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VF’S KENNEDY MYSTIQUE: If you’re wondering why Jacqueline Kennedy is on the cover of the October Vanity Fair — just after the death of her onetime brother-in-law Sen. Edward Kennedy, inconveniently timed for a monthly — it’s useful to remember that a Kennedy cover is now an annual tradition at the magazine, for the simple reason that it usually works.
In November 2007, “Unseen Camelot,” a package led by a Richard Avedon cover shot of John F. Kennedy and his wife, was that year’s best performer on the newsstand, with 459,169 copies sold, more than 100,000 more than the same month the year before. The Robert F. Kennedy cover in June 2008 was also a top seller, with 445,048 single-copy sales, but given that RFK shared the issue with a notorious shot of Miley Cyrus, it’s hard to determine which drew more readers.
Vanity Fair has a page on its site that compiles the nearly two dozen Kennedy features it has run in the magazine and online since 1999, many of them book excerpts.
“It’s a combination of their general attractiveness, their charm and their accomplishments,” said Vanity Fair editor in chief Graydon Carter of the Kennedys’ appeal for his magazine. “And for us at Vanity Fair, there is their central position in the last half of the last century — a period we have an ongoing interest in.”
Maybe it’s not just the Kennedys. In a fast-moving, fickle and overloaded entertainment landscape, few stars have as much enduring claim on the public’s imagination as dead ones from a less-cluttered past. In 2008, a Kennedy consort and fellow claimant for the nostalgia buy was Marilyn Monroe, who sold 476,937 copies of the October 2008 issue, second that year only to Angelina Jolie. The Monroe story, like this month’s Kennedy story, was written by Sam Kashner.
The more recent dead have also been cover favorites. The covers of the last two issues have been devoted to three dead people: Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett on September’s, Heath Ledger on August’s. Their sales figures are not yet available.
— Irin Carmon