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OBITUARIES | Irv Letofsky, 1931 - 2007

Times editor put edge in movie news

December 29, 2007|Dennis McLellan | Times Staff Writer

Irv Letofsky, a former editor of The Times' Sunday Calendar section whose leadership during the 1980s fostered a harder-edged approach to reporting on Hollywood, died Sunday. He was 76.

Letofsky, who more recently was a television critic for the Hollywood Reporter, died of liver cancer at his home in Los Angeles, said his wife, Brian Ann.

In a journalism career that began in North Dakota in the 1950s, Letofsky joined The Times in 1976 as assistant arts editor. In 1980, he became editor of Sunday Calendar.

"Stars and filmmaking made a lot of money, and Irv felt they were fair game for serious scrutiny," said Pat Broeske, a former Times staff writer for Calendar. "He kind of did for Hollywood what the Washington Post did for politics and the Detroit papers did for the automotive industry."

Former staff writer Bill Knoedelseder recalled that "when Irv took over as Sunday Calendar editor, there was a staff of very good critics, but there was no reporting staff. So he cobbled together an adjunct staff of young eager journalists" to cover the entertainment scene more aggressively.

"Prior to that, if you opened Calendar you got feature articles about what was being put forward for [entertainment] consumption that week, and Irv kind of pushed everyone to take a look at how Hollywood really operated and to break stories that didn't appear anywhere else," Knoedelseder said.

For example, he said, as a result of Letofsky's transforming Calendar "it was the first time anyone ever read about Hollywood's byzantine accounting practices. . . . It took on a harder edge, and it told stories that Hollywood movers and shakers didn't want told, which was a huge difference."

After leaving The Times in 1991, Letofsky worked for a number of months at Fox Television, where he was managing editor of Fox Entertainment News and its nationally syndicated entertainment news show "E.D.J." ("Entertainment Daily Journal").

Knoedelseder, who was executive producer of Fox Entertainment News and the short-lived "E.D.J.," said, "I hired my old boss because I thought he was the best idea man in the business."

After the program ended, Letofsky went to work at the Hollywood Reporter, where he wrote television reviews. He wrote his last TV review in July from his hospital bed, his wife said.

Letofsky was also an executive producer of "All the Presidents' Movies," a three-hour documentary that aired on the Bravo network in 2003 about White House movie-viewing habits over the years.

Letofsky was born in Fargo, N.D., on April 26, 1931. He attended Yankton College in South Dakota and North Dakota State University before graduating from the University of North Dakota with a bachelor's degree in journalism in 1954.

He launched his journalism career as a sportswriter for two small North Dakota newspapers and served a two-year stint in the Army stationed in Panama.

In 1956, he became sports editor of the Bismarck Tribune. He was a reporter for the St. Paul (Minn.) Pioneer Press from 1957 to 1963. And from then until joining The Times in 1976, he was assistant city editor, special writer, reporter and film critic for the Minneapolis Tribune.

While living in Minneapolis, Letofsky co-founded Brave New Workshop, a satirical theater for which he was a director and a writer from 1961 to 1969. He was also co-producer of Sweetness & Light, satirical theaters in Omaha and Denver.

In addition to his wife of 29 years, Letofsky is survived by his children, Laurie, Cara, P.J. and Polly; his brothers, Dave and Larry; and two grandchildren. His mother, Jennie, died at 105 on Wednesday, three days after her son's death.

Instead of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Lupus LA, 9220 Sunset Blvd., Suite 200, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

A memorial service for Letofsky was held Friday.

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dennis.mclellan@latimes.com

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