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For those of us who weren’t around in 1960, it’s hard to imagine Los Angeles then. The Minneapolis Lakers had just moved to town. The Walk of Fame had just laid down its first star. LACMA, the Music Center, Dodger Stadium—none of these existed. Neither did city magazines. But Geoff Miller changed that, inventing a genre that year by cofounding Los Angeles magazine.
Much of the world still considered Los Angeles to be flighty, self-indulgent, and self-obsessed—sound familiar? It was the place where movies were made and people came to “reinvent” themselves (a pox on that word forever, please) and either succeeded or went nuts. Geoff Miller saw the city as something more. He started this magazine at the age of 24, with his business partner, an ad executive named David Brown. Miller had been working on a prototype of the magazine while pursuing a master’s degree in journalism at UCLA. He and Brown vowed to create a publication “celebrating the unruly young city in all its contrary glory,” as Miller would later write. L.A. had big dreams (think of those pending civic institutions) but also profound class struggles (the Watts riots were five years away). Then as now it needed some cohesion. Though every issue contained stories about the good life, where to eat, and where to get away, the magazine also jumped into local politics, bemoaned the lack of mass transit, and fretted over our disappearing open spaces. The first few years were bumpy financially, yet the title held on and by the ’70s was thriving (the magazine approached 600 pages at times). Throughout that decade and the next, when celebrity cheesecake or actors spoofing themselves dominated the covers (Miller pioneered that idea, too), there was always compelling journalism within because—surprise—Miller and his staff found terrific writers in our midst, including Ray Bradbury, Jim Murray, Carolyn See, Joseph Wambaugh, and Budd Schulberg. From 1960 until 1994, when Miller left as publisher, he was the magazine’s heart.
Miller died in April after a long illness. Last fall he helped us compile a cover gallery archive to mark our 50th anniversary (view it at LAmag.com). We are indebted to his vision. Without him I wouldn’t be writing this, since the magazine wouldn’t even exist. I know he’d be proud that this year we were nominated for three National Magazine Awards, the Pulitzers (an overused analogy but accurate) of the magazine industry. As for “celebrating the unruly young city in all its contrary glory”? Geoff, that will always be our mission. It was a great idea.
Illustration by Leif Parsons