There was much to make fun of at Hollywood's celebration of the Los Angeles Times' 125th birthday, but I'm not the man to do it.
All kinds of nasty comments came to my mind as I watched the ceremony in front of the Hollywood Roosevelt Thursday. A star on Hollywood Boulevard near the one given to the Hollywood Reporter? Wasn't the Reporter's ace gossip columnist involved in a scandal a few years ago? Why the shots of a large group of stiff looking men and women behind the dais? Pictures like that went out with the Eisenhower administration. And why did the LA Times care about a Hollywood Boulevard star? Isn't the Times too big for that--or didn't it used to be?
Then at the luncheon I was introduced to the audience by the uncrowned mayor of Hollywood, Johnny Grant, who as a master of ceremonies is famous for introducing movie has-beens as if they were still big stars. He gave me the full Johnny Grant treatment and when the luncheon was over this particular has-been went up and thanked him for being so nice to me.
Still, despite my vow to be positive, I must report the whole thing was a little strange.
First of all, who cares about a 125th birthday? One hundred is the big one and, as I recall, the paper didn't do much about it. Otis Chandler, who ran the place then, was a reserved, dignified sort--something like Helen Mirren in The Queen.
The new publisher, David Hiller, was too awed, too loving of Hollywood, too much the visitor to town trying hard to impress, a presidential candidate on an early trip to Iowa. He didn't know LA. He didn't seem to understand that while a star on Hollywood Boulevard is OK, it's not an Oscar or a place in the baseball Hall of Fame.
He's the big guy in the group of new Times guys in town and he and the others are feeling and fumbling their way around in a strange place. He talked fondly of the old Chandlers who started the paper. Obviously he had not read much about them or looked closely at the bust of General Otis, the founding father, in the lobby. Whenever I looked at the General's scowling face, I thought that I would hate to ask him for a raise. Old Chandlers or new, they all like to make money and they own a substantial chunk of the Tribune company. Hiller has to increase revenue, sell more ads and win more subscribers in cities and suburbs beyond his midwestern experience. If that doesn't work, he'll have to dump more of the talented reporters and editors who made the paper great.
I almost feel sorry for him.