1. Archive


Published Sep. 13, 2005

The five girlfriends, ages 12 and 13, pile out of the van and bound up the steps of the Hanover Cinema. Never mind that they have already seen Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic 32 times among them.

Asked whether the day might someday arrive when they find it, you know, like boring to spend three hours watching a blond-haired heartthrob find true love but risk losing his life in the North Atlantic, the quintet of middle-schoolers collectively puts on a face whose message is unmistakable:

As if.

"We still always cry," Shauna Mahoney explains before the fivesome hunkers down to watch DiCaprio in Titanic yet again.

"Always," Heidi Gustafson agrees solemnly.

Shauna and Heidi _ along with their friends Molly Hale, Christina Molinari and Laura Moore _ are among the millions of young inhabitants of Leoland. It is a place where adolescents are rendered woozy by a 23-year-old Californian with limited acting skills and terrific eyes. In the tradition of Sinatra, Elvis and the Beatles, the star to whom the teen mags invariably refer as Luscious Leo or Delicious DiCaprio persists in capturing most of the young female hearts in sight.

Although Titanic, DiCaprio's blockbuster 10th feature film, was released four months ago, the actor has turned out to be considerably more unsinkable than the ship. In a media world where specialized magazines, quickie bios and online connectivity quicken the heartbeat of teenage idolatry, Luscious Leo seems to be everywhere at once.

Just look. DiCaprio's face graces the covers of no fewer than four current issues of magazines aimed at teenagers. (Seventeen magazine has two separate and simultaneous Leo covers, the first time this has happened in the publication's 54-year history.) Three books about him are resting among the six hottest paperbacks on the New York Times best-seller list. Meanwhile, on the teen message boards of America Online, more than 30,000 postings from young subscribers pertain to DiCaprio.

Small wonder that DiCaprio _ whose 11th film, The Man in the Iron Mask, recently graced movie screens _ receives an average of six bags of fan mail a day, according to his publicist, Cindy Guagenti. "The interest," Guagenti muses, "just isn't calming down."

It definitely isn't calming down in Shauna Mahoney's living room, where she and her four friends have gathered after school. The subject, as it often is, is Leo. Leo, whose pictures adorn their bedroom walls. Leo, whose image decorates the front of their homework assignment books at Gates Intermediate School. Leo, who still brings those tears to their upturned eyes in darkened movie theaters as they munch their Goobers and Gummi Bears.

Molly, the tallest, brings mixed news on this particular afternoon. The good: Her friend's mom's boyfriend's son knows Leo. The bad: The mom and the boyfriend recently broke up.

"No way we'd ever meet him anyway," says Shauna, the liveliest.

"Give me a year in Los Angeles, and I'd knock on every door and I'd find him," Molly replies.

As the girls talk, it is clear they know everything DiCaprio. They recite the tidbits and trivia they've pulled from the fan magazines and the paperbacks, showing no lack of faith in their accuracy.

"He's 6 feet tall and weighs 140 pounds," declares Christina, the oldest.

"His favorite colors are black and purple," adds Shauna.

"His favorite food is pasta," chirps Heidi, the shortest.

"His first kiss was really disgusting because the girl injected, like, a pound of spit in his mouth," announces Laura, the most athletic.

They must, of course, discuss The Rumor. After all, it plagues every female Leo fan.

"I want to know if he's gay or bisexual or what," declares Laura.

The others groan in unison. "I think he might be bisexual," Shauna answers, "because, like, in this one picture of him I saw he had his shirt open at the middle. It just didn't look right."

The others groan again. "I don't want to believe it, but it might be true," allows Heidi.

"I don't know if it's true, because like I don't know him personally," admits Christina. "But it worries me."

"Because if he is gay, it gives us less of a chance with him," Molly points out earnestly.

"We're 12, Molly!" Shauna shoots back. "We wouldn't have a chance with him anyway!"

But Molly is unconvinced. "How do you knooooowwwww?" she wails.

Christina Ferrari is the managing editor of Teen People, a Time Inc. offshoot of People magazine that was launched in February. She previously spent three years editing YM, another magazine for teenagers. So, although she's in her 30s, Ferrari knows her teenage heartthrobs.

"Leonardo," she says, "has blown away every teenage idol of the last 15 years in terms of intensity and interest."

The most intense and interested fans are 12- to 15-year-olds, Ferrari points out. "They're acting out their fantasies and crushes," she says. "Older girls are dating real boys, but these younger girls don't date yet. So they're daydreaming about dating Leo."

But why Leo?

"He's the perfect boy/man," Ferrari replies. "He's not threatening. He's sexy but sensitive. He's masculine but still romantic. A lot of young teenage girls fantasize about having a boyfriend who can also be their best friend. Leo, and the role he plays in Titanic, is just that. Young teenage girls are looking for models of a relationship, and he's their model."

This explanation rings true to Fran Mahoney, Shauna's mother, as she listens to her daughter and her daughter's four friends chatter about Leo. "Besides," she says, "I'd rather have them idolize him than Marilyn Manson."

Up in Shauna's room, where dozens of pictures of DiCaprio are pasted on the walls and ceiling, the girls are analyzing their Leomania. But they do not talk about teenage fantasies and role models. Instead, they talk about Leo's dirty-blond hair and his blue-green eyes. Laura, perhaps because she has just come from her orthodontist's office, says she particularly likes Leo's straight teeth.

"I've written to him a lot," Heidi says. "I wrote to two addresses I found in magazines, but the letters all came back."

"Writing is dumb," Christina says. "Because, like, he doesn't have time for that. He has a real life in acting, you know."

The other girls nod. They also agree that almost none of the boys they know cares much for Luscious Leo. Most of the guys, in fact, openly despise him, a fact that doesn't surprise the girls.

"They're all just jealous of him," Shauna says. "They're jealous because all us girls have pictures of him all over our walls."

"Pictures of him and not them," Heidi points out.

Listening to them talk, you wonder how long this will go on. Sinatra, Elvis and the Beatles have lasted for generations. But is Leonardo DiCaprio, despite the media barrage, more likely to be this generation's David Cassidy?

"I guess we'll, like, outgrow him," Shauna says sadly.

"Yeah, there'll be someone else," Molly agrees.

"Probably by summer we'll forget him," Heidi offers.

"Noooo way," says Laura. "Maybe when we're in high school, though."

"Yeah, because he'll look much older then," Christina points out. "He'll look like our dads."

This image is too much for Shauna to bear. "Ewwwwwwwwww!" she shouts, covering her ears. Then again, louder: "EWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!"