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Obituaries

Jerry Hulse, 77; Times Travel Editor

January 26, 2002|CHRISTOPHER REYNOLDS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Jerry Hulse, the gentleman traveler who introduced millions of Californians to the wider world through his weekly articles as editor of the Los Angeles Times Travel section from 1960 through 1991, died Friday morning of complications after surgery. He was 77.

Hulse died at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank. He underwent double hernia surgery several days ago, family members said.

In the course of a career that took him around the world more times than he could count, on conveyances from cruise ships to the Concorde, Hulse won honors from admirers ranging from the proprietors of Gray Line bus tours to French President Francois Mitterrand. And in the process, travel industry veterans said, Hulse played a crucial role in the shaping of American thinking about travel.

"The power he had, in other hands, could have been a dreadful thing," said James Murphy, chairman of Chatsworth-based Brendan Tours.

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Tuesday January 29, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 2 inches; 51 words Type of Material: Correction
Jerry Hulse obituary--The obituary of former Los Angeles Times travel editor Jerry Hulse in Saturday's California section misstated the year that wide-bodies jets entered commercial service. The Air Transport Assn. reports that the first jets (Boeing 707s) went into commercial service in 1958, followed by the first wide-bodied jets (Boeing 747s) in 1970.

"He started at a time when Americans were beginning to use their passports for the first time," Murphy said. "He could get to the everyman, and motivate them to travel. And people took his word as absolute gospel. When we started operating in Ireland in 1973, Jerry put a little piece in the [Sunday] paper. We took over 3,000 telephone calls on that Monday. All from just a sentence or two."

His peers remembered him as a fastidious researcher, a chronic worrier, a great lover of the tropics and a writer who suffered quietly in the creation of prose that seemed graceful and carefree.

Hulse was "a romantic writer, but he was absolutely honest," said Ed Hogan, who as a pioneer in Hawaiian travel and founder and chairman of the Westlake Village travel firm Pleasant Holidays dealt with Hulse over four decades.

"And, like Michener, like Mark Twain, he was a great wordsmith, like Jim Murray getting you excited about a sport. [Hulse] had that ability to put you in the ring, so to speak."

In 1970, a Columbia Journalism Review article reported that Hulse was "widely considered to be the best travel writer in the country." In 1987, he received the French government's highest award, the Legion of Honor, for his contributions to the outside world's understanding of France.

Hulse's most widely admired piece of writing, however, took him not to an exotic foreign land but to Fort Wayne, Ind. In the early 1970s, Hulse set off on a search for the birth parents of his gravely ill wife, Jody, who had been adopted. The Hulses, looking for medical history information that doctors said would be crucial to Jody's treatment, succeeded, and his wife's life was prolonged. Hulse told the story in "Jody," a 1976 book that was published in 15 countries and made into a TV movie. She died in 1995.

The son of a butcher, Hulse was born in Grand Junction, Colo., and moved with his family to Los Angeles when he was 3. He attended North Hollywood High School.

After Navy service during World War II, he studied at Los Angeles City College, worked for the now-defunct Valley Times, then joined the Los Angeles Times as a general-assignment reporter in 1952.

His early assignments included the 1955 opening of Disneyland, and in 1960, when top editors sought an editor and columnist to lead a new Sunday travel section, Hulse landed the job.

It was an auspicious time to start. The airline industry had only recently introduced the wide-bodied jets that made transatlantic flights affordable for millions of middle-class travelers, and Hawaii had just received statehood the year before.

When Hulse took over, the nations of Western Europe together received 861,000 American visitors a year, and Hawaii drew 296,517 visitors annually. By the time he retired, more than 7 million Americans were visiting Europe yearly, roughly one in seven of them from California, and more than 6 million were visiting Hawaii, roughly one in five of them from California.

Georgia Hesse, who served as San Francisco Examiner-Chronicle travel editor from 1963 to 1982, remembered meeting Hulse on her first trip as a travel writer, at a conference in Indonesia in 1963.

"He was already very famous, and I was so afraid, because I was in my 20s and meeting all these people," Hesse said. "And he was the first to come over and say hello. He was just the soul of politeness and cordiality. He would open doors, and pull out your chair, and stand up when you came to the table, which among newspaper people is not necessarily the usual practice."

On later business trips, Hesse recalled, "He would lie on the beach for an hour in the tropics, and just get absolutely black. And we would take pictures of him and send them back to The Times and say that he wasn't working, he was just lying on the beach. But I think they knew how good he was. They didn't take it seriously."

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