With her resignation as $2.5-million-a-year editorial overlord of tabloid combine American Media last week, it’s time to look back at the Bonnie Fuller Phenomenon. A Canada-born editor who came to the U.S. in 1989, she almost instantaneously had the magic touch, goosing circulation first at teen title YM, then at Marie Claire, then Cosmopolitan, then Glamour (“get moregasmic!” one cover screamed) with a lowbrow lustiness. Along the way, she annoyed just about everybody, especially her abused, overworked charges—legend has it one assistant retaliated by putting snot in Fuller’s lunch.
Her imperiousness (and expense-account abuse) pissed off her bosses and her peers—including Vogue’s Anna Wintour, whose Catherine Zeta-Jones cover she preempted while at Glamour, a cluelessly impolitic move that helped get her booted from Condé Nast. Fuller became glossy publishing’s bête noire. But then she landed at Us Weekly, transforming the servile People imitator into an obsessively stalkerish deconstruction of fame. (Celebs became “just like us!”) It quickly became a runaway newsstand hit, and a target for its targets, with Gwyneth Paltrow calling Fuller “the Devil.”
Manhattan media grandees alternately envied her and loathed her—for raising the bar by lowering standards. When she decamped in 2003 from Us for a perk-laden payday at American Media, where she was ostensibly put in charge of everything from the National Enquirer to an Us-ified Star, her critics piled on, calling her an “evil genius.” She was really something of an idiot savant: the perfect media power player for our uniquely idiotic times. But what are we left with when the savant loses her touch—her Star didn’t rise—and the culture gets even more idiotic all on its own? The celebrity media that she helped mean-ify just got meaner: Gawker added its Stalker Maps, Perez Hilton started scrawling genitalia on celebrity pics for fun and profit, and TMZ unleashed itself on Hollywood.
Along the way, Fuller wrote a self-help book. Originally titled, perhaps too tellingly, From Geek to Oh My Goddess: How to Get the Big Career and the Big Love Life and the Big Family—Even If You Have a Big Loser Complex Inside, it was renamed The Joys of Much Too Much: Go for the Big Life—the Great Career, the Perfect Guy, and Everything Else You’ve Ever Wanted. (You can pick up used copies on Amazon starting at, no kidding, one cent.) Sometimes, it turns out, much too much is too much.