Editor and publisher helped establish the very first “city magazine”
Geoff Miller, one of the founders of Los Angeles Magazine who served as its first editor and later publisher for a total of more than 30 years, died on Saturday at his Los Angeles home of progressive supranuclear palsy. He was 74.
Los Angeles was the first “city magazine,” and Miller is credited with helping to create the genre. His publication predated New York Magazine by eight years.
"Los Angeles Magazine began life with no instruction manual," Miller later wrote.
Born on Aug. 1, 1936, Salt Lake City, Miller moved to Beverly Hills when he was a few months old and lived the rest of his life in Beverly Hills, attending area schools, including Good Shepherd and Loyola High. He served as alter boy at Good Shepherd for Elizabeth Taylor's first wedding to Nicky Hilton.
He was developing an urban arts magazine while getting his master's in journalism at UCLA when he met David Brown, an ad executive with an idea for a magazine that would celebrate their native city and highlight its offerings.
They launched The Prompter in the summer of 1960 for just $50,000; six months later the name was changed to Los Angeles Magazine. Brown left the magazine in 1974.
Despite a shoestring budget, Los Angeles Magazine still managed to attract top writers. Regular contributors included Jim Murray, Charles Champlin and Art Seidenbaum, together with occasional pieces from brand name writers like Robert Towne, Ray Bradbury, Joseph Wambaugh, Harlan Ellison, Caroline See and Budd Schulberg.
Miler said they got them to agree to do some of their best work for almost no money by providing them with a journalistic freedom they rarely found in other publications of the day — as well as with frequent three-martini lunches.
Los Angeles pioneered the use of celebrity covers in the early 1970s, portraying top film and TV stars as fellow residents of the city, often talking them into spoofing themselves in a good-natured way in photos themed around special features of the magazine like dining out and weekend travel guides.
In one instance, a newly famous Farrah Fawcett was photographed in a variety of swimsuit poses, including one semi-salacious take of her down on all fours, looking provocatively at the viewer. To Miller's amazement, it was the shot Fawcett liked best; it turned into a newsstand sensation for the magazine, and later became the actress' second-biggest selling poster.
Los Angeles Magazine also attracted industry recognition and accolades for its investigations of the construction of the Metro Rail, the McMartin preschool sex-abuse case and the Billionaire Boys Club. It would be nominated for Columbia University's National Magazine Award.
"Every magazine has a unique DNA — its connection, in a real bonding sense, with its chosen readership. You don’t choose a magazine, a magazine chooses you," Miller wrote.
To that end, Miller took pride in the fact that Los Angeles outlasted many worthy and often better-financed competitors that were spawned by his magazine's success, including New West, founded by New York magazine editor Clay Felker; LA Style; California; and Buzz. He attributed that to other publications' tendency to misread the L.A. landscape — and thus often too New York focused.
Ownership of Los Angeles Magazine changed hands several times during Miller's tenure. In 1973, Felker announced his intention to take over the magazine. That deal collapsed, but shortly thereafter a holding company led by Seth Baker purchased the company. ABC bought the magazine in 1979, and it was folded into the Disney media empire, when Disney bought ABC.
In 1990, Miller became publisher and was replaced as editor-in-chief by Lew Harris, currently managing editor of TheWrap. After more than 34 years with the magazine, he retired in 1994. He continued to consult on various publishing and entertainment ventures, splitting his time between Los Angeles, New York and London.
He is survived by his wife, actress Kathryn Leigh Scott, one of the original stars of the serial "Dark Shadows," about to be remade into a Johnny Depp film.