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Gelb, Arthur


GELB, ARTHUR (1924– ), U.S. journalist and author. Born in New York, the son of immigrants from Ukraine, Gelb was educated at the City College of New York and at New York University. He was hired by The New York Times as a copyboy, the lowest newsroom job, in 1944 and made a mark by founding an in-house newsletter, Timesweek, which brought him to the attention of people who could promote him. He became a general assignment reporter and then gravitated to the drama department, where he became assistant drama critic in 1958, working under Brooks Atkinson, the paper's chief critic, and hoped to succeed him. Instead, he became chief cultural correspondent, serving from 1961 to 1963. In addition to reviewing Broadway and Off Broadway theater, Gelb wrote stories on little-known performers like Woody *Allen, Barbra *Streisand, and others. At the same time, Gelb began working with his wife, Barbara, the stepdaughter of the playwright S.N. *Behrman, on the first definitive biography of the American playwright Eugene O'Neill. The book, published in 1962, and called simply O'Neill, became a bestseller. It had taken the Gelbs six years to research and write the book.

When Gelb's close friend A.M.*Rosenthal was named metropolitan editor of The Times, Gelb was installed as his deputy. In 1967 he succeeded Rosenthal and then rose to assistant managing editor, deputy managing, and finally managing editor from 1986 as Rosenthal moved up to executive editor of The Times. Their professional closeness reached a crescendo with their coverage of the killing of Kitty Genovese, a young woman in Kew Garden, Queens, whose final screams were heard by 38 people who chose not to call the police. Gelb also helped expose a local member of the American Nazi Party, who was, in fact, Jewish. When his background was made known, the man, Daniel Burros, committed suicide.

During his tenure as metropolitan editor, Gelb was a fount of ideas, nurtured the careers of countless Times reporters and editors, and passionately presided over the coverage of dozens of important stories, from the New York City fiscal crisis of the mid-1970s through political campaigns, a major exposure of police corruption in New York, and disasters such as airplane crashes. Along the way Gelb and Rosenthal wrote and edited several travel books. After his tenure as managing editor, Gelb became president of The New York Times Foundation and dispensed thousands of dollars each year to cultural organizations, educational groups, and organizations dealing with disadvantaged youth. He also founded a Times scholarship program for high school students and headed it until he was past 80 years of age.

Thirty-five years after the O'Neill biography was published, the Gelbs decided to revisit O'Neill and write a new biography. The first of three volumes, O'Neill: Life with Monte Cristo, was published in 2000. The Gelbs were also working with the documentary filmmaker Ric Burns on an O'Neill series for public television. In 2003, City Room, a memoir, recalled Gelb's career and key decisions in the news room of The Times. In 2005, one of his two sons, Peter, was named general manager of the Metropolitan Opera in New York.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]

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