'S cover story came in a flash of silvery gray—the color of George Clooney's tuxedo at his Augusta (Ky.) High School senior prom in 1979 (see page 43). "He looked so puppyish in that tux," recalls senior writer Janice Min, 26. "The idea of doing a story on celebrity proms was irresistible."

So much for inspiration. The perspiration came from correspondents all over the country—including Anne-Marie Otey in L.A., Anthony Duignan-Cabrera in New York City, Gail Cameron Wescott in Atlanta and Alicia Brooks in Washington—who undertook the daunting task of tracking down long-lost prom dates.

As with many old grads, prom talk, for our reporters, evoked memories. "They're called deb dances in Ireland," says Duignan-Cabrera, 31, an L.A. native who spent his high school years at Dublin's St. Paul's College. "Typical teenage fare, dancing, partying, it was a riot," he recalls. Brooks, 32, a 1982 alumna of Notre Dame High School in Lawrence Township, N.J., associates her prom with the big chill: She caught a cold shivering in an arctically air-conditioned restaurant. Otey, 31, got frosted when her classmates at New York City's Stuyvesant High School voted to hold their '82 affair at the now-defunct Playboy Club. "My politically correct friends and I said, 'No way!' " recalls Otey, who instead joined pals at the World Trade Center's Windows on the World restaurant and rode the Staten Island Ferry at dawn. "I remember clip-clopping home to Brooklyn in my pink high heels," says Otey. "I ran into my older sister at 7 a.m. She was just going to work."

And speaking of celebrations: On April 23, Richard Stolley, 67, PEOPLE'S once and forever prom king as well as our founding editor, was named to the American Society of Magazine Editors Hall of Fame. This put him in distinguished company: Other 1996 inductees were Helen Gurley Brown (Cosmopolitan), Os-born Elliott (Newsweek), Clay Felker (founder of New York) and Ruth Whitney (Glamour). "PEOPLE has been the adventure in an adventurous life," Stolley said in his acceptance speech. "Which leads me to conclude that people who need people are not the luckiest people in the world. I am." Okay, Dick, but we feel pretty lucky, too, to have had the pleasure of your company all these years.