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)

When Chandler was growing up, he lived with his parents on a 10-acre citrus ranch in Sierra Madre. His father, publisher of The Times from 1944 to 1960, had worked in the fields of the family's Tejon Ranch when he was a boy, so he saw no reason to spare his son from physical labor or spoil him with money.

Otis shoveled fertilizer for the family fruit trees at an early age and was kept on such a modest allowance that even when he went to college, he later recalled, "the most lavish transportation I could afford was half-interest in a secondhand motorcycle."

For a time, when he was young, Chandler rode a bicycle several miles to and from the Polytechnic School in Pasadena.

But he was hardly unaware of his family's powerful position. As a boy, he would stand alongside his father and grandfather at Hollywood Cemetery (now Hollywood Forever) in annual memorials to the victims of a bomb blast that wrecked the Times building in 1910, killing 20 workers.

The explosion was blamed on union militants, and, Otis once said, "I was raised to hate the unions." (He later mellowed on that topic, although he always opposed unionization at The Times.)

The most traumatic experience of Chandler's childhood -- one that assumed mythic proportions as he grew toward adulthood -- came when he was 9.

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."

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.