Whenever anyone used that fine old phrase “gentlemen of the press,” there was one man who came to my mind: Stan Chambers, who died Friday at the age of 91.
To call him the dean of Southern California TV reporters is to lowball what he was. He was, for one thing, the sweetest man ever to hold a microphone. When you swapped Stan stories with others in this trade, you learned that you weren’t the only wet, bedraggled competitor he gallantly invited into his news van to dry off while we were all covering a storm or flood.
He was a pioneer who started on TV the same year that the Black Dahlia was murdered, and didn’t retire until four and a half years ago. To the millions of Angelenos who watched him on KTLA every night, he was a friend and neighbor. He wore a shirt and tie even covering a fire because he believed when you’re invited into people’s houses, as he was, you should wipe your virtual feet and behave like a guest.
Chambers spent his entire career, more than 60 years, at the same TV station. He started off doing the kind of hokum that fell out of fashion for reporters but has now come back as TV journalists become “personalities” -- ice skating and being the taster on a cooking show.
He soon was reporting full time. He covered every Rose Parade as if it was the first one he’d ever seen and made his viewers feel the same. His biggest goof, he told me once, was at the 1960 Democratic convention here in L.A., on a live national broadcast of a news conference with Eleanor Roosevelt, when he leaped up to get her attention and called out, “Mrs. Kennedy!”
Famously, in 1949, he held forth during the seminal live coverage -- 27 1/2 hours of it -- monitoring the frantic and ultimately futile effort to rescue Kathy Fiscus, a 3-year-old girl who slipped down an open water-well pipe near her San Marino backyard. This was a time when there were no more than 20,000 TV sets in all of L.A.; Chambers’ wall-to-wall coverage would assure that television sales went through the roof.
He never aspired to be a Woodward-Bernstein type. He was, he repeated, a “regular reporter,” an unadorned, just-the-facts-ma’am news hound, wedded to his city and his station.
He only retired in 2011, but that’s been an eternity when business is driven by tech. He wouldn’t recognize -- at least he wouldn’t like -- the cold-blooded, click-driven, transactional relationship between journalists and employers, and between journalists and viewers, for that matter.
People told many more stories about Stan than he told about himself. He wasn’t one to carry himself with the swagger of a Brian Williams. Maybe that’s why the networks never came around to recruit him to the big time, but maybe that’s also part of the reason he was honored and even loved to his last signoff, 63 years after his first.
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