Daniel O'Heron: 1932 - 2013

Daniel O'Heron: 1932 - 2013

Remembering the life and times of longtime LA journalist and PW restaurant reviewer Dan O’Heron


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In his memorable style, writer Dan O’Heron could whip words into a mouth-watering story that could make even the most satiated reader want to take a bite.  
Only Dan could breathe such life into smothered chicken and rice:

“Slathered in a smooth gravy, the combo prickles like a kitten’s tongue, and the meat trembles in easy surrender off the fork.”
Or carve out this humorous take on Thanksgiving dinner:

“For many of us, the aroma of a bird roasting in the oven is not exactly the scent of pilgrim’s progress. We recoil before reaching into a turkey’s cavity. And there’s no manual for trussing up a bird; it’s probably easier to correct a hernia.”

Readers everywhere will be left empty to learn that Dan, a purveyor of fine prose who contributed pithy stories to the Pasadena Weekly, Arroyo Magazine, the Downtown News and the Los Angeles Times over the past six decades, died Aug. 27 in Glendale. He was 80 years old and leaves behind a bountiful collection of work that will keep his lyrical voice and wry wit alive forever.

Over the past several years, Dan was most known and respected for his tasteful servings on local restaurants and all things food in the Pasadena Weekly and Arroyo. He would frequent local establishments to sample their fare, chat with the chef or owner and scrawl profound notes that only he could later decipher and turn into a colorful story. In his years as a journalist, he also covered sports, news, human interest and business.

He wrote for a living and he lived to write. Dan expressed this passion best in his resume:

“As a writer/editor/reporter I weigh words, sentences and paragraphs carefully —omitting the needless, rearranging the contrived, decorating the dull, and purging the tortured. I’m dedicated to bringing words into a realm of good sense. In opinion pieces and light features, my style seeks to harmonize my own desperate need to turn a good phrase with the sensibilities and hopes of the reader. I can write with humor that cuts, tickles and never mangles.” So true.
Sadly, persisting health issues and ongoing visits to specialists he playfully named “Dr. Longwind” and “Billy Badbreath” caused Dan to put down his pen and retire in May. Still, he continued to craft his memoir of entertaining tales on growing up in Los Angeles — a work that will be finished in his honor by this reporter, his longtime friend.

I met Dan when I came to the Pasadena Weekly as a fresh-off-the-college-paper writer and he was a seasoned scribe. Dan became my invaluable mentor and dear friend. We shared many late nights at the Weekly office hammering out stories and would cavort about Old Pasadena while he’d play pranks, relishing getting a rise out of anyone. He’d always show up in support at my concerts with his good friend, Scot Sleigh, and, in recent years, we’d go together on his restaurant interviews and meet over triple espressos (his drink of choice) to work on his memoir. Dan was a national treasure.

Sleigh, who also accompanied Dan to many story interviews and doctor’s appointments, and everything else, recalls his zest for writing, and for life.
“Dan would gather enough ammo and let it all marinate until he would come up with headings and lines to amuse everyone, especially himself,” says Sleigh. “He loved to be clever with words. Dan took his writing seriously — it was his world, where he could make some magic. His joy was to see one of his stories up on some restaurant wall or window … and to be asked back for a meal. Dan’s writing kept him going. He was always telling stories, always looking back to the glory days and moments.”

Dan grew up in the Glassell Park area of Los Angeles. He lived with his parents and sister, Mary, in a small, happy home and kept the neighborhood on its toes by orchestrating adventures with a group of misfit friends. Dan was a paper boy and an altar boy, a rebellious but dutiful Catholic school student, a loyal friend, son and brother.

He got kicked out of Eagle Rock High School for smoking and causing trouble with fellow student Walter Hopps, (who later became a famous art dealer and museum curator), which fatefully caused Dan to finish his senior year at Marshall High School, where he won literary awards that led him to being a writer.
Dan started out at the Times as a copy boy, followed by a two-year hitch in the Army, serving in various parts of the US and in West Germany. His experiences as a decorated Army special services actor, battalion historian, clerk, chaplain’s aide and yard bird were fodder for stories to come. Dan returned from service to be promoted to the Times’ business and financial pages.

After being married for “a momento — for a Mexican minute,” as Dan called it, he told his wife she was free to leave by saying, “I always wanted to be a priest.”
In the 1960s and ’70s, he worked for 10 years as a public relations rep for Timely Food Advertisers in Los Angeles then started his own successful direct-mail advertising business, O’Heron & Associates. Perhaps some of Dan’s fondest days as a journalist were spent at the Downtown News, from 1977 to 1988, where he served as the paper’s weekly sports columnist, general assignment reporter and ad representative. Here he met Jim Laris, former publisher of the Pasadena Weekly, who brought Dan in as a full-time staff writer to produce stellar cover stories, profiles, new stories and, most notably, the “Danny O” sports column, the “Snoopin’ Around” Pasadena column, and his “Dining Out” restaurant write-ups. Dan also freelanced for Arroyo, In Pasadena, and On the Boulevard.
Former PW Editor Bill Evans recalls how Dan was already “a fixture” at the Weekly when he arrived in 1991.

“Dan had spent his entire life in the Pasadena/Eagle Rock area and he knew the people and places and history like few others. There were many times when some tidbit of information that Dan provided changed the nature of an event or issue we were covering. He was a ‘good dude,’” remarks Evans, who, along with his newspaper duties headed the band Reverend Bill and the Soul Believers.

Dan, says Evans, “always showed up whenever my band played. And he always threw a 20 in the tip jar. Like I said, a good dude.”

Jen Hadley, author of PW’s Wheels column, knew Dan before coming to the paper, when she was working in public relations.

“I didn’t know him, but before I ventured into writing on my own, when I was working in PR, I pitched him on a new restaurant, and he was really open to the story,” recalls Hadley. “As a PR hack, you’re used to reporters and writers making you feel like you’re basically a notch above cockroach, that all you’re doing is bothering them.  He wasn’t like that. He wound up writing a piece on the client I was working with.”

Leslie Lamm, an ad executive with the Weekly and Arroyo, recalls meeting Dan when she first arrived at the Weekly in 2005.

“I had no idea that I was meeting a virtual legend,” Lamm says. “Everyone appreciated Dan because he worked with and supported his colleagues here at Pasadena Weekly in an altruistic fashion. He was a clever, witty guy who never wielded his pen like a sword, with a style that left most smelling like a rose. He was gentle and kind and, in a funny way, accidentally famous.”

John Sollenberger, who worked with Dan off and on for nearly 20 years, described him as a person of impeccable taste, “and it shone through in his restaurant reviews,” the veteran PW writer recalls.

“His work read like poetry, and it was as much of a joy to encounter as were the establishments that he highlighted. The dining world and the literary world lost a

tremendous voice with his passing,” he says.
Dan loved to tell a good story; he was a fan of baseball, the racetrack, novelty songs, old radio shows, eating without writing about it and good old-fashioned mischief.

We will always miss and remember Dan’s keen ability to make words dance on the page, the tuneful rhythm of his phrases and the literary music he could make out of even the most mundane topic. We will cherish his impish smile, the way he smirked at and gleaned the treasures from everyday life and his big-kid sense of humor that was still alive and well, even through languishing health.

In a Pasadena Weekly story Dan penned titled “Last Licks,” he wrote:

Let’s say that this is one of those moving moments — I’m on Death Row. They’re going to retire my number.

The warden, looking directly at my foot, says, “Dan, it’s that time. You can have anything you want to eat and all you want.”

I turn to the chaplain nearby and say, “But that’s gluttony, father, a deadly sin. Will I have to go to confession again?”

“No one will know, my son.”

“God will,” I say.

“Not if we don’t tell him,” says the priest, flipping open an order pad.

Dan goes on to list what he’d have for his last meal and which Pasadena eatery’s salad, soup, entrée, dessert and 11th-hour reprieve late-night snack it would include. Then he adds:

Sadly, it gets me to thinking about how my mom used to give me milk and cookies before I’d go to sleep. Now I am ready for the big sleep.
Sayonara, dear readers ...

Good night, dear Dan O’. Sweet dreams.

Singer/songwriter Debra Davis Beyer is a former writer for the Pasadena Weekly.

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