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September 17, 2016 by John Wilcock

Manhattan Memories

Chapter 26:
The Last Word
(part 2)

Before and after the dismal sell-out (an apt term) to Chicago’s Tribune Company and then the sale to real estate tycoon Sam Zell (who put up a mere $315 million of his own money, leaving the Times with $12.5billion of debt), a succession of internal conflicts and minor scandals saw editors and publishers playing musical chairs before leaving the sinking ship.

A former editorial page editor Andres Martinez who resigned over a conflict of interest matter involving his girlfriend’s pr work, sued her for allegedly causing him to lose his job. The woman, Kelly Mullens, responded that Martinez had harassed her, sending her “constant harassing, intimidating, obsessive, crude, and vulgar emails and text messages.”

Soon went David Hiller, the third publisher after the Tribune took over. He was a show tune-singing former colleague of Rudy Giuliani at the Justice Dept under Reagan. His major achievement, it transpired, was when his request to sing the National Anthem at Dodger Stadium was granted. Described by Tribune brass as an indecisive leader (just what the LAT needed),  Hiller resigned after 21 months, succeeding Jeffrey M. Johnson who had gone earlier after declining to make Tribune’s requested cuts. Hiller had kicked out editor Dean Baquet (who returned to the NYT) as well as his predecessor, and when his own turn came said: “Sam’s the boss and he gets to pick his own quarterback”.

After Zell took over (by which time the company’s annual debt payments had reached nearly $1billion) the paper eliminated 1,000 jobs, sold assets to raise capital and meet debt payments and had its credit downgraded. Tribune stock was turned over to an employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) but the employees were given no say on the deal, no seats on the board and no ability to sell shares in the foreseeable future.

A group of current and former LAT reporters sued Zell “accusing him of recklessness in the takeover and management of the newspaper’s parent, the Tribune Co." wrote Richard Pérez-Pëna in the New York Times.   

For a brief time, disgruntled employees opened a website, exchanging emails with their new boss.

Zell: There is a difference between questioning authority or challenging the "business as usual attitude," and maligning the company in public. That's just bad judgment and does no one any good. It's a distraction that's unnecessary.  We are partners. We need to act like it.

Staffers: Sam, the time for "acting" like partners ended when you cursed at us; when you denigrated us; when you told us we were overhead; when you fired reporters; when you cut back news-hole; when you deprived our readers of information about their lives to make the payments on your over-leveraged debt.  Partner, in case your dictionary knowledge is as lacking as your lackey's grammatical knowledge, is a word which implies equality. But you have never acted as an equal.

“We have no power. We have no say. We have never been consulted in a single action that you or any of your cronies have taken in dismantling the Tribune Co. So stop fucking call me your partner. It's patronizing. It's demeaning. And it's wrong”.

Zell has expressed dissatisfaction with the amount of space the paper devotes to national and international news and his cuts suggest that 82 pages of editorial pages per week were about to be cut. Maybe the Times will no longer be able to waste precious space on

  • A lengthy story about a pair of lawless brothers, obsessed with getting video of police pursuits, after which a reader asked the paper why it would “glorify” such “dangerous and illegal stunts”?
  • 32 inches devoted to couples obsessed with playing video games
  • 15 inches to a man searching for a perfect ring tone for his cell phone.
  • 23 inches devoted to a staffer’s attempt to watch (via Tivo) a commercial-free Olympics.

And only a paper with space to burn would have devoted not only a full page but two additional duplicate half pages in the same issue, ads peddling their IT’S OBAMA front page. Followed by full-page ads for days later.

Dear reader,

Today's column is on of the almost 500 columns I ran on the Ojai Orange site between 2006 and 2014. These will, of course, be free as is everything on my sites, and has been for the past decade or so. But, I do request that if you find these columns interesting, that you consider sending a donation, which you could possibly write off as a gift for my birthday on August 4, when I will be 90.

Chapters from my autobiography, Manhattan Memories will continue to run on


John Wilcock
Ojai, CA 93023

At one point, the Times invited readers to submit essays appraising its content. It was an experiment that didn’t last long, probably due to the negative input; my own essay was neither used nor acknowledged. I had brought up once more the paper’s need for a fact-filled column, but I also had some other thoughts.

Apart from noting that the pathetic Sunday magazine rated about a 1 out of 10 compared with almost any of its London Sunday paper counterparts, I noted the paper’s over-addiction to showbiz at the expense of everything else. It had always been so much in thrall to the Hollywood buzz, that whole issues went by in which pieces about movies and TV shows, stars of the same movies and TV stars, secondary players in those same movies and TV stars, dominated most of the pages. Oh well, those full-page ads had to be rewarded, I suppose, but it was as though nothing ever happened in southern California, except show business. Surely there had to be other feature stories worthy of attention, but how many of the still-remaining 700 editorial staff were working on them?

In the Sixties, the paper was known as “the velvet coffin”, a reference to the writers who loafed there in slothful comfort, untroubled by having to do much work. When Zell bought the paper in 2007, he knew so little about journalism that he evaluated the reporting staff by how many stories each scribe turned out per year.

Obviously this was ridiculous because some stories required months of work. On the other hand, he did have a point. A huge number of writers were producing little more than one story a week and even many of those failed to make it into print, a prima facie case for the fact that the paper really didn’t need one thousand plus on its editorial staff. Circulation having dropped from one million plus to 700,000 or so, the staff has been reduced accordingly.

Much as most of the writers I know loathe Rupert Murdoch, the best thing that could have happened to the Times (short of its overlords putting in enough money to run it properly) is if the Ozzie oligarch had bought it and turned it into a 'serious' (resembling his London Times) tabloid. At least, then, the showbiz pieces would have been presented in a more attractive and beguiling manner.

Recent attempts to jazz up the layout of the Los Angeles Times only remind readers of how the paper lacks the guts to transform itself into a real tabloid. And how could the paper believe that devoting several pages a day, for a full week, to a serial about gangsters in Los Angeles of the 1940s, was serving their readers today? Nothing wrong with the story itself; just that it doesn’t belong in a daily paper with less and less space available for actual news.

Ojai Orange

With declining circulation, advertising and staff, you’d think it might have occurred to the paper that one place where savings could be affected would be in better use of editorial space. Most stories are TOO LONG and could be edited down to allow more of them to fit into the diminishing space. The first daily paper I worked on in England (editorial staff: seven) was suffering from a newsprint shortage and we were instructed to keep stories short. But very few American journalists, with the exception of the wizards who produce the International Herald Tribune (probably the best newspaper in the English language) have ever learned to be brief and they might take a lesson from tabloids which invariably get all the facts of a story into half the space of their broadsheet rivals.

Several months after dropping its feeble magazine, the Times appeared with a new version, clearly taking a lesson from its New York counterpart by concentrating on fashion and the high life. Even its cover was a straight-out copy, with a stylized at the top left hand corner and a dopey-looking cover girl in grey coat and black boots with DREAM superimposed across her chest. Inside was an interesting interview with Michelle Obama; otherwise batting zero.

The inevitable demise of the Book Review, following the death of the wretched weekly magazine by six months, was announced in July/08. The book review was never a moneymaker, possibly due to the surely-silly assumption by its bosses that Angelenos were not interested in literature.

The Book Review never made any attempt to be interesting much less significant, devoting most of its pages to boring reviews of novels,  no commentary on writers or writing itself, or indeed publishing in general. The Times appears unaware that these subjects are of considerable fascination to millions who’ve never cracked a novel and probably never will.

“Backstage” news of the newspaper and publishing worlds have always engrossed literate people and the Book Review missed a golden opportunity—when the paper was relatively flush—to turn itself into a loss-leader that nevertheless could have become must-reading for thousands of readers. Seeing as it was obvious from the beginning that even California publishers couldn’t be enticed or strong-armed into advertising, what other route could possibly be open but attempting to transform the Review into the best literary magazine outside New York?


Chapter Twenty-Six—The Last Word

Part 3


Manhattan Memories is available at

An updated A Guide to Occult Britain, complete with new illustrations, is also available at


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John Wilcock: New York Years, Book One

A comic book history of the rise of the 1960s underground media.
by Ethan Persoff and Scott Marshall

Don't let a real-life comic strip sneak by unnoticed. This one's too unusual (and brilliant) for that!

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Marijuana—The Weed That Changed the World

National Weed (1974, issue #3)

A Guide to Occult Britain

Forty years ago the second of my three books about magic was published, A Guide to Occult Britain (Sidgwick & Jackson) covering a wide range of sites from Stonehenge to Loch Ness and King Arthur country to the witches of Pendle Hill. It is now available as an eBook on

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Now on Boing-Boing!

An authorized comic book biography of John Wilcock, 
art by Ethan Persoff and Scott Marshall

An authorized comic book biography of John Wilcock,
art by Ethan Persoff and Scott Marshall

This IS a book-length comic series on John Wilcock. People who enjoy focusing on underground and alternative media are occasionally familiar with John's work, but most often the response is "who's that?" Outside of small press historians and collectors, John remains very unknown. Which makes no sense, the more you learn about him. We're very excited about the opportunity to tell his story. Art for THE STORY OF JOHN WILCOCK is by me and co-conspirator Scott Marshall. Story comes from an extended and ongoing year-long interview with Wilcock, himself. The focus is John's years in New York, roughly 1954-1971.

(read more)

January 2, 2011

John WIlcock at home in Ojai
Photo Credit: Carmen Smyth/News Press

A way with Andy Warhol : John Wilcock recalls life in iconic pop artist's inner circle
Marilyn McMahon, Staff Writer
Santa Barbara News Press

During a journalism career that began when he was 16, John Wilcock has interviewed celebrities — Marilyn Monroe, Marlene Dietrich, Milton Berle, Steve Allen and Bob Dylan, to name a few — was part of enigmatic pop artist Andy Warhol's intimate circle in the 1960s, traveled to exotic locations all over the globe, has written dozens of books ranging from frugal travel to magic, was one of five founders (Norman Mailer was one of them) of the Village Voice and co-founded Interview magazine (still in circulation) with Mr. Warhol.

Today, the 83-year-old writer, who has been described by others in his field as "a libertarian-anarchist" and "a talented Bohemian counter-culture journalist," lives a tranquil life in a rustic cottage he rents on the outskirts of Ojai.

(click here to access the Santa Barbara News Press online where the full text of the article is available by subscription)

January, 2011

The Return of the World's Worst Businessman

Sneak Peak “The Return of the World's Worst Businessman”
Tyler Malone
PMc Magazine

John Wilcock is not what you would call a household name, and yet, he has had a measurable impact on art, journalism and culture-at-large over the last century. He co-founded Interview with Andy Warhol. He also was one of the co-founders of The Village Voice. He has written for countless print and online publications: Frommer’s, The Daily Mirror, The Daily Mail, The East Village Other, The Huffington Post, The New York Times, The Ojai Orange, etc. So why, one feels inclined to ask, is he relatively unknown? The answer seems simple: Wilcock has called himself “the world’s worst businessman.” This self-description makes sense because listening to him one hears the voice of a writer and a traveler and an enthusiast, not at all the voice of a businessman. In an age when it seems like everyone is all about business—art as a business, fashion as a business, everything as a business—it is refreshing to hear someone self-identify as “the world’s worst businessman.” It seems less like he has failed as a businessman and more like he has refused to become one. In addition to all his other accomplishments,...

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Jewcy Top 10 Art Books of 2010
Margarita Korol

This brilliant remake of a pop primary document is brought to you by John Wilcock, probably the Most Interesting Man in the World in the realm of writers. The Village Voice cofounder had also edited Warhol’s seminal mag Interview in the 70s. The fruit of the book is in the genius of its redesign. After 40 years out-of-print, the newly edited edition is “beautifully redesigned in a bright, Warholian palette” that surrounds a trail of Harry Shunk’s internationally Pop-art-informed camera as well as transcribed interviews with those closest to Warhol that ultimately make up an oral history of the artist’s Factory period. By looking at him through the scope of his peers, this book is the equivalent of Pittsburgh’s Warhol Museum in illuminating qualities of Warhol’s warped mirror on which our American culture was briefly reflected.

Said John Wilcock in explaining the book, “A lot of people really misunderstood him then and indeed still do, although there’s hardly a day when Andy’s name is not mentioned in the paper.” Especially interesting is the timing of Warhol’s booming popularity as it comes half a century after pop rushed the 60s, a period similar to our own with fluxes in economic, political, and civil rights climates.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

A Reader Comment from the recent New York Times Frugal Traveler post
RN—Sydney, Australia

Not only did John Wilcock shake up staid publishing in the USA, from the Village Voice to the East Village Other, his influence extended to several continents, including Australia & the UK, where - in his mild mannered way - he pushed the boundaries of image and speech. The counter culture was nothing but a dull puddle, until John kicked out the jams and ignited the Underground Press, which attracted absurd prosecutions, that of course boosted circulations. An unsung hero of the sixties,

indifferent to self promotion and the hoarding of gold, it is great to see John get a dash of recognition.

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Budget Travel Pioneer on a Time When $5 a Day Was Real (Frugal) Money Frugal Traveler

by Seth Kugel
John Wilcock at the New York Times

It was the first handwritten letter I’d received in 5 years. Or maybe 10. Signed by John Wilcock, a man I’d never heard of, and postmarked Ojai, Calif., it was waiting for me when I returned from my Săo Paulo-to-New York summer trip. Mr. Wilcock wrote that he had been an assistant editor at The Times Travel section back in the 1950s, and had written the first editions of “Mexico on $5 a Day,” “Greece on $5 a Day” and “Japan on $5 a Day” for Arthur Frommer in the 1960s.

By George, I thought. This man was the original Frugal Traveler.

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available in print...

Manhattan MemoriesManhattan Memories
An Autobiography
by John Wilcock

“A GOOD WAY to describe John Wilcock is to say that he is a talented bohemian counter-culture journalist who once played a major role in the emergence of America’s underground press. Born 1927 in Sheffield, England, he left school aged 16 to work on various newspapers in England, and on Toronto periodicals before moving to New York City. There in 1955 he became one of the five founders of the Village Voice in which he and co-founder Norman Mailer wrote weekly columns. Wilcock called his column “The Village Square”, an intended pun. He and young Mailer were not quite friends, although Wilcock was at times annoyed, but always amused, by Mailer’s monstrous ego.”

-From the preface of Manhattan Memories, by Martin Gardner
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