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)

He collected vintage cars and drove most of them to work at one time or another, alternating Porsches and Rolls-Royces with motorcycles, pickups and other vehicles in his growing inventory.

He worked out daily, lifting weights in a gym he had built at The Times and improvising when he was traveling. On one memorable occasion, a hotel maid walked in on him while he was doing full squats -- with his wife on his shoulders in place of a barbell.

More than most high-level executives, Chandler also seemed willing to interrupt the workday occasionally when pleasure beckoned, such as the quick trip to catch some surf.

In a speech to a hunting conference in 1980, he described some of his other outdoor pursuits: "I am primarily a gun hunter, both rifle and shotgun. I occasionally hunt with a bow.... I am a saltwater fisherman and dry-fly freshwater fisherman, a gun collector, a sometime skeet and target shooter, an avid backpacker, outdoor photographer, trophy skinner, wild game gourmet but a lousy cook. The outdoors is my second home, my chapel, my retreat, my great love in life."

Chandler -- who learned to hunt when he was 10, shooting ducks with his father -- began big-game hunting a year after he became publisher, and for most of the rest of his life, he tried to go on at least one major hunting trip a year, in Botswana, Mongolia, Afghanistan and Ethiopia, among other places.

"My trips gave me a balance, a perspective," he said. "They also gave me quiet time so I could really think. It was the best down time I ever had, and I always kept a notebook with all the things I wanted to do when I got back."

The Times, on his watch, consistently editorialized in favor of gun control, but Chandler himself was a strong advocate of the right to bear arms. In the 1980 speech, he complained that he felt increasingly like an outcast.

"I must confess," he said, "I am getting darn tired of defending myself as a hunting person."

Chandler said he wanted to hunt only "the rarest and the biggest and the best," and he killed more than 100 such animals -- 10-foot brown bears and polar bears, lions and musk ox, wild antelope and mountain sheep -- many of which he had mounted on the walls of a trophy room in the home he shared with his first wife in San Marino.

Nearly a decade after his divorce, he installed the best of his animals in dioramas amid the classic cars and motorcycles in his Oxnard museum. Among them: the mate of the musk ox that nearly killed him.

The Wide-Open Road Not Taken

Many people wondered if, in retrospect, Chandler's entire tenure at The Times had compromised his passion for freedom -- if he would have been happier had he been outside all the time, surfing, hunting, riding and racing, instead of being stuffed into a suit, sitting behind a desk, making speeches and attending meetings.

"He said to me many times that he hadn't wanted to come to the paper in the first place, but he felt an obligation to his family to do it," said Robert F. Erburu, who succeeded Chandler as Times Mirror chairman. "He said he didn't regret the 40 years he spent here. But he said he wished people realized that if he'd been left totally on his own, he might have done something different, so why did they question it when he finally decided he would do something different."

Although Chandler often likened himself to the eagle that serves as the symbol of The Times -- "I like to soar, to get above the minutiae and the crowds" -- he insisted that as long as he was publisher, "I was living the life I wanted to live. Sure, like any business executive, there were times when I would like to have been away from it all, free of responsibilities. But there is nothing as fascinating as the newspaper business, and I can't imagine any challenge more satisfying than the work we did to improve The Times."

When Chandler left the publisher's office and again when he left the chairman's job, his former colleagues worried that without him, they would no longer be immune to corporate and outside pressures.

"With Otis gone, the heat shield was gone," Johnson said.

Sure enough, both Thomas and Johnson said that after Chandler left, they were "pressured by the sixth floor," where Times Mirror corporate offices were, to fire Day, whom Erburu and many in the family and on the board regarded as too liberal. Both refused. But in 1989, two months after Laventhol replaced Johnson as publisher, Day was removed.

In 1998, Chandler dissolved his last official ties with The Times. He was 70 then, mandatory retirement age for members of the board of directors. His two predecessors as chairman -- his father and Murphy -- had been invited to remain on the board, in a non-voting capacity, after their 70th birthdays, but Chandler was not extended a similar invitation, and he was clearly hurt by that.

"Would I have wanted to stay, given what was happening at The Times and Times Mirror?" Chandler asked a year after stepping down. "I don't know ... but I didn't have that choice."

He remained an avid reader of the paper. "Nothing but my kids is more important to me than the Los Angeles Times," he said in 1999.