09/21/1998 at 01:00 AM EDT
After 10 years of talking to celebrities, Chuck Arnold, who writes PEOPLE'S Chatter and Star Tracks columns, knows a thing or two about the art of interviewing: "Be prepared. Know the subject's work and the names of their kids. Save the questions they won't want to answer for last. And if you're my height—5'8" on a good day—never have your picture taken next to a supermodel."
Ah, but Arnold, 31, stands tall in the office. "He's gotten everyone from Will Smith to Mariah Carey
to share something about themselves that our readers would otherwise not know," says executive editor Cutler Durkee. "Most celebrities," says Arnold, "just want you to treat them with the same respect you'd expect yourself."
Raised in Philadelphia, Chuck scored his first celeb interview, with director Spike Lee, while working as managing editor of the University of Delaware campus newspaper. "I still see all of Spike's films," Arnold says. "He helped my career, so I figure I should return the favor."
That career saw Arnold covering stars for the Philadelphia Daily News in the early '90s and later editing Fresh Ink, the paper's weekly pullout section for teens. In 1995, he joined YM as entertainment editor, en route to PEOPLE in 1997. Here, he says, "I get to talk to grownups instead of teenagers."
Many of whom he looks up to. But not all. "I bumped into The Artist formerly known as Prince at a club," says Arnold of the nearly 5'3" superstar. "And I was so happy, mostly because he made me look tall."