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Marylin Bender dies at 95; Journalist in an era dominated by men

When Marylin Bender was editor-in-chief of The New York Times on Sundays in the 1970s, she was one of the few women to have an editorial weight in the newsroom. Her post was “barely high,” she later said in an oral history, but as head of her section she was outraged to learn that her male deputy was making more money than she was. .

Outraged, but not surprised. It was still a time when few women could be found in The Times’ cigar-smoky newsroom, where there were no female photographers or national correspondents and when, asking for a raise, Ms Bender was told: married. You don’t need it.

The atmosphere prompted some women at The Times to file a sex discrimination claim against the newspaper in 1974. Although Ms Bender was not part of the action, she was dismissed for it.

“I was the only example they had of someone in a slightly high managerial capacity who was proportionately treated as much as the complainants,” she said.

Yet Ms Bender has enjoyed a long career as a journalist and editor, largely at The Times, and as the author of four books.

She died at age 95 on October 19 at her Manhattan home. Her son, James Altschul, said the cause was complications from dementia.

Like many women of this era in news journalism, Ms. Bender started at The Times on the fashion pages, covering the fashion industry for 11 years looking at it through a sociological lens. As a follow-up to her reporting, she wrote the 1967 book “The Beautiful People,” which criticized a growing celebrity culture and examined the symbiotic relationship between fashion and society at a time when people were becoming famous for being famous.

She was later recruited by the Times’ economic news section, where editors believed her ability to write about a topic through the personalities involved would liven up their otherwise dry pages.

Having graduated in law and married an aviation industry financial consultant, Ms Bender said she feels confident writing about business people. During the oral history interview, conducted in 2000 and 2001 for Columbia Law School, she was asked about her approach to someone like Jack Welch, the announced CEO of General Electric who died in March.

“From a business perspective, of course you would want to know how he runs his business,” she says. “But the rest of him?” It’s hysterical, because it’s not fascinating otherwise – unless you dig deep into its ordinary.

Among his subjects was a Donald J. Trump, 37. In a 1983 Sunday Business Section cover story under the headline “The Empire and Donald Trump’s Ego,” she examined his turnover and transactions as he expanded his real estate empire across Manhattan.

This “brash Adonis of the Outer Boroughs,” Ms. Bender wrote, “showed a flair for self-promotion, grandiose plans and, perhaps unsurprisingly, for causing fury along the way.

He wore “matching maroon suits and moccasins,” she added, and got tax breaks and other concessions that critics have called “outrageous.”

The article infuriated Mr Trump, who called Ms Bender to complain.

“You put me down because I’m from Queens,” he told her, according to Soma Golden Behr, who edited the article on the Times business office and became the newspaper’s first national editor.

“Marylin had extensive business knowledge and a keen eye for detail, and she was comfortable writing about the city’s financial class,” Ms. Behr said in a telephone interview. “She had insight, and she had chutzpah.”

Marylin Sloan Bender was born in Brooklyn on April 25, 1925. Her parents, Michael and Janet (Sloan) Bender, owned and operated a clothing manufacturing business in Manhattan. They later owned a clothing store, with a branch in Greenwich, Connecticut – a job that exposed their daughter to the fashion business.

She grew up in Brooklyn and Manhattan and went to Smith College at age 15, after skipping a few years. She graduated in 1944 with a major in history. At Columbia Law School, she said, her evidence classes gave her a good training to become a journalist and made her trust the documents. She graduated in 1947.

She married Selig Altschul, a financial expert and adviser to the aviation industry, in 1959. He and Mrs. Bender co-wrote “The Chosen Instrument,” a 1982 biography of Juan Trippe, the founder of Pan American World Airways.

Mr. Altschul died in 1992. Besides her son, Mrs. Bender is survived by two granddaughters.

Her first job in a newspaper was as an editorial assistant at the New York Journal-American, owned by Hearst, “a newspaper for which I have had the greatest contempt,” she said in Oral History, “But a job is a job.”

There she learned to be a crafty and creative journalist. One of her first tasks, she said, was to travel to Queens to ask a woman “what she thought her daughter had been chopped up and dumped, her body found in pieces, in a garbage bucket ”.

Over time, she helped open a smuggling ring for Salk vaccines. Using a trick to get a visa, she traveled to Russia at the height of the Cold War and wrote a series about the lives of women there. She has also written on alcoholism and aging.

But for the most part, she called in her stories from a phone booth to a traditional rewrite office “His Girl Friday”. It taught him to think quickly but had little to do with writing.

“It was the ability to get people to talk that was important, to get information,” she said. “Get the story.”

She landed a job at The Times in 1959. On the fashion page, she worked primarily with women, but once she moved to business news in 1970, she became the first woman to run the business. Sunday section a few years later, friction with the men. became apparent.

“As the editor of Sunday Affairs, I believe I had control over the editorial question, but on a personal level it was a struggle,” she said. “The deputies wanted my job. They were not used to following the instructions of women and they were deeply irritated.

When she left to write a book, her job was given to a man who, she said, “knew nothing about business.” Three months later, she was asked to come back and help her. He was earning more than she had. She declined the offer.

But she supported the seven female plaintiffs, led by Betsy Wade Boylan, head of the foreign copying bureau, in their sex discrimination lawsuit against The Times. Eventually, the case evolved into a class action lawsuit on behalf of nearly 600 women. “My testimony was helpful,” Ms. Bender said.

Just as a lawsuit was set to begin in 1978, the New York Times Company settled out of court, announcing a cash settlement and an affirmative action program under a four-year court order.

Today, women represent 49% of the newsroom staff and 46% of its leaders. Company-wide, they represent 51% of management positions.