Thursday, May 27, 2010

RIP Les Line

Les Line, the writer and editor who made the (old) Audubon into what might have been the best nature magazine in the world, has died.

Audubon has been very and appropriately kind in its obit. It doesn't mention that they fired him in '91 to change the magazine's direction.

My friend Matt Miller of The Nature Conservancy informed me of his death. I wrote back what I will let stand as my own memorial:

"I knew Les and thought he was some kind of editorial genius, maybe the most brilliant natural history editor ever, publishing everybody from Peter Matthiessen and Robert F. Jones on Africa to John Mitchell (a five- part and fiercely controversial series) on hunting. He, if I remember correctly, broke the Texas eagle shooting scandal with Don Scheuler's reporting (Scheuler may also be the first nature writer who wrote a gay memoir, though not for Audubon (;-)). Though it obviously still exists, Audubon magazine died as far as I was concerned when PC types pushed and business heads fired him, moving away from great nature writing to pure "enviro" (and both boring and routinely alarmist) stuff.

"He was also a delightfully strange man. He was ENORMOUSLY fat, had at that time-- mid- Eighties?-- hippie hair and a handlebar mustache, and wore things like turquoise bolo ties in his Manhattan office, where he also had a Weatherby cartridge board and a poster of a Smith & Wesson .44 mag! At Audubon!

"He took me to lunch and recommended a one- pound burger with CAVIAR and some kind of draft German beer. I ate one-- he might have had two.

"It's a cliché but they don't make them like him anymore. I could have seen my (and my genre's) own near-doom as popular coming when I invited him to speak about his experiences at Wildbranch Writing workshop post- Audubon and several young "writers" (none to my knowledge ever published before or since) stood up and dismissed-- denounced-- natural history as "irrelevant". This at a nature writing workshop!

"I missed him even before he was gone."

UPDATE: Miller on naturalists.


Matt Mullenix said...

Nice rememberance!

Tim Gallagher said...

I totally agree with you about Les. He set a standard in the nature magazine field that has never since been reached. I remember how much I looked forward to receiving each issue of Audubon back in the good old days before Audubon Society president Peter Berle (who is also now deceased) canned him. Les has always been an inspiration to me as an editor, and I try as much as possible to live up to his ideal as I work on each issue of LIVING BIRD.