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Max Goodwin: A 'Gritty, Hard-Boiled Newspaperman'

A look back at the history of the Lemon Grove Review.

Last week we presented the first half of the story of our hometown newspaper, the Lemon Grove Review, culminating in 1952 and the dawn of the Max Goodwin Era. For these articles, your correspondent is indebted to the last editor of the Review, the excellent Steve Saint.

Act 4: The Old Pro Cometh: Max Gutman of Cincinnati didn't practice the Jewish faith, so when he married Ruby, a Christian, he changed his name to Goodwin and they baptized their son and daughter in the Methodist church. After army service in World War II, Max was a reporter in Nashville before moving to San Diego to work for the Daily Journal and the San Diego Daily Transcript, which he later edited. His favorite beat was covering sports and the fights in the old San Diego Coliseum. He was known for his dog-with-a-bone style—didn't let go until he got the story.

As Steve Saint put it, "Max Goodwin was the quintessential 1950s newspaperman, eager to meet kings and generals, ready to tackle corrupt bureaucracies and just tough enough to boss around Clark Kent."

In 1952, when Max bought the Lemon Grove Review from Ray Graham (who died in 1970), he became the fourth publisher in four years—and he made immediate changes. He moved from 7812 Broadway to larger digs at 3445 Imperial Avenue. He eliminated syndicated and filler articles, and devoted the eight-page broadsheet to local news and editorials. He hired a staff photographer, Al Jessen, and rarely an issue went by without a pretty girl on the front page or somebody standing in front of The Big Lemon. He raised the subscription price to a whopping $2.50 a year and single copies to a dime. He eliminated the orchard backdrop from the logo, and the script font, in favor of a streamlined, modern look.  

"The change is indicative of progress in the area," he wrote. "...kids are sprouting in beautiful residential patios where orchards once grew ... schools and playgrounds are replacing orange groves ... this area is now a thriving, bustling market center and first-class residential area."

The 1950s were America's boom time, whether for babies or industry or mom-and-pop stores-—the latter up 36 percent in Lemon Grove. State route 94 was built, Broadway was widened to four lanes, cars proliferated, the school district expanded to eight schools, becoming the town's biggest employer (still is), and Max covered it all with a bulldog determination.

He resigned from the Lemon Grove Chamber of Commerce in 1954 for "doing nothing"—for Max there was no greater sin than refusing to praise and boost Lemon Grove. Suiting action to his words, in 1955 he purchased the Spring Valley Bulletin and moved to Lester Avenue, where he built a plant called Homeland Publishing Co. His dream was to produce a series of San Diego County weeklies printed in "California's fastest growing community."

As Steve Saint noted, "Goodwin went through nearly 40 news editors in three decades. The paper went through distinct phases, just as society changed and Goodwin aged."

Max was a staunch Republican whose weekly column, "The Dimmer View," reflected 1950s Cold War preoccupations (communist menace, traitors, loyalty, fidelity) long after the Fifties ended. An avid sports fan, in the 1960s he focused on athletics, especially Little League. Schools and kids remained a focus throughout his tenure as editor and he was perhaps the biggest booster of education in area journalism. Every issue featured PTA and school news, and detailed reports on which student won what. He extolled clean-cut kids and avoided all mention of counter culture hippies. 

 

In September 1969, Max ran a front-page story on bad boy Dennis Hopper, the ex Grovian and Helix High School graduate, who had returned home for the San Diego premiere of "Easy Rider." Then 33, Hopper was among the first men with long hair to be featured in the Review, but Max wrote only about Hopper's wealth and career successes.  

Yet the story paved the way for a new section on page six, covering rock groups performing in the area, such as The Doors and the Rolling Stones.  Despite this nod to the pervasive influence of pop culture, Max remained hostile to hippies in "The Dimmer View" and excoriated "pot- smoking punks" along with free-spending politicians.

The Review reflected the sweeping societal changes of the 1960s and 1970s in diverse ways. "Ms." first appeared in 1973. "Black" was used, but "negro" was still prevalent in the 1970s. Max ran large photos of brides-to-be, preppies, athletes and candidates who declared undying love for Lemon Grove.

He zealously covered the town's incorporation efforts and condemned anyone who didn't fight for East County, whether it was for roads, water, sewer, courts or business. His almost fatherly support for local business extended to the town's strip clubs, such as the Naughty Spot, Space Bunny and Foxy Lady (the heiress Little Darlings came along in the 1990s).  The Naughty Spot was raided by the police, while Foxy Lady garnered outraged letters to the editor, but Max ran their ads in the Review and an interview with a topless dancer whom he termed a normal wife and mother just trying to get by.

Full disclosure: The first business in Lemon Grove to buy a brick in support of the fledgling Parsonage Museum back in 1998 was Little Darlings after they shyly asked if we wanted their money. Are you kidding? Of course we did. See that brick up close and personal in Civic Center Park today.

Over the years Max received virtually every journalism award available and took special pride in those given for investigative journalism and folksy, hometown coverage of special events and issues. In the 1970,s he raised the single copy price to 15 cents and subscriptions to $5, then to $7.50, where they would remain until the end of his ownership of the Review.  

He was an active eyewitness to Lemon Grove's evolution, but also to East County's changes. He covered it all in the Review, the Life News, and Spring Valley Bulletin and featured talented local writers like Estelle Lauer, Karen O'Rourke and Janne LaValle.

The 1980s, the last decade of Max's tenure, saw huge population and tract home growth, business expansion, and road and street development. Like the environs of L.A., towns began to grow together and the Review witnessed the end of small-town San Diego County—though, today, Lemon Grove struggles assiduously to hang on to its persona as a small town in a mass society. The fire in the belly of the Review was extinguished as local news coverage shrank and police and fire logs, generic press releases and a few byline columns dominated. Gone were the PTA, bridal, kiddie, service club and booster articles, and perfunctory mug shots replaced the copious action and group photographs. Max was approaching 80.

We cannot do better than quote Steve Saint's moving wrap-up of the Max Goodwin Era:

"Goodwin published the Lemon Grove Review for 37 years in the best tradition of the gritty, hard-boiled newspaperman. He had served on numerous boards and commissions, both in the local community and the newspaper field. He was not an objective, cautiously dispassionate product of a journalism school.  He was a player, not a spectator."

In 1989, Max sold Homeland Publishing to Pete Kaufman, who vowed to carry on the dream of a responsive, responsible hometown newspaper. In pursuit of this, he hired the talented photojournalist, Pete Smith, a native son and charter member of the Lemon Grove Historical Society who, with Kaufman, was the savior of the original volumes of the Review. Max also hired Steve Thomas, who, under the pen name, Steven Saint, would later become the paper's owner.

Next week: Act 5: The Kaufman-Saint years and the end of the Review.

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