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)

Chandler liked the shotput and weightlifting, he once said, because they were individual sports, and he could be judged on his own merits.

"I liked to make it on my own in whatever I accomplished," he told an interviewer. "No one could say that the team carried me or that the coach put me in because my name was Chandler."

He was, in general, something of a loner, a trait he traced partly to "spending my young years on that ranch in Sierra Madre, a little remote, rather than on a neighborhood street with a lot of kids." Asked repeatedly in one interview to name his best childhood friends, he came up blank.

Many people found him a bit distant -- cool, controlled, difficult to know well -- and these qualities became more pronounced as he matured and increasingly tried to escape the burden of being a Chandler.

After graduating from Stanford, he tried to enroll in an Air Force training program. He was turned down because he was 17 pounds heavier than the maximum allowed for jet pilots, so he starved himself and quickly lost the weight. He was rejected anyway; his shoulders and hips were still too big to fit into the cockpit of a jet.

He spent 1951 to 1953 on the ground in the Air Force, supervising sports and acting as co-captain of the Air Force track team at Camp Stoneman in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Growing up, Chandler had often said he'd like to be a doctor, although he later conceded, "I was never an outstanding scholar." When he left the Air Force in 1953, he had no clear sense of what he wanted to do with his life.

He had married his college sweetheart, Marilyn Brant -- having proposed to her on his 23rd birthday on the seventh hole of the Pebble Beach golf course -- and they had a baby boy (Norman, after Otis' father) but no plans and no substantial income. Like his father, who had also been kept on tight purse strings by his father, Otis often split the bill with his fiancee or let her pick up the tab when they dated.

The Times, he would later say, was very much in his blood even then.

As a boy of 5 or 6, he had frequently accompanied his father to the office and slid down the chutes that were used to drop papers from the pressroom to the delivery trucks.

In college, he had sometimes worked summers at the paper, most often using his physical strength to move printing plates and other heavy items and equipment.

When he went home after his time in the Air Force, though, he didn't envision journalism as his life's work.

The night he arrived home, his young family's possessions crammed into a used station wagon and rented trailer, his mother and father welcomed him enthusiastically.

The next evening, a Friday, his father -- "grinning like a Cheshire cat," Chandler would always remember -- handed him a sheet of paper. On it, neatly typed, was a seven-year "executive training program," scheduled to begin that Sunday night.

"I said something about wanting a week's vacation first, but he wouldn't hear of it," Chandler said. "I started work right away, on the graveyard shift, midnight to 8 in the morning." He was a pressroom apprentice, at $48 a week, the equivalent of $356 in today's dollars.

He gradually worked his way through every department at the paper: production, circulation, the mailroom, mechanical, advertising, the newsroom.

Most of his early jobs in the training program were just that -- jobs, "a grinding routine," he later said -- and because his father wanted him to have as many Times experiences (and meet as many Times employees) as possible, his schedule was constantly changing.

"I'd work the graveyard shift for a week, then spend a week on days, then a week on the swing shift, then back to the graveyard shift," he recalled.

Once he started as a reporter, though, he began to feel different about a career at The Times.

"It was a watershed experience," he said. "I loved being a reporter. That's when I decided this was the business for me."