He covered so much more territory than Hollywood as the columnist for the Los Angeles legal newspaper Daily Journal. But Garry Abrams was the sharpest truthteller about the entertainment business’ many legal scrapes I’ve ever known. He was also my friend, and he died after a long battle with cancer (Cedars-Sinai photo of him below). I spoke to his wife last week and, inbetween my tears, and her courage, we laughed. Which was fitting, because Garry and I used to laugh a lot about the craziness that is Hollywood. I first met him when we shared a pod at the Los Angeles Times. Unlike myself, Garry was not openly confrontational; yet his subversive spirit surfaced regularly in a wry and well-timed comment here and there. Besides his keen mind and sharp writing, what I admired best about Garry was how he’d managed to stay both a normal person and a tough journalist. When he left and eventually landed at the Daily Journal and began his regular column, he seemed remarkedly content because he had almost total freedom. We reconnected when we covered the Katzenberg v Disney trial together off and on in 1999. When the court sessions ended, we trotted along the hallways, convulsed in laughter at the idiocy of all these bickering rich folk. But it wasn’t until my own legal squabble that I saw how much the legal community of Los Angeles respected Garry personally and professionally: for them, getting mentioned in Garry’s column was not unlike getting nominated for an Oscar. Later, Garry and I marveled at the ups and downs of the Winnie the Pooh case (Disney v Slesingers) that was taking 11+ years to wind its way through the courts. At one point, a discovery decision was so long coming that we joked that the judge had keeled over from sheer boredom. Then, one day, Garry phoned to tell me the judge really had died. We laughed to the point of tears — not out of cruelty but because of the absurdity of this case that just went on and on. The Pellicano scandal provided still more fodder for humor between us. Unfortunately, because a subscription to the Daily Journal costs hundreds of dollars, only the legal community regularly read Garry’s columns. So I started picking up paragraphs from them here on DHD to get the word out. He scored a terrific scoop with this interview with Patty Glaser, around whom Pellicano rumor upon rumor was swirling: Pellicano Probed? H’wood Attorney Patty Glaser Says “Absolutely Not”. And Garry’s wicked streak was on display in this send-up: New Thrill: “Pellicano Prosecution Park”. I can’t believe he won’t be covering the Pellicano scandal to its inevitable conclusion: there were so many laughs left to share between us.
August 8, 2006
Daily Journal Columnist Delivered, With Wry Wit and Insight
By Susan McRae
Daily Journal Staff Writer
LOS ANGELES – Whether he was musing over the latest revelations in the Suge Knight case, expounding on the in-fighting among Winnie-the-Pooh heirs or exploring the ever-widening fallout from the Anthony Pellicano investigation, Garry Abrams could be counted on to do it with style, humor, wry insight and close-to-the-bone truth.
Many who found themselves the subject of his twice-weekly column at the Daily Journal, either favorably or unfavorably, often became his friends.
On Saturday, Abrams died at his home in South Pasadena with his wife, Diana Durham Abrams, and his daughter, Andrea Abrams, at his side, after a long struggle with cancer. He was 58.
He died one day after his daughter’s 18th birthday.
To fellow journalists, he was a gifted writer with taste and an avid interest in everything and everyone, who always managed to deliver on deadline without ever seeming hurried or hassled.
“Garry was an old-fashioned newsman with a deep heart and soul, a laconic wit and a great laugh,” Daily Journal Editor Martin Berg said.
“He was equally at home digging out a small quirky story or competing ferociously on a big one,” Berg said. “We will not see his like again, and we miss him terribly.”
Up until the last month, Abrams also managed to turn in his columns to the paper every week.
“Even when he was feeling really, really badly and we drove up to Big Bear to visit friends and he didn’t do a lot but rest, he insisted on reading the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times because he had to check on something on the Pellicano case,” his wife said.
Abrams loved to ponder the whimsy, humor and absurdity of life. But he was equally passionate about civil liberties and human rights.
When his daughter was 10, he took her on a visit to Skid Row because he wanted her to see that life is not all about green trees and pretty houses, his wife recalled.
His standards caused him to quit jobs in journalism twice over ethical conflicts. He resigned from a Kentucky newspaper for refusing to publish stories he and colleagues uncovered about a local leader who they believed was sexually abusing handicapped children. He later quit a Los Angeles fashion trade publication because he believed it was overly influenced by its advertisers.
Los Angeles Times writer Bob Sipchen, a close friend who met Abrams soon after he began working at the Times in the early 1980s, said he used to razz the Kentucky native about his hillbilly roots.
“He reminded me of Eyore in “Winnie the Pooh,” Sipchen said. “He had a low-key, morose attitude. But when he was diagnosed with the disease, he developed a gusto for life that you don’t see often.
“I’ve never seen someone quite enjoy the moment as he learned to do when he had this disease. Toward the end, he couldn’t do too much, and we used to drive up to the mountains, and he would revel in the quality of the mountain air and how tangible it was.”
“He had a great sense of humor, very droll and sardonic, and he was a really smart guy,” Sipchen said.
Attorney and writer Neville Johnson, who was the subject of several of Abrams’ columns, viewed Abrams as the “ultimate juror in a case with common sense and common decency and an ability to see the big picture.”
“He was at the pinnacle of his profession in thoroughness and fair-mindedness, yet he was never malicious,” Johnson said. “He didn’t write to sensationalize. What you got from his columns was a wryness and introspection in a paper where the reportage was ‘just the facts ma’am.'”
“Garry was old-school but in a good way, not some crusty ‘Front-Page’ caricature or some guy who wears a green visor,” said writer Dennis McDougal, who also met Abrams when they both were at the Los Angeles Times.
“Garry was unique as a deadline journalist. He didn’t cave in to the temptation of going with half-baked truth simply because it seemed like a good story,” Johnson said.
Another fellow journalist from Abrams’ Los Angeles Times days, Nikki Finke, recalled how delighted she was to meet him again, when they both were covering law-related stories for their respective papers.
“He was never afraid to call it like it was,” Finke said. “He really cared. If he felt someone was acting like a jerk, he wasn’t afraid to say it. “
Abrams was born in Clay County, Ky., in the Appalachian Mountains and grew up in Berea, a town he wrote about in one of his columns in a funny and thought-provoking story about a racial gunfight on its main street, which ended with two men dead, one black, the other white.
As a high-school student and later as a student at Berea College, Abrams reported, wrote and took photographs for the town paper, the Berea Citizen. He later was removed from his chief editorship of the college newspaper for his stance against the Vietnam War but allowed to stay on the staff, where he remained a voice of dissent.
During that time, he sought conscientious-objector status from his local draft board, which he later received on appeal.
With a philosophy rooted in social causes, he worked with an organization dedicated to eliminating open strip-mining and later worked as a speech writer for the Appalachian Regional Commission, part of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty.
After leaving Kentucky, he traveled to New Zealand and Fiji, taking photographs and writing. Returning to the United States with no money, he took the first job offered him as West Coast business correspondent for Women’s Wear Daily. From there, he joined California Apparel News and later joined a fashion trade publication in Dallas.
He returned to Los Angeles in the 1980s to write for the Los Angeles Times. He left the Times in 1993 to take time out to write a novel and do some freelance writing. In 1995, he joined the Daily Journal.
Of all his journalism jobs, his column gave him the greatest scope for his talents, his wife said. He covered the Democratic Convention in Los Angeles, interviewed former Sen. John Edwards during his vice-president candidacy, received a hug from fellow social activist Martin Sheen and wrote with fascination about rapper artists Tupac Shakur, Biggie Smalls and Dr. Dre.
Besides his wife and daughter, Abrams is survived by his sister, Penny Dean, mother, Sally Dean, and brother, Jerry Abrams.
An educational fund has been set up in Garry’s honor for his daughter. Contributions should be sent to Myrna Reyes c/o City National Bank, Andrea Abrams Education Fund, 555 S. Flower Street, 12th Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90071.
A private memorial service is planned.