Chuck Hillinger, RIP


July 16, 1949

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April 15, 1952

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March 2, 1958

1958_0302_hillinger Charles Hillinger and photographer Bruce Cox try to raft the Los Angeles River.

May 2, 1960


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Feb. 25, 1970
Redmond, Ore.

 

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Feb. 4, 1985
Omaha, Neb.

By Charles Hillinger
Times Staff Writer

Although the city stockyards are merely a shadow of what they used to be, Omaha remains the capital of America's meat industry.

Sales are made in the alleyways and in the 2,000 pens at the Omaha stockyards, or in auction arenas where auctioneers with rapid-fire, sing-song chants cry out the bids received for livestock.

As sales take place, eight U.S. Department of Agriculture market reporters jot down prices paid for cattle, hogs and sheep. Average daily prices are computed and sent over the wires to newspapers and radio and television stations throughout the nation as a daily barometer of the U.S. livestock market.

Even though the stockyards are a hectic place, the activity is substantially less than it used to be. During the 1940s and 1950s, it wasn't unusual for the Omaha stockyards to have as many as 45,000 head of cattle, hogs and sheep in its pens on any given day. Today, 10,000 head is considered a peak day.

Despite massive changes in U.S. meatpacking, however, the industry still looks to Omaha to set the pattern for meat prices from Los Angeles to Bangor, Me.

"The Omaha livestock market has the dominant position in the whole scheme of things," explained Virgil Mulligan, 50, a USDA market reporter here.

Until the mid-1950s, 95% of all livestock in the country was shipped to central stockyards, such as those in Omaha, for sale to packing houses. But then, many packing plants moved out of urban areas, and the meatpackers began buying directly from farmers and ranchers and from feedlots, which proliferated in the Midwest and Southwest. Only about 16% of U.S. livestock is sold at stockyards today.

"During the past 30 years the whole industry has gone through a dramatic change," said James L. Smith, 55, president of the Omaha Livestock Market.

But despite all the changes, the stockyards that have survived continue to serve a vital function in the industry.

"Farmers still need a central market where they can sell all kinds of livestock," said By Phillips, 56, spokesman for the Omaha stockyards. "A stockyard provides a great service to surrounding livestock producers because it offers buying power for a wide variety of livestock, not always easily sold in other places."

And because Omaha is by far the biggest livestock market, it influences the industry from coast to coast. Cattle, hogs and sheep are shipped to the Omaha stockyards by truck from as far away as Montana, Utah, Arizona and Colorado. And the value of livestock sold at the Omaha market last year totaled $550 million-making the stockyards No. 1 in the nation in gross value paid to livestock producers.

In addition, Omaha is the country's largest beef slaughtering center. Eight meatpacking plants located within two miles of the stockyards accounted for more than $1 billion in sales last year.

Omaha meatpackers slaughter an average of 7,500 head of cattle a day, livestock bought at the Omaha stockyards and directly from farmers, ranchers and feedlot operators throughout the country. (Omaha is strictly a beef packers' town, however. Hogs and sheep sold at the Omaha stockyards are slaughtered at packing plants elsewhere.)

New York-based United Stockyards Corp. owns and operates the stockyards in Omaha and 10 other cities, thus handling 30% of all livestock marketed through central public stockyards in the United States. Its other major stockyards include Sioux City, Indianapolis, Stockton, Calif., and Portland, Ore.

Raymond French, president and chairman of United Stockyards, said the value of livestock sales through the company's 11 stockyards during 1984 was about $2.1 billion.

"A stockyard company is like the New York Stock Exchange. It merely represents the place where the buyer meets the seller," Phillips explained. "The company owns the real estate and facilities-pens, alleys, scales, loading and unloading docks, feed, water. In essence, it operates a livestock hotel. The employees move livestock in and out of the yards, move animals to and from pens and scales, operate auction arenas."

At the Omaha stockyards, 24 independent firms handle the sale of livestock for farmers and ranchers, selling the livestock for a commission to buyers who represent packing companies, individuals, traders or farmers purchasing feeder livestock to sell later.

Towering over the 124-acre Omaha stockyards is the 11-story Livestock Exchange building, considered the nerve center of America's livestock industry.

Within the huge H-shaped structure are offices for commission firms, commodity futures trading companies, livestock trucking firms, livestock transit insurance companies, feedlot firms, livestock traders and the Department of Agriculture.

The building also contains attorney offices, farm supply company headquarters, two banks, a printing company, a post office, the Nebraska Department of Veterinary Inspection Service, meeting rooms and a large dance hall.

And nearby are some of the finest steak houses in America.

 

March 15, 1985
Heimdal, N.D.

By Charles Hillinger
Times Staff Writer

Remember when coffee was a nickel a cup?

That was a long time ago-when candy bars, cigars and five-stick packs of chewing gum also cost 5 cents.

Coffee is still a nickel a cup at Josie's Cafe in Heimdal, a tiny town on the North Dakota prairie at the end of a seldom-traveled narrow country road, with a population of 40 people, two dogs and 25 cats.

Josie Georgeson, 75, a loquacious widow, has owned and operated Josie's Cafe on her front porch since 1954.

Never Raised Price

She has never upped the price of coffee. It was a nickel a cup the day she opened her cafe 31 years ago and it is still a nickel a cup today.

"I'm not goin' broke. As long as I come out even on it I'll never raise the price," she said.

Breakfast at Josie's Cafe is a cup of coffee and a homemade carmel roll or coffee cake. She charges 15 cents for the roll and 15 cents for a piece of her coffee cake.

"Josie ought to go to work for Reagan and get the deficit straightened out," mused Norman Heintz, 55, while munching on a carmel roll.

"Something's wrong when she can sell coffee for a nickel and he pays $500 for a hammer."

Lunch at the cafe is 95 cents-homemade soup, sandwich and coffee.

"At night I just cook for myself. Everybody in town eats supper at home," she explained.

Her customers are local farmers who come from miles around and section crews from the Burlington-Northern Railroad.

"This is a gathering place. Everybody can find out what everybody else is doing," said Georgeson between pours of hot java.

The people of Heimdal don't have a newspaper. They don't need one with Josie's Cafe.

There is one child in Heimdal, Kristy Duffey, 10, a fourth-grader who goes to Fessenden School, 10 miles down the road. The rest of the townspeople average 70 in age.

Georgeson is mayor, police chief, fire chief, the whole works in the tiny town. Except postmaster.

The post office is next door. "Is the postmaster in here all the time for coffee?" the friendly front-porch cafe owner is asked.

"He has never been in the cafe," Georgeson replied.

Art Lindgren, 75, has been Heimdal's postmaster for 36 years. "Do you ever go over to Josie's place?" he is asked.

"Never. I'm too busy. I don't get around much," Lindgren said as he excused himself to return to his work in the post office in the living room of his house.

Sept. 2, 1991
Riverside

By Charles Hillinger
Times Staff Writer

There have been several famous walls in history: the Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, the Wailing Wall.

Now comes the $360,000 K-Rat Wall in Riverside. It gets its name from the Stephens' kangaroo rat-a nocturnal, burrow-dwelling, chipmunk-like rodent that propels itself kangaroo-style on powerful hind legs.

Those powerful legs have gotten the species into powerful trouble. The rats have been wandering onto land belonging to the Metropolitan Water District's Mills filtration plant-much to the dismay of MWD officials. Because the rat is endangered, the district could face heavy fines if it even inadvertently harms any.

"That's the problem," said George Buchanan, 44, area superintendent for MWD at the plant near Lake Skinner. "We're in the throes of a $140-million expansion project here, new pipelines, large landfills, treatment plants. We have a lot of heavy equipment working on the site.

"If one of our employees kills an endangered Stephens' kangaroo rat it could mean as much as a year in jail and a $50,000 fine. That's a lot of money, and no one wants to go to jail."

Hence, the MWD is building the wall to keep the rats out. Nearing completion, it is 4,500 feet long, 10 inches wide and about two feet high.

The water district plans to build another rat wall, 1.2 miles long, before the end of the year at its Lake Skinner water treatment facility 35 miles south of Riverside.

That 2-foot-high, 2 1/2-foot-deep wall was to cost $450,000, but MWD is redesigning it, hoping to reduce the price to $200,000.

After the walls are completed, the rats will be trapped and moved over the walls and off the MWD properties.

About 25 different species of kangaroo rats live in the deserts of the southwest.

The Stephens' kangaroo rat is found in western Riverside County and in a few small pockets of southern San Bernardino County and northern San Diego County. But urban development is bringing about its rapid decline.

Michael O'Farrell, 47, a wildlife biologist and one of the few experts on the rodent, estimates that there may be 20,000 to 30,000 of the rats left. They were declared an endangered species in October, 1988.

O'Farrell's biological consulting firm, based in Las Vegas, has been working under a $500,000 contract to determine whether the rats can be safely trapped and moved to new locations. Since November he has captured about 150 Stephens' kangaroo rats. All the animals, the scientist reports, appear to be have survived in good health. They are scheduled to be released soon.

 

Dec. 2, 1991
Baker, Calif.

By Charles Hillinger
Times Staff Writer

"Thank God no one was hurt," said Willis Herron when he saw the jumbled mess of metal and shattered glass, the remains of his 13-story, $750,000 thermometer that crashed to the ground in a windstorm here.

When the giant thermometer swayed back and forth in gusts of 70 m.p.h. and suddenly snapped 20 feet above its base Wednesday, the hopes of this Mojave Desert town-a rest stop on the busy Los Angeles-to-Las Vegas interstate-were dashed as well.

"It was to be a memorial to Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit, the inventor of the thermometer, since (the) measuring of temperatures has reached some of the greatest heights here in Baker," Herron said.

More than that, residents had expected Baker to become internationally known as "Thermometer City" with the completion of the colossal temperature gauge. It was to have been dedicated this Friday.

The 134-foot-high, three-sided, needle-like column crashed through the midsection of a gift shop under construction next to it and onto a park and an unoccupied Southern California Edison Co. maintenance truck.

"Our insurance company will cover the damage," said Dave Mead, vice president of Young Electric Sign Co. of Las Vegas, the firm erecting the structure.

Mead said his company is baffled by the collapse of the gigantic thermometer. "Our engineers are analyzing the metallurgy of the severed steel pipe to determine what caused it to fracture and fall. All calculations had been checked and double-checked. It was designed to withstand winds of much greater force.

"Our company's specialty is erecting the large spectacular signs Las Vegas is famous for-many much more complicated than this one," Mead said. "In the 70-year history of Young Electric we have never experienced a major failure like this."

Mead said all is not lost for Baker. He said his company will pick up the pieces and install a replacement thermometer in the town in the near future.

Herron, 66, and his partner, J. O. Failing, 70, were having the finishing touches put on the gigantic temperature gauge next to their Bun Boy Restaurant just off Interstate 15. The two men own the majority of the businesses in Baker, 90 miles southwest of Las Vegas.

"For 25 years I've had this dream of putting up the world's tallest thermometer," said Herron, "because people pulling off the freeway in the heat of summer are always making remarks like: `Whew! It's hotter 'n hell. How hot is it anyway?' "

Baker, population 400, is in the heart of the Southern California desert. It sizzles in summer with temperatures from 110 to 120 and higher on most days.

The town exists to serve the needs of passing motorists. Caltrans estimates that 9 million vehicles will go through Baker on Interstate 15 this year. The state agency reports that an average of 11,600 vehicles a day take the off-ramp into the town.

"People stop here to buy gas, to get a bite to eat," Failing said. "We had hoped many more would pull off the freeway to see the thermometer."

When Failing and Herron's restaurant burned down two years ago, the two men decided to build the huge thermometer next to their new $2-million eatery.

They were hoping the thermometer would be to Baker what the Eiffel Tower is to Paris, the Golden Gate Bridge is to San Francisco and the Gateway Arch is to St. Louis.

Before it slammed to the ground, the black temperature gauge had been covered with 4,943 red light bulbs, which were to represent mercury and show the temperature.

The height of the column, 134 feet, was symbolic of the highest temperature ever recorded in North America-134 degrees in 1913 in Death Valley, a few miles north of Baker.


I received word this morning that Charles E. "Chuck" Hillinger, veteran Times reporter, passed away Monday evening after a battle with cancer. I'll be posting more of his stories later today, as well as tributes to him.

His daughter Tori writes:

I have so many wonderful things to say about my father, but everyone already knows how wonderful a man he was.

My dad touched so many lives, in so many places around the world! He had the biggest heart of anyone I have ever known. Heck, he would take a spider outside, before he would think of killing it. You could call him up from any place in the world, and he would be able to tell you of a great restaurant in the area or an interesting sight!
I am honored to have Charles Hillinger as my father. I am also touched deeply by everyone's kind words, and funny stories about life with my dad.

Hillinger on covering the Watts riots in 1965, referring to the frequent assertion that The Times needed an African American to go into the riot area and sent Bob Richardson from the advertising department. 

I tried to send along additional info about the Bob Baker (former Times editor) Watts riots reference that L.A. Times white staffers were too scared to go into riot zone and Bob Richardson came to the rescue, etc. But my stupid internet and Email hasn't been working for several days. I must get a new computer.

Anyway the morning after the riot erupted I was sent to where it all started. Accompanying my story was a photo showing me interviewing a group of Black residents who were witness to the start of the riot.

Like [Eric] Malnic I worked the riot from then until it finally ended. The Times didn't seek out Richardson to have a Black go into the area. Richardson, a messenger for the ad dept. came into the city room late on the second night right from the scene where all hell had broken out to tell us he was caught in the middle of the riot.

The desk had Richardson talk to me and I wrote a story based on his eyewitness account. It was decided to make my story a first person piece with Richardson's byline. That was the first time anything from him appeared in the paper. It had nothing to do with white reporters not covering the story.

I worked with different photogs throughout the riot, Ray Graham, Dick Oliver and Bruce Cox. As Eric noted, angry mobs gave us a bad time verbally. But no one threw anything at us or our car.

One wild-eyed woman with disheveled hair ran up to us as we approached a huge fire just set–Graham and I were the only whites in the area–and grandstanding before the assembled crowd shouted, "What are you white MFs doing here?"

I told her we were from the L.A. Times, there to cover the story.

She said "You better get your MF facts right or we'll burn down the L.A. Times."


March 1, 2006, Hillinger on the death of Otis Chandler:

 
Otis was a year younger than I am. The foreword Otis did for my book California Characters, An Array of Amazing People, published in 2000 began: "Chuck Hillinger and I are the same age. We worked together during the last half of the 20th Century at the Los Angeles Times. I was publisher. He was the paper's roving reporter. His bylines came from all over California, from every state, from exotic places all over the world during his 46 years at the Times. And I paid all his expenses, but it was worth every penny."

That was typical Otis. He was most generous in his remarks in the foreword, writing such things as "I told Chuck  next to being publisher of the Los Angeles Times he had the best job in journalism."  Otis was the best thing that ever happened to The Times. He knew us all on a first name basis. He made The Times one of the leading newspapers in the country.

Every now and then I would get a call from Otis or a note suggesting a feature I should do. If you did a story that he particularly liked, he would drop you a note and let you know. If you won a writing prize, there would always be a congratulatory note from Otis. You could not ask for a better publisher, a better friend. I was involved with Otis on several big horn sheep stories.

One time I suggested a Mexicali story to Bill Thomas. "While you're in Mexicali look up this Mexican attorney and see what it will take to get the sheep horns Otis is trying to get across the border," said Thomas.

Otis had shot a trophy big horn sheep on a hunting trip in Baja, but the horns got caught up in red tape. Johnny Malmin and I drove to Calexico and stopped in a Mexican auto insurance place this side of the border to buy insurance for our Mexican visit. When we walked into the place, I blurted "We're from the Los AngelesTimes and before I could get the words out of my mouth that we needed insurance, the guy behind the counter said "Just a minute I've got what you want in the back room." He ducked in the back and came out with Otis' horns. It was pure fluke. We hadn't the slightest idea the horns were there. 

Malmin and I drove to Bill Duflock's house in El Centro –Duflock was Mr. Imperial County to all news people. We left the horns with Bill for a few hours while we drove to Mexicali to do our story. Then I called Otis and told him what happened. He couldn't believe it. He thought it was the funniest thing he could imagine. We didn't have to bribe the Mexican attorney.

Arliene, my wife of 58 years — still as gorgeous as ever — was Arliene Otis before we were married. She was a distant, distant relative of Oats. She would call Otis, cousin. He would call Arliene, cousin. Arliene always insisted to Otis that the two of them looked alike. There is a resemblance.

When Otis was just starting out at The Times and worked in all the different departments, I went out with him several times on stories. That's when I first got to know him. I was at that dinner when he became publisher, and at his house when Bob Donovan was introduced to the editorial staff.

His father, Norman, too became a special friend, after I did a 7-part series on the Tejon Ranch when I was in my 20s — at Norman Chandler's bidding. I never did learn why he selected me to do the series.

Taylor Trumbo called me to the city desk one day and said Norman Chandler wants to see you in his office. "How would he even know who I am," I said in disbelief. Trumbo had to tell me where his office was. Anyway I went to Norman's office and he said he wanted me to do a story about the ranch. I asked him what kind of a story and he said you will know how to handle it. I returned to the City Room and Trumbo said "What was that all about?" When I told him, Trumbo sighed: "Jesus Christ."

The series started out with a picture page on Sunday and a picture page on Monday. Malmin was the photographer. Ollie French ran the art department. Young Otis was in the city room and Ollie called him over to see the layout for the story that was to begin the coming Sunday. Otis was stunned and came over to my desk and asked how I happened to be doing a series on Tejon Ranch. I told him it was his father's idea. He walked away from my desk shaking his head in disbelief.

From then on until he died, every time I happened to run into Norman Chandler he would always stop and ask how I was doing and mention a story or two I did that he liked. When Norman died I wrote Otis a long letter about my relationship with his father and Otis wrote me a long letter in reply.

I have several letters Otis wrote me over the years. He was just such a special person in my life. Those luncheons the OFSs had with him in Oxnard after visiting his museum and special events over the years when he was honored were terrific. As news people we were lucky, indeed, to have Otis Chandler as our publisher.


                                                                     

Cliff Dektar, former Mirror reporter, says:

I recall first meeting Chuck when I was working the night radio car for The Mirror.  He was a young reporter who was covering the city as I was.

He became national features correspondent and, this is true, did not apply for a Police Press credential, because he was not covering local stories .

Some years ago there was a major ship explosion in San Pedro. Chuck, who lived nearby in the Palos Verdes area, heard the blast,  and  raced down to the nearby docks.

He was there before the police had set  up a perimeter and then the police started to clear the area and he was stopped and told to leave. He showed his Times ID, but police said he had to go…no credential

He admitted that he was "upset."  And he got into a verbal boxing match.  Finally, the police turned him over to their captain who asked him  to sit–not cuffed–in back of his car until the press officer the venerable Lt. Dan Cooke arrived.

Dan tried to calm Chuck down, offered him a temporary credential and told him he was free to go. Chuck, a good reporter always, was not happy with the results. I  had great respect for him as a person and  a reporter.


Bart Everett writes:

The ship was the Sansinena, the date Dec. 17, 1976. Liberian flag, Italian crew, Union Oil Terminal. The photo I shot–which ran on Page 1 in the early edition–still hangs in my study. While one cop was capturing Hillinger west of the harbor, an LAPD lieutenant let me in on the strength of my Times plant pass on the other side. Hillinger's wallet full of press IDs apparently lacked one from the LAPD.


Freddie Miller writes:

My favorite remembrance of Chuck Hillinger is that he came to see Otis [Chandler] after Ed Ainsworth left the scene to see if he could, in effect, have that job.  Otis told him no, The Times was going in a different direction and would not have that sort of column.  Chuck, in his usual affable manner, said fine and then, in my opinion, took that job and improved on it 100%


Deke Houlgate writes:

The most famous Chuck Hillinger story I can recall was the time he and [photographer] Ben Olender went out to the  high desert on a story, and near the end of the day Olender reminded Hillinger that it was time for dinner. Hillinger acknowledged this and said they had to drive 75 miles to the nearest restaurant. They did, and when they got there Olender told the waitress that he was really thirsty, not hungry. So she took his drink order. Ben said he really was thirsting for a very dry martini, and she told him the bad news. The restaurant served no alcoholic beverages. Crestfallen, Ben accepted his fate and had dinner with Hillinger. And never forgave him.

Bob Rawitch, former editor of The Times Valley Edition, says:

My first recollection of Chuck was in June 1967 when I started as an intern and worked the 7 a.m. shift. He sat across the aisle from me (when we actually had aisles in the newsroom). He'd beat me in by at least 30 minutes each morning. Every morning he made a round of probably 50 calls to outlying police and sheriff's stations around Southern California and the conversation always started the same: "Hi (fill in the name) this is Chuck at the Times. Anything funny or weird going on in your town?" Most of the time he was of course told "no."  But like a miner panning for gold, he'd often find a nugget and turn it into a story. And when that didn't happen, he never failed to make a friend (and contact) on the phone. The network of people he developed over the years turned into hundreds of stories when "something funny or weird" actually did happen in that town.

Over the years, because of the highly entertaining and offbeat stories he wrote, he was probably the most identifiable byline in the paper besides Jack Smith. Photographers used to love and hate going on assignments with him. Love it because the stories were almost always about interesting people or places that made for great stories. "Hate" it because they worked such long hours.  It wasn't unusual for Chuck to leave with a photographer for a week and come back with more than 10 stories and a string of 15-hour days. He routinely would  go to a small town for one story and come back with two more unexpected stories after talking to people.

He never wanted to be an editor. Never got involved in newsroom politics. He had an unforgettable laugh you could hear across the newsroom. He had more than 50 years with Arlene who he always said had to be a saint to put up with him. She'd just smile. When he reached the point of operating out of his home instead of the office, we still saw his stories but missed his physical presence. In his passing, we will miss him all the more, but never forget the people and places about which he wrote.


Tom Paegel, former Times night city editor, writes:

"City Desk," I would answer as usual.

"This is one of the reporters," came the booming voice, always with a hint of child-like, the wonder of it all, enthusiasm on the other end.

It was Hillinger calling from some hole in the wall like "Fork in the Road, North Dakota."

"Paege!.  I knew your father [Examiner photographer Felix Paegel]. You're just a kid. What the heck are you doing there?"

"I'm one of the editors."

It was a late-night ritual whenever Chuck was out and about. He always let me know where he was, usually with Steve Fontanini, or Johnny Malmin, who both also knew my father. This was before cellphones.

"Listen, in case you hear of anything breaking around here, you can reach me at Clete's Motor Court.  There's no direct line, but call this number and Tillie will patch you through." He would be out looking for someone who hunted snapping turtles along the Turtle River around Mekinock, N.D. (Sioux word of Turtle).

Those of us who worked nights would often sit around and talk about the pros who had survived the war and gone on to do great things for our readers.

About this time, someone, or something, was going around the west mutilating cows' posterior regions. I remember they sent Bella Stumbo out to do a piece on it. [Eric] Malnic and I, and the others like Dick "Freight Train" Main, Ted "Craze" Thackrey, and Dick "The Pugilist" West (whatever happened to him?) would muse about the possibility of getting a late night phone call from Hillinger ensconced in a hole in the wall motel somewhere near a remote canyon in New Mexico, saying, of course with great glee and boundless enthusiasm: "I just found this guy who has the world's largest collection of cows' —holes! Got a rewrite man?"

Too many of us are leaving, like [Times photographer Jack] Gaunt who used to bring Chuck's stories into the paper back when there were "copy books."  The memories are great.

Those days, and those great ones, are gone and, sadly, our beloved way of life is also withering away.   Chuck Hillinger definitely was a reporter, damn proud of it, and he was one heck of a friend and mentor. 

Karen Parker, former Times copy editor, says:

I owe my Times employment to Chuck Hillinger.

I first met him in 1975 when I was free-lancing and happened to sit next to him on a flight to Yuma (he got off in El Centro). 

We chatted about my copy-editor background, and he gave me his card. Two years later, I sent him my resume and asked if he would please steer it to the right people. I really didn't expect him to remember me, but it was worth a shot.

The Times called me in in mid-1978. Chuck had given the resume to Metro copy desk, who gave it to National, and I was hired by the National copy desk.

When I asked if I could take him and his wife to dinner as an expression of gratitude, he declined and said:  "I've always wanted to do something like that for somebody. I'm glad it worked."

Barry Zwick, former Times makeup editor, says:

I was lucky enough to know Chuck quite well and got a movie tip from him just six months ago, at an Old Farts Society lunch, for "The Darjeeling Express."

He was always positive and cheerful and never took himself too seriously. "Feel free to rearrange this stuff," he said once when handing me a long, rambling account of the life of an old prospector to edit when I ran the Los Angeles Times/Washington Post News Service during the early 1970s. Chuck loved to roam the West even toward the end. He always looked great. He had a ramrod-upright, military bearing.

 
I sat next to him at Ted Weegar's funeral in 1986. Chuck was full of jokes and sly, irreverent asides. At Weegar's funeral at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, Ted's own minister, Don Moomaw of the Bel-Air Presbyterian Church, officiated. Moomaw announced early in the service that the organ music we were hearing, "That Old Rugged Cross," was Ted's favorite hymn.
 
"Ted had a favorite hymn?" Chuck asked. "Newspapermen have favorite hymns? This is not the kind of announcement they're going to make at MY funeral."
Bob Gibson writes:

Without exception, my memories of him, in the newsroom, on the tennis court, at countless social gatherings, evoke indelible moments of mirth and warm fellowship. For friends and the newspaper, he was a treasure.

Whatever weird overseas place I, as the foreign editor, might ask Chuck to go on assignment, not only was he willing, he would be on the next plane. He would hit the ground running and never stop. He elevated inquisitiveness to a fine art.

On a round of Pacific islands, he discovered and wrote about peoples and places no one had even heard of! Expecting five or six articles, it was amazing to see the results of a Hillinger trip–an inundation of dozens of articles.

As one whose personal cheer and bright articles brought smiles to the multitudes, and whose compassion and decency set new standards, Chuck was universally loved. He was a perfect colleague and a wonderful, family-loving gentleman.


Bennett J. Mintz writes:

I had been on a winery tour/steelhead fishing trek about 30 years ago when I chanced upon a little town named Booneville in Mendocino County.  What distinguished it was that on long winter nights they had developed their own “language” called Boont.  It was essentially based on residents’ names and their hobbies or proclivities, so that if a guy named Clark loved golf, the sport became known in Boont as playing clark or going clarking. 

I bought a booklet explaining Boont in a local coffee shop – zeese is coffee, but don’t ask me why – and after reading my fill, thought that Hillinger might like it and passed it on to him.  Sure enough, about two weeks later he did one of his most memorable stories about Booneville, Boont, zeese and all the rest.  It was hilarious.  Somebody from the Johnny Carson Show obviously saw it, and damn if a month or so later the mayor of Booneville didn’t turn up on the Tonight Show to explain Boont to Carson.  Funnier than funny!

For the next 25 or 30 years – literally to his death – whenever I ran into Hillinger at the old Press Club, OFS meetings, retirements, funerals or other functions, he never failed to thank me for tipping him to the Boonville story.  He was a class act to the very end of his days.


Carole Hill writes:

In 1992 my husband, Gladwin Hill, woke from a long, cancer-induced coma and came home for his last few days. He seemed not aware of much, except that he was comfortable and happy — a condition morphine manages very handily.

Among his first visitors were Chuck Hillinger and Jack Taylor.  I don't know how he did it, but Glad recognized them and greeted them with, "Hey, fellas — help me get to the can!"  That visit progressed the way that all meetings of theirs and their many news cohorts always did…..it swerved without a pause between gossipy insight, laser wit and outright buffoonery.  Though they left in tears, for that short visit illness was irrelevant.

 
With the passing of Chuck, the three of them (and so many others) are no longer with us.  But I know that somewhere the First Amendment is being defended, a piece of dubious reporting is being skewered, and a pratfall is being recorded for all time. 

Chuck Garrity, former Times assistant sports editor, says:

I'll miss my golfing partner of the past five years more than I can tell you. Chuck was a wonderful man and just full of life all the time.

I worked at the L.A. Times from 1966 until 1981 and would only see Chuck from time to time because I worked the sports desk at night and he worked during the day. We always were friendly, but Chuck was friendly with everybody. 

From the 1980s until 2000, I worked at the NFL and lost track of almost everybody at The Times. I started going to the OFS luncheon at Chuck's behest and would see him regularly. Then came golf each week and he and I would share the same cart in a group of old guys that Chuck had played with for years. I was the youngest at 74 when we started playing together. So, Chuck started calling me "the kid."

The last time we talked, he was planning a golf outing. I don't care how old he was, life is too short

 

He was fun to be around always and I will miss him.

Jerry Clark, chairman of the Old Farts (Times retirees) says:

I had dinner a few weeks ago with Chuck, Stan Chambers and a few other L.A. journalism old-timers. Although he had lost a few pounds, we had no inkling that his condition would go downhill so fast. He was the same Hillinger that night, interviewing the rest of us about how we met our spouses, etc.  A reporter to the end. 

When I was beginning my newspaper career at the old Los Angeles Mirror, I would often run into Chuck Hillinger covering the same story (often L.A. Police Chief Bill Parker) for The Times. Chuck was all shoulders and elbows as he pressed forward to make sure he got his questions heard and he got the quotes correct (Parker was quick to call your editor if you misquoted him). He was a formidable colleague from whom I learned a lot about covering stories under the pressure of deadlines.

Al Martinez, Times columnist, writes:

I'll always remember his laugh, his electric blue blazer…and the inherent sweetness of the man.

 

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About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1949, 1952, 1958, 1960, 1970, 1985, 1991, @news and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Chuck Hillinger, RIP

  1. Jolene Combs says:

    During my 35 years as a journalism teacher at Redondo Union High School and then at El Camino College, Charles Hillinger was always on call to deliver his message of the joy of journalism to my students. He spoke at many of our department convocations, and was the “topic” for the Journalism Association of Community Colleges feature competition some years ago. He was always a surprise, because students heard (and still hear) a lot about the profession dying off. So there he would be, laughing at himself, pulling cow patties out of his briefcase, and telling the students that there is nothing more fun than talking to people and telling their stories.
    I called him my “professor emeritus,” and he enriched my curriculum on a regular basis. My late aunt, Bettie Jean Givens, who worked in the Times’ marketing office, discovered him for me and was one of his great friends.
    I sure was surprised and saddened to hear of his passing. Best wishes to his family

    Like

  2. Ed Meares says:

    I’m not a professional journalist, just a working musician and newspaper enthusiast in LA since ’72. Anytime I saw the name Charles Hillinger in the byline, I knew I’d be catapulted over the falls.
    Nobody that I’ve ever read wrote a more concise lead than Charles Hillinger. Look at his archived stuff.
    Usually one simple sentence…it always sent the reader eagerly to paragraph.2…and the rest of the story, no matter how mundane or seemingly inconsequential sent the reader on a clear, yet illuminating ride.. The ride was the fun.
    What a master.
    In this time of diminishing journalistic returns I raise my glass to the great Charles Hillinger. Cheers, Charlie.

    Like

  3. Ralph Nichols says:

    I wanted to add my story to the Charles Hillinger tributes. I met Mr. Hillinger on my first newspaper story in 1979. I was doing a feature story on the Virginia City camel races, my first story in what would turn out to be a career in journalism. Mr. Hillinger was there along with photographer Larry Sharkey from The Times. We talked and he was very nice. My mom later sent Mr. Hillinger a copy of my story. He sent me the nicest, most encouraging letter that I had framed. It basically said that I had picked the best profession on earth and to stick with it. I took his advice and never forgot his kindness.

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  4. Jim Copeland says:

    Charles Hillinger was a giant from the golden age of the Los Angeles Times. I remember him fondly.
    I commute to work through the Mojave Preserve and often stop for a break at Kelso and am invariably reminded of a piece he did on a gentleman who lived in a room on the second floor of the old train station. I would love a copy of that column to share with the Kelso Depot staff.
    Where have all the Charles Hillingers gone? Such a loss!

    Like

  5. Tori Lindman says:

    Good morning everyone. I am Chuck Hillinger’s daughter, Tori.
    I have always been proud and honored by whom my Dad was, and for the past 24 hours have found out that everyone else that has been touched by my Father, have also been honored.
    Everyone that meet my Father, knew him for his kind words and his wonderful laugh. He would always have a little chuckle while telling you one of his stories. But how could he not, he lived the best life of anyone I have ever known!
    Now you have a whole new life and interesting people to interview in Heaven. Keep up with the wonderful stories, we all can’t wait to read them!
    I can only tell you that these short few words I have written, have taken me a very long time to write through my tears.
    I will miss you Charlie Brown!
    XOXO

    Like

  6. Chris smith says:

    I looked forward to family thanksgivings when I was younger and my relatives the Hillingers would come to town. I would sit and listen to Chuck’s stories in amazement and the places he’d been. But it wasn’t in a bragging sense because in an instance he would ask questions to others giving them a feeling of importance. I used to marvel at how he would talk to my dad who was a very standoffish type person. But Chuck always seemed to make my dad feel at ease. His personality did that to everyone he came into contact with. I will miss hearing his laugh, full of life.

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  7. Wes Hughes says:

    Although Chuck and I retired at the same time, my first meeting with that priceless storyteller was years before I became a Times’ employee, when he tipped me to a story about to break under my nose.
    Of course it turned out to be one of the most entertaining stories I ever covered.
    Chuck stopped by the Record-Searchlight, the paper in Redding, Calif., where I was on the staff. He asked to borrow the use of a desk and a phone. It was a courtesy we were happy to oblige. Everyone in the Golden State knew or had heard of Charles Hillinger of the Times.
    Chuck sat down and pounded out his story. After filing it and just before he headed out the door, he suggested I check out the “embattled woodcutter of Buzzard’s Roost Road.” How could I not?
    It was a great story with all the elements: The woodsman was raising his family in near poverty in a cabin on 40 acres in the Northern California mountains. Those 40 acres were blocking construction of the Pacific Northwest-Pacific Southwest Power Intertie and the woodsman thought he was being cheated on the price. He had a shotgun and he wasn’t moving.
    The feds grabbed the woodcutter’s kids when they got off the schoolbus that morning and were preparing an armed assault on the cabin — but they missed one. The woodcutter’s 6-year-old daughter had chickenpox and was home in the cabin. It brought the powerful U.S. government to a standstill and forced it to renegotiate terms with the woodsman through an older daughter at school. I loved that story. It was Hillingeresque all the way. I thanked Chuck for that tip on many occasions after I became a Timesman, the last time I think was at Niesen Himmel’s wake.
    I was saddened to learn of his death when I read Romenesko today. There are few left of his stature and the way things are going for the business, it seems unlikely there will be many more.
    After that first serendipitous meeting, I was happy that I came to know Chuck as a friend. I even got to edit a few of his yarns.
    –Wes Hughes

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  8. Marguerite Smith says:

    When I was a little girl during the war(#2)chuck was in the Navy and would write me the craziest letters telling me all about his adventures on board his ship. I was his young cousin and he has always filled my life with many memories and stories that I will never forget.

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  9. Stephen S. Fentress says:

    Has anyone has yet noted the context of the picture of Mr. Hillinger at the top of the obituary – the one in which he is examining strange forms on a desert lake bed while writing in his reporter’s notebook? I remember the photo vividly, because I saved the original article when it appeared, I think in the 1970’s. I was in high school or college at the time. I still have the clipping, somewhere in the basement. The setting was, I think, Baker, California. The story was that the odd forms just appeared one night with no explanation or apparent cause. Mr. Hillinger quoted local people offering various theories about where the shapes came from – a visiting movie crew, flying saucers, or some kind of art project. As I remember, a follow-up story appeared a bit later when someone discovered that the shapes were indeed created by an artist from a powdery material that would quickly disintegrate in rain.
    Part of the charm of the original story, as I remember, was that it was not labeled or pre-categorized as a weird tale — it was just included among other regional stories. And I don’t think Mr. Hillinger had yet been “branded” as a specialist in the offbeat. The story was understated and played straight. I don’t know if that kind of very dry humor is possible in the printed newspapers or web sites of today.
    Thanks to Mr. Hillinger and best wishes to his family.

    Like

  10. Mary Ann LeVeille says:

    As Chuck’s cousin, I fondly remember going to Chuck and Arliene’s Redondo Beach home many times. When my parents, Aunt Bea and Uncle Chen, as Chuck called them, would announce we were driving to Redondo from our home in Altadena, I was thrilled beyond words ! It was always such a fun-filled time with them !!!! My dad would joke with Chuck and he in turn would joke back…Chuck’s stories would go on for hours. Never a boring moment when you were with the Hillingers !!
    Lovingly, Mary Ann Williamson LeVeille

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  11. William R Hillinger says:

    I am Chucks Younger Brother Bill.
    When we first moved to California in 1947 Chuck was just out of the service working for the times and about to get married. One weekend He and Arliene came up to the house and took me to Wrightwood. On the way home we got caught in the snow and played in it for a while, what fun. I was 13 years old. That trip to Wrightwood really changed my life. I moved to Wrightwood full time 1n 1968 with my wife Zita and we have lived there ever since.
    Chuck has a cabin in Wrightwood. Where I enjoyed many of his interesting stories.He and his friends would come up and play hearts every year. Arilene loved Wrightwood very much.
    It always amazed me that he survived 5 airplane crashes in his lifetime.
    During the last year we phone each other a least one a week. There was never a bad conversation with him. The stories always were different but never boring.
    He always had stories about his granddaughter which he loved very much. Many of the stories included his Volkswagen car which they would use.
    His real love was golf and the UCLA Basketball team. Even this year after UCLA lost in the final four, He said they will get them next year.
    My brother will be missed by many people. but no more than I will miss his stories and weekly phone calls.
    His Loving Brother, Bill Hillinger

    Like

  12. Kim M White says:

    Chuck was my godfather, not in a mob sense, but in the sense that if something happened to my parents, they would take care of me. Nothing happened to my folks, but Chuck was a second father to me. His daughter, Tori, was my best friend growing up which led me to be at the house a good portion of my life,
    I remember playing in the pool…Chuck had the best cannonball. He still had it a few years ago at one of his grandchildren’s birthdays.
    I remember going to his wife’s cookie parties around Christmas. He was always taking our pictures, even when we were reluctant. Somewhere in his photos, there is a chronology of my life with his daughter and one of our friends.
    Since he had an April 1st birthday, he had a huge sense of humor. I remember all of us kids rolling our eyes when he would play (and sing to) “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport” or a similar funny song.
    I remember stopping by after Tori moved out and listening to many stories of Chuck’s travels and the interesting people he met. I would hear his stories when I hooked up the VCR.
    I remember the pictures from his trips, especially with the girls, either Tori or his grandchildren. His eyes would be beaming with the love he had for them all.
    His joy was transparent!
    I have been lucky to know him,
    and I have been blessed to be his godchild.
    Thank you Chuck and see you in Heaven, some day!
    -Kimmie

    Like

  13. Dick Williamson says:

    I am one of Chuck’s cousins. I remember as a kid I was always glad when Chuck and Arliene came up to my folks house to visit. Chuck was always interested in what you were doing and made you feel special.
    Later on I went to work for the Forest Service on a fire crew. Chuck did several stories on the Forest Service, including the nation’s first helicopter fire crew at Chilao on the Angeles National Forest. I remember seeing him on a fire one morning in fire camp. He said jokingly “the first time I see you on a fire and you’re just sitting around”,we had just come off shift from the night before. I think that was 1959.
    After I moved to the central sierras chuck would call every once in a while asking if I knew of any “characters” in the area. There were several and he did many stories up here.
    I’ll will miss chuck’s broad smile and warm personality. No matter who you were or how busy he was, he always had time to talk to you.
    Dick williamson
    Twain Harte, CA

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  14. Keith Smith says:

    The laugh that so many make reference too. His way to make everyone feel as important as the next. If Chuck was in the area, you would know. But in a way that brought people together to appreiciate the moment.
    When I had the opportunity to spend time with Chuck, it was during family gatherings. As my brother already wrote, Chuck was the one that made everyone feel at ease with his way making everyone present a part of his stories and adventures.
    When I think of Chuck, I smile, I laugh, and I remember the efects he had on everyone.

    Like

  15. Diane Kenny says:

    I am Chuck’s niece, through marriage.
    I have had the joy of spending every Christmas with Chuck and his family, since I met Chuck’s nephew – Terry in 1979. 28 years of Christmas.
    Chuck was always there. Telling stories, laughing, and enjoying everyone’s company.
    When I think of Chuck, I think of the word fun. His laugh was infectious. A truly good man. I don’t think I ever heard him say anything bad about anyone. It just wasn’t in him to ever be like that. He enjoyed life and he enjoyed people.
    I will miss Chuck.

    Like

  16. Neal Patterson says:

    What a wonderful neighbor! The Hillingers live directly across the street. Chuck and I spent many hours in his or my driveway solving the problems of the world. Of course hearing some of his wonderful stories was part of these conversations. I very often acted as Chuck’s handyman, which I did with pleasure. He did have trouble with a screwdriver or a wrench. Ah, but not a typewriter. He never quite completely got the hang of a computer. We used to try and get him to try out using a computer that one of his children had given him, but to no avail.
    When he was pushed out of the Times, he use to worry about what he could do with his time, He found a publisher that would print a book he had written, and he asked the publisher how he wanted the manuscript. He wast told to put it on a floppy disc, and Chuck said, “what is that?” He had to then go from the typewriter to the word processor on a computer.
    If my wife and I were going on a trip, we told Chuck and he would bring articles he had written about the destination, telling us a story to go with it.
    Last weekend for the first time in 39 years we had to ask another neighbor to pick up our paper when we were gone overnight. We could always count on Chuck.
    His memorial service, yesterday, was special. Tori and Brad did a wonderful job putting it together. Chuck would have been proud.
    Chuck. we miss you!!!
    Neal & Alice Patterson

    Like

  17. Well howdy everybody,
    I’m Jeffrey Hillinger, the eldest son of Bill Hillinger.
    My father told me about this blog the other day and so while surfing the web this afternoon I was able to find it and I thank God I did!
    Ya know I wish I could have made Uncle Chuck’s funeral in order pay my respects and to see some of the family that I haven’t seen in years. I feel especially bad because I missed both of my cousins Brad, Tori and my Aunt Arliene which I haven’t seen since Jr. High School. I understand I also have a cousin Phil A.K.A. “Duke” Hillinger from my father and uncles side that I have never met.
    My father spoke about Uncle Chuck’s cabin up in Wrightwood, how Uncle Chuck changed my father’s life with his first visit to Wrightwood at only 13 years old. It is so amazing that by changing my father’s life, so did he change mine. That cabin was a land mark for me, in Jr. High School I played in a local band and we used to practice at my friends house right across the street. If I saw a car parked in front of the cabin, I’d let my Dad know and he’d go over for a visit. Sometimes I wouldn’t pay much attention and my father would go bye the cabin only to find out that Chuck was allowing a friend to borrow the cabin for the weekend.
    Uncle Chuck was such a wonderful person and so very talented, my dad always looked up to him. I too used to brag about Uncle Chuck and his stories in the LA Times.
    During high school I had moved down to Glendale California and lived with my mother for awhile. My Aunt Dorothy lived next door to us, she was widowed and I would visit her daily to watch afternoon shoot’em ups and help her around the house if she needed it. My Uncle Frankie used to work for the Times; in fact when he passed away she gave me his 25 year ring which I still have to this day. My Aunt Dorothy was a devoted subscriber and took the Times daily and when ever Uncle Chuck had a story published she would save them for me to read.
    I remember sometimes she would get all excited about what Chuck had written, I would barely get through the door and she would say “Look, Look at what your uncle Chuck wrote!” So therefore the first order of business was to sit down and read what uncle Chuck had to say. The thing I liked most about his writing is that it was always very easy reading, most of which would take the reader on short journeys of points of interest or interesting people.
    In this day and age it seems like family gets put aside because we are all so busy. Things like loosing a family member can really open ones eye to how important family really is, especially as we get older.
    As I read through this blog I noticed that this family is a heck of a lot bigger than I had expected. There are cousins and family members that I never knew I had. This includes friends of the family because sometimes, Family is not necessarily found in the blood that binds us; Family is what we make of it and how we choose to live.
    Home is you park it, life is something that happens, big or small if one decides to reach out, even if it is to a small hand full of people, we can all make a difference, just like Uncle Chuck did!
    So with that said, maybe we can all get together sometime, someplace, even here in cyberspace, somewhere in “Hillinger’s America”.
    Until then take care and God Bless you all,
    Jeffrey W. Hillinger
    A.K.A. Moldy Marvin

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