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A Woman of the Times: Journalism, Feminism, and the Career of Charlotte Curtis Hardcover – May 30, 1999

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

New York Times journalist Charlotte Curtis's mother was a prominent suffragist who was the first woman American Foreign Service Officer. But Curtis was not her mother's brand of feminist, nor was she a proponent of the women's lib movement of her contemporaries that hit its stride during the 1970s. (She was even at times openly scornful of its tactics to win equal pay and other rights.) Instead, Curtis, who began at the Times as a society-column writer in 1961, ended her career (she died of cancer in 1987) as the powerful editor of the paper's op-ed page. Instead of confronting the inherent sexism at the paper--she did not join the class-action suit filed against it by other women employees in the 1970s--she seemed work within it. Curtis used her society columns to write subtle sociological critiques. She listened carefully to "newsmakers" and their wives when they spoke off-guard at parties and wrote pieces about their lives and what drove them. She covered Leonard Bernstein's fund-raising party for the Black Panthers, Truman Capote's famous Black and White Ball, and the pop-culture allure of the Mafia. Soon, these types of impressionistic stories moved from the back pages of the paper to the front. Curtis helped change the face of journalism: today, as readers know only all too well, the story of a prominent person's life is as newsworthy as his or her accomplishments. This engagingly written biography strongly traces the arc of its subject's career. It is less clear in its analysis of whether Curtis's success led to lasting positive changes for other women at The New York Times. Still, it is an interesting account of an exceptional woman and her times. --Anna Baldwin

From Publishers Weekly

Charlotte Curtis was the most noted woman writer and editor associated with the New York Times at the time of her death from breast cancer in 1987 at the age of 59. With a sharp eye for detail and a solid sense of historical context, Greenwald charts Curtis's trajectory as a journalist, focusing largely on her 17-year tenure at the Times and her rise from a society reporter for the women's pages (known as the "4 Fs": food, fashion, family and furnishings) to the editor of the section to the editor of the op-ed page. Born in 1928 to an upper-middle class Cleveland family, Curtis graduated from Vassar and took a job at the Columbus Citizen-Journal. Ten years later, in 1961, she moved to the Times and quickly became known across the nation for her tart, insightful interviews, reporting and commentaries. Greenwald is at her best when detailing Curtis's significant contributions to journalism. She contends that by regarding herself as a "sociologist," critiquing her subjects and placing them in a broader social context, Curtis reinvented how U.S. newspaper journalists cover society and celebrity events. Greenwald makes the case that Curtis's style helped lay the groundwork for "new journalism," the advent of newspaper "style" sections and aspects of Truman Capote and Dominick Dunne's work. Greenwald also evenhandedly delineates why Curtis refused to join other women at the Times in a class-action discrimination suit. Although it doesn't offer as broad and rich a portrait of Curtis's 1960s and 1970s milieu as it might, this is an intelligent, accessible biography of a minor but important figure in the history of journalism.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 274 pages
  • Publisher: Ohio University Press (May 30, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0821412655
  • ISBN-13: 978-0821412657
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,324,092 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Marilyn Greenwald was born in Cleveland, Ohio, and has had an interest in journalism and writing for as long as she can remember. She worked on her junior high school newspaper, her high school newspaper, and she was a reporter, columnist and editorial page editor for the Ohio State University Lantern. It was natural for her to spend ten years of her professional career at newspapers. She was a copy editor and entertainment writer at the Telegraph in Painesville, Ohio, and a news and business reporter for the Columbus Citizen-Journal and the Columbus Dispatch in Ohio.

Her career took a different turn in the late 1980s when she began as an assistant professor at the Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University; during her first few years there, she developed an interest in studying women in journalism and the portrayal of women in newspapers. As part of a doctoral dissertation at Ohio State University, she began studying the career of Charlotte Curtis, an Ohioan who eventually became the first top female editor at the New York Times. That provided much of the information for her first biography, "A Woman of the Times: Journalism, Feminism and the Career of Charlotte Curtis," which was published in 1999 and named a Notable Book of the New York Times.

Her second biography in 2004 chronicles the life of Canadian newspaper reporter Leslie McFarlane, who is best known as "Franklin W. Dixon," the man who wrote the first group of Hardy Boys mysteries. McFarlane, who wrote the books in the 1930s and 1940s, earned about $100 per book and signed away all rights to their profits. His books have sold millions and millions of copies over more than 70 years.

Her third biography, "Cleveland Amory: Media Curmudgeon and Animal Rights Crusader," published in May 2009, was born from an interest she developed in graduate school in the lives and persuasion techniques of activists and true believers. Greenwald teaches a class in Review Writing at Ohio University, and has always been interested in arts criticism. So studying the life of Amory -- who was a best-selling author, TV Guide critic and Today show commentator -- provided the perfect opportunity to meld those two interests.

She finds writing biographies to be hard work, but it is also fun and interesting. And she believes that the lives of many accomplished people can be much more complex and fascinating than the lives of most fictional characters.

A professor at Ohio University, Greenwald teaches classes in news reporting, arts criticism, and biography writing (for graduate students). She has three degrees from Ohio State -- a bachelor's and master's degree in Journalism and a Ph.D in Communication, and lives in Columbus, Ohio, with her husband, Tim Doulin.

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Trish Blackie on September 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
After seeing a re-broadcast of Marilyn Greenwald on CNN and having just read yet another review (NY Times and Dallas paper), there is no brouhaha over this one --this is a fine work.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Y'57 (pbq47@aol.com) on August 24, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Ms. Greenwald's insightful biography of the fascinating woman who was both a shaper and observer of the women's movement is fascinating reading. Highly informative and entertaining this book is a real page turner.
The authors writing style is captivating and I look forward to her next endeavor.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 14, 1999
Format: Hardcover
As a former Times writer I was impressed with Ms. Greenwald's thorough investigation and her ability to capture Charlotte's persona.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 14, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Insightful and well written. I really enjoyed sharing the life of this remarkable woman.
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