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Scott Newhall and His Family Resign Posts at the Signal

August 10, 1988|MAYERENE BARKER | Times Staff Writer

Three members of the Newhall family resigned Tuesday from the Newhall Signal, at least temporarily silencing patriarch Scott Newhall, an editor legendary for his fulminating editorials and roistering life style.

Newhall, chief editorial writer; his wife, Ruth, the editor; and son Tony, the publisher, all quit the Santa Clarita Valley newspaper, which serves an area once named for a pioneer ancestor, in a business dispute with the paper's owner.

Tony Newhall said he announced at a meeting of the newspaper's staff that the news of the family's resignation would be carried in today's edition of the Signal.

"It's extremely difficult for us to leave the paper with which we've been associated for 25 years," he said in a telephone interview. "We don't plan to leave the community, however."

"It's difficult," said Scott Newhall. "We've been here a long time. It's sort of a shock having to go into the hot dog business or something now."

The newspaper has expanded along with the fast-growing Santa Clarita Valley and recently increased publication from three days a week to five. In this year's Los Angeles Press Club contests, the Signal won the award for best overall news coverage by a weekly or semi-weekly newspaper.

After 20 years as editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, Scott Newhall returned to his family's roots by buying the Signal, then a weekly, in 1963. His great-grandfather, Henry Mayo Newhall, who spent most of his life amassing fortunes in California, assembled the giant Newhall Ranch and founded the towns of Saugus and Newhall.

Controlling Interest Sold

In 1978, the Newhall family sold a controlling interest in the Signal to Morris Newspaper Corp. of Savannah, Ga., but remained to manage the newspaper.

Tony Newhall said the family's resignations could be attributed to "coming from a family-owned newspaper to a large corporation" and came at the end of "a long period of negotiations."

Representatives of Morris Newspaper Corp. could not be reached for comment.

At both the Signal and the Chronicle, Scott Newhall encouraged uninhibitedly colorful writing and wrote blistering editorials in the style of 19th-Century editors. His editorials were crammed with colorful invective, and commonly ran across the top of the front page in the style of the earlier era.

And he carried the frontier tradition into his life. In 1965 he challenged the editor of a rival Santa Clarita Valley newspaper, Art Evans, to meet him under a Newhall bank clock at noon for a duel "in the old frontier spirit."

"He called me a Commie or something," Newhall said Tuesday. "It was a high noon sort of deal. . . . He never showed, though."

Newhall lost his left leg to a disease he said he acquired in a Mexican jungle and tells interviewers that he got into journalism in the early 1930s by lying to the San Francisco Chronicle that he was a photographer.

In World War II, he served as a correspondent with the U.S. and British navies. Years later, he skippered a tugboat from London to San Francisco.

Newhall's distinctively personal style of journalism made both friends and enemies of readers and public figures. Newhall said the Signal, under the family's management, had become either its readers' "best-hated or best-loved" newspaper.

"Oh God, they hated us at first, but they knew we were here," he said in a 1984 interview. "Twenty years ago, a lot of people banded together up here for the first time in their lives, if only to hate the Signal."

Santa Clarita City Councilwoman Jo Anne Darcy said Tuesday the departure of the Newhalls would be "a serious loss to the community."

"They're like a legend in this town. I'm triply shocked that all three are leaving. I'm amazed that the newspaper can continue without them," Darcy said.

She called Newhall's editorials "thought-provoking and high-spirited" but said Newhall's vocabulary was so flamboyant that readers often misunderstood his writings.

"I'm flabbergasted," said Councilman Carl Boyer III of the resignations. "It's the end of an era. What more can I say?"

Neither Scott nor Tony Newhall would speculate on the future of the newspaper.

The Newhalls said they have no immediate plans for the future.

"I hope to be somehow involved" in journalism, Scott Newhall said. "There's nothing like the newspaper business."

He said he and his wife also will stay in the Santa Clarita Valley.

No immediate replacement for Tony Newhall, who had been publisher for 20 years, has been named. Tony Newhall said Darell Phillips, publisher of the Morris Corp.'s Manteca Bulletin, is supervising the management changeover.

A Scott Newhall Sampler

On the San Fernando Valley: "A heaven on earth for winos, dog poisoners, child abusers, husband swappers, wife beaters, porno stars, bill jumpers, street racers, defrocked priests and street-corner bordellos."

On the state Legislature: "A whining, lying, groveling gang of sneak thieves."

On Valencia women: They "seek their divertissement across the hills in male strip salons like Chippendale's, where they can tuck ten-dollar bills into the pelvic regalia of Playgirl gatefold boys."

On former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr.: "A perpetual bachelor, dreamer, soothsayer, faith healer, and guru-in-chief of California's endless legion of weirdos, beardos, barefoot poets, minnesingers, begging friars, transvestites, sado-masochists and fallen women."

On Santa Clarita Mayor Howard P. (Buck) McKeon: "A legendary folk hero, so deep-laden with honors and decorations that his knees threaten to buckle under him as he struggles to rise from his seat and acknowledge the huzzahs of the audience."

On Los Angeles County Sheriff Sherman Block and his deputies: "He would be wise to send his jolly hog callers to some duly-accredited charm school."

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