Newspaper editor Jim Bellows dies

Served as managing editor of 'Entertainment Tonight'

Jim Bellows, a famed editor who thrived on controversy, transformed struggling newspapers in Los Angeles, Washington and New York, nurtured the careers of Tom Wolfe and Jimmy Breslin and helped make a hit of a flailing TV show called "Entertainment Tonight," has died. He was 86.

Bellows, who lived in Brentwood, had Alzheimer's disease and died Friday at a nursing home in Santa Monica, said his wife Keven Bellows.

For two decades beginning in the 1960s, Bellows took big-city newspapers that were fighting losing battles against large-budgeted giants and spiced them up with scrappy reporting and columns that often took jabs at their stuffy rivals.

"I am never happier than when someone hands me a newspaper that is either not very good or in deep financial trouble," Bellows wrote in his 2002 memoir, "The Last Editor: How I Saved the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times from Dullness and Complacency."

"The first paper doesn't want to rock the boat. It wants to keep the profits the way they're going, and everything like that," Bellows said in a 2002 interview for PBS' NewsHour. "We didn't have to worry about profit and earnings and so on, because we didn't have any. But we certainly worked harder and did unusual things in the process."

Between 1961 and 1981, Bellows was an editor with the New York Herald Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Star and the Los Angeles Herald Examiner.

All but the Times eventually folded from financial pressures but some of Bellows' innovations remained. For instance, he helped launch the gossip column "The Ear" for the Star. The column often tweaked Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee but it later moved to that newspaper.

As an editor, Bellows urged his writers to seek out telling and gritty details. He was famous for his mumbling, sometimes obtuse instructions, relying on a word or two, a raised eyebrow or a smile to convey his meaning.

"I didn't know what he was saying," Breslin once said. "But I knew exactly what he meant."

Bellows went on to serve as managing editor of "Entertainment Tonight" from 1981-83, and was credited with helping turn the show into a ratings success.

His career, which lasted until he was past 80, ranged from newspapers to TV and then onto the Web. He worked at eight newspapers and later had positions with the Internet's Prodigy and Excite.

In his newspaper days, he attracted and nurtured such now-prominent writers as Wolfe, Breslin, Judith Crist, Gail Sheehy and Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Maureen Dowd. He thrived on raising hackles.

Bellows was "a newspaperman with verve and bravery in equal measure, who always backed up his reporters, and who loved nothing better than to do a joyous rain dance in a hail of criticism," Dowd once wrote.

In addition to his wife, Bellows is survived by his daughters, Amelia Bellows, Priscilla Bellows, Felicia Bellows and Justine Bellows Sears; a stepson, Michael R. Sohigian, and 10 grandchildren.