Frances Lear, the former wife of producer Norman Lear who used her sizable divorce settlement to found a women’s magazine called Lear’s and later founded Lear Television, died Monday. She was 73.
Lear died of breast cancer in her Manhattan home, according to her son-in-law, Jonathan La Pook.
Lear’s magazine, which prided itself on serving “the woman who wasn’t born yesterday,” burst onto the national publishing scene Feb. 23, 1988. It was the dream of Frances Lear, who had arrived in New York on Halloween in 1985 eager to create a magazine for women over 40 who had some money and who might be rearing children or reentering the job market after a divorce.
She confidently bankrolled the new publication with the estimated $100 million to $125 million she received after her 28-year marriage to Norman Lear. She personally supervised production of the glossy Lear’s and in each issue penned a lunch-and-chat interview with a female celebrity.
“I believed a magazine could hold up a mirror for women over 40 and raise their self-image,” she said. “Lear’s made older women visible in a culture that overlooked them.”
The magazine’s circulation peaked at 503,000 in 1993, but the publication was continually plagued by advertising difficulties.
As stunning as the magazine’s birth was its death at its creator’s hand. On March 10, 1994, Lear announced that Lear’s would cease publication after the April issue.
She said she would put her energy and money into Lear Television. She went on to produce a video to help successful women manage their money.
“The future,” Lear said, “is in direct-marketing products [including videotapes] to a mass audience of women through advanced telecommunications.”
Lear also published one book, “The Second Seduction,” and had recently completed writing another, “Frances Lear’s Guide to Work and Family in the 21st Century.”
Both her magazine and her television company were based in New York. But Lear had already begun assisting women when she was still living in Los Angeles and married to the producer of such hits as “All in the Family,” “Maude,” “One Day at a Time” and “The Jeffersons.”
Here she operated Lear Purvis Walker & Co., known as Woman’s Place, an executive placement firm for women. She also did career counseling and taught at USC and offered her Brentwood mansion for feminist fund-raisers.
No stranger to the workplace herself, the former Frances Loeb of Larchmont, N.Y., got her first job when she was 14, and by age 17 was a salesgirl at B. Altman & Co. in Manhattan. Later she became a buyer at Lord & Taylor. After two failed marriages, she married Lear when she was 33.
She is survived by two daughters, Kate and Maggie Lear, and two grandsons, Daniel and Noah La Pook.
Memorial services will be private. The family has asked that any memorial donations be sent to the Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Research in Women’s Health, attention Dr. Kronenberg, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, 630 W. 168th St., New York, N.Y. 10032.