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An era has passed. Burl Stiff, longtime society writer for the Union-Tribune, died this morning (May 20) at White Sands of La Jolla Retirement Community, where he had been in frail health for some time. He would have been 84 in August.

At the Union-Tribune, Stiff worked directly for David Copley as an independent contractor and frequently covered David and Helen Copley's parties. Stiff was said to have made $1000 a column and wrote three columns a week. This riled many staffers who didn't make anywhere near that much.

When Platinum Equity bought the paper for an extremely low price, it let Stiff go, according to a reliable source, but would occasionally hire him for a freelance job for a rumored $150 a column. According to informed rumor, David Copley went to see Stiff recently but is now on his $33 million yacht on a European trip.

Stiff primarily covered the La Jolla/Rancho Santa Fe set. He is said to have resisted editors' attempts to cover society in other parts of the county, although he did do some of it.

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Don Bauder May 20, 2011 @ 8:40 p.m.

I always chuckled when Stiff would quote a party-goer saying something like, "What a wonderful party!!" Because he covered so many social events put on by David and/or Helen Copley, his column got great readership among employees of the Union-Tribune: they wanted to see who in the company was invited, and who might NOT have been invited. Stiff's column was a kind of roadmap to who was in and who was out at the company. Best, Don Bauder


Don Bauder May 20, 2011 @ 8:42 p.m.

I was a paperboy, too, but in my home town, a suburb of Chicago, in the 1940s. Best, Don Bauder


Visduh May 20, 2011 @ 8:02 p.m.

For some reason, I thought he was even older than 83. Many people who had reason to attack the U-T also attacked him. I don't think he deserved it. David hired him and paid him well. At his age when that started, Burl probably had limited options. So he gave David (and Helen, too) what they wanted. His society columns were predictable in content and especially format. There were a few occasions when he had the opportunity to really write, freed from the usual strictures, and it was obvious that he could really write. It is sad that he seldom had opportunity to show what he could do.

There is more to the story of Burl and the U-T that we will probably never know. As they end so many pieces in the National Review, may I add, RIP.


Don Bauder May 20, 2011 @ 8:48 p.m.

I always liked Burl, but didn't know him well. My wife and I even made his column once or twice, but it was in connection with San Diego Opera events. We were not in the Beautiful People circle. For just one reason, we lived on Mt. Helix, which was outside the area Burl wanted to cover. For another, I considered it a conflict of interest to fraternize with the people I was writing about. And finally, we almost never got invited to any of the BP parties. Burl was very close to David Copley. And I agree with you that Burl had talent. Best, Don Bauder


sdsocialdiary May 21, 2011 @ 4:32 a.m.

Burl Stiff was a mentor, a friend. He had a photo of myself, Kima my dog and him by his bed.


Don Bauder May 21, 2011 @ 7:10 a.m.

Burl was also a competitor of yours. But you took advantage of the technological changes in the media business. He did not, although those changes came late in his career. At the U-T, Burl was known laughingly, and fondly, as a Luddite. Best, Don Bauder


gekko May 22, 2011 @ 4:33 p.m.

Burl Stiff made $3,000 per week? I always thought John Sinor and Michael Grant were overpaid. I agree with TheRailsplitter that later on $150 per column must have been a slap in the face to Burl Stiff. But $3000 per week was a slap in the face to all UT employees.



Don Bauder May 22, 2011 @ 7:41 p.m.

Stiff was quoted a couple of years ago saying he did four columns a week. That would have him making $4000 a week and more than $200,000 a year. That would have topped salaries of the highest editors at the time and, actually, most people at the newspaper, and all but a few at the parent Copley Newspapers. It's nice to have such a cozy relationship with the publisher's family. Best, Don Bauder


Don Bauder May 23, 2011 @ 9:30 p.m.

I have no reason to believe that Burl Stiff was not his real name. Best, Don Bauder


Visduh May 24, 2011 @ 9:14 a.m.

There's a paid obit on him in the U-T of May 24 that shows his full name as James Burl Stiff III. The third no less!


Don Bauder May 25, 2011 @ 6:37 a.m.

That should settle the matter of his name. Best, Don Bauder


Twister May 23, 2011 @ 9:39 p.m.

As a fly on the wall at several "events," I was always greatly impressed by his importance, particularly his ability to sniff. Of course, this ability was not wanting with respect to most of the VIP's among whom he swam. I lived in fear of ending up in one of his columns, but accidently got caught by his photographer once, entirely because I stood too close to my blindingly photogenic wife. Thank God I was in disguise in addition to being eclipsed.

I wonder, with all his considerable talent, what kind of investigative reporter he would have made?


Don Bauder May 24, 2011 @ 7:36 a.m.

San Diego's Beautiful People soirees would be great hunting grounds for an investigative reporter or white collar crime prosecutor. It has always amazed -- no, amused -- me that people who belong in jail are welcomed by the social lions. Best, Don Bauder


SurfPuppy619 May 24, 2011 @ 7:04 p.m.

I lived in fear of ending up in one of his columns, but accidently got caught by his photographer once, entirely because I stood too close to my blindingly photogenic wife.

Pic Please :)


Don Bauder May 24, 2011 @ 7:55 p.m.

Yes, let's see that blindingly photogenic wife. Best, Don Bauder


Twister May 25, 2011 @ 6:29 p.m.

Don't get off the subject, please. No pix. Nohow, no time. Ok--I bragged. So I'm hanging my head in shame.

But I really do think you're onto something, Don. Every time I end up at one of those "society" things, I'm about to puke most of the time. I'm known for for my strong stomach, but hearing the "swells" talk is a big test, even for me (ok, bragging again).

Ever notice how they run a check on your position in the pecking order first? But if you wait until they're drunk enough . . . I tell them I'm a professional dumpster-diver.

But really, I'd like to see a reporter hide a video camera sometime and get some real juicy stuff. E tu u toobe?


Don Bauder May 25, 2011 @ 8:32 p.m.

The only times my wife and I mixed with BPs at social events were those sponsored by San Diego Opera. We went to many of those, as I was on the board or advisory board most of the time. Quite often moguls and their wives would be sure to sit next to me and tell me that I should do more to promote San Diego companies. I would patiently explain that my job was not to "promote" San Diego companies. My job was to report on those companies objectively. They didn't want to hear that. Best, Don Bauder


Twister May 26, 2011 @ 1:56 p.m.

Your'e a real mensch, Don.

The BP set just don't know, they really don't know . . .

How ridiculous they look.

How unconscious they are.

How few people belive their line of torokaka.

What real friendship is.

That they are wasting their LIVES.


Don Bauder May 26, 2011 @ 7:48 p.m.

Burl Stiff used to report what kind of dresses the ladies were wearing -- Versace, whatever. Now, you can't think that is a waste, an you? Best, Don Bauder


Twister May 26, 2011 @ 10:19 p.m.

Well, I guess I have to admit that "fashion" and "style" are the ultimate in degradation subordination of the female psyche by the psychos. I know not what others may desire, but as for me, give me a country girl with hay in her hair.


Don Bauder May 27, 2011 @ 6:28 a.m.

I landed an urban girl who managed to get a PhD in plant ecology while we were raising two sons. The marriage has lasted almost 50 years. She has never had any interest in social climbing. Best, Don Bauder


Twister May 27, 2011 @ 6:11 p.m.

Sounds to me like your urban girl became about as "country" as you can get. You know, wild animals, open range, and all that kind of stuff.


Don Bauder May 28, 2011 @ 10:41 a.m.

We have 36 acres, surrounded by mountains. One of our biggest joys is when a large herd of elk comes through. Does that answer your question? Best, Don Bauder


Twister May 30, 2011 @ 2:39 p.m.

You're taking good care of her--that's what counts.


Don Bauder May 30, 2011 @ 3:33 p.m.

That's certainly what counts with HER. Best, Don Bauder


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