me.otis

Otis Chandler took a newspaper that had generated almost as much ridicule as revenue and turned it into one of the nation's best. (Los Angeles Times / October 15, 2014)

Watkins Glen was to be one of the most enjoyable experiences of Chandler's life. He and Thomas finished sixth in a field of 72 cars -- third in their class of 22 -- a remarkable performance for a 50-year-old rookie driver. Chandler was elated; many who knew him well and saw him after that race said they had rarely seen him happier.

It was at Watkins Glen that Chandler got to know Bettina Whitaker, who was an executive at Shakey's International, a sponsor of his Watkins Glen car. Not long after, he left his wife, and three years later -- a year after he moved out of the Times publisher's office -- he and Whitaker, 12 years his junior, were married.

"It wasn't meeting Bettina that did it, even though Missy thinks so," Chandler said many years later, referring to Marilyn Chandler by her nickname. "Missy and I had had a good marriage, but we just weren't getting along anymore in the last 10 years. I was 50, and I didn't want to be unhappy for the rest of my life."

People who knew the Chandlers well say Otis' first wife was enormously competitive. She was athletic, she surfed, she hunted and she was "always vying for equal status -- or greater status -- than Otis," said Howard Gilmore, one of Chandler's longtime hunting companions.

Over time, Chandler and others said, that began to wear on him.

Like many women of her generation, Marilyn Chandler had long put her own career interests on hold to raise their children. But as the children grew up and she had more time available, she embarked on a career of her own -- "she got women's lib" is how Chandler put it -- and that exacerbated tensions between them.

Despite the liberalization of The Times' editorial page under Chandler, he remained moderate, even conservative, on many issues, feminism among them.

One had only to visit the men's room in his car and wildlife museum -- its walls covered with posters of scantily clad women draped over shiny sports cars -- to realize that his ultra-masculinity wasn't limited to guns, barbells, fast cars and motorcycles.

Chandler told his wife he wanted a divorce while the two were on vacation in Montana in 1978. Although the decision stunned her, friends said they had long seen the breakup coming.

Almost 20 years after their divorce, the happily remarried Marilyn Brant DeYoung said she didn't think she'd been competitive with Chandler, "except on the tennis court, where I did get upset when he beat me." She said they had "a wonderful marriage," and he was "an involved father, especially when he was younger, before he was publisher."

Their son Harry concurred, although he also agreed with his mother that most of the family's leisure activities "revolved around what Dad wanted to do" -- camping, water skiing, cliff-jumping, surfing.

By all accounts, the family enjoyed their outdoor experiences together, for Chandler focused on his children as intensely as he did on everything else that mattered in his life.

"When he was with you, he was really with you," Harry said.

Many Chandler associates said his marriage's breakup and the end of his publishership were inextricably intertwined.

"I think he saw leaving Missy as getting his freedom in one way," said David Laventhol, publisher of The Times from 1989 to 1994. "If he hadn't divorced Missy, I'm not sure he would've left the paper. He saw them both as ... restraints on his freedom. Otis is someone who's very used to having his own way, and she impeded that."

But William Thomas, who was Times editor when Chandler made his decision to step down as publisher, said he remembered sitting in a taxi with him in Madrid in 1975 -- before he'd met Whitaker, when he was still married to Missy -- and hearing Otis say he wanted to give up the publisher's job in three to five years.

Itching for More Freedom

Chandler was growing weary, worn down by the rigors of work and the burdens of responsibility, dispirited by GeoTek and his failing marriage, "getting by mostly on nervous energy, with big circles under my eyes," he later said. He was convinced that he had taken The Times about as far as he could, and he wanted more challenges -- and more freedom.

Like his father before him, he thought he should concentrate on companywide responsibilities, by succeeding Franklin D. Murphy as chairman of the Times Mirror board. Murphy was scheduled to retire soon, and Otis was determined to give up the publisher's job in 1980, when he would have been publisher for 20 years -- "four years longer than my father," he often pointed out to those disappointed by his departure.

Unlike his father, however, he had not insisted that his children follow him into leadership positions at The Times. Although all three of his sons worked at the paper for varying periods, none ascended into the top executive ranks.