Marvellous Mags, Freeze Frame, Audiofile, Grunt 'n' Groan, Tell It To Thelma – Star2 columns have tackled subjects like wrestling, comic books and your love-life dramas with a personal touch.
Columns have been an important part of Star2 through the years. As a platform through which writers and readers bond over endearing or sometimes strange topics, columns offer us something that regular articles tend to leave out – a personal touch.
“We took a lighter, more layman-friendly approach,” says Sujesh Pavithran, news editor of The Star Online, about the Audiofile articles he used to write. The series was about home theatre and music entertainment systems and ran from 1989 until 2012.
“The Audiofile column was close to my heart. I’ve always been passionate about music and music-making equipment: record players, speakers, amplifiers, radios, guitars, synthesisers and so on. When I joined The Star in 1989, I was an entertainment writer. Someone suggested doing a hi-fi column, so I took it up without hesitation.”
Though he initially kept the column afloat on his own, a few contributors were later roped in and a team was formed in the mid-'90s. Among those who joined Audiofile were N Rama Lohan, now Star2 chief reporter, and Joseph Loh, assistant editor for The Star Online. From 1995 to 1998, Audiofile had its own pullout on the first Thursday of every month. The column also had an important role in covering the annual AV Fest exhibitions organised by The Star.
“It was difficult at first but became easier over the years. More importantly, all those involved had a lot of fun doing it,” Sujesh shares. “Reader response was very encouraging through the years. Once, we did a contest and got about 20,000 entries!”
Child developmentalist Ruth Liew, who wrote the parenting column Childwise from 1993 to 2012, says that she was passionate about her work as well.
“It was something that I held very dear and I was able to reach out to a lot of people through the newspaper,” she reveals. “There was no platform to discuss parenting at that time, unlike now where you can just get on the Internet and it’s already a very talked about topic.”
When Liew started writing for the column, she ran a daycare for kids and initially chose to write about it because it was within her professional knowledge. She inevitably became a mum herself and raised two daughters, now 16 and 18 years old.
“I then had a soft spot for parents because I became one,” she says with a chuckle.“It’s interesting to see how the world has changed. When I first started out, The Star would send me snail mail and I would send my writing back via fax. Later on, I would type it out on my computer. Then, of course, with e-mails and the Internet, things were much faster.”
She says that while she enjoyed the column, she eventually decided it had to end. “I enjoyed it while it lasted, but I just didn’t want it to become a dread. It was a lot of fun and there were good things that came out of it, but I wanted to end with a good feeling, so I thought it was a good time to end it then,” says Liew.
Some of her most memorable experiences from Childwise came from the interaction she had with her readers. “Even people from overseas were writing in. I would meet people on the street and they would tell me they had read my column. One lady I met in Mont Kiara said her father used to cut out my column and give it to her so that as a working mum she would have some ideas for parenting,” says Liew.
Star2 associate editor Davin Arul, who wrote for the columns Marvellous Mags and Grunt ‘n’ Groan, says, “The most rewarding thing about writing a column was seeing the enormous amount of reader response it got in the form of letters and e-mails. I think the fans loved that they had an outlet for their opinions.”
Marvellous Mags was about comic books and ran from 1983 to 1989. It was later changed to Worlds of Wonder, which continues to make its weekly appearance in Star2. Meanwhile, wrestling themed Grunt ‘n’ Groan ran from 2000 to 2005. In this series, Davin wrote under the pen name Dwayne A Rules and referred to himself as the “Dwaynester” in his articles.
“It was just for kicks, to create a kind of mystique around the columnist. It was obviously a pseudonym, but it was to let people try to guess who I was. Many people still can’t believe it till today,” he says.
Davin relates an incident in 2001 when he was travelling from KLIA to Houston, Texas to catch WrestleMania X-Seven: A ground crew staff from the flight was chatting with him and became excited when he realised that Davin was behind Grunt ‘n’ Groan. “It was nice to be recognised like that,” Davin says.
TV scriptwriter Sujiah Salleh also adopted a pseudonym for her column Freeze Frame, about the local film industry. She was known as Seri Bintang. “I used that not so much because I was scared or anything like that. It’s just that I didn’t fancy having my photo shown as part of the column. Some people like that, but I don’t,” she explains.
Sujiah says she started the column, which ran from 1995 to 2004, because she felt it would benefit the movie scene. “I asked for the column because I knew I could get something exclusive. I commented on the industry, not on gossip about artistes,” she says. “I knew a lot of things behind the scenes because I had sources who were close to me.”
She adds that she was careful not to reveal her sources and made sure she wasn’t seen with them too often. “The most flattering thing was when I called people up to say I was going to write about them in my column, they would give me their full cooperation,” she says.
Maintaining a column also gave many writers the chance to forge meaningful and enduring relationships with their interviewees. A good example are the experiences by Star Sport deputy editor Brigitte Rozario during the time she wrote for Around The Schools in the '80s and '90s. “It was great handling the column as I got the chance to go to the schools, meet headmasters, teachers and students who shared their stories with me,” she says.
“I shared in their happiness, sadness and pride. I remember that when a teacher or headmaster I knew was retiring, it would make me particularly sad. It was because they had eventually become not just contacts, but also my friends. They were people whom I Iooked forward to seeing and talking to.”
Seven other fascinating columns from Star2
Pronounced “Word’s worth”, it was a weekly feature in the 80s. Columnist Stephen Kau presented picture puzzles based on familiar phrases and sayings, book titles, movie names and the like. Those who wrote in and could guess the correct answer for each puzzle would be entitled to a cash prize.
Ever wondered what life was like for your favourite personalities? Then you would've enjoyed Routines, another column by Kau. It gave readers an insight into the habits, hobbies and haunts of famous personalities from Malaysia and the world. It debuted in 1984 and ran every Thursday. The first celebrity interviewed for the column was Patrick Teoh.
Games, Cards & Boards, Chess, Scrabble Scene
These four columns had a similar theme: They talked about the games that were trending at the time. Chess and Scrabble dwelt on strategies and competitions, Games focused on RPGs, and Cards & Boards was about trading cards and board games. All the columns were loaded with fun facts. For example, did you know Alfred Butts, the founder of Scrabble, 18 years to make it a household game? Or that in chess tournaments, you lose the game if your mobile rings?
Tell It To Thelma
Readers would write about their personal and sometimes professional problems to Star2 agony aunt Thelma and she would offer advice and words of comfort. Thelma tackled everything from family dramas to job stress to love dilemmas. In 2002, the column was changed to Dear Thelma and is still one of the most popular series in Star2.
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