Feb. 3, 1924 – May 20, 2014
NEW YORK – Arthur Gelb, who by sheer force of personality dominated the newsroom at the New York Times for decades, lifting its metropolitan and arts coverage to new heights and helping to shape the newspaper in its modern era, died Tuesday at his home in Manhattan. He was 90.
His son Peter Gelb, the general manager of the Metropolitan Opera in New York, said the cause was complications of a stroke.
Hired as a copy boy in 1944, Mr. Gelb rose to become a singular Timesman in the second half of the 20th century, leaving a large stamp as critic, chief cultural correspondent, metropolitan editor, deputy managing editor and managing editor, the post he held when he retired at the end of 1989.
No matter the role, Gelb, a gangly 6-foot-2, was relentless, fidgety and in-your-face – whether in passionate response to a potential scoop or in fevered reaction to the whim of a fellow boss, typically the equally relentless A.M. Rosenthal, who had been two years his senior at City College and perpetually a step ahead of him in the Times hierarchy, finally reaching the newsroom’s top post, executive editor.
Mr. Gelb, writing for the culture pages, discovered stars in an expanding off-Broadway universe. His reviews and news coverage helped propel the fledgling careers of, among others, Woody Allen, Barbra Streisand, Dick Gregory, Lenny Bruce, Jason Robards, Joseph Papp and Colleen Dewhurst.
As a top editor, he played a vital role, beginning in the 1970s, in conceiving and executing daily stand-alone sections – Sports Monday, Science Times, Dining, Home, Weekend – as well as special magazines on Sundays. All of them expanded and deepened news coverage while becoming durable vehicles for advertising in challenging economic times. Other newspapers emulated them widely.
Under Mr. Gelb’s watch as metropolitan editor, the Times’ investigation of systemic police corruption, spurred by revelations by Officer Frank Serpico, redeemed the newspaper’s sometimes gushing embrace of Mayor John V. Lindsay’s administration and led to the creation of the Knapp Commission, which prompted reforms.
Known for nurturing young talent, Mr. Gelb developed a long roster of protégés, including Maureen Dowd, Paul Goldberger, Ada Louise Huxtable, Michiko Kakutani, Frank Rich and John Rockwell, the chief rock music critic.
“He has that surprisingly rare quality in an editor,” the author Renata Adler, a former Times movie critic, said. “He makes you want to write.”
– New York Times