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Obituaries

Tichi Kassel, 77; Editor of Trade Paper, Founder of Women in Film

March 11, 2004|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Tichi Wilkerson Kassel, former editor and publisher of the Hollywood Reporter and the founding president of Women in Film, died Monday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. She was 77.

Wilkerson Kassel had had Parkinson's disease for 14 years and died of complications from intestinal surgery, according to publicist Chuck Ashman.

She inherited the Reporter in 1962 after the death of her first husband, William Wilkerson, who founded the daily trade publication in 1930. The couple met when her mother was Wilkerson's housekeeper, and married in 1947. The bride was 21 and the groom was in his 60s. It was her first marriage and his sixth.

As the Reporter's editor and publisher, Wilkerson Kassel quickly moved daily coverage in new directions, opening bureaus in New York, Paris and Tokyo and making the television industry a prominent reporting beat. In 1988, she launched an electronic version of the paper, intended primarily to give members of the Hollywood community access to the day's headlines while they traveled.

She was creative in marketing the paper and circulation grew to more than 20,000 before she sold the paper to BPI Communications, according to Robert J. Dowling, who replaced her as editor and publisher in 1988.

From her earliest days at the Reporter, Wilkerson Kassel was infatuated with the movie business and critical of it. "We don't think of ourselves as a gossip sheet but as a service to the industry," she said in an interview with The Times in 1965. Personally, she said, "I love everything about Hollywood. That's my problem." Professionally however, she added, "We can't worry about stepping on people's toes. If you do that, you haven't got a trade paper."

Her sometimes impulsive management style brought mixed results. She was known for giving untested writers their first jobs, but she could be hard on her staff. In one eight-year period during the 1980s, she changed the paper's managing editor seven times.

Tall, statuesque, with dark hair and aristocratic good looks, she became a prominent social figure in the city, envied for the dinner parties she held in the Sunset Boulevard mansion that her first husband built. After his death, she was briefly married to William Miles, a real estate agent. Their marriage ended in divorce before she married Arthur Kassel in 1983.

"Tichi was a grand dame," Charles Champlin, an arts editor and film critic for the Los Angeles Times from 1965 until 1991, said in an interview this week. "She always had Hollywood's best interests at heart. Hollywood as an institution was important to her. She felt that a respectful attention must be paid to it."

For her efforts, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1989. She also wrote several books about her experiences: "The Hollywood Reporter: The Golden Years" (1984) and "Hollywood Legends: The Golden Years of Hollywood" (1988) both with Marcia Borie.

Born Beatrice Noble in Los Angeles, she was raised in Mexico, where she attended high school and college before she returned to Los Angeles.

After she married Wilkerson, she went to work for his newspaper and he taught her the business. As an editor, she organized Women in Film, prompted by a 1973 article in her paper about the scarcity of jobs for women in Hollywood. The article noted that women wrote only 2% of all television series scripts.

Women in Film, which helps newcomers in the business and provides scholarships for film school students, now includes about 10,000 members worldwide.

"Tichi opened doors for so many women," Iris Goodman, president of the organization and a talent agent with International Creative Management, said in an interview this week. "By the time I came into the business I never doubted that I'd succeed, but 30 years ago women did doubt."

In addition to her husband, Wilkerson Kassel is survived by a daughter, Cynthia, and a son, William, from her marriage to Wilkerson; a sister, Gloria O'Connor; and three grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at the Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary, 6001 Centinela Ave, Los Angeles, at noon Friday.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Tichi Wilkerson Kassel Parkinson's Foundation, 1541 Ocean Ave, Suite 300, Santa Monica, CA 90401.

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