The Mirror was losing $30,000 a week, and Otis sent his father a confidential memo urging that a strong business manager be hired. He also complained that the paper's editor and publisher "never try to come up with new ways to cut the deficit. Instead they always find new ways to spend money."
Otis, meanwhile, still had no idea what his mother and father had in mind for him.
"After a year or so in editorial, when I told my dad that I'd just like to be a reporter, he said, no, I had to go on to other departments," Chandler said. "He said I had to be well-rounded and implied that it was so I could ultimately take some executive position. But he was never specific, and the word 'publisher' was never mentioned."
In October 1957, continuing his climb into the executive ranks, Chandler was named special assistant to his father. Two years later, he was made marketing manager of The Times. About that time, Otis began telling Nick Williams, the editor of the paper, the kinds of improvements he envisioned making if and when he had the authority.
Then, on April 11, 1960, Norman Chandler invited more than 700 people to a luncheon at the Biltmore Bowl ballroom in downtown Los Angeles, where he promised a "special announcement."
On that wisp of a lure, the room filled up with the cream of the Southern California establishment: corporate heads, college presidents, prominent lawyers and judges, Los Angeles Mayor Norris Poulson, members of the county Board of Supervisors, former California Gov. Goodwin J. Knight.
There was an air of anticipation as the elder Chandler stepped to the microphone and said, after a bit of reminiscing, "I hereby appoint, effective as of this moment, Otis Chandler as publisher of The Times."
Otis stood up, grinned and said, "Wow!"
He recalled almost four decades later having had "no inkling what my dad was going to say until an hour before the luncheon. I was just told to be at the Biltmore an hour early for a civic luncheon."
Who Pushed His Ascension?
Most historians credit Otis' mother — "Buff" to her friends and family — with persuading her husband to make their son his successor. Mrs. Chandler later achieved fame on her own by raising almost $20 million to finance the creation of the Music Center.
Otis himself offered contradictory explanations of his mother's role in his promotion, befitting a mother-son relationship that had its share of paradox.
He once said that she had received — and sought — more recognition than she deserved for many changes at the paper, including his own rise, and that his father had long been underestimated.
"A few weeks or months after I became publisher, my mother told me, 'I used to tell your father that I thought you were ready, but he wouldn't listen to me,' " he said. " 'It was three outside members of the [Times Mirror] board who persuaded him to do it.' "
But in a letter to his mother 12 years later, Otis referred to her as "that person who made it possible for me to provide leadership to The Times," adding: "It was a tremendous gamble for you to take on any young man of 32." There was no mention of his father.
The truth probably falls in the middle. Some close to the family and the paper suggest that it might have been Mrs. Chandler who asked board members to pressure her husband to step aside as publisher so he could devote his full attention to his chairmanship of the parent Times Mirror company, which was about to embark on a major diversification program.
About the same time, McKinsey & Co., a management consulting firm, was conducting one of its periodic studies for The Times, and it too recommended dividing the responsibilities of publisher and chairman.
Norman Chandler, then near his 60th birthday, saw the logic in the change. The only other possible publisher in the family, however, was Norman's younger brother Philip, then general manager of The Times and a member of the Times Mirror board.