The Chandlers and Their Times

Inventing LA: The Chandlers and Their Times

by Jessica Gottlieb

Watching the Chandlers And Their Times was jarring, comforting, educational, enlightening and a cautionary tale. As an Angelino I have an affinity to the Los Angeles Times. In my childhood it was the newspaper that my parents counted on for their daily news. I was weaned on column one and Steve Lopez, reading the Times became part of my mornings somewhere in my sixteenth year.

There were Chandlers in my life, quite a few of them, apparently they were from different branches of the extraordinary family. While immersed in the story of a family whose drama rivals any Shakespearean tragedy, I found myself pointing and saying to my husband, "That's how Robbie got into car racing!" or "I think that's Kristie." he would look at me, shake his head and say, "I don't know who you are talking about." Though less personal to him, we were both drawn into the story.

Chandler-family_surfboards_.jpgAccording to this documentary, The Chandler Family is responsible for the development of Los Angeles from San Pedro to the San Fernando Valley. They took the Los Angeles times from being a tool for real estate development to a Pulitzer Prize winning newspaper.

Although the story of the Chandlers is a good one, The Chandlers And Their Times is magnificent. With heroes and villains, mental illness and bigotry, the storytelling is compelling and though the tragic tales are told mostly in still pictures, I found myself glued to the television, riveted.

 As a friend, classmate and admirer of various Chandlers I could not possibly watch this with an objective eye. I sat wondering what my friends would think of this expose of their very private, incredibly wealthy family. I, like you, felt the odd combination of pride, curiosity and shame for peeking into the family photos of Los Angeles' most prominent family.

Dorothy-Chandler.jpgI'd never known of Dorothy "Buff" Chandler's difficulty being accepted into the family, though I did know that she'd been successful in uniting Downtown and Westside [read Protestant and Jewish] philanthropists in building the Music Center downtown. I knew before this viewing that her son Otis had been unceremoniously pushed out of his stewardship of the times.

  Otis-Chandler.jpgAs a blogger I couldn't help but watch the evolution of my newspaper with a psychic eye. Is this the destiny of the new media? What can we learn? The first years of the LA Times were lawless, profitable and existed only to feed other businesses ventures that were far more profitable. First standards were set, then huge journalistic milestones were hit, and in the blink of an eye there was fiscal ruin, and a loss of ownership.

What will we be left with? My city has Chandlers with their legacies and their fortunes, but we no longer have Their Times. I can't help but think that it's a paper without a soul, now that they have lost the family behind it.


Video Clips
Otis Chandler and His Family

A recorded phone conversation reveals former President Nixon's plan to investigate the Chandlers.

Unionists explode dynamite at the Times Headquarters during Harrison Gray Otis' reign as publisher.

Web Site 

Inventing LA: The Chandlers and Their Times



If you ever get the chance, read the Otis Chandler biography "Privileged Son" by Dennis McDougal. It might be more information about the Chandlers than you ever wanted to know, but it is a great read. It goes all the way back to Harrison Otis and covers the dynasty through 2000. It doesn't gloss over Otis Chandler's flaws, but nonetheless, I think that most people who read the book will come away with affection and respect for the man.

I have mixed feelings about Dorothy "Buff" Chandler. My grandmother, Loreen Buffum Robinson, was Dorothy's cousin; from what I've been told, they were quite close when they were young. In my grandmother's old scrapbooks is a picture of Dorothy from 1918; on it, she wrote, "With so much love, to Loreen, from Dorothy". A little later in the scrapbooks are the newspaper articles about Dorothy's wedding to Norman Chandler. After that, the only appearance Dorothy makes is an indirect one: a picture of my grandmother proudly holding the issue of Time magazine that featured Dorothy on the cover.

Once Dorothy became a Chandler, she didn't have much to do with the Buffums anymore. I suspect that she internalized some of the disdain that so many Chandlers felt towards the Buffums. Obviously, as a Buffum descendant, I'm not entirely objective in the matter. Still, to me it seems ridiculous and pretentious for the Chandlers to have looked down on Dorothy. By the time she married Norman Chandler, her father (Charlie Buffum) and her uncle (E.E. Buffum, my great-grandfather) were respected members of Long Beach society. From what I'm told, however, Long Beach was seen as a backwater community by the Pasadena elite to which the Chandlers belonged.

My uncle John tells me that Buffie Chandler did attend my grandmother's funeral in 1977 (though she may have left before the service ended). To me, there's something poignant about that, as if Dorothy were seeking some atonement for her long neglect of her family. What's most unfortunate about the family split, in my opinion, is that my uncle John would probably have gotten along with his second cousin Otis very well. John has written many books about the history and mountain trails of southern California; he probably knows those mountains as well as anyone alive. I think that Otis, a fellow outdoorsman and student of history, would have appreciated that. But they never met.

Certainly, there's no arguing with Buff Chandler's legacy; they didn't name that downtown pavilion in her honor for nothing. I don't know that she was the most pleasant person to be around during that fund-raising drive, though; from what McDougal writes, her efforts were relentless, and her wealthy friends considered lunch with Buffie to be the most expensive lunch in town. Buffie seems to have also been a fairly demanding wife; for example, if Norman slouched in his chair during a social dinner, Buff would whisper sharply to him, "Posture, Chan, posture!" But McDougal indicates that this desire for perfection was, in fact, part of what made Buffie attractive to Norman. Norman wanted to be a great man and a pillar of society, but he didn't quite have the inner fire to match that ambition. He needed Buffie to push him to be what he did, in fact, want to be.

Buffie also pushed her son Otis hard; as the documentary shows, she regularly told her son to remember who he was, and what he represented. It's ironic that she didn't seem to have the same high expectations of her daughter; you would think that if anyone would have been aware of how much a woman could accomplish (even in that sexist era), it would have been Buffie. During the same period that Buff was campaigning for the performing arts complex, her daughter Mia was leading the fundraising drive that created the L.A. County Museum of Art. This put mother and daughter in conflict somewhat, since they were both seeking funds from the same pool of donors, and Buff was certain that her project had more merit than the art museum. McDougal's book gives the indication that Buff actually undermined, to a degree, her daughter's fundraising efforts.

Otis Chandler was many things, truly a southern California Renaissance man. He was certainly a great newsman; in 1999, he was named one of the 25 most influential news people of the century by Editor & Publisher magazine. Still, he sometimes feared that his passion for surfing would be remembered more than his accomplishments at the Times. My favorite story about Otis combines the two. One day, he was in a meeting with L.A. Times editors and staffers when a messenger came in bearing a note. Otis read the note, threw it away, and hurriedly excused himself. His concerned colleagues retrieved the note from the trash can to find out what had happened. The note contained just four words: "Surf's up at 12:30".

Post a comment

Ground rules for posting comments:

  1. No profanity or personal attacks.
  2. Please comment on the subject of the blog post itself.
  3. If you do not follow these rules, we will remove your post. Keep it civil, folks!