Publisher's Letter

updated 03/30/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/30/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST

I wanted brown. I wanted dark. I wanted warm and lush. I wanted sultry." Sound like a recipe for a Gothic romance? Actually it was Picture Editor Mary Carroll Marden giving photographer Harry Benson, 57, instructions on how she wanted him to shoot his 50th-odd PEOPLE cover. Subject: Harry Hamlin of L.A. Law, our choice as "The Sexiest Man Alive."

"It's the worst cover of all to pick," says Managing Editor Patricia Ryan, "because what turns one person on doesn't work for the next." Nonetheless, for the third straight year we have made our selection. (Previous "Sexiest Man" winners: 1985's Mel Gibson and 1986's Mark Harmon.)

Benson claims that men are more vain than women. "With the Joan Collins cover," he recalls, "I shot two Polaroids first to test lighting and looks, and Joan said 'Fine.' Hamlin was perfectly pleasant, but it still took 14 Polaroids before he was reasonably satisfied."

Getting Hamlin to talk about being sexy fell to Los Angeles reporter James Grant, 26, who had interviewed Harmon last year. A 1983 journalism grad from the University of Southern California and a segment producer of The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers, Grant free-lances for PEOPLE. With cover stories on Vanna White, Donna Mills and Pam Dawber, he has reported on a bevy of comely ladies. In contrast, Grant says, Hamlin and Harmon "were less comfortable talking about what makes them appealing. They don't wear their emotions or sex appeal on their sleeves. And I think that's their attraction to women."

With reporting and pictures in hand, next came time for editors to choose the cover image that said it all. "I had fun narrowing down the photographs," said Picture Editor Marden. "I didn't know Hamlin had a hairy chest—that was kind of nice." Associate Art Director T. Courtney Brown turned down one handsome frame, explaining "You want to see his lips." Agreed another editor, "Yes, his mouth is what he is." One editor opted for a picture where "He looks as if you could hurt him. He seems vulnerable."

"We do this for fun," says Managing Editor Ryan. "Readers can look forward to this issue, to a little fantasy. Men have SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S bathing suit issue. This is for women. Our choice is rarely expected. We select a man who is just cresting, someone you hear women in elevators talking about."

So here he is, Ms. America. Turn to page 82.

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