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Victor Lasky; Wrote Political Critiques

February 23, 1990|BURT A. FOLKART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Victor Lasky, a journalist and author best known for a series of controversial books about latter-day politicians, died Thursday of cancer at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington.

A spokesman for Accuracy in Media, a conservative-oriented, media-monitoring organization based in Washington for which Lasky lectured and wrote, said he was 72.

The subjects of Lasky's books ranged from Alger Hiss to John F. Kennedy to Henry Ford II, and he drew substantial critical ire for taking money from their political opponents to write them.

In 1970 Lasky wrote a book about former Supreme Court Justice and Kennedy Labor Secretary Arthur J. Goldberg. It was undertaken at the behest of and funded by Nelson A. Rockefeller, who was opposing Goldberg in the New York gubernatorial campaign.

It was an unflattering biography that Rockefeller repudiated in 1974, saying he should never have authorized its publication. The book had been funded by a Delaware corporation set up by Rockefeller's brother, Laurance.

In 1977 Lasky authored "It Didn't Start With Watergate," an account of the foibles of previous presidents and favorable to Richard M. Nixon, who had resigned the presidency three years earlier.

Lasky had been given $20,000 by the Committee to Reelect the President, a group which figured prominently in the Watergate scandal, although he later said it was for speech writing and not the book itself.

Lasky became a close friend of Nixon and one of a handful of people invited to the ex-President's San Clemente estate to celebrate his 62nd birthday in 1975.

In 1963 he had written "J.F.K.: The Man and the Myth," a best-selling, unflattering account of Kennedy's personal life and his background.

He was criticized for using only selective information that supported his anti-Kennedy posture.

In 1979 he wrote another unflattering account of a Democratic President, Jimmy Carter, in which Los Angeles Times book critic Mark Leviton accused him of having "assembled nearly every damaging piece of evidence, every rumor, innuendo and campaign speech to portray Carter as a power-hungry, unprincipled rascal whose career parallels that of Richard Nixon in many respects."

His last biographical examination was of Ford, the avowedly anti-Nixon auto scion, in which Lasky largely ignored Ford's career and concentrated on his many peccadilloes.

He also was the author of "Robert F. Kennedy: The Myth and the Man" and "Say, Didn't You Used to Be George Murphy?" written with the former actor and senator.

A 1952 documentary he wrote for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, "The Hoaxters," was nominated for an Academy Award.

Lasky maintained a generous sense of humor about his frequently scored works. In November, 1974, at a hearing into the qualifications of Rockefeller as vice president, he described himself to the Senate Rules Committee as a Republican free-lance writer, newspaper columnist and radio commentator, adding, "I'm also available for bar mitzvahs and funeral orations."

Lasky, who grew up in New York City and graduated from college in Brooklyn, began as a reporter for the old Chicago Sun. He was a wartime correspondent for Stars & Stripes and after his Army discharge covered the Hiss trial for the New York World-Telegram. The trial, in which Hiss, a former State Department official, was convicted of perjury for denying that he had been a Soviet agent, led to "Seeds of Treason," written with Ralph DeToledano.

Lasky wrote articles for numerous publications, among them the Reader's Digest, Parade and the Saturday Evening Post, and from 1962 to 1980 wrote a column for the North American Newspaper Alliance.

Survivors include his wife, Patricia, and two sisters, who ask donations to the Cleveland Park Kidney Center, 3520 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington 20008.

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