This selection is anecdotal rather than comprehensive. No conclusions should be drawn by who is or isn’t included. The list will be updated as the paper gets reliable information from or about expatriates.
Jay Levin, publisher 1978 to 1983; editor in chief 1978 to 1988. The paper’s founding editor and publisher created the Weekly out of moxie, journalistic ambition and cultural ferment — helping establish what alternative journalism meant in Los Angeles. In his era, that meant dogging Reagan and Bush Sr. from the left, exposing slumlords, reporting on wrongdoings in Central America, and documenting and spurring a hot local music and club scene, among other things. Levin gradually separated from the paper, giving up in succession his roles as publisher, editor and board member and part owner. His plan to inaugurate alternative television programming, a post-Weekly project that may have been ahead of its time, never fully materialized. His other endeavors have included media consulting, running spirituality and psychology programs, and starting Share With the Other L.A., an organization to educate the public about poverty in L.A.
Kit Rachlis, editor in chief 1988 to 1993. Rachlis left his job as executive editor with the Village Voice to head the Weekly. He continued the process of professionalizing the maturing paper, and he brought in well-known cultural and political voices, including Harold Meyerson, Tom Carson, Steve Erickson, Judith Lewis, RJ Smith and Sue Cummings. His era, which ended with him getting fired, was marked by the rise of locally based columnists who became the paper’s must-read voices. “On the surface, my firing was about publisher Mike Sigman having a different vision of the Weekly than I did,” said Rachlis. “In Mike’s words, I had made the Weekly ‘too serious and too intellectual.’ But my firing was actually about something more basic and more mundane: power. Who would shape the direction of the Weekly? Mike or me? Who would have the authority to hire and fire the editorial staff? Mike or me? And like most struggles of power, this one was both principled and petty. I suspect both of us, in retrospect, would like to have handled the situation better. But I also think the firing was inevitable — a question of when, not if.” Several writers resigned in protest: Carson, Erickson, Michael Ventura, Ruben Martinez (who was leaving anyway), John Powers and Ella Taylor. Powers and Taylor have since returned. Rachlis went on to become a top editor at the Los Angeles Times before accepting his current job as editor in chief of Los Angeles magazine.
Sue Horton, editor in chief 1994 to 2000. Before she came to the Weekly, Horton wrote a book about the murderous Billionaire Boys Club and taught investigative reporting at USC. She brought these writing and news instincts to the paper, where she bumped up breaking-news coverage, local news analysis and pursued investigative pieces. She hired experienced reporters who came to the Weekly to do more things and better things than they could at the dailies. In this regime, a job at the paper was no longer a starter job, but a destination post for writers she groomed or stole away. Some holdovers complained that the paper was becoming too mature, too professional, too linked to the traditional Democratic Party left wing, not edgy or young enough. Sports coverage was phased out; some columnists were supplanted by reporters. The editorial endorsements became more interesting and more necessary, a good read as well as the best prognosis on which politicians were most likely to make the world a more progressive place. With political editor Harold Meyerson, she brashly turned the paper into a daily during the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles. She left to pursue a fellowship and a slower pace, and later accepted the position of Sunday Opinion editor at the L.A. Times, where she is today.
Michael Sigman, publisher then CEO 1984 to 2002 (with one-year hiatus). Helped organize the business side of the paper, ever a steadying influence. Regards his contribution as “changing the culture of the paper, person by person, from a horribly dysfunctional one into one where employees by and large felt appreciated and inspired to do their best work, while still maintaining the atmosphere of an alternative paper.” Sigman was not well-loved when he fired editor Kit Rachlis in 1993. Sigman said he felt the paper had become too intellectualized and humorless, and also said he wished he’d better handled the tiff between him and Rachlis. By the time Sigman himself got tossed overboard, some nine years after, a later generation of staffers appreciated how Sigman insulated them from advertising pressures and protected editorial independence. He ran a shop that trusted his intent to create a place where people would want to spend their entire careers. To the paper’s investors, such sentiments probably sounded like a recipe for editorial moldiness, entrepreneurial complacency and lower profit potential. Sigman now runs what he describes as a “small but mighty” music-publishing company called Major Songs, which features standards by his famous songwriter father, Carl Sigman, and new works by up-and-comers.
Writers and Editors
Donnell Alexander, staff writer, 1994 to 1998. Wrote a compelling 1997 cover story about his deadbeat, drug-dealing dad. He later expanded the story into the book Ghetto Celebrity, which also documents his own journey through journalism, drugs, sex and infidelity. Reviewers have called the book both painfully revealing and slyly concealing. Stylistically it’s a mix of the traditional prose and rap-speak that used to drive some of his Weekly editors bananas. He felt that his writing voice was getting unfairly trampled and left the paper. Alexander later worked as a staff writer at ESPN’s magazine and as a senior producer at MediaChannel.org. “Village Voice Media has pointedly ignored [Ghetto Celebrity] because GC calls bullshit on their product, specifically L.A. Weekly,” Alexander wrote in a recent Web posting. “I can’t prove collusion, but it does seem odd to me that a young, left-leaning writer of color — someone who would ordinarily score top-notch reviews presenting even mediocre product — can’t get a review in any of the company’s 300 or so ‘alternative’ newspapers. Village Voice . . . has provided an object lesson in why mediocre leftism is dead as fuck. Blame them for Bush being president and [Green Party candidate] Peter Camejo languishing in October’s California polls.”
Ann Louise Bardach. Listed on the masthead in 1984 as the Weekly’s crime reporter, Bardach was formerly a contributing writer for Vanity Fair and is widely regarded as the foremost journalist writing about Cuba and U.S. policy toward Cuba. Just out is the paperback version of Cuba Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana. Christopher Hitchens commented: “If our political establishment knew a tenth as much about Cuba, or cared half as much about it, as does Ann Louise Bardach, both the United States and Cuba would be more open societies.” She currently writes for Newsweek International and is a commentator for Public Radio's Marketplace.
Arion Berger. A Weekly stalwart from 1987 (beginning as an intern) through 1996, who periodically reinvented her role: proofreader, special issues editor, acting music editor, film critic, music critic, TV critic and restaurant critic. Also wrote about fashion, dance and did book reviews. Later moved to D.C. and took her versatility to the Washington City Paper and to other publications as a freelancer. Also an adjunct English professor at Georgetown University (1997 to 2003). In June 2003, she became arts and entertainment editor at Express, a commuter paper published by the Washington Post. “I was there during the dirty years,” she said of the Weekly. “You want to hear cute stories about meeting at the heroin cooler, and how the nice couple who now has three kids met during a three-way at the infamous Guns N’ Roses Halloween party? I had actually met [future husband] Tom [Carson] about nine months before he started working at the Weekly, and we didn’t much like each other. But when I was a proofreader I used to save his pieces for last because they were my treat of the day. I loved his writing so much. We met on Halloween night 1988, and married five weeks later in Vegas, December 3 . . . We celebrated our 15th anniversary last week.” Four cats, no kids.
Shonda Buchanan. Buchanan started as an intern in 1992, then freelanced for some nine years for the Weekly and other publications. Her poetry has appeared in several published anthologies. She is seeking a publisher for longer-form works, including novels and memoirs. Is currently a teaching fellow at Loyola Marymount; also a Sundance Institute writing fellow.
Tom Carson, staff writer from 1988 to 1993; started as freelancer in 1985. Wrote TV column, reviewed movies and books, reported on 1992 Republican Convention, wrote cover story on Disneyland. Resigned when editor in chief Kit Rachlis was fired. Carson later became a staff writer at The Village Voice and is now a columnist at Esquire. Recalls that his office at the Weekly was “the smoking room.” “I sat next to Kateri Butler. And I outsmoked her. It was like London in November.” Published novel Gilligan’s Wake in January 2003. Paperback version due out in February.
Rick Cole. He met L.A. Weekly founding editor Jay Levin in 1978, before the paper debuted, just as he was going off to the Columbia School of Journalism. After his return, he became a contributing editor (1979 to 1980). Says his favorite stories included a cover piece on Warren Olney as the last honest guy in television. Too honest, perhaps, given Olney’s switch to radio. Cole also wrote a cover story on the battle for the soul of his hometown, Pasadena. “That led to me starting the Pasadena Weekly and then going on to be mayor of Pasadena,” he said. Of his mayoral years, he’s especially proud of his role in the revitalization of Pasadena’s Old Town. For the past five years, he’s been city manager for Azusa, “an older suburb,” he said, “that’s becoming a model of revitalization.”
Steve Coll. A contributing writer from 1982 to 1984, who says that he got an essential education in journalism basics at the L.A. Weekly. He went on to become a top reporter and managing editor at the Washington Post, where he won the 1990 Pulitzer Prize (with David A. Vise) for explanatory journalism. His books include The Deal of the Century: The Breakup of AT&T (1986) and On the Grand Trunk Road: A Journey Into South Asia (1993). He grew up in suburban Maryland, but graduated from Occidental College in Los Angeles, which put him in the Weekly’s readership orbit, and led him to pitch freelance pieces that were more interesting than the fluff he wrote for a Hollywood trade magazine. “I was a general-assignment freelancer,” he recalled. “I did a bewildering number of stories . . . Covered a strike by the Writers Guild, Hollywood labor stuff, quasi-investigative property stuff, real-estate-scam stuff.” He worked with news editor Phil Tracy. “I would just go into Phil’s office, which was famously cluttered. I was very young and he conformed to my idea of what a hard-bitten Weekly editor should look like. He had a sloppy and authoritative demeanor and was always talking about scams and scandals. Things that wouldn’t smell right. I was just learning. And Phil was part of that education.” One thing he learned: “It takes a long time to get to the bottom of the story.” Which made for a discouraging lesson in freelance economics: At $200 for a cover story, Coll points out, enthusiasm dwindles.
Sue Cummings, music editor, 1992 to 1996. Activities since include editing a dot-com radio news service, freelancing for The New York Times and The Village Voice, and writing a column for Time Out New York. Also studied fiction writing, poetry, horticulture and Zen. Spends time restoring her 1927 Queens townhouse to “Italianate splendor.” Currently working in L.A. as paralegal. Fave new group: Mr. Airplane Man.
Manohla Dargis. The Weekly’s film editor and critic from 1994 to 2002, now a film critic for the Los Angeles Times: “Hands-down, building a kick-ass film section was my greatest achievement at the Weekly. I started to become a real writer at the Weekly — mostly due to my great editor, Judith Lewis — but it was my film section that I’m most proud of. I regret that I didn’t manage to run more film covers, but, then, that wasn’t my call alone.”
Joie Davidow. A founding editor of the L.A. Weekly, credited with inaugurating the paper’s Calendar section and writing a style column. As someone put it: If Jay Levin was the Weekly’s dad, she was the Weekly’s mom. In fact, Mom and Dad were a couple for a time. In 1985, she founded L.A. Style magazine, a spinoff of the Weekly. In the mid-1990s, she started Sí, a lifestyle publication in English targeting the Latino market. On the Weekly’s board of directors as recently as 1995. Wrote Infusions of Healing, A Treasury of Mexican-American Herbal Remedies (1999) and a memoir, Marked for Life (2003), which is now in bookstores. Currently in Rome, which is serving as inspiration for her novel-writing project.
David Davis. At the Weekly from 1986 to 1997 as managing editor, sportswriter–sports editor and features writer. Memorable stories include a bittersweet late-in-life profile of boxer Jerry Quarry and a probing look at a growth hormone he and others received as a child — a hormone linked to cases of the fatal human form of mad cow disease. At the Weekly, after a change in editorial regimes, Davis, a skilled sports analyst and commentator, found himself at a paper that had lost interest in sports coverage. Still lives in L.A. and writes about sports as a contributor for Los Angeles magazine and other publications. Will curate a sports photography show for the L.A. Library in 2004.
Mike Davis. The dark prophet and interpreter of Los Angeles, whether living in L.A., Canada, Hawaii or his current San Diego address. For Davis, the Weekly was not a youthful pit stop but rather a journalistic, shorter-form outlet for his already mature ideas. His first piece appeared in about 1989, and he continued to contribute periodically until 1996. Notable articles include his cover story “Let Malibu Burn” with Greg Goldin. Davis has been criticized for getting a few of his facts wrong in his widely read books City of Quartz and Ecology of Fear, but he makes sense of Los Angeles as no other writer-historian has, recognizing big themes and conducting truly original research and analysis. In an interview, he said his greatest accomplishment was editing the Haymarket series for Verso Books: “commissioning books from Lynell George, Ruben Martinez and Ralph Rugoff” — all from the Weekly extended family. “I am currently living in San Diego (with two new babies), teaching at UC Irvine, and have just published the first of a series of ‘science adventures’ for teenagers and young adults (Land of the Lost Mammoths, from Perceval Press) as well as a co-authored profile of wealth, power and resistance in San Diego (Under the Perfect Sun, from New Press).”
Janet Duckworth. A features editor starting in the latter 1990s, Duckworth commented that her “seminal work at the Weekly was actually my wonderful writers’ seminal work and the work of the Weekly’s wonderful copy editors and proofreaders . . . I had a total blast for six years.” She’s now a features editor at the Los Angeles Times.
Steve Erickson. Widely regarded as a definitive Los Angeles voice in fiction, Erickson had the unusual experience of being the subject of a Weekly cover story and then later getting hired by the paper. From 1989 to 1993, he was arts editor and film editor, and also wrote about culture, politics and film. Fondly recalls covers stories on Philip K. Dick, post-communist Berlin and the inauguration of Bill Clinton. His pre- and post-Weekly novels include Rubicon Beach, Amnesiascope and The Sea Came in at Midnight. Our Ecstatic Days will be published by Simon & Schuster in January 2005. He’s also published a book about American politics and culture, American Nomad (1997). Currently works as film critic for Los Angeles magazine and edits Black Clock, a national literary journal (based at CalArts — where he teaches writing), which will debut in March.
Janet Fitch. A Weekly typesetter in its early days, she’s seen her second novel, White Oleander, become a hot topic and a best-seller, and, in 2002, a movie. “I was a typesetter for the Weekly in 1980 when it was still at Sunset and Western,” she said recently. “It was a good job — supported my fiction habit. I worked afternoons at first, and moved to the night shift, 9 to 3 in the morning. Typesetting was great, creative; you worked sitting down, and you got to read the articles first, like Mikal Gilmore and the Rockie Horoscope. The type room was the only place in the building that was air-conditioned (because of the equipment), so people came in and hung out. At the time, the neighborhood was hooker heaven, and I thought I was pretty tough in my punk haircut my mother called The Papillon (after Steve McQueen, not the butterfly). But one hot summer night I was waiting for the security gate to open when some hooker thrust her head right into my rolled-down window. ‘Wanna date?’ she said. It took her a moment to get that I was a girl. She took it surprisingly personally. I realized I wasn’t so tough when she started kicking my car. Bizarre stuff was always happening there. I tried to sell the Weekly some stories, but they would never let me write for them. I was production, not editorial. Production didn’t cross the line.”
Lynell George. Weekly intern in 1987; staff writer from about 1989 to 1993. Noted work included two series: “Sometimes a Light Surprises: The Life of a Black Church” and “Set This Tangle Straight,” a look at black independent schools, as well as her profile of Creole Los Angeles. Now a staff writer at Los Angeles Times, she’s also contributed to several published anthologies.
Mikal Gilmore. A renowned writer on music and the culture of music who was the Weekly’s music editor in the early 1980s, Gilmore is also the youngest brother of Gary Gilmore, the convicted murderer who famously sanctioned his own speedy execution. Gilmore confronted his family skeletons in his book Shot in the Heart (1994), later made into an HBO film in 2001. “For several years before Gary’s execution, I had tried to put myself at a distance from my family,” he said in a past published interview. “I felt they were a bad-luck outfit and that my only hope of escape was to reject them. That worked for a while. But families have a way of catching up with us.” His highly regarded Night Beat: A Shadow History of Rock and Roll covers four decades of American life and music, based on his passion for same as a rock-music critic in Rolling Stone and elsewhere.
Marc B. Haefele. A Weekly contributor in the ’80s and City Hall staff reporter from 1996 to 2002. Left the paper after a dispute with editors over whether they had the right to assign him a column topic — not the point of view, just the topic. He is now the city editor of the L.A. Alternative Press and provides radio commentary on KPCC, where he’s introduced as “the dean of City Hall reporters,” a sobriquet few would challenge.
Lonnée Hamilton. Part of the Weekly universe as copy editor, assistant manager in proofreading and writer during latter 1980s through 1991. Wrote about Generation X and interviewed Jean-Bertrand Aristide before his rise to power in Haiti. Post-Weekly, got master’s in dramatic writing at NYU and worked as a copy editor at The Village Voice. Now an administrator at a South Pasadena elementary school with a special focus on arts education. Married to Tony Palazzo, whom she met while at the Weekly. Two kids; two dogs.
Sandra Hernandez. A staff writer from about 1994 through 1999, she devoted particular attention to issues of immigration and immigrants. Afterward, she covered politics in Venezuela for the Associated Press, and also freelanced for U.S. publications in Columbia and Venezuela. Currently a staff writer with the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida on the race and demographics team.
Pamela Klein. During her long tenure as research editor and intern-program director, Klein, a onetime intern herself, assembled a monster assembly line that trained an army of future journalists. For the most part, interns did fact-checking and freelance writing. These days, fact-checking roles have mostly passed on to paid employees. Klein combined a corporate 9-to-5 efficiency with a militant fanaticism for getting every fact right. She also threw into the mix her culturally libertine sensibilities and a love of bakelite jewelry. In 2001, she decamped with her professor husband and young daughter to the Virgin Islands. She’s finishing a novel and is soon headed off to meditate with a mystic in Chile’s Andes Mountains. The mystic thinks she had a past life as a black woman.
Helen Knode. At the Weekly from 1985 to 1991 as film and theater critic, film editor, features writer and columnist. Recently published first novel, The Ticket Out, a crime story about women in Hollywood, and she’s hacking away at the sequel. Married to novelist James Ellroy.
Laureen Lazarovici. Spent five and a half years at the Weekly, mostly as a City Hall reporter. At the end of 1994, she became a California Journal staff writer and then went on to an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellowship in Washington, D.C. She covered Capitol Hill for a year and a half for Education Daily and is currently assistant editor at the AFL-CIO publications department.
Robert Lloyd. More evidence that even though you don’t need to have a band to work at the Weekly, it doesn’t hurt. Lloyd’s band played at the Weekly’s fifth-anniversary party, and, with a different band, he played at the paper’s recent 25th-anniversary bash too. Started at the Weekly as a typographer just before the paper’s first anniversary. Later served as music editor, TV writer and all-purpose columnist. Remembered also for The Critical List columns. Now a TV writer for the Los Angeles Times.
Rian Malan. Worked at the Weekly from about 1979 through 1981, serving as contributing editor, music editor and news editor. Cover stories included one on the anti-draft movement in L.A., a piece on Runyon Canyon, and an article titled “The Night They Rounded Up the Hustlers on Santa Monica Boulevard,” co-written with Vyto Pluira. Malan is best-known for his book My Traitor’s Heart: A South African Exile Returns To Face His Country, His Tribe, and His Conscience (1991). The book is regularly cited as one of the finest prose meditations from a native, white South African on his personal and his country’s struggles with apartheid. In 2001, Malan wrote a lengthy, provocative feature for Rolling Stone on the AIDS crisis in Africa. In it, he challenged the death rates claimed by AIDS activists.
Ruben Martinez. Started freelancing in 1986; hired on as staff writer a year later and served as news editor from 1991 to 1993. A first-generation American of parents from Mexico and El Salvador, he describes himself as a poet and activist prior to landing at the Weekly. “I caught the tale end of the first generation of the Weekly,” said Martinez. “There were still condoms and syringes in the bathroom. We used to have a lot of beer the night we put the paper to the bed on Wednesday . . . I was a college dropout, so the Weekly was like my university.” His pieces ranged wide, but he especially recalls his exposé on L.A.’s Catholic Church with Ron Curran and Mike Davis. Post-Weekly, he hosted Life and Times on KCET-TV, then moved to Mexico City to write and research. Also did a stint as a Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Design School. His books include Crossing Over: A Mexican Family on the Migrant Trail (2001). He currently teaches creative writing at the University of Houston. His fourth book, The New Americans, due out in March, is a series of essays about globalization and migration.
James “Big Boy” Medlin. A Texan, Medlin got the name Big Boy because he was small compared to his enormous 6-foot-6 brothers. Of course, he isn’t exactly tiny at 6-foot-1 and 200-some pounds. He used the name journalistically because the byline worked with his gonzo-style column Why Not? “I was mostly writing about where I was drinking,” said Medlin. “It was a first-person, ’70s, out-of-it feel of expanded, heightened reality — through whatever you were ingesting at the time.” A wounded Vietnam vet who drove a shuttle bus before trying writing, Medlin was in the group of Texas writers (including Michael Ventura and Ginger Varney) brought in by Jay Levin to write for Larry Flynt’s fledgling Free Press, which then had aspirations of being the West Coast Rolling Stone. “In my first column I went to the Super Bowl in New Orleans. It was probably the only story written about the Super Bowl [in which] the winner was not mentioned. I barely made it to the game.” When Flynt got shot, they we were all of a sudden out of work.” But then Levin gathered investors to start the Weekly. Medlin left after a few years, then returned for a while in the early ’90s. He made various stabs at the movie industry, scoring big as co-screenwriter of Roadie (1980), which he wrote with Ventura. (The Travis Redfish character played by Meat Loaf in the movie was Medlin’s fictional alter ego from his Why Not? column.) Seventeen years ago, he got in on the start of Movietime, which became E! Entertainment. He’s now editorial director. “Whatever you worked on was immediately on air,” he said. “I was the line producer during the O.J. Simpson trial. I had to watch every minute of that trial. I drank a lot of coffee that year. What really got me excited is the true Hollywood stories and mysteries and scandals.”
Marie Moneysmith. Wrote the Weekly’s first cover story on female standup comics. As a freelance writer, she specializes in alternative health, and also writes advertising copy for movies. Did six years of freelancing for People magazine in Los Angeles.
Gloria Ohland. Started at the Weekly in 1980, going from copy editor to news editor to senior editor, writing the style column as well as features. She also started the Local Heroes column. Left the Weekly in 1996 to work for nonprofit Surface Transportation Policy Project, the nation’s leading transportation-policy reform organization. In 2000, she became senior editor at Reconnecting America, an urban-policy think tank. She co-edited the book The New Transit Town: Best Practices in Transit-Oriented Development, which is coming out this month. She’s married to Weekly art director John Curry, who himself returned to the Weekly after a long absence. And yes, Curry, like so many others is also noted for his local band, the Fly Boys.
Tony Palazzo. Started as an intern in late ’80s; became staff proofreader and writer until about 1991, covering immigrant issues, including a trip to Nicaragua to cover elections there. Went to Columbia School of Journalism. Later reported for The Record in New Jersey, and freelanced for The Village Voice and spent seven years at Dow Jones, among other stops. He is currently the assistant managing editor at the Los Angeles Business Journal. Met his wife at the Weekly. She also worked in proofreading.
Carolyn Reuben. Health columnist, 1981 to 1991. Columns included a two-parter on the birth of her daughter. That same child was just voted Homecoming Queen at Mira Loma High School in Sacramento and is student-body V.P. “I am proud of the fact so many articles were published ahead of the subjects’ exposure in the ‘other’ press,” she said, “subjects like indoor pollution, the nutritional connection to back pain and to postpartum depression — which has actually not been revealed in the conventional press.” Reuben, an acupuncturist, is president of Community Addiction Recovery Center and also owns the Allergy Elimination Clinic. Books include Essential Supplements for Women (1987) and Cleansing the Body, Mind and Spirit (1998). She’s currently developing a drug-treatment program that uses animo acids, nutrition education, food, acupuncture, “Emotional Freedom Technique,” yoga, qi gong and “prioritizing training.” She says, “The best high is seeing people turn their lives around and feel well in the process.”
Ralph Rugoff. Wrote a column focusing on art and cultural criticism and freelance articles from about 1986 to 2001. His art- and culture-related books include Circus Americanus (1997), a collection of essays, and At the Threshold of the Visible: Minuscule and Small-Scale Art 1964–1996, co-authored with Susan Stewart. He directs the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in San Francisco.
RJ Smith. Weekly writer and editor, 1990 to 1996. Takes most pride in the paper’s ensemble coverage of the 1992 riots after a jury acquitted the officers who beat Rodney King. After leaving the paper, he became a visiting scholar at the Getty Research Institute. He is writing a book on African-American Los Angeles in the 1940s, and is also senior editor and media critic at Los Angeles magazine.
Anne Thompson. Wrote Weekly column, largely on the business of Hollywood, for seven years, ending in 1993. A native New Yorker, she’d been mostly on the PR end of the industry until starting her column. “It was a business approach to writing behind the scenes,” said Thompson. “I had fun going to Cuba and covering the Havana Film Festival in 1987. I saw Fidel Castro hobnobbing with the Hollywood lefties. I also chronicled the rise of Sundance as a powerful source in independent film.” At the paper, “my editor was Ron Stringer. I adored him. I was previously edited by John Powers, Ella Taylor, Tom Carson — who were all happy to pass me back to Ron Stringer. He was the only one who could handle me . . . It was a wonderful time because I was able to choose what I wrote about. It was possible to go out and explore things without having to worry about whether they were entertaining or celebrity-oriented or consumer-friendly. It was a question of exploring what was going on and sharing it with my readership.” After the Weekly she was a writer and/or editor for Entertainment Weekly and Premiere. She’s been a contributing editor for New York magazine for the last year and a half.
Ginger Varney. Part of a group of talented unknowns that Jay Levin imported from Texas to start the paper. Stayed until late 1980s. Did movie reviews for four years, then went to Honduras on the cheap for nine months, filing stories every other week on the Reagan administration’s Central American shenanigans. At one point, she “crossed seven rivers without bridges trying to get to a military installation,” while also smoking two packs a day. Later covered the contras in Washington, D.C., and the 1988 presidential election. Post-Weekly, she returned to Central America in an unsuccessful attempt to write the great American novel. Then tried the import-and-export trade — “folk-art crap,” she says. Also taught English as a Second Language in L.A. and went to Vietnam in the ’90s, trying to open a Mexican restaurant in Hanoi: “It was an adventure.” Fell into current work as private investigator by accident: “A former colleague started working as a P.I. and got me to do a case. It was a fluke.” She now runs Varney Investigations, which takes environmental cases, trademark-infringement matters and does background research. As far as writing goes: “I haven’t written anything except a check since 1990.”
Michael Ventura. A Brooklyn kid who still misses the Brooklyn Bridge, Ventura started writing seriously at 13 but got nothing published till 29. Was working in Texas when Weekly founder Jay Levin brought in him and a handful of Texans to Los Angeles. Ventura stayed aboard for some 15 years, notably as a film reviewer, before starting his trademark Letters at 3 A.M. column, which he described as “about culture, America, the world — any old thing.” He adds: “I liked L.A. It is formless and unpredictable. No one fits in L.A.” Ventura wrote screenplays for Roadie (with James “Big Boy” Medlin, 1980) and Echo Park (1985) and several books, including three novels, The Zoo Where You’re Fed To God, Night Time Losing Time and The Death of Frank Sinatra. “I never had an office nor a desk while at the Weekly,” Ventura says. “I did all my work from home.” Now writes his Letters column every other week for the Austin Chronicle in Texas, and teaches literature at a private high school in the San Fernando Valley. “I ruminate about things,” Ventura says, “and manage to get paid for it.”
So how do you get that journalism career started anyway? The following folk became L.A. Weekly interns. And then . . .
Ben Adair. Acting producer, editor for The Savvy Traveler, produced in Los Angeles by Minnesota Public Radio.
Maggie Bandur. Supervising producer-writer for TV series Malcolm in the Middle.
Maki Becker. Reporter, New York Daily News.
Arion Berger. Arts and entertainment editor at Express, published by the Washington Post. Was also L.A. Weekly writer and editor (read more in Writers and Editors section).
David Bloom. Technician at CNN, freelance writer and now serving with Army reserve in Camp Shelby, Mississippi, scheduled to deploy to Iraq.
Greg Brown. Attorney at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher in L.A.
Jade Chang. Taught English in Japan, did a dot.com for a year, now freelancing.
Sandy Cohen. Features writer, Daily Breeze in Torrance.
Yoji Cole. Los Angeles bureau chief, Diversity magazine.
Sara Clinehens. Became regional youth adviser for the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles; currently in transition.
Sara Dunn. Reporter, most recently for Bay Area Argus. Relocated to East, looking for job.
Aaron Fontana. Music editor, Entertainment Today in Los Angeles. Attending law school at night.
Lynell George. Staff writer at Los Angeles Times; was also L.A. Weekly staff writer (read more in Writers and Editors section).
Michael Gutierrez. Doctoral student in cultural history at Boston University.
Kristin Hohenadel. Paris-based writer on film; recent pieces in Los Angeles Times and The New York Times.
Millay Hyatt. Writing USC dissertation in Berlin, titled “No-where and Now-here: The Utopian and the Political From Hegel to Deleuze.”
Alex Katz. Reporter, Oakland Tribune.
Queena Kim. Reporter, covering home building and toys in L.A. bureau of The Wall Street Journal.
Pamela Klein. Writing novel; living in Virgin Islands. Was research editor at L.A. Weekly (read more in Writers and Editors section).
Timothy Kudo. Became editor in chief of UCLA’s Daily Bruin. Now teaching fifth-grade math in the Bronx.
Christie Lafranchi. Finishing law school at Georgetown.
Mary Melton. Managing editor, Los Angeles magazine.
Eric Mercado. Research editor, Los Angeles magazine.
Amelia Neufeld. USC senior with double major in print journalism and French, features editor, USC’s Daily Trojan.
Laurie Ochoa. Editor in chief, L.A. Weekly. (Memo to all: The intern you abuse today could someday be your boss.)
Antonio Olivo. Labor and transportation writer, Bloomberg News in New York.
Tony Palazzo. Assistant managing editor at the Los Angeles Business Journal; was also L.A. Weekly proofreader and writer (read more in Writers and Editors section).
Dave Perera. Graduating from Columbia’s School of International and Public Affairs. Just landed job with Inside the Pentagon, a weekly dedicated to military procurement and defense policy.
Marcela Rojas. Staff writer, The Journal News in New York.
Jennifer Smith. Town reporter in Long Island for Newsday.
Amy Waldman. New Delhi bureau chief, The New York Times.
Ron Curran, 1960–2003.
Curran once told a friend that he expected to retire broke and wind up in a trailer park — and the thought of it made Curran smile. “And yet, for all that,” wrote San Francisco Bay Guardian editor Tim Redmond in a tribute, “he was endlessly optimistic and entrepreneurial.” Curran made neither the trailer park nor the poor house because he passed away in November from symptoms related to alcoholism. Friends say he never devoted half a thought to his own health. Instead, he threw his whole being into chasing down thieving bureaucrats and other bad guys in suits. He also made time for skewering hypocritical politicians and the corporate media. And then there was his devotion to developing young journalistic talent. He helped give the Weekly a reputation for meaningful and biting coverage of local news from about 1983 to 1993. Then he took his fast living and steely writing to the Bay Guardian. In recent years, he ran a wire service that developed writers and marketed their stories to alternative publications.
Eddie Little, 1954–2003.
There was just no saving Eddie Little, though so many tried, starting with a devoted mother who nurtured him and his writing, even as his abusive schoolteacher father cranked Little’s arms tighter behind his back for stumbling on his multiplication tables. A hustler-addict, the native Angeleno spent most of his adult life in prison or on probation, but rose above it all with a golden period as a writer, before succumbing to declining health and addiction. At the Weekly, Outlaw L.A. chronicled the city’s omnipresent illegal underworld in a column alternately submitted by Little and writer Johnny Angel. Little also penned two rough-hewn, true-crime books based on his life, one of which became a movie. Inside Little’s writing and outside it, separating fact and fiction was perpetually difficult. He wasn’t really a fifth-grade dropout, as he sometimes claimed. Nor was he always clean when he said he was. He was ever more storyteller than journalist. “I hated it when he labeled himself a ‘thug,’ or a ‘punk,’ because I never believed it,” said his mother Gay Lumsden. “I would have agreed to ‘con man’ and ‘junkie’ and ‘outlaw.’” Aspiring writers at a local rehab center would add “mentor” to these labels. A charmer and a good sport, Little decided to help out with the fact-checking of his stories by bringing profile subjects into the paper — just for verification purposes. One tattoo-embossed thug couldn’t have been more polite, and he also seemed very much the hit man that Little had written about.
Jac Zinder, 1961–1994.
Zinder helped make the Weekly’s music coverage matter as a scene-creating writer, DJ and music promoter who drifted eloquently, darkly and whimsically in and out of the paper’s orbit. As friend Jonathan Gold noted, Zinder “gathered much of the music he played at his club from the $2 bins backed up against the henna and the gripe powder.” Zinder, he wrote, drew his club’s following from the “Silver Lake gay performance-art crowd, the backwash of the New Wave and the few grunge kids bold enough to find the barrio bowling alley where the club usually took place.” With his knack for making something of nothing, he moved his Fuzzyland club from place to place, largely by word of mouth, till it found a bowling alley in Highland Park. His eclectic mix was somehow relevant, danceable and surprising — pushing limits and buttons, juxtaposing Beck with Eastern European and Indian pop — making it work almost because he eschewed both popularity and success. He also brought wit and offbeat knowledge to his writing, a rising presence until a drunk driver smashed into his car on Thanksgiving in 1994. The music scene itself declined with his departure. RJ Smith wrote that if you asked Zinder “what the Korean comedian he was urging you to check out was saying, he’d snort and answer, ‘I don’t fuckin’ know!’ But he could give anyone around him, just by talking, a lesson in how to open yourself up to the city. Here was a man for whom the Thai Elvis meant more than the real one, for whom Rudy Ray Moore was a prophet and Harout the deliverer of souls.”
Bob La Brasca, 1943–1992.
La Brasca numbers among the best-liked of those behind the scenes at the Weekly — those whom the public never really knows about. In the mid-’80s, with the Weekly a frequently splendid but notably uneven product, La Brasca was both story doctor and professorial writing tutor. “He was one of the last great line editors,” said early Weekly editor Joie Davidow, “highly respected by the best writers in the business.” La Brasca, Wisconsin-born and educated — the first in his family to go to college — had helped found an alternative weekly in his home state and later served as an editor at High Times. His fans at the Weekly included current editor in chief Laurie Ochoa, who was then an aspiring young writer. Another admirer was Tara Fass: “He had this interesting ability to listen — deeply, deeply listen — and understand a writer’s point of view without needing to agree, without needing to make the writer come over to his point of view.” Fass herself began at the Weekly as a 22-year-old janitor, then later sold ads. She didn’t get to know La Brasca nearly so well until they’d both left the paper. She married him in 1989. As an editor, La Brasca also helped birth L.A. Style and was considering another startup when he was felled by a heart attack.
Craig Lee, 1954–1991.
If you wanted to understand the presence and edginess of the early Weekly on the city’s music and cultural scene, then you could turn to the career of Craig Lee. A writer, critic, producer and musician, Lee was the paper’s music editor for two important years, but also wrote about music for a decade, an alternative-scene player as well as a chronicler of its rise and a tribune of its national importance. A Weekly tribute recalled him as a “Hollywood kid whose office wall bore a movie still of his B-movie actress mother aiming a ray gun.” Though schooled at Interlochen Academy in Michigan and later at CalArts, his real education was the “world of punk bands and dark motives that once was the L.A. punk scene. The environment was one of an outrageous, pre-viral party of innocent decadence, of sex and drugs and rock & roll on a scale that makes today’s Strip rockers look like they’re out on a Sunday-school picnic showing their little tattoos and piercings to everyone in the park.” He co-authored Hardcore California: A History of Punk and New Wave, produced early and important AIDS benefits and an outreach concert to Latinos, and initiated the L.A. Weekly Rock Music Awards. Of his own benefit he wrote, “It looks like a show from my dreams. It’s too bad this dream had to come from a nightmare, but the nightmare will stop as soon as people stop this disease . . . The next time you see some racy girl screaming her lungs out while playing three chords on an out-of-tune guitar, know that I’ll be there in spirit cheering her on.”
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