Saturday, February 14, 2009

Obituaries

Dan Wolf, 80, a Village Voice Founder, Dies

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Published: April 12, 1996

Correction Appended

Dan Wolf, a founding editor of The Village Voice and a longtime adviser to Edward I. Koch, died yesterday at New York University Medical Center. Mr. Wolf, who lived in Greenwich Village, was 80.

Mr. Wolf spent some 40 years at the vortex of life in New York City. He presided over the birth and the sometimes fractious but always fascinating early life of the weekly newspaper, whose significance resonated far beyond the geographic bounds suggested by its name. And after he sold his interest in The Voice, he was to be found for many years at City Hall, a soft-spoken counselor to Mayor Koch, whose editor he became after Mr. Koch left office.

When the two met in the late 1950's, Mr. Wolf was four years into his career as editor of The Voice, which published its first issue in October 1955. The newspaper's founding triumvirate consisted of Mr. Wolf, Edwin Fancher, a psychologist he met in 1946 on a line while registering for classes at the New School for Social Research under the G.I. Bill, and Norman Mailer, Mr. Fancher's friend.

In a foreword to "The Village Voice Reader," co-edited with Mr. Fancher and published in 1962, Mr. Wolf wrote that The Voice was created at a time "when the vulgarities of McCarthyism had withered the possibilities of a true dialogue between people."

"The best minds in America -- radical and conservative -- were repeating themselves," he said.

Mr. Mailer wrote in a 1956 column that "I feel the hints, the clues, the whisper of a new time coming."

Although the weekly appeared to have no editorial direction, Mr. Wolf used its space and its blend of advocacy and personal journalism to reflect the cultural ferment and political discontent simmering in the intellectual life of the country. There were articles about gay rights advocates and Black Panthers, the women's liberation movement, psychedelic shopping centers and erotic Christmas ornaments. The newspaper rallied to the cause of reform in Greenwich Village politics. It opposed the war in Vietnam. It backed the civil rights movement.

Sometimes running articles in the same issue that convincingly praised and criticized the same person, party or institution, The Voice could be as vexing as it was entertaining. Letters wailed constantly that the paper had sold out to the establishment. And while The Voice was sometimes radical or leftist, more often it was chaotic and rather anarchic.

Young writers were coddled and encouraged. Readers grew familiar with the articles, essays, columns and criticism of Nat Hentoff, Jonas Mekas, Mary Perot Nichols and Jack Newfield. Because Mr. Wolf listened to them so attentively and so skillfully drew out their thoughts, many of his writers said they believed that his talent was that he edited people, not copy.

Readers of The Voice were also entertained and informed by its advertising: "Murray -- I shall always love you. John." Or "Veteran of three lunatic asylums wants to explore possibility of book with qualified writer."

From a beginning when the presses rolled out 2,500 copies priced at 5 cents each (and writers were paid $5 an article), circulation climbed to 56,000 by 1966. By 1970, when control of the paper was bought by City Councilman Carter Burden, The Village Voice could claim roughly 150,000 readers, with its advertisers eager to reach its generally affluent audience, which liked movies, water beds, stereo sets and other big-ticket durable goods.

Daniel Wolf came to Greenwich Village by way of the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where he was born on May 25, 1915. He graduated from George Washington High School and hoped to become a novelist. After holding a series of clerical jobs, he was drafted into the Army during World War II. He was assigned to aerial intelligence that took him to New Guinea.

When discharged, he studied psychology until his G.I. Bill benefits ran out, earned extra money by writing articles on philosophy for the Columbia Enyclopedia and worked for the Turkish information office in New York before leaving to establish The Village Voice.