Ruth Ashton Taylor, former radio and television journalist, dies at 101

Ruth Ashton Taylor, who was the only woman in CBS journalist Edward R. Murrow’s postwar radio documentary unit and was widely considered the first female news anchor in Los Angeles, died Jan. 11 in San Rafael , in California. She was 101 years old.

His daughter Laurel Conklin confirmed the death at an assisted living facility.

“Ruth showed what women could do,” Liz Mitchell, who worked with Ms. Taylor as a production assistant and writer at KNXT-TV in Los Angeles, said in a telephone interview. “She could cover small events and big events – on different topics – and there was no stopping her.”

As one of the few women in television news in the 1940s and 1950s, Ms. Taylor had to deal with institutional biases about what she should cover and what her reporting should look like.

At CBS, Ms. Taylor learned that women were not allowed to be heard on the air because their voices were too “squeaky,” she once said.

In Los Angeles in 1951, she was hired by KTSL-TV (later KNXT and KCBS) to anchor women’s news on a half-hour nightly show.

Shortly after beginning her television assignment, she auditioned at KNX Radio to produce and present a daily five-minute afternoon report on what was billed as “the Women’s News Bureau.”

“It was such a new thing that everyone thought it was a real oddity.” she told a Washington Press Club Foundation interviewer in 1992.. “Hey, watch the monkey play!” We’ve never seen one like this before.

Topics she covered included cars, planes, and fashion.

“Taylor says she always approached her stories the way she wanted,” wrote Suzanne Haibach Marteney in his master’s thesis about Ms. Taylor of California State University, Northridge, in 1986. “She justified her attitude by saying that she had to give a woman’s point of view because it was her point of view and that she was, of course, a woman. »

Ms. Taylor left KTSL (now renamed KNXT) around 1952, but she carried on her women’s radio reporting for several years while also hosting “The Ruth Ashton Show,” a half-hour news and features program, also on KNX. She resigned in 1959 after a confrontation with management when she refused to cover events such as department store openings, she told Ms Marteney.

She left journalism temporarily in 1960, when she accepted a position as special projects editor at Claremont Colleges. After three years, she returned to radio.

Ruth Arlene Montoya was born on April 20, 1922 in Long Beach, California. Her mother, Flora Ashton, sold baked goods in Nebraska and later opened Sis Ashton’s Cafe in Signal Hill, California, after her husband, Julian Montoya, who worked for a bank, left the family when Ruth was 4 years. surname.

Ruth graduated from Scripps College in Claremont, California with a bachelor’s degree in American history. In 1944, she earned a master’s degree from the Columbia Journalism School while writing news part-time for CBS.

After she graduated, CBS hired her full time and she worked for correspondent Robert Trout and wrote for the “Feature Story” program. Mr. Murrow encouraged her to find a subject that fascinated her for a documentary, and she chose atomic science.

Her reporting trips for “The Sunny Side of the Atom” took her to many places, including Princeton, New Jersey, where Albert Einstein, who had ignored her letters requesting an interview, lived and worked.

A cooperative taxi driver took her to Einstein’s house, where he was walking nearby. She got out of the car and approached him.

“I said, ‘Hello, Dr. Einstein,'” she recalled in an interview with the Washington Press Club Foundation. “’My name is Ruth Ashton.’”

“Ah!” he said, “The lady from broadcasting.” »

He consented to an interview (although she didn’t record it) and they talked “about things that meant so much to me, whether the future of the world or not.”

The documentary was produced by CBS as a non-fiction drama in 1947, with actors playing various roles. Agnes Moorehead portrayed Mrs. Ashton.

In his analysis for the New York Times, RW Stewart called it “an eloquent appeal for a broader popular understanding of an obviously vital issue.”

Ms. Taylor remained with CBS until 1949. Eager to return home to Los Angeles, she accepted a public relations position at KNX, which later expanded into an on-air news position.

After her time at Claremont Colleges, Ms. Taylor returned to KNX in 1963. She hosted an infotainment show with comic actor Pat Buttram, a future member of the sitcom “Green Acres,” and reported for a program news and feature films in the afternoon. , “Scenario.”

In 1966, she was hired as a Saturday afternoon news anchor on KNXT, making her the first known woman to hold that type of position in Los Angeles.

“Everyone came out of their compartment to watch it,” said Ms. Mitchell, who remembers watching the first broadcast in the newsroom. “The reaction wasn’t, ‘Holy cow, why is a woman presenting the news?’ » but ‘Wow, a woman.’

But many of the calls the station received after that first broadcast were about her hair.

“Here was a woman who had just done something monumental and that was all they had to say,” local anchor Jess Marlow told the Sacramento Bee in 1990. “She was just discouraged.”

After spending about a year there, she focused on journalism, but she still had to deal with outdated attitudes toward women in journalism.

“Ruth Ashton Proves Girls Can Succeed in News,” was the headline about her in The Valley News of Van Nuys, Calif., in 1968.

Joe Saltzman, a former senior producer at KNXT, said by phone: “If they sent a man to cover a criminal trial, they would send him to talk to the grieving girlfriend. She said: “I want to be treated like any other journalist. I’m going to cover fires and bank robberies. And she ultimately won that battle.

She has covered political conventions, the assassination of Senator Robert F. Kennedy, California state politics, flooding, school board meetings and entertainment.

Connie Chung, who was an anchor at KNXT, said by telephone that although Ms. Taylor was not well known nationally, “everyone in Southern California knew that every woman who followed her was following in her footsteps.” “She paved the way for all of us.”

Ms. Chung added that after she became co-anchor of the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather in 1993, “Ruth wrote me letters when the old goats at CBS were giving me a hard time at New York and that I threw myself at them and cheered me on.

Ms. Taylor retired in 1989, but freelanced for several more years as a political reporter and moderator of the station’s “Meet the Press”-style program, “Newsmakers.”

In addition to her daughter, Laurel Conklin, Mrs. Taylor is survived by another daughter, Susan Conklin; Step-son, John Taylor; a grandson and a great-grandson. Her marriages to Ed Conklin, a journalist, and Jack Taylor, a cameraman, ended in divorce.

Ms. Taylor received the Television Academy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1982 and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1990.

“Mom, I’ve finally made my mark,” she said at the ceremony. “It’s here, on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, made of cement.”