Mary Anne Dolan was hired at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner by Jim Bellows and followed him as editor. Below are her remarks at last Friday's memorial service for Bellows, who died this month at age 86.
I walked into Jim’s room last Thursday and found him nattily dressed, lounging on his bed. He was propped up on his left side so as to watch the door. With his right hand he was trying to fold a page of the N.Y. Times.
He looked as handsome and vital that day as I ever saw him: Neatly-pressed khaki pants, crisp blue and white button-down shirt, khaki baseball cap, “Life is Good.”
“Hey, Dolan! You taking me to the doctor?” PAUSE, then
“Let’s go to lunch in Paris.”
It’s been a long time since I first saw Bellows at The Washington Star in 1975. He had come to D.C. out of The New York Herald Tribune via the Los Angeles Times. And it was immediately clear that his time in Southern California had left its mark on the urbane editor who had once stylishly embodied New York.
Understand, he was not merely a storied newsman, he was a Literary Hero -- the guy who pulled together Wolfe and Breslin and The Trib team, who hired Clay Felker and created New York magazine, the one who brought us a new writerly style of journalism with which to lift up average Joes and puncture city pols as well as the self-important intellectuals at The New Yorker.
So when he arrived from L.A. driving a metallic mauve car and walked into the newsroom of the revered Washington Star wearing bellbottom pants, brass-buckled patent leather loafers and an Elvis-collared polyester disco shirt -- red with white polka dots and opened to chest hair -- well, it was a shock.
My God, he was Sonny Bono!
But Jim was simply brilliant and soon he cut a wide swath in Washington just as he had in New York. Great coverage of politics and pro sports, areas which he saw as inherently identical. The Ear gossip column which I had the dubious honor of editing. The sensational interviews and solid well-written often ground-breaking enterprise features for which he was noted.
The great writers and editors and reporters who had been leaderless at The Star -- the Diana McLellans, John McKelways and Mary McGrorys as well as the younger ones who joined -- Dave Burgin, David Israel, Maureen Dowd -- we were all electrified.
He brought verve and competition to journalism in the Nation’s Capitol and before he departed, the Powerful and the Plebian turned out for a black tie party in his honor at the Federal City Club.
Jim was born for his particular time in journalism, an era when print would compete with television and then the internet because he had a very short attention span. Someone once described him at cocktail parties as being like a hummingbird, flitting from room-to-room, speaking no more than a few words to anyone.
And so, surprise, surprise, he left Washington after only 3 years and flew back to L.A.
Jim loved being back in California and had a ball at The Herald. When he arrived, the paper had very little, some good sports writers and photographers, plus Ted Warmbold, the great John Lindsay and a few others, but it had no support and NOT A CLUE. So the great thing was that you could try just about anything and do no harm. He got to be the outlaw, the underdog, the crusader, the outrageous optimist and he recruited the very best talent to execute for him -- on the cheap with the same old lure: Spread your wings and do a thousand things; freedom.
We took on the LAPD, the entertainment industry, City Hall, the NFL and of course, the competition. We worked hard and we did well.
I’d love to see a show of hands, Herald colleagues. And our friends from the L.A. Times! And Jim’s other co-workers from ABC, Entertainment Tonight and TV Guide, from Prodigy and Excite! He’d be happy you are all here.
Jim loved cities, especially Paris, New York and Los Angeles in that order. Paris was his dream. So back in D.C., at a restaurant called Le Rive Gauche which we used to frequent at lunchtime, he and I cooked up a mission: Find somebody with a plane to fly us to Paris for lunch. That’s all. Lunch and home.
We opened L.A. membership in The Paris Roundtable to those privileged few who promised to find the necessary rich guy with the airplane. (Some of those privileged members are in this room and I hesitate to point them out as they were all total failures -- no rich guy, no plane. Failures, Reva Tooley and Tom Plate -- you all know who you are!) We used to meet at Perino’s (remember that, Fran Savitch?) but we never met in Paris and even with Alzheimer’s he never forgot.
There are only a few solid facts about Jim Bellows.
He had phenomenal luck with women. First Marian then the amazing and legendary Maggie Savoy. Finally The Rock whom he actually married on the rocks of Malibu Beach, the beautiful Keven Ryan. And Felicia, Amelia, Priscilla, Justine – no man could have greater daughters.
Jim loved noise – rants, raves, hustle-bustle. He loved gin. Golf, football. Cigarettes. And gin. Later, chardonnay. He was a great and loyal friend. He loved his family. He believed in connection and in the power of story to connect us.
These things I’m sure of.
But after 34 years of friendship, I’m not sure of much else. That’s the thing with hummingbirds. They’re part real and part air, beautiful in themselves if you can catch a glance as they flit from flower to flower.
Much to his delight, we called Jim “The Myth,” the creator of his own legend. As Pat Sullivan wrote in the Washington Post, “He did it all by instinct with shrugs and mumbles and wavy hands and talent stuck to him like a magnet.” The Myth.
Jim died at the very moment that newspapers are dying all over America. Breslin said this is when we need him the most. But you and I and hundreds of others who learned from him are still here and I remember David Israel saying that newspapers may not have survived but that the talent survived which is what matters. The talent and the way of thinking; the curiosity and drive and determination to get it right, to speak something gutsy and good, to dig beneath to so-called facts and find the truth and share it because it’s never all in the facts alone.
This is a time crying out for storytellers. And not only newspaper folks or writers but all kinds of folks, as Jim demonstrated by branching out into television, and the internet. Storytellers are all of us – your stories are what you share with your neighbor, tell your children; how you ask questions and speak out wherever you are, how you teach, how you vote. How you live your life is your story.
And, I guess from now on we have to answer for ourselves that most Bellows of questions: What are you going to do with the rest of your life?
On Thursday, March 5th, his last afternoon, Jim was his old feisty self. We fooled around and bickered, fake fighting over his wallet:
“No, I left my wallet in my jacket. That one,” he insisted.
“It is NOT in the pocket of your camel hair jacket, Jim. You don’t have a wallet.”
“Then you must be paying for lunch in Paris!”
We went outside and sat in the sun by the blooming scarlet trumpet vine. We chatted. He asked, as always, about the Old Crowd.
I lit his cigarette and told him I’d left a bottle of good chardonnay in the refrigerator. What the hell.
It was quiet there on 25th Street. Too quiet. I knew it would soon be time for him to hummingbird off to The Great Cocktail Party in The Sky.
As I walked out the gate, he called out, “Remember I love you Dolan.”
Remember he loved each of you.