Bellows, James G(ilbert) 1922-
BELLOWS, James G(ilbert) 1922-
PERSONAL: Born November 12, 1922, in Detroit, MI; son of Lyman Hubbard (a business executive) and Dorothy (Gilbert) Bellows; married first wife, Marian, 1950 (divorced, 1963); married Maggie Savoy (a journalist), March 7, 1964 (died, 1970); married Keven Ryan (a business executive), July 1, 1971; children: Amelia, Priscilla, Felicia, Michael, Justine. Education: Kenyon College, B.A., 1946.
CAREER: Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Columbus, GA, reporter, 1947-50; Atlanta Journal, Atlanta, GA, news editor, 1950-57; Detroit Free Press, Detroit, MI, assistant editor, 1957-58; Miami News, Miami, FL, managing editor, 1958-61; New York Herald Tribune, New York, NY, editor, 1962-66; Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, CA, associate editor, 1967-74; Washington Star, Washington, DC, editor, 1975-78; Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Los Angeles, CA, editor, 1977-81; Entertainment Tonight, Paramount TV, managing editor, 1981-83. Executive editor, ABC News, 1983-86; director of editorial development, Prodigy, 1986-88; managing editor, USA Today on TV, 1988-89; vice president, editorial, MediaNews Group, 1990-91; Los Angeles bureau chief, TV Guide, 1992-94; Excite Software, executive editor, 1995-96, chairman of editorial advisory board, 1997; consultant Los Angeles Daily News, 1998-99; member of advisory board, itswestern. com, 2000. Trustee of Kenyon College. Military service: U.S. Navy Air Corps, 1942-46; became lieutenant junior grade.
MEMBER: Psi Upsilon, Sigma Delta Chi.
AWARDS, HONORS: L.H.D., Kenyon College, 1965.
(Author of annotation, with Richard C. Wald) The World of Jimmy Breslin, Viking (New York, NY), 1967.
(Editor) Anyone Who Enters Here Must Celebrate Maggie: A Collection of Writings about Maggie, and by Maggie, [Los Angeles, CA], 1971.
The Last Editor: How I Saved the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times from Dullness and Complacency, Andrews McMeel (Kansas City, MO), 2002.
ADAPTATIONS: The Last Editor: How I Saved the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times from Dullness and Complacency has been adapted into a feature-length documentary film titled The Last Editor and produced for the Public Broadcasting System series The Living Century.
SIDELIGHTS: Known as a savior of struggling newspapers, James G. Bellows has been called on to lift three of the nation's most depressed dailies back to respectability. In each of his editing posts he has fought against a formidable opponent. At the New York Herald Tribune, Bellows had to compete against the New York Times. He accepted the job at the Washington Star while the city's premier paper, the Post, sat at the height of its Watergate fame. And in 1978 he took the helm of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, regarded as "the worst urban daily newspaper in America." In a market dominated by the Los Angeles Times, the Herald Examiner was given little chance of surviving. "To call the pair rivals," reported Time in 1977, "is an overstatement."
Bellows has brought to his papers a flair for innovation, an eye for the exciting, and a willingness to gamble. The Herald Tribune became known as a "haven for literary freedom" during Bellows's reign, featuring the writing of Tom Wolfe, Jimmy Breslin, Dick Schaap, Judith Crist, Richard Reeves, and Pete Axthelm, among others. At the Washington Star he added a front-page interview column and a writer-inresidence column. Bellows also played to the Capitol's love of gossip by originating the frequently quoted column "The Ear." In short, "he turned a newsprint morgue into a laboratory of editorial innovation," reported Time. Many of these same features followed Bellows to the Herald Examiner, where he made further changes by firing more than half the staff and openly raiding other publications for talent. Bellows also promised to challenge his former employer, the Los Angeles Times. "They are so thin-skinned over there," he said. "This is going to be fun. What we are trying to do is get into the same pond with the big fella, and if he won't come in, we'll have to lure him."
The question many observers ask is why has Bellows repeatedly forsaken success and security for the challenge of rebuilding big-city newspapers. "What made him think he could save the self-destructive Los Angeles Herald Examiner after a decade of abysmal editorial and financial failure?" asked Esquire's Mary Murphy. "What made him think he could turn it into a weapon with which to attack the most profitable newspaper in the history of post-World War II journalism, the Los Angeles Times? Some say it was the money … ; some say it is Bellows's need to 'walk uphill through life carrying a heavy load on his shoulders'; some say that death would be more comfortable to Bellows than life without risk; and some say that the sound you hear as Bellows loads his guns may be the sweet sound of his own private revenge."
Bellows chronicled his adventures in the news business with his 2002 memoir, The Last Editor: How I Saved the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Los Angeles Times from Dullness and Complacency. The immodest title aside, the book follows Bellows from his well-to-do youth in Ohio through his service in World War II and his journalistic career spanning many decades. He was "the runt growing up," noted a contributor to the Web page for The Last Editor, "shy and insecure…. Jim's story is about how those experiences strengthened and motivated him and prepared him for the things to come." His battle experiences during the war were a precursor to the rigors of the newsroom. Bellows's book relates such stories as the time when, as a cub reporter, the author was drugged by Ku Klux Klan members; how he inaugurated "The Ear," a gossip column that revitalized the struggling Washington Star; and, as the site's contributor put it, "the collision between Jim and Star publisher Joe Allbritton over Joe wanting to run a [frontpage] endorsement of President Ford after dinner at the White House." And if Bellows didn't exactly "save" such papers as the Star, he notes that "If I don't cure and save them, I certainly brighten up their declining years."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Esquire, August 1, 1978.
Los Angeles Times, October 15, 1991, p. D20.
Newsweek, December 30, 1974; August 11, 1975; March 6, 1978.
Time, July 28, 1975; December 5, 1977.
Times (London, England), January 9, 2002, p. 12.
Washington Journalism Review, June, 1992, Ron La-Brecque, "The Last Confederate General," p. 14.
Last Editor,http://www.thelasteditor.com/ (August 29, 2002).