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New Times Columnist Marnye Oppenheim Dies

5/15/03

From LaExaminer.com: "Marnye Oppenheim, the former "Bite Me" columnist for New Times LA, passed away in Phoenix this morning. "Marnye endured a legacy of health issues," New Times Executive Editor Michael Lacey wrote in a memo to his Phoenix staff. "As some of you know, she had a seizure in the office recently. Without putting too fine a point on it, Rick Barrs' quick action to clear an air passage saved her life. This morning, another seizure struck, and good fortune failed all of us." Oppenheim was an active member of the LA Press Club, and helped spark the organization's impressive revival in recent years. "[W]e who worked closely with her -- particularly Barrs and Tony Ortega, who were her colleagues in Los Angeles -- now have a devastating hole in our lives," Lacey wrote. "She was a kindred spirit, one of us." Our condolences to Rick and Tony and Jill Stewart, and everyone else who knew Oppenheim."

Cathy Seipp writes on her blog: Marnye Oppenheim, who wrote the highly popular "Bite Me" restaurant column for New Times -- first in L.A., then in Phoenix after the L.A. paper closed -- was the opposite of people like Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass. They were talented young journalists who were not nearly as good as they thought they were; Marnye was a talented young journalist who was much better than she thought she was. This is not to say that she was insecure, or suffered from false modesty -- just that she was at the beginning of her career and so worried very much about doing a good job. This quality seems a little odd and old-fashioned now, even retro.

Marnye was willing to work quite hard at the most exhausting form of journalism scutwork: pigeonholing strangers and asking them questions. As "Bite Me" readers know, these were hilariously inappropriate and often insulting questions. God help the restaurant diner who dared to be boring or uncooperative; the duller the hapless interviewee, the smarter Marnye's column persona became. She was like a knife constantly honing itself on a rock. I know people who picked up the paper just to see what that "Bite Me" girl had to say this week. The column was a smart idea, brilliantly executed, and Marnye made it look easy. But anyone who knows anything about reporting knows that it wasn't.

She had health problems this past year, but you never would have guessed it by looking at her. Marnye was -- or at least she was the last time I saw her, a few months ago -- slim, young, blonde, stylish, extremely pretty, and always seemed to be bustling about at a fast, energetic clip. Yesterday she had a seizure and died. She was just 32. I really don't understand the point of that at all.

Rick Barrs writes LAExaminer.com: Marnye was the best person I ever knew. I loved her, she was my best friend. I discovered her slumped in her apartment, tried to revive her and couldn't. When paramedics arrived, they told me it was too late. Turned out she had died a couple of hours earlier while i was sleeping in the other room. She was apparently the victim of a second seizure (she had survived an earlier one in the New Times office in Phoenix). Marnye was always one to stay up late, working on her column or just being Marnye (e-mailing, talking on the phone, watching her favorite movies over and over). It was as if the girl realized she didn't have much time, as if she couldn't waste many hours sleeping. Marnye had had several health problems through her mere 32 years, including cancer (which we all thought she had beaten). She was so happy in Phoenix in her new apartment and in her new life. Her column was rocking popular, as it had been in L.A. She was about to take on a second column called Redeye, about the city's burgeoning night life. She has been such a big part of my life for so long that i don't know how i will live without her. I see no light at the end of the tunnel. On any day that I didn't see her, she called me half a dozen times on my cell phone. Every time it rings now, my heart lifts, only to be broken when i realize that she will never call again.

Luke Thompson writes LaExaminer.com: I feel similarly inadequate. The last photo I have of Marnye can also be seen on my front page at www.lytrules.com. I've been staring at it for hours on end, hoping this will all sink in somehow...one thing I didn't write is that if it weren't for Marnye, I probably would never have been encouraged to dye my hair. I realize that sounds absolutely trivial, but those who know me know it's not. She left this world a better place than when she entered it, and I guess that's something we all ultimately aspire to.

Dan Reines writes LaExaminer.com:: "marnye was one of the sweetest people i ever knew. bawdy and ballsy and vulgar and tough and funny, but when you got past all that (even as fun as all that was), she was nothing but sweetness. luke, you said it well on your site: tell the angels to run. i'm told there may be some kind of wake in los angeles. i hope so."

Emmanuelle writes: "Condolences to Rick and the lucky people you knew her. I was a fan of her writing and of her persona and always wanted to meet her: thought this time would come at this month's press club party. Her departure is very sad."

The Raven writes: "Marnye and I corresponded briefly over the past month or so, based on some of my comments here. Last week she said she was setting some negative things aside, and I responded: Whatever you do, just keep being you! She wrote back late Monday night to recommend this week’s Bite Me, saying I had to read it because it was so funny it made her laugh, and she never laughed at her own work."

Bill Holdship writes: "Everyone loved Marnye. I heard "stories" before I went to work at New Times but Marnye was the first person I dealt with there (she called me to set up my job interview with Rick and Andy Vandevoorde) and she acted as my buffer, basically protecting me (and advising me), from that day forward. Friendships seem so fleeting (and at times fickle) in this city, but Marnye always kept in touch after I left the paper and after she left the city, signing every e-mail MacGyver."Just call me MacGyver!" she joked one day in the office (referring to the TV character) after she devised a unique method, using a yardstick and masking tape, to retrieve a bunch of CDs that had fallen behind my desk and couldn't be reached. It was well beyond the call of duty. But so was going to fight for me on numerous occasions when I couldn't get my way with the powers-that-were. There were so many instances where I'd go to her and ask "Does New Times...?" and she'd reply: "No, but I'll do it for you." I loved her dearly. I got my final MacGyver e-mail from her last weekend and was responding just as I heard this horrible news. It seems like such a lame cliche to say the good die young but I'm reminded of when George Harrison died and someone wrote "George Harrison is dead and Fred Durst is procreating; where's the justice in that?" There's so much evil -- and so many evil people -- in this world and yet someone as good and decent as Marnye was dies at the age of 32. My good Catholic mom still likes to say that "everything happens for a reason," but something like this leads me to doubt it. I feel like I've been hit with a ton of bricks. This is just terrible and so unfair."

From my 4/22/03 archive:

Marnyeoppenheim@aol.com (columnist for New Times Phoenix) wrote to The Raven (who was trying to defend her against poster Alex Proctor), on LaExaminer.com: "another anonymous cowardly fuck, i see. why don't u put ur real name on what u write. at least we do that."

The Raven writes: Dear Marnye: A super-irony is: I enjoyed Bite Me [a column in the now defunct New Times Los Angeles free weekly]. You turned a good phrase and told a good joke. I like and respect the work of Mr. Barrs. I have nothing against either of you. I was so entertained by your letters to Mr. Ford, I thought everyone should get the same chance to enjoy them that I did. Perhaps you thought "delirious tirade" was insulting. But one of the most important novelists of the last century was Celine. Every one of his books was an extended delirious tirade. Take it as a compliment, if you like. But I stand by my description of what you wrote to Mr. Ford. It was a delirious tirade, but it was wildly entertaining and I thought many people would like it as much as I did. Really, I thought I was giving "Alex Proctor" a chance to know you better. Really. I swear.

I used to post on LA Examiner with my real name, but then I grew alarmed by the hatred and contempt of journalists expressed so often on the site. And you may have noted that some who post seem mentally unstable, and some of them seem very angry. I decided that one of them might use my name one day to make libelous comments. Why risk this headache by posting comments in defense of journalists -- such as you and Mr. Barrs -- on a site where they are hated, if I can post anonymously, as many people do, make my point, and not have to worry about an insane angry person misappropriating my name and damaging my reputation?

And Marnye, even if I used my real name, what would it mean to you? You asked: Alex Proctor? Who are you?

Alex Proctor is the suspect in the threats against Anita Busch. I believe it is unlikely that it is the same Alex Proctor -- and given that this "Alex Proctor" also discussed Mr. Barrs coverage of the Anita Busch story in the same string of comments on LA Examiner before insulting you, I'm suspecting it's one of the journalists involved in the Proctor/Busch story. And not the real Alex Proctor. This, in fact, Marnye, confirms my suspicion that an LA Examiner reader might misappropriate my name if it suits him or her.

And if I had used my real name, you could still ask: Joe Shmoe, who are you? (Kind of like Chevy Chase: "I'm Marnye Oppenheim and you're not.")

If you had an issue with my use of "delirious tirade," you could have begged to differ, politely. But instead you chose to use insults and profanity. What are you saying about yourself? You might try this: Close your eyes and picture the darkness and hate within yourself as a mass. Picture it shrinking into a lump. Picture it leaving your body and floating away.

There. Doesn't that feel better? You may not believe this, but I swear I mean it: Fondest regards. I really did enjoy your work. Keep on doing what you do. I love you for it. I swear. Even for calling me a cowardly fuck. I love you for it, I swear, I swear.

References:

LaExaminer.com:

"Why does Marnye Oppenheim always refer to Rick Barrs as some sort of genius; i.e., "brilliant" and "unique"? Is she related to Mr. Barrs? Does she work as his assistant? Is she related and his assistant? Or does she just like to crawl on her knees when anyone mentions his name?" Posted by: alex Proctor on April 8, 2003 05:52 PM

"alex proctor? who are you?" Posted by: Marnye Oppenheim on April 8, 2003 09:00 PM

"Ms. Oppenheim writes a column called "Bite Me." She was in L.A., and is now in Arizona with Mr. Barrs. As I've mentioned before: For a really, really good time you should check out Luke Ford's site for delirious tirades from Barrs and Oppenheim in response to Mr. Ford's claim that all was not well in Arizona." Posted by: The Raven on April 9, 2003 06:32 PM

(See Marnye, there's really nothing nasty in there ... see?)

Alex Proctor writes 4/4/03 to LaExaminer.com: "Ed Rampell trying to get some cred on the back of Rick Barrs is a joke. Barrs had a lot of "stringers," "researchers," et all chasing news for him. Some of them were good, a lot were clueless. (remember when Barrs TWICE missed the facts on the Anita Busch-fish story? The "reporter" who gave Barrs the bad info didn't have the brains to call anyone beside the dolts who doubted Busch's true claims, and Barrs was too cranked up on whatever to insist for some real journalistic fact-checking.) Barrs WAS the Finger, for better or worse. It's pretty sad when the only train Rampell can hitch himself too was a gossip columnist for a defunct alternative weekly."

Marnye Oppenheim writes to LaExaminer.com: "A loud RIGHT ON to Dan Reines for his comment about being credited when he wrote the Finger. I wrote four or five of them fingers too and was always credited "as told to Marnye Oppenheim." Few people were capable of doing the column in Rick's brilliant and unique style. Dan, myself, Tony Ortega and Glenn Gaslin are the only four I can recall. All were credited because they wrote the column. Rick rewrote the "finger tippers" because it was necessary. I do recall an uncharacteristic outburst from Rick when Ed Rampell turned in some sludge reporting that was worthless, forcing Rick to gather the info himself at the last minute. I watched him work on the column for two plus days a week for years, working in the cubicle near his office. I never saw Ed Rampell once in the entire time I worked at New Times. Enough said."

From my 3/16/03 archive:

I heard the other day that former Los Angeles New Times editor Rick Barrs had an insurrection on his hands in Phoenix, where Barrs moved as editor after Michael Lacey shut down the LANT. The Phoenix staff, I heard, didn't like Barrs preoccupation with raunch, dirty talk and obscenities and they avoid him at public events. Rick has never had this happen to him before. He's always been liked by his reporters. He doesn't know what to do. He can't cure his dirty mind.

Rick Barrs replies: "come on luke, where do u get ur so-called information? inssurrection? well, that would be interesting. brang it! would i care if it were true? no. but it's simply not accurate. and over salacious material (there's always been a smattering of that in every new times paper. remember, we did a story on ur porn-purveying limey ass once upon a time. there goes *my* foul mouth again.). duh, couldn't u at least take a look at the phoenix new times web site to see if i've been a nasty boy in print? (fact is, i'm kicking myself for being so god-damn nice here -- so far.) oh, maybe ur referring to the story a staff writer did on phoenix's lesbian burlesque troupe, which wouldn't have raised an eyebrow in l.a. even here in the desert, nobody made a peep about it, except a couple of homophobic businesses in town that wanted our news racks removed. thing is, every new times staffer worth her or his paycheck swells with pride whenever we piss off tight-ass idiots (pun intended). around here, only a fool would go to the wall over such. see, whether we shock the public with investigative reporting on corrupt politicians etc., or do it by exposing a city's pop-cultural underbelly, this is a good thing for readers. also, this is the news *business*; our experience in l.a. aside, we tend to make money when people read the paper. (hey, i'm giving u a couple of *actual facts* to use in ur follow-up about how u've caused this stuck pig to really squeal). words to the obviously unwise: stop immitating the accuracy-challenged gnat drudge; he's an idiot savant, only without the savant part. best, rick"

Marnye Oppenheim writes: "Bite Me is a columnist who used to write for LA New Times. Bite Me now writes that same column in Phoenix, Arizona for the Phoenix New Times. Bite Me is also a back-up copy editor at the Phoenix New Times. She is in the office every day. She has been out in public with Rick Barrs, editor-in-chief of Phoenix New Times and former editor-in-chief and Finger scribe at LA New Times. Not only do the Phoenix New Times writers allow themselves to be seen in public with Rick Barrs but Bite Me can attest that she spent this past Friday night boozing it up with the art director and Rick Barrs in the privacy of her home. We stayed up til 4 a.m. Bite Me had to kick the art director out when she wanted to go to bed.

"These people at Phoenix NT are thrilled to have the extraordinary Rick Barrs at the helm of the paper. He's already made his mark here. Circulation is up 25,000 papers a week and return rates are almost nil. The covers are amazing. The ad people cheer when he walks through. They're selling more ads than ever. Two weeks ago they added 10 pages to the paper. He's the best thing that they've seen here in years. Michael Lacey, co-owner of the New Times chain wanted Rick to come here because of his stellar ability to make magic. He did it in L.A. He's doing it here in Phoenix. So Bite Me wants to tell you, Luke Ford, that whoever is telling you about an insurrection is full of shit. That couldn't be further from the truth. But then again, now that I've had the sincere displeasure of looking at your pathetic website, I see that you regularly write piles of smegma and pass them off as journalism. You are a loser not worthy of writing Rick's name. Bite Me (a.k.a. Marnye Oppenheim)"