By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

David Farrell

Former Globe and Herald columnist David Farrell, a legendary figure in local newspaper circles, has died at the age of 80. (Globe obit here; Herald obit here.)

Farrell epitomized the old-fashioned newspaperman as powerbroker. He surely would have been as well-known as fellow Globe staffers such as Marty Nolan, Robert Healy and the late David Nyhan if he had not left the paper more than two decades ago amid a scandal that seems quaint when measured by what has befallen the business in the intervening years.

Farrell’s son John, a filmmaker, author and local blogger of some note, has posted a nice tribute to his father.

The last I heard, the elder Farrell was writing a history/memoir of the Boston newspaper scene. I hope John Farrell can find a way to bring that project to completion. It’s bound to be a terrific read.

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  1. John Farrell

    Thanks for the kind post, Dan. I hope to have his book in shape within the year….

  2. Anonymous

    The Globe obit makes several references to this infamous sentence Farrell wrote about King. What was it?

  3. Amusedbutinformedobserver

    I, too, look forward to the Farrell book, which had been tentative titled “It Never Snows on (I think it was) Winter St.” a reference to the clout that the Boston Board of Trade had over newspapers, to the point where it was never snowing too hard for the masses to descend on the city’s big retailers in the days when Jordan Marsh, Filene’s Sons, Gilchrist’s and Raymond’s bought enough advertising to amass and use real clout.One part of the book that will be an especial insightful read will be Farrell’s take on the Frank Bellotti campaigns of the 60s, including a last-minute, front-page editorial endorsement in the ’64 gubenatorial race, and the “Bellotti papers” smear in Bellotti’s race for Attorney General in 1966 against Elliot Richardson (when the since-sanctified Richardson allowed supporters to lob anti-Italian mafia smears against Bellotti who never took the low road and avoided bringing up Richardson’s decades-old drunk driving conviction.)It was interesting to read in the obituaries (and the Globe did a much, much better job than the paper Farrell once led, the Herald) that Farrell had served a stint as circulation director at the merged Herald Traveler soon after the Traveler suspended following the 1967 Boston newspaper strike. The PM Traveler is little remembered, being the third afternoon paper in a three-paper PM market to the Evening Globe and the first edition of the next day Record-American. It had a very clever advertising slogan for its “blue-streak edition” calling it “the paper that comes home,” in reference to the blood and guts that characterized the Record-American, which many of the nicer families would not have on the living room coffee table. Farrell’s tenure in the circulation dept. during the wars leading up to H-T Corp’s sale of its paper to Hearst is also something one hopes he spoke of when preparing this book.Farrell’s career is a timeline of the events which have created the Boston media we know today. When he started in daily journalism, Boston had no television stations, the Internet was not even a thought, talk radio consisted of an occasional “chat” show and Boston had seven daily papers, the Post, AM and PM Globe, PM Traveler, PM Record, AM American and AM Herald.He had a pretty good ringside seat to the suspension of the Post in 1956, an event which more than anything done by the Winships or the Taylors created the market opportunity made the Globe the power which it became (it’s hard to understate just how good a paper the Post was for its era, or its appeal to the rising middle class); the combination of the Record and American by Hearst in 1960 to create an increasingly lurid all-day tabloid (whose Fenway Park Edition, featuring a back page scorecard for home games, was a classic); the suspension of the Traveler by Herald-Traveler Corp. in 1967, which led to an increasingly pedestrian morning paper (the post- merger Herald-Traveler had little of the patrician style of the old Boston Herald, which served as the Voice of the Blueblood from the death of the Transcript into the early 70s) and Herald Traveler Corporation’s sale of its newspaper to Hearst and the creation of the abomination known as the morning “Boston Herald Traveler and Record American” and the evening “Record American and Boston Herald Traveler” an unfortunate name that lasted mere months, torpoeded by, interestingly enough, Eddie Andelman who would refer to the “Boston Herald American Record Traveler, Bugle, Monitor, Gazette, Star, Transcript and Epstein”.I must say that I eagerly anticipate the prospect of reading the insight a Farrell book would offer on the demise of The Post, the competitive factor that Hearst brought to the newspaper wars of the 50s and 60s and the Globe’s absolute torching of the Hearst paper through the 70s and early 80s.But that’s just the ink running through my veins. I am just as interested in Farrell memoirs about politics, about Foster Furcolo, the most significant Western Mass politician of the last 50 years; about the Volpe years and the Peabody-Bellotti battle in ’64; about Frank Sargent and the 1970 race for governor (any truth to the story that Kevin White’s “ulcer” was a gunshot wound?); about Dukakis knocking off Bob Quinn in 1974 only to suffer a similar fate at the hands of Ed King four years later and the Dukakis comeback in 1982.Hopefully David Farrell’s knowledge of what happened over four decades of Boston political and media wars won’t be lost. One only hopes that one of his remaining contemporaries, Frank Bellotti also writes a book covering this period.In an era when a re-hash by the increasingly lazy Howie Carr (most of the decent lines in his columns recently are unattributed quotes of callers to his talk show, which certainly puts him in the Barnicle class of columnists) can become the most talked-about book on local politics in recent years, the perspective of Farrell is important and to be anticipated eagerly by anyone with a passion for Boston media and politics.We had David Farrell, among others. Now we must turn for our political perspective to the likes of a Jon “Let Me Spit Back The Spin I Got At Lunch” Keller.O Tempore. O Mores.

  4. John Farrell

    Amused, thanks for the excellent post. For one thing, it certainly helps to clarify what a good table of contents for the book should be. My dad compiled and wrote a lot of this–but it isn’t organized, so it will take some sorting with my older brothers, who remember much more than I do, to put this together.

  5. Anonymous

    That will be a great read. I look forward to it. My grandfather was a columnist for the Boston Post back in the 20s and 30s, and after a stint in New York working for some trade publications, he was on the copy desk at the Record-American in the 1950s. While I followed him into the business, he died when I was seven so I never had the chance to hear any of the stories. Needless to say, I’ve been dying to read a comprehensive look at the old Newspaper Row when Boston had something like seven daily newspapers.Great post by Amused, as well.

  6. Anonymous

    When I started in statewide politics in the late 60’s/early 70’s, Dave Farrell was a force in the nexus between media, politics, and the myriad of powerful state agencies that dominated patronage placement by statehouse power brokers…Nobody knew, understood, or could unravel the byzantine inner workings of State agencies or Boston bureaucracies as well as he.Early on I was warned that my political ideology and ethnicity would be oil to his water, and avoidance was the key to survival…In fact, Dave Farrell was open, kind, generous with his time, and interested in hearing about my take on all things political…More important, amongst his universe of political players at the time , I was the bottom of the food chain. That said, he still always treated me with respect and took the time to hear what I had to say (over long lunches at Pier 4) and then often filled in the gaps in my historical knowledge about an issue or the role of the various and sundry players on that issue…My professional decision to treat equally all reporters with care, time and effort, whether they wrote for the Globe or for some small college newspaper, was modeled in large part on the way Dave treated me at the start of my career…As Dan points out, Dave was forced to resign over an appearence of conflict, but in his heyday the walls between the press and the politicians they covered was far fuzzier (think JFK and Arthur Crock of the NYT’s)…It was nice to read that the family he spoke of so often with pride was able to give him great pleasure in later life. I wish them good memories of a reporter who made a real difference in my life and career… Michael Goldman

  7. David A. Farrell

    Mr. Goldman, Thank-you for your kind words. For what it is worth: I do not remember the exact sentence from my father’s op-ed piece in question which was the source of the ‘libel’ upon Gov. King. (It would take some research to find it.) The substance of the libel; as I recall, was a phone call made by the governor to a judge whom the governor was annoyed with for perceived leniency in sentencing handed to one or more defendents following a rape conviction. Ironically, the overall tone of the piece, I believe, was not unfavorable toward the governor. My father was not the only defendent in the libel case. I believe Paul Szepp (sp?) and Bob Turner were also involved. FYI: A gentleman (Frank Gillooly) who works in my office showed me a panoramic photo taken of a bachelor dinner in the Cammander Hotel in Cambridge dated 1/19/1954. His 2 uncles and he (at 18)were employees at the Record. I would not be surprised if your gandfather were also in this photo. Eddie Holland was the only face I could identify.

  8. Anonymous

    Mr. Farrell: I would love to see that picture to see if my grandfather is in it. I think I have a couple of old pictures of him in the newsroom on my computer – maybe I could email one of them to you so you could see what he looks like. I don’t know if this is allowed by Dan, but if you want to send me your email address you can reach me at’m traveling next week but will check my email when I get back.

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