04/21/1997 at 01:00 AM EDT
FOR PEOPLE'S FIRST special issue devoted to the ways that stars unwind at home, we coaxed 26 celebrities into letting us behind their gated walls to peek at their private chambers, candlelit bathrooms and canopied beds. But in addition to chronicling sumptuous lifestyles in the 56 pages beginning on page 57, we ventured into three small towns where homegrown luminaries returned as benefactors and business partners. To report and write that story, we called upon a journalist with the heart of a poet—associate editor J.D. Reed. "Everybody has a fondness for his hometown, and the famous are no different from the rest of us," says Reed, a published poet and a former creative-writing professor at the University of Massachusetts. Reed visited Eldon, Iowa, where local boy Tom Arnold and then-wife Roseanne laid the foundation for a 28,000-square-foot house and opened a bustling diner; Braselton, Ga., in which Kim Basinger invested some $900,000; and Pigeon Forge, Tenn., the site of Dolly Parton's wildly successful Dollywood theme park. As Reed discovered on his road trip, "People outside the normal media corridors on the East and West Coasts are pretty at ease with celebrity." Reed, who wrote the novel Free Fall, which became the 1981 film The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper, grew up in Jackson, Mich., and now lives in central New Jersey with his wife, Chris, a religious educator, and Gabby, 12, the youngest of their three daughters. Reed joined SPORTS ILLUSTRATED in 1975, then spent 10 years at TIME before settling at PEOPLE in 1990. "We knew that J.D. was the man for this assignment," says senior editor Elizabeth Sporkin, "because he has an eye for Americana and a real feeling for people."
Along with Reed, we sent photographer Andy Levin, who has freelanced for PEOPLE since the '80s. "I like the ironic twists he puts into pictures," says special issues photo editor Maddy Miller. Levin shot the story in black and white, he says, "to make things look a bit edgy. It cuts through a lot of the clutter and forces you to look in on the reality."