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OTIS CHANDLER | 1927-2006

A Lion of Journalism

February 28, 2006|David Shaw and Mitchell Landsberg | Times Staff Writers

In the midst of a horseback riding lesson, he was thrown hard to the ground. His mother scooped him up and rushed to the hospital, steering the car with one hand and holding his hand with the other, frantically searching for a pulse.

When doctors said Otis was dead, Mrs. Chandler wailed, "My son is not dead!" She picked him up and raced to another hospital, screaming all the way there, "Otis is alive, Otis is alive!"

On arrival, she encountered a doctor she knew, and he revived the boy with a shot of adrenaline in the heart.

Recovery was slow but complete, and it was during that period of recuperation, Chandler said many years later, that he "did a lot of thinking and somehow developed my competitiveness."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday March 02, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 55 words Type of Material: Correction
Otis Chandler -- In Tuesday's Section A, a caption that ran with the obituary of Otis Chandler identified a photo as having been taken in 1959, a year before he was named publisher of The Times. The photo, which showed Chandler in front of a blackboard in his office, was taken after he became publisher.

When he was a little older he set up his own backyard basketball backboard and high-jump pit, and practiced both sports, by himself, hour after hour. He also began to develop a love of speed and once had to do a stint in traffic school after getting a speeding ticket on his bicycle, he said.

Chandler started prep school at Cate, in Carpinteria, but his parents thought he'd find a greater challenge and broader perspective back East, so after a year they transferred him to Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.

He was initially miserable; the other students all seemed richer, better-educated and more sophisticated. Southern California was considered a cultural backwater, and despite his family's vast wealth and power, Chandler felt like a hick.

"Nobody had ever heard of the Chandlers," he said later. "I was strictly a tall, skinny blond kid from California."

He was skinny all right -- 6 feet 1, 155 pounds -- but he played varsity soccer and basketball, high-jumped and ran the mile, and his successes gave him an identity.

Still, he wanted to be bigger and stronger, so shortly after graduation, he took up weightlifting. By the time he enrolled at Stanford University in 1946, he weighed about 200 pounds.

His Stanford roommate, Norman Nourse, suggested that he try the shotput -- heaving a 16-pound iron ball. Chandler immediately excelled, breaking the school freshman record by putting the shot 48 feet, 7 1/4 inches.

Bulked up to 6 feet 3, 220 pounds as a senior in 1950, when he was captain of the track team, he put the shot 57 feet, 3/4 of an inch, to win the Pacific Coast Conference championship.

His Biggest Disappointment

Two years later, he was considered a cinch to be one of three shotputters on the U.S. team for the Olympic Games in Helsinki, but he sprained his wrist before the tryouts and had to pull out -- "the biggest disappointment of my life," he recalled almost 50 years later.

Chandler liked the shotput and weightlifting, he once said, because they were individual sports, and he could be judged on his own merits.

"I liked to make it on my own in whatever I accomplished," he told an interviewer. "No one could say that the team carried me or that the coach put me in because my name was Chandler."

He was, in general, something of a loner, a trait he traced partly to "spending my young years on that ranch in Sierra Madre, a little remote, rather than on a neighborhood street with a lot of kids." Asked repeatedly in one interview to name his best childhood friends, he came up blank.

Many people found him a bit distant -- cool, controlled, difficult to know well -- and these qualities became more pronounced as he matured and increasingly tried to escape the burden of being a Chandler.

After graduating from Stanford, he tried to enroll in an Air Force training program. He was turned down because he was 17 pounds heavier than the maximum allowed for jet pilots, so he starved himself and quickly lost the weight. He was rejected anyway; his shoulders and hips were still too big to fit into the cockpit of a jet.

He spent 1951 to 1953 on the ground in the Air Force, supervising sports and acting as co-captain of the Air Force track team at Camp Stoneman in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Growing up, Chandler had often said he'd like to be a doctor, although he later conceded, "I was never an outstanding scholar." When he left the Air Force in 1953, he had no clear sense of what he wanted to do with his life.

He had married his college sweetheart, Marilyn Brant -- having proposed to her on his 23rd birthday on the seventh hole of the Pebble Beach golf course -- and they had a baby boy (Norman, after Otis' father) but no plans and no substantial income. Like his father, who had also been kept on tight purse strings by his father, Otis often split the bill with his fiancee or let her pick up the tab when they dated.

The Times, he would later say, was very much in his blood even then.

As a boy of 5 or 6, he had frequently accompanied his father to the office and slid down the chutes that were used to drop papers from the pressroom to the delivery trucks.

In college, he had sometimes worked summers at the paper, most often using his physical strength to move printing plates and other heavy items and equipment.

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