SAN FRANCISCO GUARDIAN 4-11-90
Larry Lee, 1942-1990.
outrage and humor
Larry Bensky remembers Larry Lee
By Larry Bensky
Larry Lee would have loved his obituaries. The laudatory remarks from those of us who worked with him ("a brilliance for political insight;" "a very special person;" "gallant and brave and graceful' ') and especially the Sunday newspaper headline, "Media superstar Lee fused passion, intellect."
It wasn't, especially, that Larry's ego needed flattery; he had worked too many years in the relative anonymity of media administrative jobs to expect much of that. Rather, Larry would have enjoyed his obituaries because he could have talked about them all day.
That's what would have happened last Monday – gossip on the phone and in person about who was just being nice in their obituary remarks and who really meant what they'd said; comparison of the remarks to obits he'd read, and written, back in his Texas youth; promises of playful revenge ("when she dies, I hope they call me!") All of it in that wonderful free-associating stream of conversation that, no matter how long it had been since you'd seen him, Larry Lee always seemed to know how to pick up again, inserting in it things he believed you might not have read, seen or thought since he'd last talked to you. While fielding the phone calls, Larry would have been working, too – putting people on hold occasionally to deal with deadline-type inputs, probably scanning a few newspapers and magazines, even thinking out loud about books and articles he, or you, or anyone you both knew should be reading or writing.
We worked together for about five years during the 1970s, at KPFA and KSAN. We agonized over budgets and programming together (He was program director, I was production director) at KPFA. At KSAN, we shared an office, co-anchored hundreds of news-casts and co-hosted dozens of talk shows. For a while, we ate lunch together two or three times a week.
In the pressure situations of deadline work. one rarely sits back and reflects that the person one's working with is exceptional. Even less, given the distanced relationships encouraged by our professional environments, do we dare to take the initiative to tell someone that we feel privileged to be in their presence.
I wish I'd done that now. But if I had, I can hear Larry saying something like, "Just remember, Bensky, it's all show business," and being at least half serious about it.
So it's official now, after his death: Larry Lee was, in the words of the Sunday newspaper headline, a "media superstar." Of course, such superstars come and go, and unless you work in media, or were a listener to the KSAN of the 1970s, it's possible that you never heard of him. Like most of the very few journalists other media people would consider for superstardom, Larry did a large part of his work anonymously, as a producer, administrator and writer .
That he was a person of immense personal energy, charm, laughter and acuity is the common impression of all who knew and worked with him. We also all remember Larry's unusual professional dedication and honesty. In a field filled with people manipulating situations for their own insufferable power, glory and money, Larry worked for other, very unfashionable, jour-nalistic goals: exposure of injustice. inequality and discrimination.
All this he managed to do with a rare combination of outrage and humor. I can see him now, as he was when we did the news together at the late, great
KSAN. Larry would peer at me over the microphones, his head cocked at its unusual angle, as he talked a story about some political weirdness or other, emphasizing the outrageousness of some human folly. Often he'd end his tale (we "talked" the news at KSAN; there were never any scripts) with just enough of a chuckle to let the audience know that the follies of humanity mean, among other things, that we are all part of the joke. (His most memorable KSAN production was called "The Watergate Follies," not "The Watergate Con-spiracy" or "The End of Nixon" or some such ponderous designation.)
The last time I saw Larry was just before he was diagnosed with AIDS – or before he let most people know. It was at a Media Alliance event, and Larry was in vintage form. That is to say, he spent ten minutes of nonstop, although muted, rage on the deficiencies of management at various television stations, including his own, in their craven search for ratings.