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
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
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.
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.
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
During these years he covered gruesome auto accidents and high-profile
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
then 3, and myself, then 5, about our presidential favorites (I believe
supported Kennedy at the time). For old-timers, they may remember a
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
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
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.