Gloria Stavers wasn’t a musician, songwriter, or producer, but this 16 Magazine publishing pioneer helped cement a burgeoning musical genre in stone and paved the way for rock journalism as we now know it. This is why she should be inducted under the “non-performer” category.
North Carolina born and bred, Gloria Frances Gurganus married straight out of her teens and moved to upstate New York where she was likely to live out her life as dutiful wife and mother. But it was not to be—she left her husband for New York City, and the witty girl with glamorous good looks reinvented herself as a runway and photographer’s model named Gloria Stavers. She rubbed elbows with New York’s social elite, and it was at a party in 1958 she met the man who would change her fate.
Jacques Chambrun was a posh, pinstriped literary agent and con man with a penchant for ripping off his clients, some of which included W. Somerset Maugham, Aldous Huxley, and H. G. Wells. By the mid-50s, his roster and reputation were all but dried up. Undeterred, he set his sights on rock ‘n’ roll’s biggest star, Elvis Presley, and published an All About Elvis one-off which saw great success. He and his partner, agent Desmond Hall, then developed 16 Magazine, a monthly periodical aimed at teen girls and the celebrity male objects of their worship. It, too, was a triumph, so much so that a backlog of unopened fan mail littered the offices for months.
Stavers was hired to answer fans’ questions and process subscription requests. Within a year, she rose through the ranks to the position of editor-in-chief, despite not having a college degree or any journalism experience. Stavers never rested on her laurels—during her tenure, she remained the chief writer and photographer for the magazine and essentially became its voice. She culled from her experiences as a teen—her concerns, crushes, hopes and dreams—and tapped into a cultural Zeitgeist. This, combined with unlimited access to the biggest acts of the day, made 16 Magazine a rite of passage for a generation of young girls.
Stavers wielded significant influence in an industry and a time where women were indeed a minority, and she was second only to Dick Clark in having the power to make or break a teen idol. She would feature acts she felt best captured readers’ interests, and only with the most positive, lighthearted slant. If a celebrity courted controversy in any way, she’d simply ignore it. If the scandal were too great, she’d stop featuring the person in question. Light intimacy was the name of the game in 16—the idol in question wanted to hold your hand, take you on a dream date, or reveal his favorite color specifically to YOU, the reader. Anything beyond that was considered outside of the realm of the mind of a teenage girl, and not conducive to 16’s winning formula.
Tony Barrow, the Beatles’ press officer, credited Stavers with helping secure the Fab Four’s popularity stateside. Stavers also championed The Monkees, The Doors, Herman’s Hermits, and Paul Revere and The Raiders before featuring bubblegum pop acts in the early 1970s which included David Cassidy, The Osmonds, and Bobby Sherman, to name a few. She even managed to make teen idols out of men she admired who didn’t necessarily fit the mold—Alice Cooper, Leonard Nimoy, and Lenny Bruce all graced the pages of 16 Magazine.
At its peak, 16’s circulation swelled to 12 million, but a publishing dispute between Gloria and Chambrun forced her resignation in 1975. Afterward, she did some freelance writing and studied Buddhism before passing away in 1983 at age 55.
Stavers was once mockingly referred to as the “Mother Superior to the Inferior” by the male-dominated publishing and music worlds in which she worked, but nothing could be further from the truth. She was, in fact, the first of her kind and her influence, and that of 16 Magazine, is still felt to this day.