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Dick Kleiner, 80; Broadway and Hollywood Columnist, Biographer

OBITUARIES

February 27, 2002|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Dick Kleiner, a veteran Broadway and then Hollywood columnist, syndicated to as many as 600 newspapers for 55 years, and an author and celebrity biographer, has died. He was 80.

Kleiner died Feb. 13 at his home in San Juan Capistrano, said his son, Peter. The writer, who underwent quintuple bypass heart surgery more than a decade ago, suffered from diabetes and had been on dialysis for several years.

Ironically, Richard Arthur Kleiner was the son of the late Israel S. Kleiner, a biochemist and professor who in 1915 as a Rockefeller Institute researcher co-discovered the cause of diabetes. Pinning the disease on inadequate function of the pancreas releasing too much sugar into the blood paved the way for the 1921 discovery of insulin to treat diabetes by Frederick Banting and Charles H. Best.

Kleiner learned, after finding a yellowed scrapbook in the attic of the family home, of his father's scientific involvement with the disease about the same time he was told he had it, he wrote for Diabetes Forecast magazine in 1991.

"He gave me the gift of life twice," Kleiner wrote in the unusual personal article, "once as a father and once as a scientist."

After graduating from Rutgers University with a degree in journalism, Kleiner served in the Army Signal Corps during World War II, helping to break Japanese codes. At war's end, he signed on with the Newspaper Enterprise Assn., at the time the world's largest news feature service.

After a few years in its Cleveland bureau, he transferred to New York and soon became an expert in Broadway theater and those who peopled it. He wrote articles and a column on the Great White Way for some 15 years.

In 1964, Kleiner moved to Los Angeles to cover Hollywood. Over the next quarter-century, he interviewed--by his own count--more than 8,000 stars and hopefuls, and covered on-the-set production of dozens of motion pictures and television shows.

He also began doing book-length profiles of several of the Hollywood glitterati, either with or without their cooperation. Among his books are "The Ghost Who Danced With Kim Novak and Other True Tales of the Supernatural" (1969); "E.S.P. and the Stars" (1970); "Mervyn Leroy: Take One" (1974); "The Two of Us," with Tony Martin and Cyd Charisse, (1976); and "Please Don't Shoot My Dog: The Autobiography of Jackie Cooper" (1981).

Kleiner also wrote such varied volumes as "Index of Initials and Acronyms," "Hollywood's Greatest Love Stories" and a children's book, "The World's Worst Wisher." He contributed hundreds of articles to magazines in addition to his syndicated newspaper stories and, according to his son, wrote lyrics for several songs, including "Say Hey, the Willie Mays Song."

Even when Kleiner "retired" in 1989, the syndicate he had served for more than four decades could not let him go. He continued his popular question-and-answer column, "Ask Dick Kleiner," which he started in 1975, three times a week until December.

Carried by the entertainment sections of smaller newspapers in the United States, the Bahamas and Canada, the column covered questions about Hollywood trivia, such as: "I remember a quote that was attributed to a famous actor, 'The trouble with the world is that it's always one drink behind.' For the life of me, I can't remember who said it. Can you help?"

Of course, Kleiner could help. The pithy remark, he wrote, came from Humphrey Bogart.

Kleiner said he wrote his column on a computer on his bedroom desk and that he selected letters--choosing "a good geographic distribution" and a mix of queries about movies and television--from the 150 to 200 he received each week.

Each answer, he said, was carefully researched in his home reference library or by calling his considerable entertainment business contacts. Despite his vast experience over the years, he said, "I don't like to trust writing off the top of my head."

In addition to his son, Kleiner is survived by his wife of 47 years, journalist Hortensia "Chicki" Kleiner, who often assisted him with his column in recent years; two daughters, Cindy Smetana and Katherine Winovich; and five grandchildren.

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