Going way back with Bellows

I haven't gotten to all the Jim Bellows appreciatons that have been posted or published, but today's by columnist Jon Carroll in the San Francisco Chronicle is a bit different in that it centers on the non-Herald Examiner L.A. years. He turns over a good bit of the column to Lawrence Dietz, the writer who worked with Bellows at several stops before and after the HerEx. Services for Bellows, who died last week, are scheduled for 1 p.m. Friday at Westwood Presbyterian Church on Wilshire. Carroll:

A long time ago, I spent a brief time as managing editor of West, which was then the Sunday magazine of the Los Angeles Times. My boss was a legendary editor named Jim Bellows - I think he was legendary even then - who astonished me by giving me a surprisingly free rein and remaining sanguine even when some of my ideas didn't work out so well.

Bellows died last week at the age of 86. He was mourned by many people all over the country who had fallen under his odd, saturnine spell.

I lived a strange life back then, commuting to Los Angeles four days a week while my family remained in Berkeley. I spent a lot of time with my best friend in Los Angeles, Larry Dietz, a writer and editor with a career even more amusingly varied than my own. Dietz knew Bellows quite well, and kept in touch with him in a way that I did not, to my everlasting regret.

I asked Dietz if he'd write a few words of tribute....

Dietz picks up:

"I met Jim Bellows when he moved to the L.A. Times after the N.Y. Herald Tribune collapsed. At the Times he oversaw the back of the paper - the features and the Sunday magazine, West, the sections that 'real' newspapermen sneer at as 'soft.'

"Jim was clearly open and accessible to ideas. He hired a friend of mine, the brilliant and mercurial Mike Salisbury, to be West's art director, and Mike made the magazine the best-looking in the country. Jim personally worked with a few writers - I was lucky to be one of them - whose words could keep up with Salisbury's graphics, and West was the first thing people turned to on Sunday. But editors at the Times opposed Jim getting the top job, so he left and went to Washington.

"After his stint editing the Washington Star, throwing darts at Ben Bradlee, he came back to L.A. and took over the Herald-Examiner, the distant No. 2 paper in town. With slender resources he actually challenged the behemoth Times. Finally it was time for him to move on.

"No more newspapers to edit? He became the managing editor of 'Entertainment Tonight,' hired after the show premiered to embarrassing, accurate reviews labeling it a studio flack's wet dream. He brought in some of us print guys, and 'ET' flourished. Later he developed editorial content for Prodigy, a Web service ahead of its time (a combination of AOL and the Huffington Post, with a stable of terrific columnists).

"After Prodigy faded, some young Stanford grads hired him to create short reviews of Web sites to distinguish their new search engine, Excite Again Jim turned to journalists, and we beavered away in the days of dial-up 18.8-kbps modems. (A colleague wrote the best Excite Web review, of a bestiality chat room: "Lassie! Go home! Quick!")

"Google proved that Web surfers want links, not reviews, so Jim wrote his autobiography, all the while looking for the next opportunity. It came from UCLA's communications staff: Perhaps a terrific magazine written by the faculty could move the campus up the college pecking order.

"Jim and I got the idea of mixing UCLA contributors with 'real' writers, many from Jim's enormous Rolodex. We created a sensational dummy. The project made its way through the bureaucracy; it was supported by the faculty senate, but when it got to the then-chancellor, who had come to UCLA from Harvard, he said it couldn't succeed because no one in Los Angeles reads. Jim's health began to fail, so the UCLA journal would not be a fitting last hurrah for an editor who, most of all, revered talent, and even then hoped for another project.

"Much has been made of Jim's mumbling. I think it was a brilliant strategy for dealing with writers who parse every word an editor says to them, and never forget what they deem criticism...."

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