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Obituaries

Clifton Daniel; Former N.Y. Times Editor, Son-in-Law of President Harry Truman

February 22, 2000|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Clifton Daniel, urbane and meticulous former managing editor of the New York Times whom a colleague dubbed "the poor man's Prince Rainier" when he married Margaret Truman, only child of the late President Harry S. Truman, has died at the age of 87.

Daniel died at his Manhattan home of complications from a stroke and heart disease, his wife told the New York newspaper, which reported the death on its Web site.

After nearly 15 years as a distinguished foreign correspondent for Associated Press and the New York Times, Daniel returned to New York in late 1955 for treatment of an ulcer and shortly afterward met his future wife at a dinner party.

Known for his courtly charm, impeccable grooming and Savile Row tailoring and a British accent layered over his native North Carolina drawl, Daniel proposed in January and married the president's daughter in her home town of Independence, Mo., on April 21, 1956. He was 43 and she was 32.

"We had a lot in common," Daniel wrote in a 1984 memoir. "A couple of citified small-towners, puritans among the fleshpots."

Daniel's New York Times colleague, James Reston, advised the new bride in his column the morning after the wedding that as a dedicated newsman, the bridegroom should not automatically be expected home in time for dinner.

"But when he does get home eventually, he will have something to say," Reston promised her. "Few men who arrive home on the 6:22 train can do that."

Reston tagged Daniel as "the poor man's Prince Rainier" because the Monaco monarch was courting and marrying American movie actress Grace Kelly about the same time Daniel was wooing Truman. But most who knew Daniel thought the newsman cut an even finer and more opulent figure than Rainier.

In his London days, Daniel the eligible bachelor had been called "the sheik of Fleet Street," Gay Talese recalled in his 1969 book about the New York Times titled "The Kingdom and the Power." Daniel, Talese wrote, making clear that he was not impugning the then-managing editor's masculinity in any way, "is almost lovely."

At the time of Daniel's marriage, a colleague noted that few American correspondents had ever demonstrated Daniel's "ability to be equally at home at a hunt ball in Warwickshire or bumping along in a Russian jeep over the virgin farm lands of southwestern Siberia."

Daniel headed the New York Times' news staff as its managing editor from 1964 to 1969, greatly expanding its cultural coverage. He later was named associate editor and served as Washington bureau chief from 1973 to 1976, retiring in 1977.

Aspects of what Talese called Daniel's "London layer" included the editor's British-style office off the Times newsroom and selection of his black leather office chair precisely because it would not wrinkle his suits.

The only child of pharmacist Elbert Clifton Daniel Sr., for whom he was named, Daniel grew up in his native Zebulon, N.C., working as a soda jerk in his father's store and writing local news for the Zebulon Record. When a man walked into the drugstore one night, "apparently holding his head on with his hands" with his throat slit ear to ear, the youth got a doctor for the victim and a story for the paper.

Daniel studied English and journalism at the University of North Carolina, but since boyhood looked upon journalism as his "calling," imbued with a high ethical code. He was vice president of his collegiate student body but declined to run for president at age 20, he told an interviewer years later, "because I already had the notion--perhaps somewhat presumptuous--that I was a newspaperman, and that newspapermen should stay out of party politics."

After graduation, he became associate editor and co-founder of the Daily Bulletin in Dunn, N.C., and a year later went to the Raleigh News and Observer as a reporter and columnist. Disliking his first name, Elbert, he gradually shifted his byline in those years to E.C. Daniel, and after going to Associated Press in New York in 1937, settled on Clifton Daniel.

He worked for the wire service in Washington, D.C.; Bern, Switzerland; and London where he joined the New York Times in 1944 to cover the final year of World War II. Following the U.S. First Army into Belgium and Germany, Daniel on a single day in November 1944 filed news stories from Eupen, Belgium; Aachen, Germany; and Vaals, the Netherlands.

In 13 years as the paper's foreign correspondent, Daniel covered London, where he reported on the death and funeral of King George VI and the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, the Middle East and Moscow, where he won the Overseas Press Club award.

Throughout his career as a writer and editor, Daniel occasionally moderated or spoke on radio and television shows including "Meet the Press," "Insight," "One Man's Opinion" and "News in Perspective."

Daniel is survived by his wife; their four sons, Clifton Truman Daniel, William Wallace Daniel, Harrison Gates Daniel and Thomas Washington Daniel, and five grandchildren.

The Associated Press and Times staff writer John Goldman in New York City contributed to this article.

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