Fact checking the Orson Welles-writes-obit tale

Thumbnail image for Orson-Welles-larb.jpgAfter former LA Times books editor Steve Wasserman's piece last week for the LA Review of Books about the 1979 death of director Jean Renoir, current Times copy editor Larry Harnisch did some checking. He wanted to see if Wasserman's account was correct: that the Times dropped the ball on Renoir's passing and that Orson Welles saved the day by writing an appreciation for Sunday Opinion. "I don’t have a dog in this fight other than impatience with mistakes and contempt for folklore," Harnisch writes.

Welles wrote a piece for Opinion, all right. But Harnisch says that Wasserman got a few other things wrong, starting with the contention that the Times buried its obituary of Renoir deep inside the Sunday paper and ran an AP story instead of its own story. Here is Harnisch's blog post. Excerpt:

The immediate problem with Wasserman’s recollection is that Renoir died on a Monday and the story of his death appeared in the Tuesday paper, a fact that could be easily checked if he or anyone at the Los Angeles Review of Books cared to do so.

His next claim is equally false, however. One could quibble over whether the story was “buried,” but the account was not by the Associated Press, but by Paul G. Levine, an intern from Colgate University who contributed frequently to the Calendar and book review sections, with more than 90 bylined items in The Times, according to the clips.

Harnisch also found a first-person remembrance of Renoir in the LAT's Friday paper, and another appreciation in the Sunday Calendar section by the paper's prominent arts writer, Charles Champlin.

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