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SPRING 2006 CATALOG

A Life in Writing
The Story of an American Journalist

 
 
Charles Champlin

Cloth $24.95    |    0-8156-0847-0    |    2006

A literate and lively memoir of well-known Los Angeles Times columnist and film critic Charles Champlin, chronicling his career as a journalist for Time and Life magazines.

Reviews
Charles Champlin’s new book, A Life in Writing, was reviewed in the L.A. Times on April 18, 2006.

"LONGTIME readers of the Los Angeles Times will fondly recall arts editor and film critic Charles Champlin, who for 26 years was one of this newspaper’s four long-running columnists under Otis Chandler’s innovative reign as publisher. Together with writers Jack Smith, Jim Murray, Art Seidenbaum and cartoonist Paul Conrad, Champlin helped keep nervous readers loyal when the paper broke with its stuffy, provincial past and transformed itself into a major national daily.

There was something solid and reassuring about Champlin’s reporting, and especially his conversations with an eclectic mix of budding artists, including Barbra Streisand, John Frankenheimer and Mary Higgins Clark. His steady-at-the-helm prose and unceasing curiosity took readers into the uncharted cultural waters of the ‘60s and ‘70s. His relaxed yet serious voice is also the hallmark of his new memoir, "A Life in Writing," about entering journalism as a young reporter for Life and Time magazines after returning from World War II combat. It is the sequel to his lovely, nostalgic 1989 coming-of-age celebration of small-town life in upstate New York, "Back There Where the Past Was."

Champlin’s was an unspoiled, affectionate youth, yet full of repressed drama, reminiscent of Booth Tarkington’s 1918 novel, "The Magnificent Ambersons." It was a time and a place where girls were named Elma, the Main Street drugstore was called Smellie’s and a Civil War monument dominated the town square.

Even though "A Life of Writing" is technically about his literary career, Champlin’s boyish heart is still in Hammondsport, N.Y. It’s what he loves to remember, and he remembers what he loves, "to preserve something of memory when the tangibles it remembers are no more." No matter how successful he becomes as a roving reporter in Henry Luce’s magazine empire, his emotional baseline remains his Tom Sawyer-ish boyhood in the wine country of Hammondsport and the glassmaking village of Cleveland on Lake Oneida.

When he goes off to Harvard and begins the long climb to professional excellence after the war, a more workmanlike if insecure Champlin takes over. With a growing family (today it numbers six children, 13 grandchildren and four great- grandchildren) to support, business must be transacted and that magnificent childhood left gently and regretfully behind.

Champlin knew at 10 that he was destined to be a writer. His account of his apprenticeship—the jacket photo shows him pecking at a manual typewriter, fedora tipped back, a cigarette dangling from his mouth—is calmly deliberate and good humored. He may not be haunted by dark shadows, but a reader is: Divorce, abandonment by his biological father, his grandmother’s suicide are reported evenly and gracefully, perhaps because Champlin and his younger brother Joe, bound for the priesthood, were taken in hand by his mother’s new husband, Charles Haynes.

Haynes was the stepdad from heaven, an insurance claims adjuster who may have suffered from depression and hated his job but was there and terrific with kids. Champlin did not need to learn love from anyone, but this caring, protective new dad turned out to be his shield against imminent bloodletting.

"From at least the sixth grade forward, war was a large part of my consciousness," Champlin writes. When he enlisted in 1944, a bespectacled 17-year-old, "bookish, introspective, and fairly unassertive," his deepest terror was that he might die a virgin without children. "[T]he idea of continuing the family line was uncommonly strong in someone as young as I was. My family had been in the same village for a hundred years."

In wartime Germany, near the Remagen Bridge, a German shell nearly blew his leg off. Typically, Champlin glosses over his combat record, as if his wartime memories were tucked into a cubbyhole of his ancient roll-top desk along with his Purple Heart and other medals.

Champlin, who retired from The Times in 1991, lost his sight to macular degeneration while writing this memoir. Perhaps because he already wrote about it in the 2001 book "My Friend You Are Legally Blind," or in a self-deprecating reflex, he mentions this in a few words and passes on to an all-too-brisk recap of his long writing career, first as an eager young reporter, then as a seasoned pro. Although famous people cross his path—John Wayne, Peter O‘Toole, Will and Ariel Durant among them—and he covers violent strikes, murders and mountain rescues, he rarely gushes or loses the admirable balance that might bring out the florid 72-point prose in less grounded reporters.

In the nicest possible way, Champlin is a gee-whiz reporter, seeking out the personal and colorful while refusing to dwell on the dark and negative. The style is the man. Unfashionably, he seems to have been, for most of his life, optimistic, happy and eminently reasonable. In our profession, he’s a rare bird."
L.A. Times

Description
Charles Champlin is best known as a columnist and film critic for the Los Angeles Times. His career as a journalist, however, has spanned decades, first as a writer for Life and later as a London-based correspondent for Time magazine. This book continues where his last memoir left off, with the author moving at the age of sixteen with his mother from Hammondsport, New York, to a village on Oneida Lake.

Turning his journalistic eye on his own life, Champlin offers a series of vivid sketches that brings to life the events and people he encounters. His interviews with Peter O'Toole and other theatrical luminaries, his experience working with Henry Luce, and his compassionate reporting are all vividly recounted, revealing the author's personal impressions that richly detail an era. With wry insight and keen observation, Champlin narrates both the daily and the legendary events at Time, offering readers a glimpse into the world of magazine writing and publishing before the age of the computer.

Balancing self-portrait with historical narrative, Champlin presents a story of self-discovery in the larger context of a changing world. Relying on retrospection and personal and professional experience, he recalls crucial moments during WWII, the postwar years, and the sixties, reflections that will resonate with many readers. His prosedashspare and unpretentiousdashis filled with humor and reveals a veteran writer who has lost none of the wit and wisdom from his earlier memoir.

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Author
Charles Champlin is a former writer-correspondent for Time and Life magazines. He was the editor columnist and film critic for the Los Angeles Times from 1965-1991. He is the author of Back There Where the Past Was also published by Syracuse University Press and The Movies Grow Up, 1940-1980.

6 x 9, 224 pages, 12 black-and-white illustrations


A Life in Writing

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