Right now, Fuller is on the front lines of the hottest war in print journalism: the battle of the celebrity weeklies. And she's being paid millions to transform a former cut-rate tabloid called Star into the leader of the glossy celebrity pack. Contributor Lara Logan reports.
It is 6:30 a.m. and Fuller, a 48-year-old mother of four, is at home on the telephone, promoting the latest issue of Star to a New York radio program.
While her architect husband stayed at home with the kids, Fuller climbed to the top of the magazine profession with relentless efficiency. Star magazine is her latest stop. Although Star is chock full of all the gossip you'd expect, it also has a dark side: unblinking adoration of celebrities is out, and in is a good dose of reality.
There are paparazzi photos of the rich and famous, grown haggard, bloated, emaciated, or all three. And Fuller's readers, 98 percent of them women, seem to love it.
Is there something cruel about showing celebrities in unflattering poses? "I think it actually makes celebrities much more beloved to their followers, to their fans," says Fuller. "Because when you feel like a celebrity is human, they have problems just like you. They fight weight issues just like you, they get a bit of cellulite just like you. You love them even more."
But Fuller's explanation doesn't impress Simon Dumenco, a media critic and contributing editor of New York magazine. "Looking at other people, and sort of taking pleasure in the fact that they're doing badly, or they photograph badly sometimes, to take pleasure in that and to recognize that is marketable information, that's pretty base," says Dumenco.
He says that Fuller has created the magazine equivalent of crack. "The magazines that she's created are irresistible," says Dumenco. "You stop and pick them up. You're like, 'Oh, my God, I cannot believe that picture is on the cover of the magazine."
In fact, Fuller calls the most outrageous of them the "OMIGOD" covers, and they line the walls of Star's offices, a kind of monument to her undeniable excess.
Fuller has created a bull market for paparazzi photographers who'll do just about anything to score pictures of the likes of J Lo, and Courtney Love. The brightest stars in Fuller's universe are hardly underexposed. In just three months, Star ran a total of 105 photos of Britney Spears, only topped by 134 photos of Paris Hilton.
Is this boom in celebrity magazines, and growing interest with celebrity culture, destroying serious journalism?
"Just because it's celebrity news doesn't mean we don't take it just as seriously as any other journalist," says Fuller.
And what does she think about the paparazzi? "I wouldn't necessarily say they are chasing celebrities around," says Fuller. "But they are, that is their job. They are documenting celebrities."
They are documenting stars like Ben Affleck. Fuller and her staff were working up a cover blurb for the actor and his romance with actress Jennifer Garner. But they found themselves at a loss for words.
It's getting too much for publicist Ken Sunshine, who represents Affleck, to take. "They'd [My clients] love never to be mentioned in these magazines," says Sunshine. "Never."
Fuller, however, has said that the magazine takes its stories very seriously and that they don't print anything that's not true. Does Sunshine believe this?
"No. I believe in some cases they observe things, and they do have reporters," says Sunshine.
"I think much of what's written in publications, including Star - Star's not the worst, by the way – but much of it is made up, and their crutch is using people who will lie to them. Who will say, 'Well, I'm a friend of Ben's and, I saw this happening, he was having sex with a goat and I saw it.' And they'll print it."
"Our reporters and editors work incredibly hard. They want to get the story correct. They want to make sure they have enough sources," says Fuller. "Well, information, either straight from the celebrities' mouths or from sources. I mean, we take this very seriously."
For Fuller, however, this is serious business. The person who's called the diva of celebrity journalism is an unrelenting perfectionist. She's also often accused of tormenting her staff with constant last-minute changes.
Fuller first gained notoriety in 1997, when she was named editor-in-chief of the racy Cosmopolitan magazine, where she soon "out-cosmoed" even Cosmo. Here are some headlines: "How to Make Sex So Good He'll be Groveling," "Yes, Yes, Yes, Multiple Orgasms: Cosmo's Come Again Guide," "Adultery Do's and Don'ts,' "Seven Sex Sins You Should Commit," and "Get Moregasmic."
"They're pretty good," says Fuller, laughing.
To understand what makes Bonnie run, it helps to meet the person she calls her inner geek, the brainy bookworm who grew up in Toronto and dreamed about her future – making it big in magazine publishing in New York.
"I was never the popular girl in the class. I was a geeky girl in the class. And so you carry that with you," says Fuller. "I mean, you can't completely expunge it, but you can use it in a positive sense."
Is she insecure?
"I have my insecurities yeah. And so when you can realize that it's easier to empathize with other women," says Fuller. "If you feel like you know you're on top of the world all the time, you've got no problems, you're in control, I think it would be hard to hold the hand of your reader."
But before she holds her readers' hands, Fuller heads for the gym five days a week, where she works out the stress of a workaholic's existence.
And most often, there's plenty of stress to go around. This week, Fuller is pushing right up against her deadline, because she is having second thoughts about her choice for a cover. She says she's worried about a picture of Britney Spears.
The crisis: Star has been outspent by the No. 1 celebrity magazine, People, which reportedly paid a million dollars for official photos of Spear's surprise nuptials. Fuller conjures up a wedding theme cover, which includes the soon-to-be-wed actress Sandra Bullock. But she's concerned that won't grab people's attention.
According to Star, that issue sold close to a million copies at the newsstand, enough to beat out its closest rival, US Weekly. Ironically, that magazine was also the brainchild of Fuller.
"I called Bonnie an evil genius," says Dumenco. "And, you know, I meant it as a compliment. I think that she really means to sort of inform people who care obsessively about celebrities."
But has it spawned an industry that is in itself evil? "I don't think it's a sort of evil empire evil," says Dumenco. "But there is something nasty and unpleasant about it. … I mean, getting a cup of coffee at Starbucks and spilling it on yourself is a marketable picture now. And that means that celebrities are being followed by crews of paparazzi who will photograph them 24/7."
Fuller braves the celebrity scene at events like the Tommy Hilfiger fashion show, a magnet for the famous and the fabulous. But she usually shies away from the kind of spotlight she shines so relentlessly on others.
If Fuller were on the cover of one of her magazines, what would the headline and blurbs be? "She would have something catty, nasty to say about her appearance, about her weight," says Dumenco. "I don't know what exactly she would say, but it wouldn't be flattering."
Although she'll avoid the dubious distinction of appearing on her own cover, others have granted Fuller no mercy. There's a site on Yahoo! called "I survived Bonnie," where former employees lash out at their ex-boss. She's also been fodder for unflattering gossip and savage personal profiles.
Why do people hate Fuller so much? Actress Gwyneth Paltrow has called her "the devil," and New York gossip columnist Cindy Adams has called her "Fuehrer-in-Chief."
And what is it about Fuller that inspires such intense criticism? "I think we've got to ask them," says Fuller. "We've got to ask them."
"But I'm asking you," says Logan. "What do you think it is about you?"
"You know what," says Fuller. "I don't know. That's one thing I just don't know."