This week’s (October 31) issue of Parade offers the same garden of earthly delights—“Who Are You Calling a Cougar? Betty White Goes Wild,” “Peanuts at 60: Why We Still Love the Great Pumpkin,” Marilyn vos Savant, the world’s smartest woman—that have made it America’s most beloved Sunday supplement magazine.
But of all the weekly features, none satisfies quite like Walter Scott’s Personality Parade. So far as I am aware, there may once have been a flesh-and-blood Walter Scott—I am not here speaking of the author of Ivanhoe—but for years the celebrity question-and-answer column was actually written by Lloyd Shearer, of the famous Shearer clan of left-wing activists and literary wannabes, and then by ex-New York Times Magazine editor Edward Klein—who may yet be “Walter Scott,” for all I know. And the truth is that I don’t really care because the timeless quality of Personality Parade transcends whatever knowledge I may or may not possess about the story behind this venerable (and copyrighted) American institution.
This week’s questions are the usual assortment of deliberate set-ups for celebrity publicists to answer in their clients’ name. “I heard Criss Angel has a magic kit out,” asks one. “Does it reveal the secrets to any of his famous illusions?” That question was from Allie Kimi of New York. Jihye Park of Arcadia, California tells us that “I was so happy that Jim Parsons won an Emmy for playing Sheldon on The Big Bang Theory. What’s next for him?” Norman Lewis of Los Angeles allows that he’s “a fan of director Zack Snyder, who got his start on the remake of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Does he like to scare people in real life?”
For the inquiry of the week, however, I must thank E. Silverman of Ithaca, New York, who wants to know “how did Ryan Reynolds celebrate Halloween growing up in Canada?” This is the genius of Personality Parade: Instead of a dull feature on Halloween customs in Canada—bored already?—it turns a boiler-plate Parade subject into an opportunity for a celebrity’s (Ryan Reynolds?) agent to make his client sound like a nice guy with a modicum of edge (“I’d always dress up as somebody who was dead, like Elvis”) while plugging his next project (“Next year look for Reynolds’ superhero character in Green Lantern to be a Halloween fave”).
For the fact is that the Ryan Renolds question could have been applied to nearly any Canadian-born celebrity—“How did John Kenneth Galbraith celebrate Halloween growing up in Canada?”—and so begs the fundamental question about Personality Parade: Is it intended to teach us useful information about such things as Halloween customs in our friendly neighbor to the north, or is it a vehicle for publicists and studios and agents to make the most of Parade’s captive Sunday audience?
The question answers itself.