Pop culture, entertainment & all things Fresno

David Hale, 1930-2012

UPDATE 10/16: Here’s the news obituary I wrote about David from Tuesday’s paper. Also, after the jump, I added a couple of vintage Fresno State yearbook pages featuring David passed along by Peter Robertson.

ORIGINAL POST: Word comes over the weekend that longtime Bee arts writer David Hale, who worked at the newspaper 42 years before retiring nearly 10 years ago, has died at age 82.

One of his nieces, Wendy Hunter, says that David passed away Friday evening after a second bout of pneumonia. The family will have a private service.

David preceded me in the arts writing position at The Bee, and he was a big part of my life for many years. He was so well known in the arts community that when he’d call sources he’d often merely exclaim “Hale here!” into the phone before launching into his questions. Or, if he wanted to butter up a source — and it was amazing how quickly he could shift from harried and slightly cantankerous barker to the sweetest, most smooth-talking confidant you could ever run into — he’d initiate the conversation by purring, “This is your friendly Fresno newspaper here.”

He was astonishingly hard-working, pumping out so much copy that it seemed like it took a squadron of copy editors to keep up, and I still marvel when I go back to read through the archives how graceful and economical he could be in his descriptions of the visual arts, classical music, theater and dance. I didn’t fully understand how “up to his eyeballs” he could be in his beat until I took over for him. (Just to illustrate how hard he worked: When he retired, The Bee replaced him with two people. Alas, we weren’t able to maintain that staffing in recent years.)

When he retired in 2003, I wrote a piece for The Bee in salute, which I’ll post after the jump.

In the meantime, if you have any memories of David you’d like to share, include them in a comment on this post. I might be able to work them into a future column.


David Hale covered a diverse cultural scene for more than 40 years
Published: Aug. 17, 2003 

David Hale always has too many stories to write and not enough time, so it helps that he has one of the most recognizable phone voices in Fresno.

His long-time sources need no introduction when they hear his distinctively cheerful, cajoling, low-pitched growl of a greeting.

Sometimes he’ll simply call someone from the arts desk at The Bee and say: “This is your friendly Fresno newspaper calling.”

Other times when he’s fighting the clock — which he almost always is, as anyone passing by the Leaning Tower of Press Releases on his desk can attest — he’ll answer the phone with a simple, emphatic, memorable “What?”

Hale, 72, who is retiring Friday after 42 years at The Bee, can be forgiven for skipping the phone pleasantries.

Early on in his arts career, he was a one-man band — make that a full-scale orchestra — covering Fresno’s diverse cultural scene.

He’s written extensively about the the development of the Fresno Philharmonic Orchestra, Fresno Art Museum, Fresno Metropolitan Museum, Fresno Grand Opera, Orpheus chamber ensemble and Philip Lorenz Memorial Keyboard Concert Series.

“For a long time I was doing just about all the arts coverage, ” Hale says.

“I loved it. In those days, I’d have almost paid them to do it.”

Coke Hallowell, a longtime local arts supporter, can’t imagine The Bee without Hale.

“He’s been wonderful for the arts community, ” she says. “He’s such a good listener, and he has the curiosity of a child.  Everything is exciting to him.”

Born in Oakland, Hale moved with his family from Red Bluff to a farm on the Kings River between Reedley and Parlier.

He enrolled in Reedley College and went on to graduate from Fresno State College with a journalism degree.

Hired at The Bee as a general-assignment reporter, he was sitting in the city room one day when an editor told him to go out a review a band concert.

“Actually, I was the only one in the room, ” he says with a laugh.

From then on, he gravitated to arts coverage.

Largely self-taught when it comes to culture, he immersed himself in his new beat.

“When you cover everything, you get interested in it all, which is remarkable considering how little I knew starting out. I’ve spent a lot of my time getting background information on artists just so I wouldn’t appear uneducated when I talked to them.”

That wasn’t likely. The preparation often paid off. In 1969, when piano virtuoso Artur Rubinstein visited Fresno’s Saroyan Theatre, Hale sneaked backstage during intermission for a “10-minute” interview that turned into 20.

As he sucked a cigar, Rubinstein mused about his career.

He told Hale: “How divine my life is — to have such lovely music to play and such lovely people to hear it.”

Not all interviews were that easy.

Martha Raye, appearing at the old Hacienda nightclub, repeatedly interrupted Hale with: “Now that’s a stupid question — why do you want to know that?”

Hale says he can’t imagine life without covering music and the other cultural arts.

“I can’t help but feel a little like I’m abandoning the ship and leaving other people to do the bailing, ” he says.

But he adds that his career has been an exciting and gratifying way to make a living.

Hale’s arts education isn’t stopping with retirement, of course.

Now he has time to deal with the extensive collection of books, albums and CDs he’s accumulated over the years — many of them unopened.

“I was going through my house recently and found CDs stacked everywhere — in the kitchen, under the bed, ” he says.

“If I never bought another record, book or magazine, I don’t think I could listen to or read them all.”





Responses to "David Hale, 1930-2012"

marcel says:

Sad to hear of his loss. Aye, the man was an icon in the arts community.

Brent Moser says:

Icon, indeed! Rest in peace, Mr. Hale.

Cynthia Merrill says:

David was a great resource while I was building my performing arts school for he believed in what I was going in the arts and for the community. I was sad the day he retired and I am even more sad to hear of his passing. He wrote many articles about my Garden Ballet Productions and other programs in my school for which I am very grateful. My heartfelt prayers go out to his family at this time of loss.

C. Tim Quinn says:

I remember being at my desk and phone would ring. Before I could get my greeting out it was, “Hale here. What’s this play all about?” Gruff at times, yes but always lovable and honest. You’ll be missed David. Rest in peace.

Mallory says:

The last time I saw David, we were meant to talk about a theatrical production but ended up discussing peanut butter and his cat, Franky. Here’s a fond farewell to one of a kind.

Leslie Cunning says:

Great photo of David. Wonderful memories of my encountaers with him flood back to me. He scared me to death when I would give a tour near his desk. First of all, it was stacked so high with ‘stuff’ that I never knew if he was there or not. Then he’d greet the tour and me with “What do you want?” After I realized that he was all show – I would breeze past his desk with: “And this, ladies and gentlemen, is the man who covers the arts in the Valley. You can tell by his melodic voice and sophisticated way of speaking.” They would laugh and David would shoo us away. He was a hoot and what a wonderful writer.

Peter Robertson says:

Gosh. So sorry to learn of David Hale’s passing. He was truly old-school — In writing, in knowledge and spirit.

The consummate journalist, I used to tell myself that I always wanted to write like David Hale. He was perfection in every word, with every word.

Rest in peace.

Patrick Camacho says:

I am very saddened to hear of David’s passing. I was his next door neighbor for many years, growing up. I remember him being a very kind man. My father had some hard times and David was a great friend to him, helping him out whenever he could. I have only been to the theater twice in my life. The first time is because David took me as his guest because he was going to write a review on it. Most kids in elementary school probably don’t get to experience that, other than our little kid plays and skits we did. Anyway, that is one memory I am have glad to shared. Rest in peace good sir.

Dorothy Hunter says:

Thank you so much for the wonderful article that you wrote about my Brother. He truly was an interesting person, very kind and giving. Sorry he had to leave so soon.

David Owens says:

When David was at The Bee he did a great job balancing the multitude of cultural groups and arts personalities who constantly needed his attention. He probably did as much public relations work as journalism in his role covering the Arts. And he did it well. With humor and humanity. Thank you, David, you are missed.

Ken Robison says:

In all the years David Hale and I worked side-by-side in The Bee’s arts/entertainment section, I never knew him to take the easy, lazy route on any story. What some editors mistook for “overwriting” was simply David’s sogged thoroughness. When he “covered” something it got covered. In today’s media obsessed with soundbites and tidbits, I wish we had more of that kind of thoroughness. Thankfully, Munro carries on David’s tradition in fine form. BTW, David and I shared the same birthday, Oct. 7. He would exclaim, on that day, “Happy Birthday, Kenneth.” I would reply “Happy Birthday, David,” then we’d get on with our daily jobs. There was no one like David Hale and I reckon there never will be again. And, really, isn’t that the best thing you can say about someone?

Dennis Pollock says:

Before the age of Google, there was David Hale. I told David I had set up an interview with Victor Borge and he said, “Wait a minute.” He walked over to that mound of stuff on his desk, wedged his fingers into just the right pile and said, “Here.” It was a file on the guy and helped me immensely. David had that wonderful “spatial” sense of just where to find stuff in that cluttered desk. And he was a special man. Not just a gentleman
but a gentle man.

Tom Upmeier says:

I was David’s great nephew and I just like everyone else have fond memories of this man that was truly “one of a kind.” Memories of going to movies and meeting people in the art community. Memories of going through that house in the Tower district as a kid and being dumbfounded by his collection of music, books (lots of books), art, movies, anything that had to do with art he loved and made sure to “spread the wealth” to his family whenever he felt. I’ll never forget that house or family gatherings with him there saying something funny in the growling voice of his, and the story from Leslie Cumming abut being afraid to walk by his work desk reminded me of the time he popped his head up from behind a stack of books and did his infamous “what do you want” on my cousins and I when we were little and it scared us half to death. I look back now and can’t stop laughing.

So if you had the pleasure of ever meeting David hold up a glass of scotch wherever you are, there will never be another.

Mary l.Stark says:

Thank you again from another sister of your writing about David. He was all those things written about him and more. He took 4 little nieces and a newphew to movies to review and when asked why they were there, he replied they were doing the reviewing and sometimes nodded off then asked the kids about the movies. He was really loved by the kids and it was David who got them all interested in all of the arts, and if you saw their homes you can see what he instilled in them all. We will miss his rough voiece at times, but will remember him as a gentle loving person

Lori L. Stark says:

My Uncle David was one who was fortunate enough to have had his passions be his life long work…intricately intertwined to Fresno, The Bee, the Arts & Artists as well as the San Joaquin Valley Community…thank you for recognizing his contributions both in print and otherwise.

Kathi Settle says:

I am the oldest of the “next generation” and I have so many wonderful memories of David. I loved his champagne breakfasts and the times we spent at family gatherings. But for me, my favorite was when he made an unannounced visit to the central coast. He called and asked if I would like to go to Morro Bay with him. Absolutely !!! I played hookie from teaching and spent a wonderful day visiting artists and art galleries!!! So many of us have wonderful memories of time spent with him! He will always have a special place in our hearts!!!!

Rob Veneski says:

I was fortunate to be David’s Features desk-mate at The Bee for a few years. I always appreciated David’s morning arrival routine, which predictably consisted of juggling an armful of out-of-town daily newspapers, an overflowing briefcase of papers and books and breakfast of some sort. Like Leslie and Dennis, I marveled at his scary filing system of teetering stacks and press releases. It was like a daily Oscar and Felix “Odd Couple” skit between us, with me constantly trying to get keyboard time on the shared computer and trying to prevent his stuff from encroaching on my side of the desk. But I enjoyed every minute of the back-and-forth banter. His quick wit, humor, sarcasm, knowledge and kindness will be remembered.

Wendy says:

I just wanted to say how much I enjoyed your comment. Thanks for reminding me that I used to liken Uncle David to “Oscar” quite often…”The Odd Couple” has always been my favorite Neil Simon play. Our family, and members of the community, often compared him to Andy Rooney, a fine curmudgeon himself. Thanks for your kind remarks.

Wendy Hunter

Melissa Davis says:

When they made the mold for “colorful,” they made it to fit David Hale — and then broke it. He was a wonderful colleague and a true professional of the old school. We will not see his kind again. I wish I’d paid more attention while he was on the phone, soothing the many arty personalities he had to deal with….I could certainly use his technique. Condolences to his family and to The Bee.

Wen. says:

It has taken me awhile to compose my thoughts, and leave a comment about Uncle David. He was such a huge part of my life and my family’s. All the comments by my cousins were right on the money; all the memories of the trips to Tower Records, where David would leave (literally) with an armload of LPs up to his chin. The movies, the concerts, the art shows (free vino!), the FSU plays, etc. The house, where I now reside, which is a museum on it’s own. The time I was about 12, and walked in the front door and stepped on (and broke) a dinner plate, buried under newspapers. He couldn’t understand how that happened. My most cherished possession he ever gave me is a framed program when Van Cliburn played the Philharmonic. I was able to meet the great man himself, which was such a thrill, as I was taking piano lessons at the time. He had the most amazing hands. When I moved into David’s house with my mutts a year ago, he accepted us without question. I believe my watchdog “Jasper” helped him to feel a little more safe. But he always felt a bit more akin to “Taco”, who was a lot like David; a bit slow, but always ready for the dinner table. He often lamented about how much he missed them. He was one of my greatest supporters of returning to school at the age of 50…not only emotionally, but via his generous checkbook. I know you’re not supposed to have regrets, but I shall regret that he never got to see me complete my schooling (in 5 weeks), or watch my graduation ceremony. I shall miss our luncheons at Marie Callendar’s, or Wendy’s, or the Sierra Nut House after every doctor’s appointment. I’ll miss the piles of papers and magazine articles he saved for me on a daily basis, even though he knew I never had time to read them because of homework. I’ll miss him rooting around in the refrigerator every couple of hours, the only thing visible being the top of his red head. I’ll miss his excitement at my feeble attempts at cooking dinner. I’ll miss our lovely magazine conversations while looking over the latest Architectural Digest, The Week, or our personal favorite, Vanity Fair. And without a doubt, I’ll miss our discussions of movies, movies, movies. He could bring up some random musical from 1947, and I could bring up the cast of characters from some 1987 comedy. When I was a kid, I used to tease him and say that I would take over his column when he retired. Heavy sigh. I shall think of him every time I walk down the hall and see a favorite painting or sculpture, anytime TCM plays a great oldie, and anytime I hear something by Beethoven. But most of all, I’ll just miss him being here.

Bill Bissell says:

It has been many years since I developed a project in Fresno, when telephoning David was a matter of course. No matter how ‘out of the box’ the work might have been that I was describing to him, David was interested and made every effort to translate it to readers. His humor, irony, and pretense of ‘not knowing’ always disarmed me, made for laughter, and put art into a less rarefied place in life.

In an age of diminished value for the knowledge contained by artistic practice, or in its coverage as a normative aspect of culture and social structure, The Fresno Bee’s commitment to a writer like David Hale is already a reminder of a lost age.

Rest in peace and gratitude!

Steve Musselman says:

I am saddened to read of the passing of David Hale, not that I knew him well, but because he was a greatly respected colleague within the Fresno arts community, and especially respected by my father, local artist and Fresno State professor, Darwin Musselman.

I know that Dad would often take David’s phone calls to discuss art in general within the community, besides the times they would discuss one of Dad’s local exhibits that David would cover.

Because of the high level of respect that I knew my father had of David, I reached out to Mr. Hale upon the passing of Darwin in 2001; I took the liberty to post the resulting remembrance David penned and the Fresno Bee published in Dad’s web site:

It’s the work and comraderie of professionals like Mr. David Hale that have contributed to the foundation and legacy of the Fresno art scene.

Although I have been away from Fresno for over 36 years, I am moved not only by Mr. Hale’s passing, but for his everlasting oeuvre of substance, professionalism, and kindness. To his family, please know how thankful I remain for David’s support and friendship he shared with my father.


Steve Musselman

Pat Foster says:

I am the last of the family members of the Hale tribe and a follower of David, that started as a child
I wish to thank all who so willingly took time out ot their busy lives to remember our BIG abrother. He shall be missed by us all. Pat

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