From the Archives: Dorothy Chandler, Cultural Leader, Dies
Dorothy Buffum Chandler, whose strength and determination were credited with revitalizing the cultural heritage of Los Angeles, died Sunday. She was 96.
Mrs. Chandler also was the wife for 50 years of the late Norman Chandler, third publisher of the Los Angeles Times. She was the mother of Otis Chandler, the former publisher and chairman of the board of directors of Times Mirror Co., and Mrs. Camilla Chandler Frost, who is active on several cultural, educational and corporate boards.
Mrs. Chandler died of natural causes in a Hollywood rest home.
FOR THE RECORD
Memorial contributions honoring Dorothy B. Chandler, who died Sunday, should be made to the Music Center Foundation and designated for the Dorothy B. Chandler Fund. They should be mailed to:
The Music Center, 717 W. Temple St., Suite 400, Los Angeles, CA 90012
The Dorothy B. Chandler Fund supports new artistic initiatives at the Music Center as well as collaborations between the resident companies.
Her career in civic and public service, her business activities on behalf of Times Mirror (she retired in 1976 as assistant to the chairman and chief executive officer), and her influence on the cultural growth of Los Angeles spanned more than 40 years.
But the contribution for which Mrs. Chandler probably will be remembered longest was the Music Center—a project that many believe saved a physically and culturally decaying downtown core area.
Tributes to Mrs. Chandler came Sunday from the mayor of Los Angeles, the governor of California, cultural leaders and the entertainment community.
“Her imprint will be part of Los Angeles for many centuries to come,” said a vacationing Mayor Richard Riordan.
“In culture, she certainly was the most outstanding leader in the history of the city. As a person, she was a very strong, beautiful, wonderful mother and spouse, and someone we’ll always remember.”
In Riordan’s absence, City Council President John Ferraro ordered flags in the city lowered to half-staff in her honor.
Gov. Pete Wilson declared, “Dorothy Chandler was the heart and soul of Southern California’s cultural life. Her dedication, drive and enthusiasm made the Los Angeles Music Center a reality and her vision brought countless hours of culture and entertainment to millions worldwide.”
“Los Angeles, and indeed the state of California, has lost a very great lady,” Wilson said. “May her legacy grace our lives for many years to come.”
Gordon Davidson, artistic director of the Mark Taper Forum and the Ahmanson Theatre at the Music Center, said:
“She was a woman who had vision and guts, but most of all she had the artist’s instinct for making those leaps of imagination that I think are the essence of creativity. . . . I always treasured that. I knew I could try things.”
Member of UC Regents
Among her many other accomplishments were strengthening The Times’ coverage of women’s news and the arts when her husband was publisher (including creation of Times Women of the Year awards, given annually for 24 years through 1976), and overseeing the construction and interior design of the Times Mirror Building, completed in 1973.
As a member of the Board of Regents of the University of California for 14 years, she chaired the Building Committee, overseeing construction at the UC campuses.
In addition, Mrs. Chandler, known to her friends as “Buff” or “Mrs. C.,” was one of six regents named in 1964 “to investigate the basic causes” of student discord at UC Berkeley.
In 1955, she traveled with her husband to the Soviet Union and appeared the following year before the House subcommittee on education and labor to urge adoption of a more liberal cultural exchange program between the two countries.
Extensive cultural exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union later became a reality.
In 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Mrs. Chandler to his Committee on Education Beyond the High School and, in 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson named her to the U.S. Advisory Commission on Information.
Her main contributions to the performing arts began in 1950 with her success in saving the Hollywood Bowl and its “Symphonies Under the Stars” from financial collapse.
Her crowning achievement, however, was the creation of the Music Center of Los Angeles County, a $33-million monument to the performing arts, dedicated in 1964.
Mrs. Chandler waged a nine-year campaign drive that produced more than $19 million in private donations.
She and her fund-raisers—drawn from a cross-section of the area’s wealthiest and most influential families—also organized a company to float an additional $13.7 million in bonds to finish the three-building complex at 1st Street and Grand Avenue.
Time magazine, in a 1964 cover story on Mrs. Chandler, called her fund drive “perhaps the most impressive display of virtuoso money-raising and civic citizenship in the history of U.S. womanhood.”
David Halberstam, in his 1979 book on the leading communications empires in the country, described Mrs. Chandler as an “intense, volatile, passionate woman, at once vulnerable and brutal, capable of hurting and being hurt, astonishingly resilient.”
Writing in “The Powers That Be,” Halberstam said Mrs. Chandler was a “woman before her time. A feminist in pioneer country. Always, above all else, a presence.”
‘A Great Pillar to Lean on’
While Mrs. Chandler never considered herself a feminist and, in fact, never much liked the word, there was little doubt that she was a woman of strong will, immense energy and commanding organizational abilities.
Zubin Mehta, former music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, called Mrs. Chandler “a great pillar to lean on for me.
“Her confidence, and therefore the confidence of the board of the Los Angeles Philharmonic which emanated from her, gave me tremendous courage to take the position with the Philharmonic. . . .
“I have to enunciate that at no point in my 16 years with the Philharmonic was there the slightest interference on her part.”
Former Mayor Tom Bradley declared her “a giant in the cultural life of Los Angeles. We shall always remember her whenever we see the Music Center, knowing that without her vision and energetic leadership, it would not have been built in our lifetime.
“But her influence did not stop there, because the Music Center brought about a cultural renaissance that has enlivened all the arts in our city. I shall always remember her with great admiration and fondness.”
The actor Charlton Heston called Mrs. Chandler “a towering figure.”
“She was stunning at fund-raising,” he remembered. “Some very wealthy man gave her a check for $20,000 [for the Music Center] and she tore it up, said it was ridiculous, that she needed more than that.
“That is a pretty gutsy thing to do. It wasn’t a question of style. It was a question of commitment.”
Richard T. Schlosberg III, the seventh publisher and the chief executive officer of The Times, said Sunday, “Dorothy Chandler’s contributions to the institutions of Los Angeles, especially cultural institutions, can hardly be overestimated. She was a moving force behind the Music Center, a pioneer in the recognition of women’s achievements and an important figure in the history of the Los Angeles Times.”
Lew Wasserman, former chief of MCA and a close confederate of Mrs. Chandler in the drive for the Music Center, declared:
“I’ve known her a long time. . . . She was a great influence for the community and did marvelous things for the city constantly.”
Ernest Fleischmann, managing director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic for 28 years, said he had been warned when he took the job about possible clashes with such a strong personality as Mrs. Chandler.
Instead, he found it a perfect relationship.
“She cared about the artists, and this is unusual,” he said. “And herself, she was very vulnerable, she really cared. To me, she was the ideal philanthropist.”
Diane Disney Miller, daughter of Lillian B. Disney, whose gift of $50 million kicked off the Walt Disney Concert Hall project, exclaimed:
“Has any one woman ever made so much happen in the city? I don’t think so. . . . She was an incredible woman . . . I was in awe of her. I was also very, very fond of her. She was ‘Mrs. Chandler’ to me always. . . .
“When my mother would become frustrated at the problems of Disney Hall, she would just say, ‘You hang in there, Lilly.’ I don’t think she ever set out to win any popularity contests, but people who knew her feel very fortunate.”
Family’s Department Store
She was born Dorothy Buffum on May 19, 1901, in Lafayette, Ill., the youngest of three children, to Charles and Fern Smith Buffum. The family moved to Long Beach when Mrs. Chandler was a toddler.
Her father and uncle purchased a dry-goods store near Pine Avenue and Broadway in Long Beach, calling it the Mercantile Co. until, in 1912, the store became Buffums'--prototype of what would become until the 1980s a string of successful department stores bearing that name.
It was during her years at Long Beach High that two characteristics that would help determine the kind of woman Dorothy Buffum Chandler would become were first evidenced:
She liked competition, especially against members of the opposite sex, and she had a recurring feeling, a “sense,” really, of time slipping away while things that needed doing went undone.
She was a good sprinter in high school, and looked on male students not so much as potential escorts but as objects of competition.
“I didn’t take to boys much except to run against them and beat them,” she once said.
(Many years later, she would admit her respect for and excitement in dealing with successful men: “I’m most comfortable when I’m around men,” she said. “Most women just don’t seem to be competitive enough.”)
Not that Mrs. Chandler was a prototypical tomboy. At Stanford University, her favorite pastime was dancing—and it was at a college dance that she first saw Norman Chandler.
The two began dating, usually going to a movie and then to a malt shop for banana splits. Despite the fact that Norman Chandler was heir to a publishing fortune, it was Dorothy Buffum who often picked up the tab.
Norman, who was kept on a strict allowance by his father, Harry Chandler, had very little spending money while in college, and no car.
“We’d either split the bill for the movie or I’d take him,” Mrs. Chandler once recalled. “He was always out of money!”
The couple were married on Aug. 30, 1922, with both dropping out of college before completing their degrees. Norman went to work at The Times.
In 1929, Norman Chandler finished a seven-year training period and became assistant to the publisher, his father. He was named assistant to the general manager in 1934 and vice president and general manager of Times Mirror in 1936, when he took de facto command of the company.
He became a director of Times Mirror in 1938 and, in 1941, was named president and general manager of the company. He assumed the title of publisher of The Times following the death of his father, Harry, in 1944. Norman Chandler died in 1973 at age 74.
During the 1920s and 1930s, Dorothy Chandler was not actively involved in her husband’s business activities, but busied herself with their children, Camilla, born in 1925, and Otis, born in 1927.
Volunteering at Hospital
As a young woman, Mrs. Chandler volunteered her services to Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles and plunged into money-making projects for that facility.
Sitting around purely social gatherings had never been meaningful for Mrs. Chandler.
Such activities, she had found, were simply too boring.
She also soon tired of merely assisting in the Childrens Hospital thrift shops, and turned her energies to more pressing problems, such as salaries and working conditions of employees.
She bombarded the hospital management with suggestions and was elected to the governing board.
On Oct. 14, 1937, near-tragedy struck the family. Mrs. Chandler was sitting in her station wagon reading a book while, nearby, Otis and Camilla were taking riding lessons at a stable near Arcadia.
While jumping his mount, Otis, then almost 10, fell—and didn’t get up.
With her son lying across the trainer’s lap in the front seat and Camilla in the back, Mrs. Chandler raced to an emergency hospital in Pasadena.
Horn blazing, Mrs. Chandler screeched the car to a halt outside the hospital and ran inside. An attendant returned with her and felt for her son’s pulse. He could not find any.
“Lady, it’s too late,” the attendant said.
Without saying a word, Mrs. Chandler jumped back into the car and drove to Huntington Memorial Hospital, also in Pasadena.
She spotted Dr. Leon Campbell, a friend of the family.
“Otis is dead, they tell me,” she said, trying to maintain control.
Campbell “just grabbed Otis, and right there was an attendant, who gave him an injection.” Within minutes, Otis Chandler’s pulse returned.
Physicians at Huntington later told Mrs. Chandler that if she had paused any longer, her son would have died.
Why, in the face of the death pronouncement at the first hospital, had Dorothy Chandler continued on?
“I just couldn’t believe them,” she said matter-of-factly years later. “I remember thinking, over and over, ‘My son is not dead,’ and I left.”
During World War II, Mrs. Chandler lived in a small apartment at The Times and began to develop an interest in how the paper’s “society” pages were covering women’s news and the arts in Los Angeles.
In 1948, she was given the title of administrative assistant to the president of Times Mirror (her husband), and was put on the payroll.
Times Women of the Year
While Mrs. Chandler was never involved in policy decisions affecting other news departments, she pretty much had a free hand to work with women’s page editors.
One of her first actions was to institute an annual awards ceremony to honor women for individual achievement.
The idea became the Times Women of the Year awards, and between 1950 and 1976 (with three years out for construction of the Times Mirror Building), 243 women were accorded those honors, including Mrs. Chandler herself in 1951 (for her role in rescuing the Hollywood Bowl from bankruptcy the year before).
She created the awards, she once said, because “I felt [after World War II] that the role of a woman had changed, and that instead of being just society, bridge-playing clubwomen that they had a potential within themselves to do creative things. . . .”
The spirit of the awards—given for achievement in service—also became the major thrust behind the type of news covered by The Times’ women’s pages. Achievement was accented; party-giving was downplayed.
The 1950s also were a period of expanding interests and activities for Mrs. Chandler. She continued on the board at Childrens Hospital, the Hollywood Bowl Assn. and the Southern California Symphony Assn., was elected to the board of trustees of Occidental College, was named by Gov. Goodwin J. Knight to the UC Board of Regents, and served on the presidential committee on higher education, among other duties.
It was also the period in which she launched her crusade to build a permanent home for the Los Angeles Philharmonic—the fund-raising campaign that was to make the Music Center a reality.
In 1950, Mrs. Chandler had cut her teeth on the sometimes-rewarding, sometimes-disappointing—and always delicate—enterprise known as fund-raising.
People and their money—extremely wealthy people and their money—are not easily parted, she had discovered. But her 1950 drive to save the Hollywood Bowl had nonetheless been a relatively quick victory.
On June 14 of that year—in the fourth day of its 33rd season—the Bowl had been forced to close. Reports of its indebtedness ranged to $200,000.
Mrs. Chandler, as a director of the Hollywood Bowl Assn., moved quickly. She contacted Conductor Alfred Wallenstein and soon persuaded headline musicians to play with the symphony in the Bowl without fees.
Under the emergency plan, the great amphitheater reopened on July 26 and completed its season. In addition, primarily through the efforts of Mrs. Chandler, $87,000 was raised and the Bowl ended the year with a bit of a profit.
A Suitable Home for Orchestra
But she was interested in greater, long-range solutions. It was time, she decided, to build a suitable home for the orchestra and give culture in Los Angeles a much-needed lift.
Early in 1955, she organized a benefit party at the Ambassador Hotel. Jack Benny, Danny Kaye and Dinah Shore entertained without fee; the hotel donated space, and General Motors donated a Cadillac Eldorado to be raffled off.
The gala netted $400,000 and, years later, was still known throughout social circles in Los Angeles as, simply, “the Eldorado Party.”
But $400,000 is one thing. Several million is quite another.
Poolside changing rooms at Los Tiempos (“The Times”), the Chandler home in Hancock Park, were made into offices and it was from there that Mrs. Chandler organized her troops.
She set out to contact every rich person she knew in Southern California--and some she didn’t know. She worked steadily on the project while, at the same time, carrying on her numerous other activities.
Working from a list of only 10 to 15 names in front of her at any one time, Mrs. Chandler planned her approach on a case-by-case basis.
“If I kept looking at the whole list, I would never have slept,” she once said.
While some later tried to diminish the magnitude of her feat by pooh-poohing her abilities as a fund-raiser and ascribing her success to the power of The Times behind her, those from whom she had successfully solicited large donations knew better.
As the wife of Norman Chandler, it was true that few doors were “closed” to her. But it was what happened after she got through the door that was the basis of her success.
She frequently returned to a potential donor three, four, five times. She would sit and listen as he or she talked of business and/or personal problems (sometimes listening politely to individual diatribes against The Times) for much of her appointment time.
Then she would talk about the state of the arts in Los Angeles and of the importance of community support—heavy community support.
In some cases involving very large donations, it took her two years to get the pledge.
A good fund-raiser, Mrs. Chandler said, should be “at various times a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a marriage counselor and even a sort of family doctor.
“You have to know the family situation at all times. Divorce, illness, death—or just a routine change in the family financial situation—can inhibit contribution.”
An additional asset she had, probably the result of sound research as well as good instinct, was to know the difference between the amount that a potential donor might want to give and the amount he or she could afford to give.
Said an executive of Times Mirror who knew Mrs. Chandler well:
“Buff is the most superb fund-raiser on the face of the Earth, and one of her strengths is she doesn’t underaccept.”
Or, as Bob Hope was reported to have said while glancing around the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion of the Music Center on dedication night:
“Just think, all the money for this beautiful center was raised by voluntary contributions--voluntary, that is, when Buff stopped twisting your arm so you could sign the check.”
By then, Mrs. Chandler was very much aware that her demeanor at times was not always endearing.
“When Buff Chandler walks into a meeting, the rest of us might as well go home,” one Los Angeles committee woman had told Time magazine in 1964.
“Talk like that,” Mrs. Chandler responded, “makes me cry.
“Inside of me I am very loving and warm, but the position in which I’ve been placed, the responsibilities I have, make it necessary for me to be very strong and very firm.
“Often I’ve had to be the catalyst simply because nobody else would make a decision. So in my way I’ve had to be much more firm and forceful in my appearance and speech that I really would like to have been.
“I know that, and I’m not the ideal of the person I set out to be.”
On Music Center dedication night on Dec. 6, 1964, there were many tributes offered by the wealthy, the famous, the powerful—all of whom were attending one of California’s premier historical cultural-social events.
The applause for Dorothy Buffum Chandler lasted for several minutes and, after a tug on her arm by her son, Otis, she rose and smiled at the throng in the opulent Pavilion hall:
“What is important here tonight,” Mrs. Chandler said, “is not the fund-raising or the building that we are in. The only really important thing here tonight is the music we heard performed.
“That will go on forever. . . .”
In her efforts in behalf of the Music Center, she had not only twisted the arms of the long established “old money” families of Pasadena, but had gone to “new money” sources on the city’s Westside and Hollywood.
And there, in Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles and the entertainment industry, many of the most wealthy and most prominent were Jewish.
“Before the Music Center,” said the late attorney Paul Ziffren, “Jews were not a part of the social life of this community.” Mrs. Chandler, he said, “was primarily responsible for opening up this community in terms of Jews and Gentiles.”
In 1971, Mrs. Chandler became the first woman ever to receive the Herbert Hoover Medal for Distinguished Service, awarded by the Stanford University Alumni Assn.
The citation read:
“Mrs. Chandler’s impact on the cultural life, not of Southern California alone but of the entire United States, is simply incalculable. She set an example that inspired others to move boldly on behalf of the arts in cities throughout the country.”
Three years later, in San Francisco, she was presented with the Humanitarian Award of Variety Clubs International for her work on behalf of Childrens Hospital and for her leadership in the arts, especially her insistence that the Music Center host free concerts and performances for the city’s children.
“I do not seek honors,” she said in accepting the highly prized award from entertainer Danny Kaye, “but they are nice to have, and especially coming from such a wonderful group, doing such marvelous things for children—rehabilitation and health needs of children all over the world.
“The complete child must be the one that has physical and medical needs met, but the complete child must also have experiences of soul, of beauty, of theater, of going to different places and experiencing something that goes deep inside. . . .”
Other recipients of the Variety Clubs’ Humanitarian Award had included Helen Keller, Sir Winston Churchill, Bob Hope, Dr. Jonas Salk and Dr. Albert Schweitzer.
And the accolades continued late into her life, several years after failing health had curtailed her activities.
In April 1985, President Reagan selected her as one of the first 11 artists and patrons of the arts to receive the National Medal of Arts that he had asked Congress to create. She was chosen, the White House said, for being “the major effort” behind the Music Center.
Among the positions and honorary degrees held by Mrs. Chandler at her death were honorary life chairman, Los Angeles Philharmonic Assn.; chairman, board of governors, Performing Arts Council of the Music Center; honorary president, the Amazing Blue Ribbon of the Music Center, and board member, Music Center Foundation.
Others included honorary life trustee, Occidental College; honorary life trustee, California Institute of Technology; doctor of humane letters, University of Judaism; doctor of laws, Occidental College; doctor of arts, Otis Art Institute of Los Angeles County; doctor of fine arts, Pepperdine University; doctor of humane letters, University of California, and doctor of laws, University of Southern California.
Additional titles she had held at Times Mirror included vice president, corporate relations, and director emeritus.
Survivors, in addition to her son, Otis, and daughter, Camilla, include eight grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
Funeral services will be private.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Dorothy Buffum Chandler Foundation, care of the Music Center, 717 W. Temple St., Suite 400, Los Angeles 90012.
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