Publisher Weld dies at 98

Barbara Diamond

In the past 18 years, I have written many stories about John Weld,

the man, the Laguna Beach newspaper publisher, the author. This is

one story I wanted never to write.

John Weld died June 14. He was 98. No memorial service is planned.

John suffered a stroke six years ago, impairing his speech and

requiring professional care.

"To the end, he remained my darling John," said Katy Weld, his

wife of 67 years. "But he wasn't happy. He wanted to come home and

not be with strangers."

The Welds met when he was working as a screenwriter in Hollywood

in 1932. This was John's second try for a career in Tinseltown, where

he had worked years earlier as a stunt man. She was an actress with

the stage name of Gigi Parrish, a rising star and the most "beautiful

woman" he had ever seen, he wrote in the foreword of one of his

books.

After a complicated courtship, the couple moved to Laguna Beach in

1937, where John eventually opened a Ford dealership in 1948, after

years as chief copywriter for Ford Motor Co.

They published the Laguna Beach Post from 1949 to 1965 in

partnership with "Bud" Desenberg. Katy managed the office. John wrote

"Our Town," a very personal column -- often hilarious, sometimes

bawdy -- featured for 18 years on the front page. It always ended

with "Laguna I love you."

A compendium of the columns was published in book form in 1996.

The late Phil Interlandi illustrated it. It was the ninth book of the

10 John had published. The last was a biography of actor Walter

Houston, a friend from John's sojourn in Europe in the 1920s.

John and Katy were a welcome addition to Laguna's active social,

business and civic circles. He was an organizer of the South Coast

Community Hospital, now South Coast Medical Center, and served on its

board, including a stint as president.

The paper later was sold to Vern Spitaleri, who merged it with the

South Coast News to form the Laguna News Post.

"I respected him, Spitaleri said. "When I put together a Vision

Committee 30 years ago. I chose a broad spectrum of people and I

picked Weld. I needed people like him. He was a good thinker.

"We are going to miss him, I can tell you that."

John Weld was born in 1905 in Birmingham, Alabama. His father died

just months after his son was born. While his mother worked to

support the family, John attended military academies in Birmingham

and Atlanta.

After an unsuccessful try at a career in New York vaudeville, John

crewed for a year on a freighter, saving as much money as he could.

Then he and three friends drove across country to Los Angeles, where

he literally dove into a career as a stunt man.

John, a skilled swimmer who tried out for the 1924 Olympics,

according to a publicity release for one of his books, was hired as

an extra for "Dante's Inferno." He volunteered to replace a stunt man

who refused to dive off a 137-foot cliff into the rocky waters off of

Santa Cruz Island. John asked for $60 and got it. He also got 16

stitches in his scalp.

For the next few years, John "doubled" -- did stunts for Hollywood

stars such as Tom Mix, John Barrymore and Zasu Pitts.

He wrote about his experiences in "Fly Away Home -- Memoirs of a

Hollywood Stuntman," published in February 1991.

John wrote his first novel in Hollywood, but didn't have a clue

how to get it published. He asked gossip columnist and Hollywood

power broker Louella Parsons for help. She got him a job on a New

York American newspaper. It was 1926. He was 21.

After a year, John headed for Europe, where the Paris Bureau of

the New York Herald Tribune hired him.

John wrote about his time in Paris and the extraordinary cast of

characters he met there in "Young Man in Paris," published in 1985.

Houston called the book "utterly fascinating," according to the dust

cover.

John wrote his first two books that sold, "Gun Girl" and "Stunt

Man," in Paris. By the time he came back to the United States, he was

considered a rising literary star, a member of Maxwell Perkin's

stable of authors at Charles Scirbner's Sons.

But Hollywood beckoned, Katy was waiting in the wings and the West

Coast became his home for the rest of his life.

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