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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)

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.

Other key members of the Chandler family wanted Philip to succeed Norman, wrote Marshall Berges in his 1984 book, "The Life and Times of Los Angeles." But Norman "regarded Philip as something of a lightweight, not entirely competent to take an aggressive leadership role at The Times."

As it happened, the consultants also recommended that, to ensure stability, the new publisher be capable of holding the job at least 15 years. Since mandatory retirement age for the publisher was then 65, that conveniently eliminated the 52-year-old Philip. And that apparently gave Mrs. Chandler the opening she needed.

Buff Chandler was the daughter of a prominent Long Beach family, owners of the successful Buffums department store. Her father had been mayor of Long Beach.

But in the social pecking order of the Southern California elite, she was seen as a cut below the Chandlers, and they never let her forget it.

They "never thought she was good enough to marry Norman, and she was out to prove them wrong," her son said several years after her death. They never forgave her for her apparent role in Otis' ascension over Philip.

His sudden elevation and his record as an athlete, not a scholar, at Stanford, led some members of the family (and their friends) to openly wonder if he had the intellectual capacity to run The Times.

But William F. Thomas, who was editor of the Times from 1971 to 1989, said that although Chandler was basically "a C-plus student ... his focus and tenacity ... made him an A-plus as a publisher or almost anything else he really put his mind to."

("Jesus, Bill," Chandler told Thomas when he learned what the editor had said. "I was a B student.")

Direct, decisive and at times startlingly frank in both his personal and professional lives, Chandler told people what he expected of them, and he didn't have much patience with failure. When many top Times executives proved either reluctant to change or incapable of meeting his standards after he became publisher, he replaced 22 of 23 department heads within the first year.

He also began hiring top reporters and editors from other major news organizations and opening Times bureaus around the world.

Chandler was just then becoming interested in big game hunting, and his approach to hiring was much the same: go after only the biggest and the best.

One of the first examples came in 1961, when The Times hired Jim Murray as a sports columnist. Murray had helped create Sports Illustrated and was one of its stars. As a Times columnist, he would become one of the most celebrated sportswriters ever.

In the next three years, The Times changed as perhaps no other American newspaper has ever done in such a short time. Bureaus opened in Tokyo, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Hong Kong, Rome, Bonn, London, Vienna and San Francisco, at the United Nations and on Wall Street. Staffing in Washington and Sacramento was expanded.

Chandler and his editor, Williams, lured reporters away from the Wall Street Journal, the New York Daily News, the Washington Star, BusinessWeek and U.S. News & World Report.

In one of their biggest coups, they brought in Robert J. Donovan, the Washington Bureau chief of the New York Herald-Tribune and one of the most respected journalists in the country, to be chief of the expanded Times bureau in the capital.

And in January 1964, they hired a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist away from the Denver Post. As much as any other change at the paper, the arrival of Paul Conrad -- brilliant, sharp-penned and liberal -- served notice that an entirely new breed of Chandler was in charge.

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