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Valerie Phillips: Celebrity-monikered mags let us inside the glossy life — even if only in fantasy

I thought having a weekly food section kept my plate pretty full. But that's small potatoes compared to what it would be like to have my own magazine, a la Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart.

The latest in monikered magazines is Rachael Ray, star of the Food Network's "$40 a Day" and "30-Minute Meals."

The first issue of Every Day With Rachael Ray rolled off the presses at the end of October. The Reader's Digest Association, which publishes the magazine, reported more than a million copies printed, with Barnes & Noble selling 20,000 copies in the first two weeks.

Granted, all these "personal lifestyle" magazines aren't guaranteed success. Former talk show host Rosie O'Donnell pulled the plug on hers in 2002.

But behind most of these gorgeous, glossy mags is a triple-threat marketing strategy. The "personality" gets a following on TV, then comes out with cookbooks that parallel the TV show. The magazine is sprinkled with plugs for both the TV show and the cookbooks. A Web site cross-promotes all of them.

It's not as if these women write and edit every article. A cadre of talented writers, editors, photographers and artists put them together. Otherwise, how would they have time to make pine wreaths, tour Italian towns on $40 a day or watch Tom Cruise go sofa-jumping?

Most of us don't have a magazine, much less a TV show, because we don't have a personality that resonates with the public. Viewers love Ray's exuberance as she chops up onions with her orange santoku knife. They want to think they're following her adage to "Take a bite outta life," especially if it only takes 30 minutes.

Oprah has the girlfriend thing going. We can all relate to her struggles with weight, although her anger over being turned away at the luxury Hermes store was more of a stretch. (Most of us can't even talk our way into Target once the doors close for the night.)

Oprah co-authored "Make the Connection" with her personal trainer, and her chef's cookbook, "In the Kitchen With Rosie," was also a best seller.

Martha takes readers to a world where houses are uncluttered, flower beds have no weeds, and colors are always pastel. We know we can't stay, but it's fun to take back a tidbit to spruce up our own messy, imperfect lives. She told women it's OK to take pride in quilting and sewing or keeping house. Cooking is a fascinating hobby, not drudgery.

And Martha's prison stint proved that she can make lemonade from the lemons that come her way. She's got a new baking cookbook, and she's launched a radio program and a new age-ish magazine called Body + Soul.

On her afternoon TV show, she makes custom gift wrap with rapper Sean "P. Diddy" Combs. At night on "The Apprentice," she fires someone whose team fails at selling coffeemakers. (The fired contestant and the coffeemaker appear on her afternoon show the next day. See what I mean about cross-promotion?)

A few nights later, she's interviewed by Larry King, taking his ribbing about their one dinner date years back. "Never been out with a con . . . just kidding!" jokes King.

Most people hesitate to lend their image to something if they're not really "the expert." For instance, I'd have a hard time listing "10 Ways to Get Your Kids to Do the Dishes" in my magazine when last night's plates are sitting in my kitchen sink. Yet, a lot of people get marriage and child-rearing advice from Oprah — who remains unmarried and hasn't raised any kids.

And Martha's happy homemaker image flies in the face of those tell-all books and TV movies about her ruthlessness, her messy divorce and her daughter's unhappy childhood.

But, if you want reality — well, go watch "Survivor." Most of Martha's fans prefer fantasy, served on Wedgewood china with cloth napkins.

I just enjoy thumbing through these magazines rather than being the namesake expected to live up to them.


E-mail: vphillips@desnews.com