Jean Seberg (right) with a co-star in Ondata di calore - 1970.
On Saturday, March 7, 2009, Jim Bellows, former editor of the Los Angeles Times, passed away. To those who are unfamiliar with Jean's story, Bellows was a features editor at the newspaper. He was also gossip columnist Joyce Haber's boss, and her column regularly appeared in his section. In the spring of 1970, the Times' city editor Bill Thomas was given a "tip" which claimed the father of Jean's unborn child was a member of the Black Panther Party and not her husband, Romain Gary.
Thomas gave the information to Haber and told her to write a story about it. The Times printed the story as a blind item, meaning no names were mentioned, and did not state the story as fact. In hindsight, after reading the clues included in the story, it's apparent the story was about Jean, however, in 1970, several people thought the subject was Jane Fonda.
The Los Angeles Times did not mention the Seberg story in Bellows' obituary. Recently there have been several postings online criticizing the newspaper and Bellows. After all, when Joyce Haber passed away, half of her obituary printed in the New York Times reported on her involvement in the Seberg story.
In the years since Jean's death in 1979, a majority of the finger pointing has been at the Los Angeles Times and those involved with the blind item. Too little has been aimed at Newsweek which printed the story after the Times, but named Jean and stated the story as fact. Since Newsweek was a "legitimate" magazine with responsible journalists who reported facts, the story was picked up by one hundred U.S. newspapers. It was out of control--and yet only one reporter at the time bothered to seek and publish the truth: Warren Robeson of the Marshalltown Times-Republican.
It was not the Haber article on Jean that affected her near as much as the Newsweek piece. It was the latter which contributed to her going into premature labor and the devastating events that followed. I have written about these events in detail in my books, and I interviewed Jim Bellows in the 1990s. He was very forthcoming and still regretful when we spoke.
There was a deadline, there had been "powerful people" involved, and they knew the tip had originated with the F.B.I. (despite Haber's later claim that it was not). But to his credit, Bellows convinced Haber to rewrite the piece without using Jean's name, as she had originally done. Save for the name of the person who supplied the newspaper with the tip, the story behind the Los Angeles Times and Jean Seberg has now been told.
Newsweek has yet to adequately answer for their actions.