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Obituaries

Lois Gould, 70; Novelist and Columnist

June 04, 2002|MYRNA OLIVER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lois Gould, whose prolific writing ranged from newspaper articles and columns to her best-selling first novel, "Such Good Friends," and a recent memoir about her fashion designer mother, "Mommy Dressing," has died. She was 70.

Gould died Wednesday of cancer in Manhattan's Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

Whether writing nonfiction or fiction, Gould demonstrated keen insight and adeptness in describing the complexities of women's attitudes about marriage, adultery, sexuality and divorce.

Because of her presentation of women's views on subjects rarely examined before in print, Gould was often considered a flag bearer for the 1970s feminist movement. But she disagreed, once telling the writers' anthology Contemporary Authors:

"My fiction works represent neither a popularization of feminism nor a politicization of literature, nor are they intended to achieve either of these dubious purposes. I have been reviewed by feminist critics who say my work is anti-feminist and by anti-feminist critics who say the reverse."

Gould argued less with those who characterized many of her books as somewhat autobiographical. Certainly that first novel, "Such Good Friends," which became a 1971 film directed by Otto Preminger and starring Dyan Cannon, sprang from personal experience.

She was born in Manhattan to fashion designer Jo Copeland and cigar executive E.J. Regensburg. The Wellesley-educated writer married novelist and New York Times reporter Philip Benjamin in 1955. When he died unexpectedly after surgery 11 years later, the young mother with two sons discovered among his papers a diary written in code.

Deciphering the code, she found a detailed list of his extramarital affairs, including the names of many of her good friends. That background wound its way into Gould's 1970 novel, "Such Good Friends," which remained on the best-seller list for seven weeks initially and was so popular that it was reissued in 1988.

In 1967, the former Lois Regensburg Benjamin married psychiatrist Robert E. Gould, who adopted her sons. Times book critic Robert Kirsch saw her 1974 novel, "Final Analysis," as partly autobiographical, too--with a writer falling in love with her former psychiatrist.

Kirsch praised the book, writing that given Gould's perception, "something very close to romantic credibility is achieved ... not before some laughter and an occasional misting over the eyes."

Gould's humor was often lauded by critics even when she was writing about painful subjects such as infidelity or parent-child relationships.

"Even when I disagree with Lois Gould, I love the way she puts things," reviewer Jill Robinson wrote for The Times, in describing "Not Responsible for Personal Articles," the collection of Gould essays published in 1978. "Lois Gould has a sense of humor."

Like Gore Vidal, the reviewer applauded, Gould "moves gracefully and prolifically from fiction to nonfiction, from serious essay to lighter satirical pieces. [This book] is a showcase for her style and her wit ... [including] just simply wonderful, personal, funny riffs on contemporary life in general. 'City Mouse, Country House' is especially good, an almost tender commentary on a peculiarly Eastern custom--this business of having two homes which makes, as Gould describes perfectly, a vacation just a transfer of household responsibilities from one territory to another."

Critics credited Gould for avoiding self-pity and bathos in her most recent work, "Mommy Dressing: A Love Story, After a Fashion," the memoir of glamorous socialite fashion designer Copeland published in 1998. Gould's father left when she was 3, and she and her brother were reared by a mother more interested in gowning and entertaining Joan Crawford than in clothing or talking to her children.

"Gould, who could have taken poison pen in hand, is aware of the flaws beneath her mother's perfect exterior. But she chooses humor, understanding and pride over bitterness," wrote The Times' Mimi Avins in reviewing the book. "Clothes, she realizes, were her mother's shield from unpleasant reality.... As much as she acknowledges her mother's uncommon ability to create a striking facade, she is equally adept at illuminating what lies beneath the surface."

Gould's works earned pans as well as praise.

Reviewing "Medusa's Gift," Gould's 1991 novel about a faded sexpot actress (think Marilyn Monroe) and her archive including sperm from "a president, senator, prince, attorney general, head of M15," Thomas Mallon sniffed for The Times: "If this really is a novel about the perilous worship of fame, Lois Gould should count herself among the victims."

And in reviewing Gould's 1981 novel alluding to Argentina's Eva Peron, "La Presidenta," the late Ellen Torgerson Shaw wrote scathingly for The Times: "In a word, we have here a real, genuine bomba."

Gould, who also wrote allegorical novels such as "A Sea-Change" in 1976 and "X: A Fabulous Child's Story," wrote for the now-defunct Star-Journal on New York's Long Island and wrote the first and subsequent "Hers" columns for the New York Times.

She was also an editor on several national magazines and served as executive editor of Ladies Home Journal.

Twice widowed, Gould is survived by one son, Anthony Gould of Manhattan, and her brother, Anthony Regensburg of Camden, Maine, and Boca Raton, Fla. Her other son, Roger, died of leukemia one month before his mother.

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