May 20, 2014 11:54 pm

Arthur Gelb, editor and critic who helped sculpt The New York Times, dies at 90

In this October 27, 1967 photo New York Times, New York Time’s editors A.M. Rosenthal, left and Arthur Gelb, are seated at a desk in Rosenthal’s office at the New York Times the year that Rosenthal was elevated to Executive Editor and Gelb succeeded him as Managing editor.

AP Photo/New York Times

NEW YORK – Veteran editor Arthur Gelb, whose news sense, arts sensibility and journalistic vigour sculpted The New York Times for decades, died Tuesday at age 90.

Gelb died in New York, said Peter Clark, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Opera, where Gelb’s son Peter Gelb is general manager. Clark didn’t know the cause of his death, but Peter Gelb told the Times his father died of complications of a stroke.

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Arthur Gelb joined the Times as a copy boy in 1944 and rose to become its managing editor, retiring in 1989. Along the way, he was an influential arts writer, a metropolitan editor who oversaw a famous expose of police corruption and a newsroom leader who helped create the now-familiar Sports Monday, Science Times and other daily sections, the newspaper said.

“Arthur Gelb was a powerful part of the Times for decades,” publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. said in a statement. “He brought great energy and insight to our journalism.”

Just three days into his copy boy job, Gelb got his editors’ OK for a news outlet of his own: a weekly about the internal life of the newspaper, the Times said. He quickly got to know reporters and editors, and promotions followed.

When a B-25 bomber crashed into the Empire State Building in July 1945, Gelb reported from Bellevue Hospital. Nurses spoke openly with the young, inexperienced reporter and taught him “a journalistic virtue: naivete,” he wrote later.

As an arts critic in the 1960s, he wrote about Woody Allen, Barbra Streisand, Lenny Bruce and others early in their careers. He was metropolitan editor from 1967 to 1978, leading coverage of a city wracked by anti-war protests, a municipal near-bankruptcy and police corruption. The Times’ reporting on allegations raised by Officer Frank Serpico helped spur reforms in the New York Police Department.

Gelb became deputy managing editor in 1977 and managing editor in 1986. After retiring, he served as president of the Times’ charitable foundation.

He and his wife, Barbara Gelb, also became experts on Nobel Prize-winning playwright Eugene O’Neill, writing books and helping write a documentary about him.

Arthur Neal Gelb was born in New York on Feb. 3, 1924. His parents, immigrants from what is now Ukraine, ran a dress shop.

Associated Press writer Verena Dobnik contributed to this report.

© 2014 The Canadian Press

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