Charles J. Leerhsen was the uncommon man chosen to fill the vital slot. Since joining our staff in September 1992, he has been PEOPLE'S senior editor in charge of the Screen and Couples sections. In that role, says Jones, Leerhsen has displayed "a high degree of sophistication in entertainment and a refreshing sense of humor about the strengths and the foibles of entertainers. He was the ideal choice. There's no one better."
Leerhsen's track record is impressive and includes many of PEOPLE'S celebrity-studded cover stories, among them our interviews with Jamie Lee Curtis and John Travolta and our report on the surprise nuptials of Julia Roberts and Lyle Lovett. For stories on more reclusive stars, like Michael Jackson and Lisa Marie Presley, Leerhsen dispatches reporters and correspondents across the nation and the world. Under his guidance—and, yes, nagging—he says, "they wear out their shoe leather, make a lot of phone calls and just stay on the case. We don't go through celebs' garbage or peek in their windows. But we do keep seeking out people who know them, who are going to talk about them and offer telling anecdotes."
Leerhsen's first involvement in celebrity journalism was at Newsweek, where he worked for 11 years, starting as a sportswriter before moving into showbiz. "I don't really see any difference between a story about an athlete and a story about a movie star," he says. "They are both human beings in an interesting situation, with a lot of pressure on them, a lot of challenges, and there is drama and conflict in their lives."
Leerhsen has witnessed such pressures firsthand. While writing the best-selling biography Trump: Surviving at the Top with Donald Trump in 1990, he recalls, "I sat in Trump's office and just watched his world come undone. While we were finishing the book, in one weekend Mike Tyson, his fighter, got knocked out in Japan, Ivana left him, and then he had to sell his plane and helicopter."
Coauthor as well of Press On! Further Adventures in the Good Life, with pioneer aviator Chuck Yeager, and The Last Great Ride, with entertainment mogul Brandon Tartikoff, Leerhsen spends much of his free time at the movies. Current favorites include Pulp Fiction and Quiz Show. A native of The Bronx, N.Y., Leerhsen, 45, a graduate of Fordham University, lives in Ossining, N.Y., with his wife, Barbara, a teacher, and their three daughters, Erica, 18, Deborah, 15, and Nora, 12. But even there his entertainment editor's instincts are at work. "When most people hear Ossining, they think of Sing Sing prison," he points out. "But to me, it's the place where Peter Falk grew up."