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.
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