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Jack Searles, RIP

April 23, 2008 | 12:00 pm

Jack Curtis Searles 1928-2008

By Michael Searles

For more than 60 years, Jack Searles, in one fashion or another, was involved in Southern California journalism. His newspaper jobs included everything from copy boy to business editor. He worked for every kind of newspaper, from the tiny Pixley Enterprise to the L.A. Times, the Herald Examiner and the New York Post.

He covered stories ranging from the opening of an outlet mall in Camarillo to the nomination of JFK as candidate for president of the United   States. He taught hundreds if not thousands of students the art of journalism at colleges and universities across Southern California. He was a splendid writer and the kind of editor you loved to work for.

Jack always went his own way. He was willing to take chances and go off the beaten path, whether it was buying land in Palmdale in the 1960s on speculation that an airport would boost land values there or purchasing the Pixley Enterprise in Tulare County in the 1970s so he could have his own newspaper.

Education was very important to Jack and he spent many years taking classes part-time at UCLA while working full-time before earning his bachelor’s degree in his 20s. Later, he returned to UCLA to earn a master’s degree.


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Above, reporter Jack Searles accompanies Marilyn Monroe with reporter Bob Krauch at right. The man on the left is as yet unidentified. He inscribed the photo to his sister Cherie.


Everyone who met Jack was impressed by his intelligence, his dry sense of humor and his skills as a writer and teacher. He wrote with a simple clarity and intelligence that made his stories appealing and always made him attractive to newspaper editors and colleges across Southern California.

While Jack never completely gave up newspaper writing, he did start a second long career in education. Many of his former students speak of the inspiration he offered them. 

Jack loved to play tennis and continued to play a vigorous game almost to the end of his life. Jack also found great comfort and pleasure in his dogs. With them, he was freest to express his feelings.

Jack’s lineage can be traced back to one of the greatest Talmudic scholars in history, Rabbi Moises Ben Iserles of 16th century Krakow. In his own way, Jack carried on that proud tradition.

Jack Curtis Searles was born Aug. 12, 1928, in Welch, W. Va. Even at the moment of his birth he was living life according to his own schedule. Jack’s parents were on a business trip with plans to be back at their home in Chicago for his birth, but Jack decided it was time to enter the world and so he was born in this tiny hamlet in West Virginia, where he spent the first week of his life, never to return.

Jack spent his childhood in Chicago. His father, Max Iserlis (who later changed his name to Searles) immigrated from Tolochin in Belarus after a long hiatus in Japan. Max worked at many jobs, frequently as a traveling salesman. Jack’s mother, Ada Curtis, was the daughter of Jewish merchants in Chicago. In 1934, Max and Ada moved the family to Los Angeles, including Jack’s older brother, Larry, and his older sister, Cherie. In later years, Max, who became fluent in Spanish, sold family portraits to migrant farm workers in California.

Shortly after arriving in California, the family moved to Venice Beach, where Max supplemented his income during the Depression by making hair tonic in the bathtub. Cherie, who now lives in Texas, fondly remembers walking with her little brother, then 7 years old, along the beach front.

Later, the family moved to Hollywood, where Jack was very studious, but would also take time to play with his best friends, Herbert and Sonny, out in the street. Those friendships lasted a lifetime and even in his last days, Jack was in touch with Herbert and another lifelong friend, Manny Schulz.

At Fairfax High School from 1942 to 1946, Jack began to spread his wings -- he was very active in journalism, writing and editing the school newspaper. After graduation, he stayed at home until 1953 when he met and married Charlotte Horovitz, a beautiful 17-year-old high school senior from Santa Monica.

As a young man just into his 20s, Jack tried starting a “shopper” newspaper in Panorama City.  In the late 1940s, Jack started working as copy boy on the Mirror. Eventually he became a police reporter, general assignment reporter, columnist and political reporter.

During these years he covered gruesome auto accidents and high-profile murders. He covered the Democratic National Convention in 1960 in L.A. when JFK was nominated for president (he was a Stevenson man). For one of his columns, he interviewed my sister Karen, then 3, and myself, then 5, about our presidential favorites (I believe I supported Kennedy at the time). For old-timers, they may remember a couple of his buddies from the period --- George Reasons and Art Berman.

When the Mirror folded, Jack went to work for the L.A. Times as a general assignment reporter. Always somewhat restless, he left The Times and spent a year working for the San Diego Union. He then returned to The Times for several years.
 
In 1963, he picked up and moved to New York to accept a position as business editor of the New York Post. Soon, he was drawn back to L.A. taking over as business editor for the Los Angeles Herald Examiner from 1964 until sometime in the early 1980s. He stayed with the paper during the turbulent strike years.

When he left the Herald he very briefly dipped his toes in public relations, accepting a personal services contract with Armand Hammer, head of L.A.-based Occidental Petroleum. Hammer and Jack quickly realized that he was not built to be a PR man, so Hammer allowed Jack to finish off his contract by completing a Master of Arts in Journalism at UCLA during the brief period when UCLA offered such a degree.

By the early 1980s, Jack had retooled and entered the field of college journalism education. He served as journalism professor and adviser to the campus newspaper at Riverside City Community College and later moved to the newly opened West Los Angeles Community College, where he taught and served as adviser to the campus newspaper for more than a decade.

During this period, Jack bought a tiny weekly newspaper in Tulare County, the Pixley Enterprise (yes, it was published in Pixley, Calif.). Jack would drive up on weekends and edit the paper. He continued that practice for several years before selling the paper.

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Still going strong in his 60s, Jack moved to Ventura County and continued to teach part time at colleges across Southern California, including Cal State Northridge, Cal State Dominguez Hills, Pierce College, Valley College, Oxnard College and Ventura College.

Even into his 70s, Jack still taught journalism and English part-time and wrote a business column for the Ventura County edition of the L.A. Times and later for the Ventura Star.

After being laid low by a stroke at the age of 75, Jack never gave up on the dream of returning to teaching and journalism. For more than 50 years he lived that dream. Even during his last few months of life after a severe heart attack, he still wanted to talk politics and current events.

Jack and Charlotte were married for 55 years until his death. For many years, Charlotte taught elementary school children at inner-city schools. They lived in many parts of Southern California, settling in Ventura County about 20 years ago.

His son Michael, born in 1953, is a former journalist and teacher, and is a mental health therapist in Washington, DC. His daughter Karen, born in 1955, is a high-level insurance executive in Los Angeles. Karen drew even closer to Jack during his final months as she was a fierce advocate for his well-being and comfort.

Jack will be remembered as a loving husband, father and brother. He will be sorely missed by those who benefited from his writings, his teaching, his sense of humor and his willingness to live life on his own terms. We have all been enriched by his life and his example.

Note: Michael Searles, a graduate of the Cal State Northridge journalism program, worked as a reporter and editor for local newspapers, including the Santa Monica Outlook and the Simi Valley Enterprise (both now folded) before becoming an elementary school teacher in Los Angeles and northern Virginia for 20 years. Michael now works as a mental health therapist in Washington, DC.

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