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Obituaries

Marcia Israel-Curley, 83; Judy's Boutique Owner, Benefactor

August 20, 2004|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Marcia Israel-Curley, who built Judy's, the young women's specialty boutique, from a closet-size shop in East Los Angeles to a major West Coast retail chain, died Tuesday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center after suffering a stroke, according to Judith Krain, her personal assistant. She was 83.

A philanthropist with wide-ranging interests, Israel-Curley was a founder of the Los Angeles Music Center and also funded several local theater groups, as well as treatment centers that bear her name at Cedars-Sinai.

Born Marcia Satz and raised on a dairy farm in Sullivan County, N.Y., she and her sisters and mother lost the family farm during the Depression after her father abandoned the family.

The Satz women moved to New York's Lower East Side, where they all worked to help pay the rent.

After high school, she took a job as a model and bookkeeper for a New York dress manufacturer.

Several years later, she moved to Los Angeles and, in 1946, opened her first Judy's store in a 7-by-12-foot space.

She married Lawrence Israel, an aeronautics engineer, in 1947, and soon afterward he got involved in the business as well. They had two daughters.

Through the 1950s, when there were few working mothers, Israel-Curley kept her role as president of Judy's quiet.

She told the Boston Globe in 2002 that her friends "knew I had a part in Judy's, but they had no idea how much of a part.

"That was fine with me," she said, "because it made my marriage look better."

In 1964, she was named a Los Angeles Times Woman of the Year. By then, she was the head of a 14-store enterprise. Eventually, the number grew to 104.

Judy's was among the first boutiques geared to younger women, and became known for trend-setting styles inspired by the latest from Europe, New York and Hollywood.

Most of the merchandise was exclusive to Judy's stores, including a number of items that Israel-Curley designed and others that she commissioned.

As she grew in social prominence, Israel-Curley was appointed by President Reagan as chairwoman of the Advisory Committee on Small and Minority Business Ownership, which she led for six years.

She also served for seven years as an advisor on the board of directors of the Navy Exchange Service Command, a U.S. Navy retail operation.

After she sold her business in 1989, Israel-Curley wrote a book about her adventures in retail: "Defying the Odds: Sharing the Lessons I Learned as a Pioneer Entrepreneur," published in 2002.

Judy's stores were absorbed by another young-fashion chain in the 1990s.

After her first husband died in 1991, she married actor James Curley, who survives her, as do her daughters and two grandchildren.

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