Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Dying of the Light

A Recent Picture
Some people live with us forever. We think of them often, and we regard them as vital, dynamic, swirling about in their own lives, on top of their problems and at the top of their game. We know there are ups and downs, but, because of their resilience and resourcefulness, they live in our imaginations as always charging upward.

Such a man was Mort Gordon, who hired me for my first job in New York City, a young woman with a smattering of newspaper experience, hoping to crack the city one way or another.  It was with great sorrow that I learned of his death Friday at the age of 87. His was a strong and happy spirit, and he was a light in the lives of many who knew and worked with him. I had not seen him in over 40 years, but he remains as vivid to me anyone I've ever known.

Mort was one of the co-editors of a trade newspaper, and I was to be secretary and editorial assistant to him and Herb Blueweiss. Mort was tall, breezy, sexy--and Herb was short, balding, bookish, and somewhat enigmatic. The two were close friends, symbiotic in their mutual admiration, and together they created an atmosphere of casual competence in the newsroom. The company was Fairchild Publications and the newspaper was a men's wear and textile industry outlet called Daily News Record.

Mort was a good editor and a gentle guy with people; he was the one we’d take our stories to if we had a problem.
Exactly as I remember him
He cut a wide swath through his segment of the men's wear industry--furnishings--meaning shirts, ties, and accessories. He was liked by the staff who worked for him and the men and women in the industry he wrote about, because of his big personality and his sincerity with people.

Fairchild was housed in two buildings, back to back. The front door was at 7 East 12th Street, an entrance into a modern if characterless building where the sleeker publications were produced. A plain lobby housed a front desk and a bank of three elevators. If you took this elevator to the third floor you were in the world of Women’s Wear Daily, full of chicly dressed young women at desks with typewriters, reporting on the future of hemlines, and a few hapless males writing about the business side of the women’s fashion industry.

If you were going to the Daily News Record office, you had to make a trek through these desks on past the fey characters of the art department on the right and through a passageway to the back building. This structure was decidedly old, housing some geezers who wrote columns called “Words at Random,” and “Cotton Grey Goods,” as well as some serious guys discussing such topics as the necktie market, textile machinery, the staying power of the “mod” fashion in the youth market. You would also see a passel of merry pranksters looking for their next big journalism break. As a secretary, I fit cozily into that latter category.

You could also enter DNR the back way, up the stairs or in the creaky old elevator in the shabby 13th Street building. At that end of the room were the financial desk, the legal reporters, and a smattering of other market desks.

I worked at DNR off and on for some six years from the mid-60’s until the early 70’s when I left for good for the greener pastures of public relations, but I left having made the acquaintance of some of the most interesting characters of my life, and having made some friends I still see today. There is a surreal quality to my memories of the place. Every reporter, every editor, even the copy kids—all were distinct in his or her view of their employment. They took their work with a grain of salt, but basically performed it well. It took some doing for an incipient novelist to call on the little knitting mills producing men’s sweaters and report the company’s financial and marketing plans. Mort Gordon was responsible in no small for the tone of the place--he managed us all in the best sense of the word.

A native of Philadelphia, Gordon graduated from Temple University with a B.S. in journalism. After service in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War, he returned to Philadelphia went to work as a reporter in Fairchild’s Philadelphia bureau. He was a born salesman, and soon moved up the ranks at Fairchild to become publisher of Men's Wear Magazine, a prestigious industry publication. After he left Fairchild he had a long career in the business of licensing men's wear products.

Mort had suffered from pancreatic cancer, and yet he kept his upbeat attitude until the end, still playing tennis and probably flirting with the nurses. I'll always think of how happy I felt when he'd stream into the newsroom, always nattily dressed, usually with just the right amount of a light cologne, a ready laugh, and a good word.


  1. Although I never worked directly for Mort (I joined DNR in ’71), I vividly remember the dashing figure he cut as he strode through the offices on 7 E. 12th. I agree with Jerry Andersen’s assessment: Handsome, elegant, suave, impeccably dressed, sophisticated, cosmopolitan. I remember thinking, “This is a guy who’s got Manhattan figured out.”

  2. I am Mort Gordon's daughter and I thank you for your kind words about my father. My sister and I miss him terribly and enjoyed reading your blog post. As a point of clarification, he did not die of pancreatic cancer, but rather from complications resulting from a recent stroke. He fought hard until the very end and, as you might expect, all of the nurses in the hospital commented on how handsome he was.

  3. Thanks for your comment, Jennifer. I hate to think of his having a stroke (but even more I hate to think about his having any illness at all, much less dying.) Sincere condolences to you and Heather--I'm sure he was as wonderful a dad as he was a boss and editor.

  4. Thank you for saying that. He was the best dad. And as good a father as he was to us, he was an even better grandfather to his three granddaughters who adored him. I am so happy to learn that he was viewed so positively in his profession, as well. He had a great life and lived it to the fullest. I think he would have gotten a kick out of reading this.

  5. Nice to know that about his having grandchildren (interesting how he got only females, but I know no one who would have enjoyed that more). I would love to think he'd like what I said about him. I'll bet he was proud of his daughters, too, and I hope someday I'll have a change to meet and reminisce with you both.

  6. He really did enjoy my girls (you are right about that!) and he had a great relationship with all three of them. They miss him a lot. It would be great to meet someday. You can reach me at if you ever want to connect. Thanks!