Don Gold, editor for Playboy, other magazines, Columbia College teacher, dead at 90
The longtime editor and journalism teacher also worked for magazines including DownBeat, Travel + Leisure, Chicago, the Saturday Evening Post and Ladies’ Home Journal.
Don Gold loved words and music.
He worked as an editor for some of the nation’s most prestigious magazines, wrote books, organized a jazz festival that drew nearly 20,000 to the old Chicago Stadium and taught journalism at Columbia College Chicago.
“Don always said, ‘Don’t panic if the job that you want is not being offered at the place you want to write because, if they want you bad enough, they will make a place for you’ — and he was right,” said Muriel L. Sims, a former student who went on to work for the Chicago Reporter, Ebony, Essence and the Dallas Observer.
A longtime Evanston resident, Mr. Gold died last month of kidney failure, according to his daughter Tracy Pytlar. He was 90.
He grew up on the Near North Side, where he attended Nettelhorst grade school and Lake View High School.
“When I was a kid, Lincoln Park Zoo was one of the great places to go,” he once told the Chicago Sun-Times. “And I’ve been going back ever since.”
In 1988, he wrote a book about it, “Zoo,” featuring the caretakers and the animals — everything from spitting cobras to baby gorillas. A cat lover, he dedicated it to Alexander and Lola, two of his many feline companions over the years. He kept the ashes of Oliver, his favorite cat, on his bookcase.
After getting bachelor’s and master’s degrees in journalism at Northwestern University, Mr. Gold served in the Army in Germany during the Korean war.
The jazz magazine DownBeat “was practically my first job,” he told the Sun-Times. “I applied while still in Germany.”
He became managing editor there.
In 1959, he was named an associate editor at Playboy magazine.
The same year, he helped organize the two-day Playboy Jazz Festival, which drew 19,000 people to the old Chicago Stadium to hear Joe Williams, the Count Basie Big Band, the Miles Davis Sextet, the Dizzy Gillespie Quintet and the Dave Brubeck Quartet.
Mr. Gold spent much of the 1960s and 1970s in New York City in top editing posts with the Saturday Evening Post, Ladies’ Home Journal and Holiday magazines before moving on to the William Morris agency.
“My father was the head of the literary department,” his daughter said. “He had a roster of well-known authors, acquired others and was responsible for getting their books published.”
In the mid-1970s, he was named managing editor of Travel + Leisure.
In 1975, his book “Bellevue: A Documentary of a Large Metropolitan Hospital,” based on seven months of access to the New York City institution, was published.
“He made rounds,” his daughter said. “He witnessed the daily and nightly life.”
“There is no fiction here, no adornment,” Mr. Gold wrote. “My method, I suppose is that of the old journalism.”
His daughter said he was asked to return to Playboy to become managing editor after editor Sheldon Wax was killed with 272 others in the nation’s deadliest aviation accident — the 1979 crash of American Airlines Flight 191, which lost an engine just after takeoff from O’Hare Airport.
After four years at Playboy, Mr. Gold worked as editor in chief of Chicago magazine.
From 1989 to 1996, he worked at Columbia College Chicago, where he taught magazine journalism and was a faculty adviser to The Columbia Chronicle, Inside Journalism and Chicago Arts and Communication.
“He led us to self-guided discovery, connecting one-on-one with a wide range of students from different backgrounds and at different points in their lives,” said former student Arlene Furlong, now a Chicago writer.
Mr. Gold also wrote the 1990 book “Hard Learnin’ ” with New York Mets star Darryl Strawberry.
He wrote many book reviews for the Sun-Times. In 1990, reviewing “Coat of Many Colors: Pages from Jewish Life,” he described a brush he’d had with antisemitism:
“Years later, sitting in my New York office, I was confronted by a man who lamented his lack of success as an author. ‘It’s because of all those damned Jews in publishing,’ he said. I did not help him find a publisher for his book; the thought occurred to me that I ought to keep a yarmulke in my desk drawer for such occasions.”
His three marriages all ended in divorce. Mary Brown, his companion for close to 20 years, described Mr. Gold as a generous friend, recounting how a neighbor once confided to him that she was pining to marry a man in Scotland.
“He helped pay for her flight,” Brown said.
When he was dying, his daughter said, Brown played him a favorite song, holding her phone to his ear so he could hear The Manhattan Transfer version of ”A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square.”
Brown said a memorial service will be held at a later date.