It’s easy to compile a list of larger-than-life authors, but trickier when it comes to newspaper and magazine publishers and editors. For starters, it would include William Randolph Hearst (New York Journal, San Francisco Examiner), Joseph Pulitzer (New York World), Helen Gurley Brown (Cosmopolitan), Anna Wintour (Vogue) and Rupert Murdoch (News Corp.). Add to it the less-familiar but live-out-loud Alicia Patterson (1906-63), founder and publisher of the award-winning newspaper Newsday.
Her intriguing story is revealed in a new biography “The Huntress” by the late Alice Arlen and her husband, Michael J. Arlen (Pantheon, $29, 368 pages). Alice Arden was a screenwriter nominated for an Oscar for “Silkwood” (with Nora Ephron) and was a niece of Patterson’s. Michael Arlen holds a National Book Award for “Passage to Ararat.”
In part, the authors wrote their inside look at Patterson’s triumphs, foibles and passions with help from “family archives of journals and letters, documents, unpublished works, memoranda and photographs.”
Patterson came from the Patterson-Medill publishing empire (Chicago Tribune, New York Daily News) and was a rebel from the start. As a young adult in the 1930s, she traveled parts of the world, meeting newspaper publisher Lord Beaverbrook (aka William Maxwell Aitken) and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, among other notables of the day.
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The thrice-wed journalist was an airplane pilot, equestrian, hunter (she tracked tigers with maharajas in India and had a hunting lodge in Georgia), was on intimate terms for years with Illinois governor and Democratic presidential candidate Adlai E. Stevenson, and counted John Steinbeck among her friends. She made the cover of Time magazine in 1954. A ceramic mural in the Guggenheim Museum, titled “Alicia,” was commissioned by her last husband as her memorial.
In keeping with her personality, the mission of her namesake Alicia Patterson Foundation is to “provide support for journalists engaged in rigorous, spirited, independent and skeptical work that will benefit the public.”