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Brendan Gill; Writer, Historic Preservationist

December 30, 1997|KENNETH REICH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Brendan Gill, acclaimed biographer of the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, a dedicated historic preservationist and a noted writer at the New Yorker magazine since 1936, is dead at 83.

Gill died Saturday in New York City of undetermined causes.

His career at the New Yorker spanned all the editorial departments of the magazine. Its editor, Tina Brown, said: "He was in so many ways our beau ideal--the ultimate New Yorker."

"Brendan Gill was perhaps most memorable for his lust for life," said Steve Wasserman, book editor of the Los Angeles Times. "Erudite, witty, generous, Gill was the perfect companion to experience, through his transparent prose, the pleasures to be had by a certain ideal of urban culture."

Gill entitled his Wright biography "Many Masks" because, he said, Wright was an elusive, complicated figure. "I could provide a description of, and some documentation for, a variety of masks, but I was very leery of attempting a psychobiography. . . . There just isn't enough known about anybody's inner life."

In 1994, Gill, who had served as chairman of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and secretary of the jury for the Pritzker Architecture Prize, the highest honor in the field, was presented with the first Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Award in honor of his work as a writer, preservationist and art critic.

Besides being a writer of articles and 15 books, on topics as varied as the life of aviator Charles Lindbergh and his own magazine, he was prized as a public speaker.

But some colleagues charged that his book, "Here at the New Yorker," breached the magazine's vaunted privacy and was unfair to some of them.

With coauthor Derry Moore, Gill was also the lead writer of "The Dream Comes True," a 1981 picture book about Los Angeles residences large and small. Moore did the photos for the book, and Gill wrote the essays.

Reviewer John Dreyfuss wrote, "Gill provides a sort of hopscotch chronicle of the city. It's the kind of perforated overview one might expect from a brilliant raconteur at a long cocktail party. Superficial but informative and amusing."

Gill, born in Connecticut, joined the staff of the magazine soon after his graduation from Yale.

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