Rowland was born April 14, 1920 in Bolivar,
NY to Ruth Langworthy and Rowland Barber.
He passed away peacfully at the age of 92, September 5, 2012 in Portland, Oregon.
He was preceded in 2005, by adoring wife Pearl, with whom he had a lifelong partnership.
He was surrounded by the family and friends that loved him:
son David Barber, daughter Joanna Adler,
grandchildren Sam and Gabriel Adler, and Junior Pearl Barber-Wilson,
son-in-law David Duty, daughter-in-law Carrie Wilson.
He is also survived by sister Patricia and
preceded by brother Phil and sister Polly.
A memorial was held, Wednesday September 26 2012
at Raleigh Hills Assisted Living. download the program.
Donations may be made to adult literacy programs.
Rowland did a lot in his long life.
Growing up the eldest of 4 siblings raised by a single mother during the
heart of the depression, he loved words and devoured books and started
writing at a very young age, winning a Boys Life magazine contest was
the first taste of national acclaim. He set off for University of
Michigan at 16 on a scholarship, a school he was a fan of to the end.
WWII took him to Europe as a major in the 8th Air Force 801st/ 492nd
Bombardment (heavy) "Carpetbaggers"
navigating, sending code and all around radio man, his group, flying
black gloss painted modified B-24 "Liberators" out of legendary
Harrington Field in England, dropped supplies to the French and
Norwegian resistance and later, unbeknownst even to themselves, helped
organize the D-day invasion. At 25 he started writing for LIFE magazine,
living in Greenwich village with first wife Graeme. There are lots of
adventures to fill in at this point, but I will cut to 1956, after the
acclaim of his first "as told to" biography, "Somebody Up There Likes
Me", Rocky Graziano's life story, which was quickly turned into Paul Newman's first starring role. He was tapped by Universal head Sam Wiesenthal to script the Jack Dempsey story.
Needing a typist, Sam hooked him up with his sister-in-law Pearl,
also recently divorced, who was at the time a struggling starlet working in the steno pool at
Paramount. This began their lifetime love and partnership. They were
married in 1957, and not long after, David, then, Joanna were born.
Rowland took on the task of helping Harpo Marx write his autobiography,
"Harpo Speaks", a showbiz classic. next up was "The Night They Raided Minky's", the true story of the invention of american strip tease.
dream of appearing in the New Yorker came true, kind of, when his
tongue-in-cheek classified in the Westport News was picked by William
Shawn as one of the little un-named "bumpers" that appear in the
magazine: "Mom's helper needed for two small children. Father writes,
In 1966 he and Marty Ribakoff travelled to
Israel and wrote "The Midnighters" a "documentary adventure novel" about Marty and the
legendary Czech-Israeli airlift.
In 1972, Pearl snuck off to an Alanon meeting with a friend, came home and the next day Rowland went to his first AA meeting.
He proudly served, with many high profile folk on a groundbreaking publicized panel of The National Council on Alcoholism
in Washington DC, which coincided with the announcement by then First
Lady Betty Ford of her struggle with dependency. He remained sober
and happy to the end.
His journalistic career continued, ghost-writing for Helen Gurley-Brown, as editor of TV Guide, LA Times West
Magazine, and during a stint on Madison Ave, creating "Medical Marketing and Media" (who's motto should of
been "Not as evil as it sounds!"). One of the things that brought him
much joy was teaching young writers at UCLA. Oh yeah, he also penned the superior 1953 horse racing almanac, one of my personal faves.
Rowland and Pearl cherished their time together, after several seeming
life ending medical traumas, lung cancer, brain swelling, Rowland
bounced back and kept going strong. Moving to Oregon in the early
aughties to be closer to David and Jo and the grandkids, brought the
family together again and was a source for much relief. With Pearl's
passing in 2005, Rowland moved in with Joanna and family and several
years later to new home at Raleigh Hills Assisted Living.
After a trip to urgent care some month's ago Rowland expressed a desire to not return to the hospital or doctor's office again.
Thanks to the amazing and loving care of his family, Providence Home and Hospice care, and Raleigh Hills Assisted Living,
Rowland passed away gently in his sleep.
Here are some memories from family and friends. Please send us some words about Rowland and we will add them.
I always tried to be
like my dad. I loved his style, his inquisitiveness and his stories.
owe everything that I am to his examples.
He showed me how to : re-wire electrical circuits, play music by ear,
cartoon and draw fearlessly, make anagrams and palindromes, build a
radio, morse code, fly cast, tie a knot,
use a light meter, whistle with 2 fingers, yell "time to wake up
krauts!" in german, throw a football, a baseball and a fit, light a
match with one hand, how to drive, stop a locomotive, play
mumbledypeg, use handtools, powertools and gardentools, forage for food,
cook anything, eat anything, clean a fish, use a typewriter, use epoxy,
write copy, proofresd, hang out with famous people who bought me
sodas on movie sets, love my family. We had dugout seats at Yankee
stadium and cracked wise with Yogi Berra, made me the batboy in a
charity softball game with Rocky Graziano, Dick Tiger and a bunch of
punchy sweet old guys vs Mayor Lindsay and the city hall team. These
amazing days always ended in some little italy hangout, drinking
bottomless Shirley Temples and garlic bread. I loved tagging along on
his story research: behind the scenes at "The Planet of the Apes",
driving with Richard Petty, sitting with Buzz Aldrin to watch the space
shutle tests, Rock Hudson asking me after 30 minutes of me ignoring
him, just sitting there doodling, "jesus kid, don't you want my
autograph?" Answering the phone at home and, in that bored
kid-yell at the top of our lungs, "DAAAD, IT'S CHER".
He really showed us a good time and I hope I will be the kind of
father he was.
I love him and miss him.- David
I am a grateful and better
person to have had Rowland Barber as my father.
In my early years I
remember feeling protected by the sound of his typing late into the
night on his manual Royal as his phonograph played classical
music. We watched 'Blazing Saddles' together so many times that we
could turn the sound off and do all the voices ourselves....until we
started choking on our laughter. I remember his booming voice when
I did something wrong and then his immediate kind words when he
realized he scared me. He taught me the value of patience in cooking, in
writing (and multiple re-writing), and especially in parenting.
fell in love with my mom Pearl the day they met, and that never
changed. He greatly influenced my brother David and I, but his
large shadow of compassion also fell over the entire Barber/Schwartz
clan. Everyone looked up to him, and he always had time to
care. His greatest passion in life was teaching, he often said the
period he spent at UCLA helping aspiring novelists learn to write was
the most rewarding time of his career.
His health and vision had
declined recently, but he still read and did the New York Times
Crossword as much as he could. He was also a cookie monster
and die-hard Michigan fan to the very end.
Papa, I will always treasure
the privilege of being your daughter. It was a wonderful gift
getting to know you more as a friend in the last few years. You were so
proud of your grandsons Gabe and Sam, and completely overjoyed when baby
June Pearl came along. Your gentle soul, quick wit, unquestionable
intellect, love and loyalty to our family, and gift of writing lives on
in all of us.
Dave Duty, son in law
Rowland Barber was the most
interesting man I ever met. The truth be told, no one else was
When I first met Joanna a few years ago, Rowland was
living in her home. She was worried a dad at home might make me
hesitate to continue seeing her, but it actually had the opposite
effect. Like most people who had the pleasure of knowing Rowland, I
was immediately fascinated by his life and enamored with his
charm. His stories seemed limitless, and I eagerly continued to
hear them even as recently as a few weeks ago. I was never sure what was
coming next, but I really never cared. He was a living history,
and I couldn't get enough.
Every night Rowland would join us for
dinner, and I always tried to pry another tale out of him. He told
a few tales of growing up extremely poor in New York, but never seemed
to dwell on that. His eyes always lit up when he'd speak of his college
years in the late 30's at the University of Michigan, working at the
college radio station with Mike Wallace and crafting his writing
skills. Even through the last college football season, he
continued to wear his beloved Michigan cap and sweatshirt every Saturday
When he "joined" the army in World War II, they asked him
if he had any special skills. He said he knew Morse Code, so
immediately he was assigned to the Army Signal Corps. He was
stationed in Europe, where he helped test the latest top secret military
tools --- "radar" and "FM radios". He still receives
newsletters from his Signal Corps Association, although I can't imagine
many members remain. Like most WW II veterans he played down his
service as "nothing special", but we all know that's not the
Shortly after the war when Rowland worked for one of the first
test stations for FM radio at the top of the Empire State
Building. Once again, living on the frontier of history.
my favorite stories were from the days he spent as a reporter for Life
magazine and editor for TV Guide. As a child growing up in
Montana, the world of reporting on news and Hollywood celebrities was a
million miles away. Rowland not only saw that world, he
lived it. He told me once that Life assigned him a profile story
for a certain celebrity in L.A., and when he arrived Frank Sinatra was
also at the house. It was during Frank's "between jobs" period, so
he just hung around all day while Rowland wrote the story. He
said Frank would not leave them alone, so he just made him hold the
lights while the photos were being shot. A few years ago when Sam
and I went to see the "Capote" movie, I came home and asked Rowland if
he ever knew Truman Capote. He said "Yeah, I shared a cab
with him one time in New York." Then with his knowing grin, he
mentioned "All I remember was his feet didn't touch the
floor". He spoke affectionately of friendships with many
celebrities, both big and small. We all know about Harpo Marx and
Rocky Graziano books, but he also wrote countless articles on the stars I
grew up watching. He started a TV project with Buzz Aldrin, but
said "he was just too technical" (so that one never got
finished). I once asked him why he never wrote a memoir, he
simply said "I would never do that to my friends". You
probably wouldn't hear that today.
He spent a summer doing a story
the historic New York Yankees, and once told me Yogi Berra was "one of
the smartest men I ever knew". One of Yogi's more famous quotes
was "You can observe a lot by watching". With Rowland, I could
hear a lot by listening. I'll always be thankful I had the
privilege to spend Rowland's last few years with him. It was not
only his epic stories, but his gentle soul. He adored Gabe and
Sam, but was always happy to give my daughter Taylor writing tips
or any other words of wisdom. And he gave me a window to a
world that I would never have otherwise known. On September
5th, 2012 that window closed. Thanks Rowland, I'll miss you. -Dave
Carrie Wilson, daughter in law
David and Jo have talked so
much about their papa that I feel like I knew him more than I actually
did. Having met Rowland only several years ago, I never had the honor of
long storytelling sessions or backyard thanksgivings, or first seders
at the Barber house. I don't know the sound of his fingers on the
typewriter, or the sound of his booming voice or the smell of his pipe.
It was difficult for me to have really engaging conversations with
Rowland, his declining health and memory, and me being a little nervous
around such a smart and legendary man.
I will forever have the image
of Rowland's face lighting up when we would bring the baby by for a
visit. I am so thankful for the time I spent with him and regret the
opportunities missed to squeeze an extra visit into our always busy
Now, looking at June I see all
the potential she has inherited, the stories she is going to tell.
All the pride she will take in her family history. June is
going to know her grandpa even though he has passed before she was
capable of remembering. He leaves her with rich genes and great
eyebrows. David, like his father is full of captivating stories
that will get passed on and truly keep Rowland and Pearl
Sam Adler, Grandson
From as early as I can remember it, my grandfather was a legend to me,
and an object of my devout fascination. I will also always remember his
kind and gentle presence as well as his striking modesty (if I were as
interesting as him I'd always be talking about myself). I love you papa,
and will always miss you. -Sam
Laurie Heaven Opalka, Niece
Not too many people know this,
but my uncle Rowland was my lifelong hero. For me, and I suspect other
of my cousins, Rowland wasn’t just an uncle, he was the only man in the
family who wasn’t stark, raving mad. Not exactly a surrogate father – he
was too reserved for that – but proof that sane adults did exist and
perhaps we’d all survive the bedlam of the 60s and 70s.
Rowland was my
grandmother Ruth’s favorite, and she never tired of telling me stories
about him. The one that has stayed with me involved a novel he wrote
while he was in the service, winning a competition for the best novel
about the war written by an active serviceman. It was a huge honor but,
for unexplained reasons, the book was never published. Even as a child, I
found this anguishing. The good news, of course, is that he went on to
write more books, famous books that always made me proud to be his
niece, and want to be a writer myself. Even today, everyone has heard of
Somebody Up There Likes Me, but my favorite was and remains The
Midnighters, his riveting account of the formation of the Israeli Air
Force. I am the proud owner of two signed copies of this wonderful book.
So I grew up wanting to be a writer like my uncle
Rowland (and be in the restaurant business like my aunt Pearl!) He
encouraged me, read my manuscripts (which I was too shy to show him
often) and made gently constructive suggestions. He offered to get me a
job at TV Guide when he was there but I went my own way, joining a PR
firm and making a life out of copywriting. No novels (at least not
published) but writing is what I love to do, and I never would have done
it without Rowland’s example, encouragement and guidance.
stopped idolizing Rowland, as a writer, a man, a parent, someone who
proved you could actually support yourself with your words. But I don’t
think I saw him fully until I met my husband. Danny fell in love with
both Rowland and Pearl and was wildly enthusiastic about their annual
Thanksgiving parties and backyard dinners and the occasional TV star or
astronaut who attended them. He wanted them to be his family (I was able
to accommodate that wish, anyway). He missed them when we moved back
East. And through his eyes, I finally started to feel truly like I was a
member of a very special family.
My earliest memories of Rowland are
sketchy – an Easter egg hunt with my little cousins at their house;
Pearl’s gorgeous green MG; him holding Joanna when she came home from
the hospital; an awesome ottoman made out of a saddle in their living
room (I may be inventing the last part, but I don’t think so). My last
are from a trip we took to Oregon four years ago; he was already on the
decline after a long and rich life. I never saw him after that. I wanted
to, yet I didn’t. I was afraid to see him diminished. I needed him to
be the person he was in my youth and young adulthood, to think he would
live forever. When he died, he left some pretty big footsteps. I love
you Rowland and I miss you. Rest in peace.
Phil Barber, Nephew
I imagine I stuck out like a
rube when I got to UCLA in 1982, with my Angel’s Flight jeans, my hair
parted down the middle and my Central Valley naivety. But I had a secret
weapon: Rowland and Pearl. My aunt and uncle took me under their wings
and never fully released me. They were so urbane and L.A.-perfect
without even trying, with the TV celebrities who orbited in their
circle, the meals at Dan Tana’s, the edgy original art all over the
walls and, of course, Rowland’s pipe (until the doctors put the ixnay on
that). More than 15 years later, I still remember his voice on their
answering machine: “You have reached 479-8974. Spelled backward, that’s
479-8974… Cue the beep!” My uncle taught me that a Barber can be
ambitious, that it was OK for an intelligent person to be a sports fan,
and that a man can be creative and witty and opinionated, but full of
love at the same time. He was one of the gentlest souls I ever met, and
always nurturing of my writing pursuits. The last time I saw him, around
the beginning of August, he asked me, “What do you remember of your
father?” I recall a lot of course, but I will always smile at my vivid
memories of Uncle Rowland, too. -Phil
Kara Brunzell, Niece
My first Passover Seder was at
Rowland and Pearl's place in Westwood. As a WASP from the hinterlands it
all seemed very sophisticated and exotic, especially since Rowland made
sure the food was stellar and the religion was minimal. I think I got
to read the youngest person's part that first year even though I was an
adult. . .I remember loving the food. I offered to bring something one
year, and I had a great recipe for noodle kugel so I made that. Rowland
and Pearl didn't say anything, it was just one more delicious dish we
ate. It wasn't until years later I found out that noodle kugel is not
quite the thing for a Seder. –Kara
Francesca E. Blom-Cooper, Niece
Into each life, if one is
lucky, comes someone like Rowland. I was lucky and married into
this extended family finding when I met Rowland an ear, heart and mind
in rare combination.
When Rowland listened to you,
you were heard and when he spoke in his deft, witty way you listened;
knowing you were heard and eager for his unique response.
Communication became the kind of front porch easy banter which
enlightens because it doesn’t particularly aim to do so. His was
the kind of generosity of spirit that could encourage and see the best
in you until you could glimpse a bit of it for yourself and aim to reach
whatever that star was for you. I would venture that many of his
students would echo similar remembrances from having been in one of his
writing courses. For wisdom he shared as if it belonged to
everyone, attainable by anyone who wanted to scratch the surface of life
and work at truth’s recovery. In the digging up of one’s
questions, however hard, comes the possibility of redemption; kindness a
balm and humility the other side of pride. Big lessons, simply
shared by one who wore his many challenges with an undiminished
dignity. Who showed us all that we might understand how and why
and that it can be done.
The term “courtly” seems to
come to mind as I write these impressions of Rowland for when I met him
and Pearl, his beloved wife of many years, he was a man of gentleness
who never seemed to take life personally but who personally took from
life the joys of being truly human; and to his children, their mates and
to his grandchildren and many friends are left these hard-won
treasures. And for the guidepost of this well lived life, we
are all lucky.
With much love and gratitude- Francesca