02/12/1996 at 01:00 AM EST
ON THE TRAIL OF THE GREATEST love stories of the century, PEOPLE'S reporters wanted to separate the myths from the real human beings who had made them. "We wanted to make this issue fresh and surprising," says executive editor Susan Toepfer. But where were the firsthand sources who could talk about entanglements that had occurred decades ago? Who would tell us why Ernest Hemingway never wed the nurse who inspired his 1929 novel A Farewell to Arms? (Correspondent Vickie Bane tracked down Hemingway's hospital buddy Henry Villard in L.A. before he died last month at age 95.) Who would know how Alice B. Toklas referred to her departed lover? ("She always called her 'Gertrude Stein' as in 'Gertrude Stein did this,' " Toklas's friend Jane Eakin told Paris correspondent Cathy Nolan.)
Some of the keenest observations came from family trees. "I was lucky that my mother and father loved each other so much, especially when you hear of so many couples breaking up today," says Jane Chaplin, 38, sixth of eight children of Charlie Chaplin and Oona O'Neill. Stephen Bogart, 47, marvels that his parents' story "was almost a cliché. Model comes to Hollywood to be in a movie with the most famous star of his time. They fall in love onscreen and get married." Suzannah Lessard, 51, great-granddaughter of architect Stanford White, calls his affair with 16-year-old model Evelyn Nesbit "a story about the darker side of creativity." And Richard Burton's brother Graham Jenkins, 68, told London correspondent Terry Smith that Burton's marriage to Elizabeth Taylor was ruined by "the demon drink. When he drank, Richard would become the most abusive person imaginable." Yet, romanticized by time, the power of love survives. Though F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald led a wayward life, "they were very romantic to one another," their granddaughter Eleanor Lanahan, 48, told the issue's chief of reporters, Veronica Burns. "I'm shy about being a descendant of Scott and Zelda, but I'm proud of them."