In a surprising of its reborn image, the June issue of Life returns to the tough, newsy, delightfully photographed format that Henry Luce created in the 1930s.

For the past nine months, Life has emphasized tired trends and soft news. But the new issue displays hard reporting, an exclusive, starkly illustrated preview of "Apocalypse Now" and several photo essays-in black-and-white as well as color.

The return to topicality was foreshadowed in April's cover shot of the solar eclipse and May's subtle image of the Three Mile Island cooling towers. Still, the magazine generally lacked the punch of its major competitor, Look.

But for the past several months there had been rumbles within Time-Life's tradition-drenched halls in New York of an impending change: Life would become more like its old self, or heads would roll. The new attitude was attributed to Henry Grunwald, a Time-Life veteran of 25 years who this weekend replaced the retiring Hedley Donovan as corporate editor-in-chief of the six Time Inc. magazines. There has been only one other editor-in-chief in the corporation's half centruy of publishing: Henry Luce.

The June issue includes a report on a training camp for young Palestinian terrorists; a salute to the centenary of F. W. Woolworth's, once a world of nickel-and-dime objects; extraordinary photo spreads on Paris fashion shows and heartland high school rituals; and with the magazine turned sideways, the ups and downs of a half-dozen plunging rollercosters.

Life's new vitality comes just one month after Look announced a switch to a soft-news, monthly format from its much-praised, gritty black-and-white look and biweekly schedule. Publishing is indeed a fluid medium. Sense of the '70s

"We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the 'ideas' with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience."

-Joan Didion, writing of the past decade, in the current New West. Blacks on Brown

To observe the 25th anniversary of the landmark desegregation decision in Brown vs. the Board of Education, Ebony magazine polled 4,500 elected black officials on the ruling's effects on society.

The results, in the May issue, show that a resounding 63.6 percent of the respondents believe "the dreams and hopes of that great moment" have not been fulfilled. A majority felt that desegregation has hurt black academic performance rather than improved it, and that desegregation has had a positive impact on black pride.

The group said that race relations are better in the South than in the North; that the Johnson administration did the most to help blacks and the Nixon administration the least. A plurality said that equality will never be achieved; while a minority believed that it would take 100 years. And what of Linda Brown, the 7-year-old Topeka girl whose father sued the school board in 1950 because his daughter was denied admission in an all-white school? Now 36 and married, Linda Brown Smith says that the supports desegregation "if it is handled correctly." Bosses' Bucks

In case you were wondering, the highest-paid corporate executive in the U.S. last year was Louisiana Pacific's Harry A. Merlo, who pulled down a reported $3,423,220. In second place, and almost exactly a cool million behind, was Warner Communications' Steven J. Ross. Rankings for the next 801 are available in the June 11 Forbes. Unlisted

"What Turns a Man On?" asked the $30,000 full-page ad for Forum in the May Cosmopolitan. The insert card suggested that readers use "the convenient form on the reverse side to order your subscription at one-third off." Those who turned the card over found that there was plenty of room for the subscriber's name and address-but none for the magazine's.

"I've heard of unlisted phone numbers, but never of unlisted addresses," says Forum editor Albert Freedman. "To err is human, but this error was surperhuman."

It is still not clear whether Forum or its advertising agency is responsible for the goof.

"Cosmopolitan certainly had nothing to do with it," a Forum spokesman said. "They got their money." Cold Snaps and Cholera

If it's seemed awfully rainy lately, consider a worse fate: In 1816 it showed frosts continued through August. Thomas Jefferson noted the aberrant under weather as far south as Charlottesville in his Monticello jottings, and the loss of corn and hay caused so much hardship that the year "became enshrined in folklore as 'Eighteen Hundred and Frozen To Death.'"

All this apparenlty was caused by the explosion of a volcano in Indonesia. The catastrophe, say Henry and Elizabeth Stommel in the June Scientific American, unleashed Gigantic clouds of volcanic dust which affected the world's climate balance for the next decade and a half and apparently contributed to the 1832 outbreak of cholera in New York. Keep the Sauce Flowing

Moving from famine t* o feast, the New England Journal of Medicine provides yet another theory on uncurdling bearnaise sauce. It is an expansion and test of the two-year-old theory "Interparticle Forces in Multiphase Colloid Systems: The Resurrection of Coagulated Sauce Bearnaise" reported in the British magazine Nature by two Danes and a German. That theory suggested that a small amount of vinegar will "restore the balance of the electric charge" and thus keep the sauce flowing.

Au contraire, say American lipid biochemist D.M. small of Boston University Medical Center and chef M. Bernstein. The best method for reconstituting the egg, butter, tarragon and vinegar brew is to slowly stir "a few drops at a time into a pan containing a small amount of water between 40 and 50 degrees centigrade. Thus acetic acid and ionization are not the sole secret of the smooth sauce." New

Four new ones:

Inc., the Magazine for Growing Companies, provides some sound service features: "Trimming the Fat From Phone Costs"; "When You Have To Fire Someone"; and "Are You Ready for Your First Computer?" Twelve monthly issues for $18 from Box 800, Whitinsville, MA 01588.

Rocky Mountain, a slick and classy Rolling Stone-inspired monthly pitched at habitues of the Western frontier, has articles such as "Life After Junk Food in Montana" and "Hooked on Adrenaline." Well-bound and nicely printed, $10 for 10 issues from Box 2403 in (where else) Boulder, Colo. 80321.

The American Lawyer contains enough gossip, snappy profiles and inside poop on the Supreme Court to convince skeptical readers that lawyers - as a class, taken as a whole, id so facto - may actually be more interesting than they thought. $17.50 a year from Box 926, Farmingdale, N.Y. 11737.

New Harvest, a digest of books and magazine articles, looks like an inflight airline bimonthly for those with fear of flying. Issac Singer, Barbara Tuchman, Carl Sagan on Einstein and a piece from the Columbia Journalism Review all in the first issue. $10 annually from Box 1157, East Hampton, N.Y. 11937. Back in Nashua

A U.S. District Court has ordered the Nashua, NH., board of education "to replace the issues they have caused to be removed and resubscribe to Ms. magazine." The board voted to remove the copies after member Alan Thomaier - head of the local chapter of the John Birch Society - claimed that the magazine's classified ads were objectionable . . . Gallery, the monthly best known for revealing nude shots of "The Girl Next Door." includes a 33 1/3 record of the JFK assassination gunshot evidence in its July issue . . . Looking Good: the merged Marijah/OUTSIDE, which combines solid service articles on outdoor gear and lore with some wild verbal forays . . . Also Looking Good: Columbia Journalism Review, with May/June's profile on the magazine Aviation Week and Space Technology . . . Overlooked here two months ago in our garden mags roundup was the American Horticulturalist, a balanced blend of the simple and profound, $15 annually from the American Horticultural Society, Mount Vernon, Va. 22121. CAPTION: Picture, Newborn pygmy marmosets cling to zookeeper's fingers, from the June issue of Life.