Les Brown (journalist)

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Les Brown
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Lester Louis Brown

20 December 1928
Indiana Harbor, East Chicago, IN
Died4 November 2013 (age 84)
Larchmont, NY
NationalityAmerican (first-generation)
  • Journalist
  • Publisher
Known forPioneer reporter on the business of television
Spouse(s)Jean Brown (Slaymaker)
ChildrenJessica Brown, Joshua Brown, Rebecca Brown Adelman
Parent(s)Irving Brown and Helen Feigenbaum
RelativesMarion Brown Raisman, Anita Brown Duxler
Academic background
EducationB.A. English (1950)
Alma materRoosevelt University

Lester Louis Brown (20 December 1928 - 4 November 2013) was a "pioneer in television journalism."[1]

Les Brown was a journalist, publisher and book author. His focus was reporting on the business of television, not as a critic of shows. Nicholas Johnson of the New York Times said: "Drawing upon his rich reservoir of anecdotal material, and the files of Variety, Brown's Televi$ion is a fascinating, eminently readable account of network television in 1970 — the business behind the box...[T]hink of your worst and wildest suspicion about how television works. Read Les Brown's book. The odds are very good he'll prove to your horror the situation is, in fact, much worse than you ever feared to believe."[2]

Brown founded the magazine Channels of Communications in 1981.[3]

Family and childhood

Early Life

Brown was born in Indiana Harbor (East Chicago), IN, on 20 December 1928.[4] He was a first generation American of Polish-German Jewish descent. His parents, Irving H. Brown and Helen Feigenbaum, immigrated to the United States shortly before the First World War.[5] His father ran a store, and Brown grew up with his older sisters, Marion and Anita.[6] He was the first of his family to attend college, graduating from Roosevelt University with a B.A. in English in 1950. He served in the US Army in 1951-1953 during the Korean War, then returned to Chicago.[citation needed]


Brown met Jean Rosalie Slaymaker when she was working at the Chicago Sun Times. They had their first child, Jessica, in 1960. He moved the family in 1965 (see Journalism section) to settle in Larchmont, NY, where they had two more children, Joshua and Rebecca.[7]


Les Brown's journalism career began in the Army, writing a newsletter for his post. Upon returning to Chicago, he found a job with the show-business newspaper Variety. In 1965 he transferred to New York to become Variety's TV/Radio editor.[8] Passed over when Variety editor Abel Green died in 1973, Brown joined the New York Times as Radio/Television Editor.

Brown's career in television journalism would span a time of tremendous innovation in technology, including the beginning of direct broadcast by satellite, and pay channels of television,[9] and he would cover television's coverage of major events like Watergate.[10]


Brown's 1971 book, Televi$ion: The Business Behind the Box,[11] "was pioneering in its depiction about how the TV industry actually did and didn't work."[12] Brown's assessment was blunt. "The business of television," he wrote, "is to deliver audiences to advertisers."[13]

Les Brown's Encyclopedia of Television was first published as The New York Times Encyclopedia of Television[14]

Keeping Your Eye on Television. 1979. Pilgrim Press[15][16] ISBN 9780829803761

Fast Forward: The New Television and American Society, with Savannah Waring Walker. 1983. Andrews McMeel Publications, ISBN 9780836262087

Electric Media, by Les Brown and Sema Marks, was one of six books in the "Making Contact" series of published by Harcourt Brace. It covers two technologies then overtaking the country: television (Brown) and computers (Marks). ISBN 0-15-318734-4


During a strike at the New York Times in 1981,[17] Brown founded Channels of Communication, as a non-profit venture funded by the Markle Foundation. Channels was later acquired by Norman Lear.[18] Brown left in 1987 and Channels folded in 1990.[19]

Brown launched a trade magazine, Television Business International, in 1988. It was also owned by Norman Lear's Act III Publishing. He served as editor until 1992, then as a columnist.[20]


Brown opened the Gate of Horn, a 100-seat folk music club in Chicago in 1956[21] with his college classmate Albert Grossman. Grossman would later manage Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and The Band. The Gate of Horn hosted Roger McGuinn, Odetta, Lenny Bruce and Bill Cosby, among other future stars.

During those days, Brown wrote the lyrics to the song "Abilene". Set to music by John D. Loudermilk, it was first recorded by Bob Gibson. A cover by George Hamilton IV reached number one on the country music chart for four weeks. Abilene is a country standard, and the name of one of Brown's granddaughters.

Social Issues

Ten years before the birth of social media, Brown warned about the dangers to democracy as sources of news and commentary proliferated.[22]

Brown frequently wrote on subjects of regulation.[23]


  1. Slotnik, Daniel E. Les Brown, Pioneer in Television Journalism, Dies at 84. The New York Times, 13 November 2013
  2. Johnson, Nicholas Showbiz, hucksters, and the tube New York Times 21 November 1971
  3. Slotnik, Daniel E. Les Brown, Pioneer in Television Journalism, Dies at 84. The New York Times, 13 November 2013
  4. Indiana Authors and Their Books Indiana University
  5. The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, Passenger ID 100518010520 Irving H. Brown. Ship Patria, arrival 17 September 1914.
  6. John J. Fox Funeral Home. Obituary of Lester Louis Brown
  7. Daily Voice Jean Rosalie Brown, of Larchmont, dies at 85
  8. D'Souza, Charles "Lester L. Brown, 84, Of Larchmont, Journalist For Variety, N.Y. Times" Daily Voice. 12 November 2013
  9. Brown, Les "Debate on Satellite Broadcasts Begins; Spontaneous Exchange 'Opportunity of Choice' 'Pay Television Is the Model'" New York Times 22 February 1980
  10. Brown, Les "Public TV to Cover Watergate On Nightly Basis Through Tape" New York Times 6 November 1973
  11. Howe Kirkley Jr., Donald, F. Leslie Smith and Mark Isaacs. 1971. Literature of broadcasting: Books in review Journal of Broadcasting Vol 16(1):121-126
  12. Robins, J. Max "Les Brown: The Man Who Wrote The Encyclopedia of Television", Forbes, 19 November 2013
  13. Indiana University Catalog Television; the business behind the box accessed 5 April 2021
  14. Indiana University Catalog The New York Times Encyclopedia of Television ISBN 0812907213 accessed 5 April 2021
  15. Littleton, Cynthia "Les Brown, Journalist and Former Variety Scribe, Dead at 84", Variety 14 November 2013
  16. Hofer, Stephen F., Richard E. Caplan, James E. Fletcher, Kathleen P. Mahoney and Brian Rose. 1980. Books in review. Journal of Broadcasting Vol. 24(1)
  17. "The City: New Deadline Set For Times Strike" New York Times 6 May 1981
  18. Dougherty, Philip H. "4-Year-Old Magazine Drops Nonprofit Status" New York Times 15 April 1985
  19. Carmody, Deirdre "Channels Magazine to Publish Final Issue". New York Times 8 December 1990
  20. A Short History of TBI page 16 of TBI magazine, April/May 2018
  21. Jacobson, Don "Chicago in Song: Good and Violent". The Beachwood Reporter. 17 April 2007 Retrieved 18 January 2021
  22. Media Studies Journal, The Freedom Forum Media Studies Center, Columbia University, New York, Vol. 6(4), Fall 1992 ISSN 1057-7416
  23. Brown, Les. 1995. Self-regulation in American Television in Areas Aside from Program Content. Cardozo Arts & Entertainment Law Journal Vol. 13(3):705-726

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