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 was no typical rookie. From the start, he wrote periodic first-person columns, prominently displayed in the front section of the paper, musing about the life of an athlete or the quirks of an outboard motor. He wrote offbeat feature stories, such as one about the people who feed sharks at the aquarium. And he wrote an exhaustive, if somewhat ponderous, seven-part series about the treatment of emotionally disturbed children.

He was also the only reporter, rookie or veteran, whose name regularly appeared in both the Sports section, which chronicled his continuing exploits as a competitive weightlifter, and in the society pages, where his attendance at various black-tie events always rated a mention.

He also showed his father skills that went beyond the reportorial.

In 1948 the Chandler family had started a second newspaper, an afternoon tabloid called the Los Angeles Mirror, and as part of his training program, Otis worked there too. As he did in every posting at The Times, he filled notebook after notebook with his thoughts on possible improvements.

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."

Norman Chandler was delighted by this practical evidence that Otis had absorbed his childhood lessons of prudence and thrift. Soon there was talk of Otis becoming publisher of the Mirror when he finished his training program -- most likely as one of the final steps before he became publisher of The Times. But the Mirror continued to falter, and his parents decided they didn't want his first command to be that of a sinking ship.

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.