Star Magazine

Over 45 years, Star Magazine covered life in and around Kansas City

"Cowtown" cartoonist Charlie Podrebarac created this special cartoon to commemorate the final issue of The Kansas City Star Magazine, which is ceasing publication after 45 years as part of the Sunday edition of The Kansas City Star.
"Cowtown" cartoonist Charlie Podrebarac created this special cartoon to commemorate the final issue of The Kansas City Star Magazine, which is ceasing publication after 45 years as part of the Sunday edition of The Kansas City Star. Special to The Star

In January 1970, The Kansas City Star debuted a Sunday magazine.

The new section’s name was officially STAR, with “Sunday magazine of The Kansas City Star” printed underneath, but even then people were calling it Star Magazine, a moniker that stuck.

The magazine would include “big, weighty, erudite, earth-shaking things,” explained the inaugural editor, Howard W. Turtle, in 1999. That first issue contained the words of not only President Richard M. Nixon (who sent his best wishes) but also anthropologist Margaret Mead, media guru Marshall McLuhan, feminist Betty Friedan and Norman Vincent Peale, author of “The Power of Positive Thinking.”

It was the modern version of The Star’s original Sunday magazine — brainchild of Laura Nelson Kirkwood, daughter of Star founder William Rockhill Nelson — that lasted from 1924 to ’26. One of her decrees: that each cover display a great work of art. She wanted the magazine to culturally uplift the city. (For a look at what those issues featured, see Darryl Levings’ story on Page 8.)

Through the decades, the magazine has changed with the times.

The rebooted Star Magazine hired Roy Inman, then 28, as its chief photographer. Although he would leave The Star in 1983, he continues to be a freelancer for the newspaper. Among his regular duties: shooting society functions for the mag’s KC People pages.

Back in the early 1970s, the staff “mirrored what was going on outside the building at 18th and Grand,” Inman remembers.

“Howard Turtle was a seasoned writer and editor, conservative Republican, 50ish, a Vietnam War hawk and good-hearted guy. The rest of us were 20-somethings, full of piss and vinegar, anxious to change the world one magazine at a time and just one step from joining in with the war protesters that marched down Grand.

“We were constantly at loggerheads. Howard was constantly trying to rein us in. A divided staff in a divided country.”

Among the topics covered in the magazine’s first issue: A philosophical article pondered war and peace in that era of the Vietnam War; another examined the growth of Kansas City. A short story described construction of a huge “redevelopment project” — Crown Center. An examination of race relations in Kansas City quoted local black leaders.

A glossy four-color picture and recipe showed readers how to prepare individual pizzas from refrigerated crescent rolls. There were cartoons and a crossword puzzle.

By the late 1980s, Star Magazine cover stories had shifted to longer, sometimes more downbeat news features. One memorable cover showed a hand pointing a gun at the camera.

But it began to founder, so in the early ’90s, management ordered magazine stories to be shortened and lightened.

Art Brisbane, then editor of the paper (and later publisher), is credited with coming up with “Uniquely Kansas City” as the magazine’s mission.

“I felt that we could strengthen Star Magazine by focusing intensely on the people, culture and visible landscape of our town,” Brisbane said in 1999. “Star Magazine could be a publication that helps define Kansas City in a positive way.”

The mag’s nameplate would change in early 2009 to “The Kansas City Star Magazine.”

The 2009 relaunch brought Cindy Hoedel, then House + Home editor, on board as mag editor. Several new features included food, fashion and architecture.

“We wanted to make the magazine more beautiful and absorbing,” Hoedel says. “Cover stories got longer, and we made room for more photographs.”

The magazine has seen a lot of change through its 45 years, outlasting the Sunday magazines of many metropolitan newspapers.

Today, in the final issue, we celebrate its legacy by looking back at what the mag covered and what it meant to the people who worked for it.

Adapted in part from 1999 Star Mag stories by Engle and Tim Janicke, then photo editor and later magazine editor. That year was the 75th anniversary of the Sunday Star magazine’s founding.

SPOTTED IN 1970: A FUTURE KANSAS CITY MAYOR

When Star Magazine rebooted on Jan. 4, 1970, one of the stories asked young people to predict what might happen over that new decade

Featured were a high school student, a college student, a 23-year-old working woman, a Vietnam veteran and a “hippie.”

The hippie was Sylvester James Jr., 17, who forecast a decade of dissatisfaction marked by “more riots than there ever were before.”

World peace, he added, seemed to be an unachievable ideal: “After we get out of Vietnam, we’ll get into something else.”

Thirty years later, in 2000, Star Mag caught up with James and three of the others to check in on their lives.

James, the former rabble-rouser, was then 48 and one of three partners with a law firm on the Country Club Plaza.

The part that catches our attention:

Ahead for Sly James: maybe a run for elective office. “I think to be mayor of this city would be a neat thing,” he says.

He was elected Kansas City mayor in 2011 and is up for re-election this June.

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