Kelly Scott, former arts and culture editor of The Times, has died at the age of 68

Kelly Scott, a former Los Angeles Times editor who spent much of her 25-year career covering arts, culture and entertainment at the newspaper, died Jan. 30 in Highland Park, Illinois, of complications from thyroid cancer your family. She was 68.

Scott started at The Times in 1990, directing film coverage when Hollywood productions were booming and the Chandler family-owned promotional newspaper was nearing the peak of its cultural impact. By that time, the Times’ circulation had reached an all-time high of 1,225,189 daily and 1,514,096 on Sundays, making it the country’s largest urban daily. A few days after their arrival, the editorial board handed out coffee mugs that read “Nation’s Largest Newspaper” and “We’re No. 1,” she later recalled. By the late 1990s, Scott had become editor of the Sunday calendar, a coveted position that set the agenda for arts and entertainment coverage.

In later years—after a sabbatical as a John S. Knight Fellow at Stanford—Scott worked as an editor for the Los Angeles Times Magazine, the newspaper’s home section and national desk, where she helped establish coverage of the 2008 US presidential campaign to steer . She served one last time as the Times’ arts and culture editor before taking over and retiring in 2015 as the dwindling newsroom entered its darkest era under chain ownership of Tribune Publishing.

Scott traversed this transformative and traumatic epoch in journalism history with kind but cool reserve, emerging from a quarter-century at The Times with a reputation for defending its reporters and cultural critics. Her height and red hair made her easily recognizable in the editorial office, where she often worked late into the night to help finish a print edition and bring a savvy, independent, intellectually inquisitive touch to the newspaper’s reporting.

“The arts, and also films, basically want you to be their advertising arm. They don’t want you to criticize them,” said Susan Freudenheim, a former LA Times culture editor who worked for Scott and sometimes feuded with Scott over the same prime properties in the print edition. “What she did was make really good decisions as a newsreader within the newspaper that then made the newspaper look professional and smart on the outside.”

Kelly Jane Scott was born on July 12, 1954 to John Robert Scott and Joan Boon Scott in Evanston, Illinois, according to her family. She grew up in the north Chicago suburb of Wilmette before later graduating from Memorial High School in Houston. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas, where she was the managing editor of the Daily Kansan.

Her early positions in journalism included several years at the St. Petersburg Times in Florida. Although considered shy by some on the editorial board, she was tough and “so outgoing with her friends,” said longtime friend Pat McMahon, a former Los Angeles Times editor who met Scott at the St. Petersburg Times .

After working at Newsday in the late 1980s, Scott joined the Los Angeles Times and became “part of a group of young red hots” that included some of the paper’s top reporters at a time when “people were eager to get involved the newspaper,” McMahon said. “Actors, producers and filmmakers all wanted to have an influence on the art editors.”

Scott was also known as a proponent of art criticism, sometimes providing feedback days after an article was published, which can feel like a lifetime in the constant excitement of a daily news operation where stories are often seen once and then never again.

“A newspaper is one of the few places where there’s a public dialogue about art – it’s simply acting as a public billboard for the conversation – and she genuinely believed that good critics could lead the conversation and direct the conversation, for better or for better for the worse,” said Times art critic Christopher Knight. “She wasn’t the kind of editor who tried to take a critic to the water and get him to drink. She wanted to hear what the critic had to say, and when it resonated with her, she ran with it.”

Scott married twice, divorced twice, and had two children, Devin and Suzanna, who she sometimes took to film and theater premieres.

“She was there for work, but we got to have fun and see things,” Devin said. “As a kid, I didn’t appreciate how unique and special that was.”

Scott wasn’t a self-promoter — in fact, he was sometimes self-deprecating — and her son didn’t quite understand his mother’s professional editing skills until he asked her for help revising a college admissions essay.

“It got a little contentious because I didn’t like every note she made. She was polite but firm, and of course I knew deep down that she was right and the essay would be better and my chances of getting admitted would be better if I listened to her,” Devin said. “She was so observant and was always more comfortable asking questions than answering them.”

Scott was a Bruce Springsteen fan and a dog lover who loved her golden retriever, Tully, and her Airedale Terrier/German Shepherd mix, Jake. During her time in LA, she also became a passionate supporter of the Los Angeles Dodgers, a fixation that led her to retire back to her North Shore hometown, to the dismay of her Cubs-supporting family.

“She could speak about the Dodgers with equal knowledge and brilliance as she could about [conductor Gustavo] Dudamel, regarding yesterday’s Marvel movie,” Freudenheim said. “The last message you sent me was about Dodgers Pitchers and Catchers Day in February. This is a person of diverse interests but depth in all.”

Scott is survived by her two children and her five older siblings: Michael Scott, Nancy Beren, Casey Scott, Trish Egan, and Tracy Fairman. Kelly Scott, former arts and culture editor of The Times, has died at the age of 68

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