"My parents never forced me to be the best at whatever I do. That somehow came from within me."
(1927-2006) In March 2006, as Harry Brant Chandler, the eldest of Otis Chandler’s four surviving children, was completing his eulogy for his father, a tall African-American man wearing a leather motorcycle jacket, sprang from the congregation of 700 mourners gathered at All Saints Church in Pasadena. In a booming voice, “Big Willie” Robinson said, “There’s a lot about Otis you don’t know. He was one of us. He knew the streets. We rode together. He helped us and did things that he never talked about.”
With the weight of two legendary names foisted upon him before he was an hour old, it appeared Otis Chandler’s destiny was preordained. But he would insist he felt no pressure to fulfill anyone’s expectations but his own. He indulged his passions for surfing, weightlifting, big-game hunting, and car and motorcycle collecting. He said the biggest disappointment in his life was missing the 1952 Helsinki Olympics because a sprained wrist prevented him from competing in the shot-put. He married the woman he loved, Marilyn Brant, another Pasadena blueblood whose grandfather, Otto, had been a business associate of Otis’ grandfather, Harry Chandler. Following a brief stint in the Air Force, Otis considered a career in sports medicine. But after a 1953 dinner at his parents’ house, to no one’s surprise except his own, Otis was handed a seven-page memo in which his father outlined a seven-year apprenticeship in the newspaper business, culminating in “a top management position.” Years later, Otis conceded, “I guess I must have always wanted to give it a shot because I didn’t really scream and yell at all.”
Unlike his father and grandfather, 32-year-old Los Angeles Times publisher Otis Chandler grasped what his great-grandfather, General Otis, had understood, albeit from a virulently biased perspective: that the newsroom was the heartbeat of the business. He tripled the editorial budget, opened bureaus around the world, and demanded “uncommon excellence” from his staff of first-rate journalists. Otis Chandler’s Times would set the agenda for a daily discussion of Southern California’s future, not be a partisan tool through which an oligarchy solidified its economic, social and political power.
Shortly after taking over, he sanctioned a five-part series exposing the hypocrisy and bigotry of the John Birch Society—a group whose members included his uncle Philip and Philip’s wife Alberta. In one week, 15,000 conservative readers dropped their Los Angeles Times subscriptions. Within a year, both Philip Chandler and his brother Harrison resigned from their less-than-influential positions at the paper. They would not, of course, relinquish their birthright, remaining board members of Chandis Securities, the entity through which the Chandlers maintained a controlling interest in the Times Mirror Company.
By 1980, Otis had put the paper in the same league as the Sulzbergers’ New York Times and the Grahams’ Washington Post. Times Mirror Company was second only to TIME-LIFE in assets, outlets and global media reach. At the age of 52, Otis, suffering from chronic stomach problems, turned the Los Angeles Times over to Tom Johnson, the first non-family publisher in nearly a century and the paper’s fifth publisher. Chandler left his marriage and slowly retreated from his family’s empire. To this day, people debate whether Otis left the Times voluntarily. In 2000, he could only watch as representatives for the non-publishing Chandlers, who held the majority position on the Chandis Securities board, orchestrated the sale of the Los Angeles Times and Times Mirror to the Tribune Company of Chicago for $8.3 billion. “Sure I’m sad,” he said. “I’m sad for the city, I’m sad for the employees, I’m sad for the fact that the Chandlers had nobody to carry on beyond me. I’m human.”
His lifelong friend, Bob Emmet, wryly observed, “Otis and his mother were always the victims. It was always somebody else’s fault.”