We all have defining moments in our lives. For me, one of the most important (and one I have never mentioned in these columns) was the day in September 1985 when Seth Baker walked into the offices of the Newport Ensign newspaper in Newport Beach, California as the new owner of the publication.
I had never heard of him nor did I know anything about his publications or background. All I saw was a very well-dressed, handsome man, tall and commanding. He had an air of confidence that said, “I can fix whatever ails this newspaper.”
At the time I was controller of a small newspaper group which, in addition to the Ensign, owned several newspapers around Culver City, California. I had to make a decision, stay with Culver City papers or go with Seth Baker and the Ensign.
For two months I worked for both companies. It was a strange experience, filled with uncertainty, like being a split personality. Then in November 1985, Seth’s financial guy left and he offered me the job. I accepted and went from controller of a small private company in financial difficulty (which is why they sold the Ensign in the first place) to Chief Financial Officer of a $3 million public corporation. I worked for Seth for 20 years before moving on to run my own company.
A couple of days ago I learned that Seth had passed away July 20 at the age of 84 in Pompano Beach, Florida, where he had retired last winter. That was a sad moment because he had a profound influence on my life and in his last few years continued to be a good friend. I fondly remember relaxed lunches at Via Alloro on Canon Drive in Beverly Hills.
So who was Seth Baker that he had such an influence on me? When I met him he was the publisher of Beverly Hills  and Newport Beach  magazines. Prior to that he had been a stockbroker, was for a short time married to Joan Benny, daughter of comedian Jack Benny, had owned Los Angeles Magazine for five years and had run Broadcast Network ABC’s magazine division for four years. He was also the divorced father of two children, Scott and Ariane, who were in grade school when I first met them and who eventually both worked for their father, Ariane as an advertising representative and Scott as a magazine publisher, before going on to successful careers of their own.
When I first came to work for him the company had money in the bank and within a few years acquired the Manhattan Beach Reporter, Palos Verdes Peninsula News, and the Agoura Hills Acorn. Over the years there were great times and hard times but through it all, Seth kept up the image of the successful Beverly Hills publisher, putting stars on the cover of his magazines every week, working tirelessly at the office and at innumerable social events and client lunches to keep the ad pages sold, and cultivated powerful relationships.
I especially remember the celebrity-studded annual birthday parties for Beverly Hills , usually held at a fancy restaurant or hotel ballroom, attended by almost everyone who was anyone in Beverly Hills.
The magazines, at his direction, were splashy and bold, filed with color photos of the latest parties and personalities, an in-depth interview with a celebrity, gossip columns, Hollywood history from Jim Bacon, English royal scuttlebutt from Richard Gully, movie reviews from Rex Reed, and a few lonely classified ads in the back. Advertisers included Saks Fifth Avenue, Chanel, Neiman Marcus, high-end jewelry, almost every Rodeo Drive store, and many local businesses. The format was so powerful that although competitors came and went none stayed around for long.
Seth could be difficult to work for at times but at the same time he was very loyal to the people who worked for him. He was known to fire people and rehire them immediately. Most people ended up staying a long time. Chris Barr took the cover photos for two decades or more, Dustin Baily headed up production for years. Some of the sales staff worked there for many years.
And I was in the middle of it all as Seth’s number two. I ran all of the financial affairs, consulted on editorial from time to time (as a former editor) and helped hire people. I attended the parties, lunched at Spago and places like it and got a taste of the good life and people who lived it.
In later years, Seth’s health declined and he was able to do less and less to promote the magazines. Eventually only Beverly Hills  was left and that petered out the middle of last year. (I hear a new owner will revive it later this year.)
I knew Seth for 27 years and worked every day with him for 20 years. I saw from the inside how a successful business is run and how a successful business can change overnight into a disaster. Through it all, Seth gave me a free hand with the finances and gave me a part in most of the major decisions. It was exhilarating, scary, fun, and educational all at the same time.
I’ll miss him.