I spent much of International Women’s Day reading about the late Charlotte Curtis of the New York Times. I can’t remember how I got on this trail but Curtis for one thing covered the same Leonard Bernstein fundraising party for the Black Panthers in 1970 that boosted writer Tom Wolfe’s “new journalism” fame.
Curtis filed her report on deadline for the next day’s editions. Wolfe’s story was published months later in New York Magazine. I think it’s worth considering whether Curtis’s overnight story was just as revealing.
Both stories were controversial. Looking back it seems white liberals were more offended than Black Panthers, but the Panthers probably were more used to what they saw as hostile treatment from the mainstream press. Wolfe thought Curtis was sympathetic to the Panthers but racism might be the centerpoint of the coverage discussion today. Tending to get lost in the 70s fireworks (see links below) might be Curtis’s skills as reporter and writer and her broader accomplishments in journalism. Some critics suggest she had as much to do as Wolfe with so-called New Journalism.
Curtis was hired by the Times in 1961 as a fashion reporter but soon was assigned to ”write about society as news and to treat it as sociology,” according to her 1987 obituary in the Times. By 1974 she became editor of the op-ed page and was the first woman to have her name in the Times masthead as a senior editor.
I admit I have some bias in admiring Curtis. My late father, Bob Robertson, worked with her at the Columbus (Ohio) Citizen in the 1950s and I often heard her name growing up. I am a Tom Wolfe fan, too, but I have special admiration for the skill of daily news reporters who can be as effective as feature writers who have more time and space.
Here is Curtis’s Jan. 15, 1970 writethru, or expanded version, of her story for the Times, Black Panther Philosophy Is Debated at the Bernsteins, https://www.nytimes.com/1970/01/15/archives/black-panther-philosophy-is-debated-at-the-bernsteins.html. And here is Wolfe’s 1970 story, Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s, https://nymag.com/news/features/46170/
Here is her obituary in 1987 by Robert McFadden. https://www.nytimes.com/1987/04/17/obituaries/charlotte-curtis-a-columnist-for-the-times-is-dead-at-58.html
Above is the dust jacket from a book about Curtis by Marilyn S. Greenwald. Below are links to stories about Curtis’s career and coverage of the Bernstein/Black Panther event.