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Geoff Miller dies at 74; a founder of Los Angeles magazine

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At UCLA in the late 1950s, the concept for a magazine celebrating an "unruly young city" started to take off after grad student Geoff Miller happened upon David Brown, an ad executive with an "ambitious scheme," Miller later wrote.

Miller put aside plans for an urban arts magazine to help launch the Southern California Prompter in 1960. A year later, it was renamed Los Angeles magazine.

Aspirational from the start, it was billed as the "Guide to the Good Life in L.A. and Suburbia." The monthly would make a strong claim to being the model for the rash of "brash and breezy" city magazines that followed, according to the 1991 book "Regional Interest Magazines of the United States."

For 34 years, Miller helped lead Los Angeles magazine, serving as editor in chief from 1974 to 1990 and publisher from 1990 until he retired four years later.

Miller died Saturday at his home in Beverly Hills of progressive supranuclear palsy, a rare brain disorder, said his wife, Kathryn Leigh Scott. He was 74.

"Having grown up in L.A., he had a real understanding of what Los Angeles was," said Lew Harris, a former editor of the magazine. "He knew and respected the city, and he knew what made it tick."

The magazine survived the early years partly because of "the surprising quality and wit of the writing" by contributors who were cajoled into writing for "almost no money," Miller wrote in Los Angeles in 2000.

The publication, which debuted eight years before New York magazine, "could not have happened … let alone survived and flourished, without the efforts of Geoff Miller," said Burt Prelutsky, the magazine's first permanent film critic.

When they ran through what Miller called their "absurdly paltry startup stake" — about $50,000 — Union Bank Chief Executive Harry Volk personally invested, buying them "years to get inside readers' heads," Miller told the Los Angeles Times in 1993. "Once we had that formula worked out, the magazine really took off."

It was an equation that reveled in "the good life" while providing an extensive events calendar, often-irreverent arts reviews, personality profiles — and a fascination with fame so intense that the monthly "has often been credited with inventing celebrity journalism," the New York Times said in 1996.

"We pioneered the use of celebrity covers — for better or worse" in the early 1970s, framing the famous "humorously" and "as fellow residents," Miller wrote in Los Angeles in 2000.

After the magazine put the heavily bandaged face of an attractive woman on the cover with the headline "New Faces of 1972," readers clamored for information on plastic surgery. Miller had an "a-ha moment."

"I said, 'Wait a minute!' " Miller recalled in "Regional Interest." "This magazine isn't about a city! It's about the way people live."

Two months later, the cover promised readers "100 Shameless Ways to Indulge Yourself."

With Miller at the helm, the periodical offered "some of the shrewdest assessments of food, wine and film of any city magazine," Time magazine said in 1977. The article also discussed the entrance into the market of New West, a sibling of Clay Felker's New York magazine that ultimately failed, along with several other competitors.

"All these people came in from outside," Miller told the New York Times in 1993. "They did some terrific stories, but they just didn't capture the sensibility of Los Angeles."

Once ABC bought the magazine in 1977, deeper pockets led to greater profits. On its 20th anniversary, Los Angeles was selling more advertising pages than any monthly in the U.S., according to "Regional Interest."

At one gathering, Miller apologized for leaving early to watch a new TV series based partly on the magazine. He later recalled Judge Diane Wayne's retort: "The show must be all commercials."

The glossy was often criticized for emphasizing lifestyle coverage over hard news. An annoyed Miller responded that the publication tackled serious issues "when they impinge on our readers' lives."

According to Harris, Miller was proudest of two late-1980s investigative pieces — an early exposé on the Billionaire Boys Club and an article on the McMartin preschool case that was "the first to chronicle the media's growing skepticism" about the case, the Los Angeles Times said in 1989.

George Geoff Miller was born Aug. 1, 1936, in Salt Lake City, and as an infant moved with his family to Beverly Hills.

He was the second of two sons of businessman Edward Miller and his wife, the former Rosemary Conlon, a porcelain artist.

At 13, Miller was one of four altar boys at actress Elizabeth Taylor's 1950 wedding to Conrad "Nicky" Hilton Jr. in Beverly Hills.

From UCLA, he earned a bachelor's degree in 1958 and a master's in journalism a year later.

In mentioning his 1974 marriage to Barbara Selcer, The Times called him "L.A. magazine's attractive bachelor managing editor." Selcer died of multiple sclerosis in 1985.

At the magazine's offices in 1988, he ran into Scott, an author and actress on TV's "Dark Shadows." They married in 1991.

In the mid-1990s, Miller became a publishing consultant and formed a company with his wife to develop film and TV projects. They split their time between London and Benedict Canyon, where he bought a home in 1974.

He was a jazz aficionado who "just loved California and Los Angeles," his wife said. "He took a certain amount of pride in letting people in Los Angeles know what this city was all about."

In addition to his wife, Miller is survived by two stepchildren from his first marriage, Steven Selcer and Lori Selcer, both of Los Angeles.

valerie.nelson@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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