Jim Harwood

Variety reporter Jim Harwood died Saturday of cancer in Freestone, Calif. He was 55.

At the time of his death, Harwood was the Bay Area stringer for Variety. In 1988, he became the paper’s first full-time correspondent in the area since the 1920s.

Harwood began working for Variety in 1969, when he became the paper’s part-time man in San Francisco. In 1975, he moved to Los Angeles to take a full-time post. He covered financial news and reviewed films, as well as writing occasional droll columns about showbiz that were widely admired.

Former Daily Variety editor Tom Pryor called Harwood “a rare and fine reporter who also had the ability to write amusing commentary.”

Harwood was part of what he called a “notorious” Texas family — he told the Marin Independent Journal in 1988 that both his great-grandfathers were train robbers. There is a street in Dallas bearing his family name.

Groomed for the ministry by his grandmother, Harwood became a teen evangelist at 15, and attended Southern Methodist University with the intention of entering divinity school.

But his path was changed when he answered a phone “in a room where I wasn’t supposed to be”– it was the Wall Street Journal, offering part-time work. “I had always favored journalism,” he told the Marin paper, and joined the Journal as a reporter straight out of college, in 1959.

He covered the struggle for civil rights in the South and, at the age of 22, was summoned to Washington by the Journal to cover the Supreme Court and Congress and serve as relief reporter at the White House. He accompanied President John F. Kennedy on his last trip to Palm Beach, “but I missed the story of the century a few days later,” he said, when Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.

While covering the GOP Convention in San Francisco in 1964, Harwood discovered the Haight-Ashbury, and immediately knew “this is where it’s going to happen; this is where I should be.” He quit the Journal the next year and spent 10 years working as a part-time television producer/writer and soaking up the music and lifestyle of the area.

Harwood worked in other arenas as well, co-authoring “The Soul Food Cookbook” with Ed Callahan and writing the annual “Sex in Cinema” column for Playboy (he had just completed his 16th).

Survived by his son, Eric, and daughter-in-law, Danita; daughter, Arden Watson; grandchildren Dashiell and Ashley Harwood and Charles Donovan Milbauer; and a sister, Tommie Jean Jacobs.

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