Hats Off to Patt!

By Rachael Warecki Photo by Sarahi Apaez

Patt Morrison ’74 shares a curated collection of books with Special Collections—and 50 years of words and wisdom in conversation with Larry Mantle

Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times journalist and Emmy Award recipient Patt Morrison ’74 returned to campus March 1 for an invigorating conversation with Larry Mantle, the host of AirTalk, the longest-running daily talk show in Southern California. Their far-ranging discussion, co-hosted by the Times and The Occidental newspaper, touched on famous interview subjects, changes in the media landscape, and the importance of storytelling.

An native of Utica, Ohio, who moved to Los Angeles to attend Occidental, Morrison began her Times career as an 18-year-old intern, earning course credit for her experience. Newsrooms of the 1970s were very different from their modern incarnations: Morrison estimates that there were two women on the entire reporting staff, one veteran photographer “initiated” new hires by showing them his most gruesome pictures of the Black Dahlia crime scene, and, to keep reporters from accidentally setting the building ablaze with the cigarette butts they stubbed out beneath their shoes, the newsroom’s floor was made of asbestos.

“There I was, a kid, and it was so much fun,” Morrison told the audience.

Since then, she’s covered the Space Shuttle, the Super Bowl, and the death of Princess Diana of Wales, and has interviewed numerous renowned subjects, including Salman Rushdie, Jimmy Carter, Stephen Hawking, and Oprah Winfrey. Although her reporting has branched out from text to other forms of media—Morrison is also a Golden Mike Award-winning radio host and a regular commentator on local television channel Spectrum One—she remains devoted to the written word.

“Pictures are sensation. Words are information,” she said. “What I love about writing is that one paragraph can take care of 500 years, and yet you can take ten pages to describe one second. As a writer, you control time and space.”

In addition to authoring two bestselling nonfiction titles of her own, Rio L.A.: Tales From the Los Angeles River and Don’t Stop the Presses! Truth, Justice, and the American Newspaper, Morrison is also an avid book collector. She recently donated more than 300 autographed texts to the Mary Norton Clapp Library Special Collections Department, including a copy of The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan, multiple novels by noted science fiction author Ray Bradbury, and several works by groundbreaking Beat poet Allen Ginsberg.

The College’s Special Collections and College Archives “has several strong collections that document the history and culture of Los Angeles, in particular as it is seen through the eyes of trailblazing women,” says archivist Alanna Quan ’16. “The autographed books donated by Patt Morrison are emblematic of these collections because they allow visitors to immerse themselves in Morrison's journalistic interests, and in the relationships she built through her work. Further, by reading each author's personal inscription, visitors see firsthand how Morrison's contributions impacted journalism and led to a deeper cultural understanding of the Los Angeles area.”

Morrison, who majored in diplomacy and world affairs and is fluent in Spanish, credits her liberal arts education with giving her the skills to write skillfully about Los Angeles issues, from cross-border cadaver shakedowns to cold fusion.

“At Occidental, I learned enough to write knowledgeably and correctly about a number of topics,” she told the audience. “And in this huge area to explore, Oxy was the place I could always run home to.”

Top photo: The Occidental editor-in-chief Sebastian Lechner ’24, Patt Morrison '74, and Larry Mantle.