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Dan Wolf, 80, a Village Voice Founder, Dies

NY- Dan Wolf, a founding editor of The Village Voice and a longtime adviser to Edward I. Koch, died yesterday at New York University Medical Center. Mr. Wolf, who lived in Greenwich Village, was 80.

Mr. Wolf spent some 40 years at the vortex of life in New York City. He presided over the birth and the sometimes fractious but always fascinating early life of the weekly newspaper, whose significance resonated far beyond the geographic bounds suggested by its name. And after he sold his interest in The Voice, he was to be found for many years at City Hall, a soft-spoken counselor to Mayor Koch, whose editor he became after Mr. Koch left office.

When the two met in the late 1950’s, Mr. Wolf was four years into his career as editor of The Voice, which published its first issue in October 1955. The newspaper’s founding triumvirate consisted of Mr. Wolf, Edwin Fancher, a psychologist he met in 1946 on a line while registering for classes at the New School for Social Research under the G.I. Bill, and Norman Mailer, Mr. Fancher’s friend.

In a foreword to “The Village Voice Reader,” co-edited with Mr. Fancher and published in 1962, Mr. Wolf wrote that The Voice was created at a time “when the vulgarities of McCarthyism had withered the possibilities of a true dialogue between people.”

“The best minds in America — radical and conservative — were repeating themselves,” he said.

Mr. Mailer wrote in a 1956 column that “I feel the hints, the clues, the whisper of a new time coming.”

Although the weekly appeared to have no editorial direction, Mr. Wolf used its space and its blend of advocacy and personal journalism to reflect the cultural ferment and political discontent simmering in the intellectual life of the country. There were articles about gay rights advocates and Black Panthers, the women’s liberation movement, psychedelic shopping centers and erotic Christmas ornaments. The newspaper rallied to the cause of reform in Greenwich Village politics. It opposed the war in Vietnam. It backed the civil rights movement.

Sometimes running articles in the same issue that convincingly praised and criticized the same person, party or institution, The Voice could be as vexing as it was entertaining. Letters wailed constantly that the paper had sold out to the establishment. And while The Voice was sometimes radical or leftist, more often it was chaotic and rather anarchic.

Young writers were coddled and encouraged. Readers grew familiar with the articles, essays, columns and criticism of Nat Hentoff, Jonas Mekas, Mary Perot Nichols and Jack Newfield. Because Mr. Wolf listened to them so attentively and so skillfully drew out their thoughts, many of his writers said they believed that his talent was that he edited people, not copy.

Readers of The Voice were also entertained and informed by its advertising: “Murray — I shall always love you. John.” Or “Veteran of three lunatic asylums wants to explore possibility of book with qualified writer.”

From a beginning when the presses rolled out 2,500 copies priced at 5 cents each (and writers were paid $5 an article), circulation climbed to 56,000 by 1966. By 1970, when control of the paper was bought by City Councilman Carter Burden, The Village Voice could claim roughly 150,000 readers, with its advertisers eager to reach its generally affluent audience, which liked movies, water beds, stereo sets and other big-ticket durable goods.

Daniel Wolf came to Greenwich Village by way of the Upper West Side of Manhattan, where he was born on May 25, 1915. He graduated from George Washington High School and hoped to become a novelist. After holding a series of clerical jobs, he was drafted into the Army during World War II. He was assigned to aerial intelligence that took him to New Guinea.

When discharged, he studied psychology until his G.I. Bill benefits ran out, earned extra money by writing articles on philosophy for the Columbia Enyclopedia and worked for the Turkish information office in New York before leaving to establish The Village Voice.

In the late 1950’s, the lives of Mr. Wolf and Mr. Koch intersected in Greenwich Village. Mr. Koch was a struggling young lawyer and aspiring politician, the law chairman of the Village Independent Democrats.

Their bond was a strong dislike for the local Democratic Party organization, and they pooled their resources. In 1963, with Mr. Wolf orchestrating support through editorials in The Voice, Mr. Koch mounted a successful campaign as the candidate of the so-called reformers and ousted Carmine G. DeSapio, the powerful Tammany Hall leader, from his base as the district leader in Greenwich Village. It was a shocking upset and began Mr. Koch’s ascent to Congress and Gracie Mansion.

Long afterward, Mr. Koch retained a fondness for those editorials. His law firm took on The Voice as a client, and he framed the letter that established the $50-a-month retainer.

In 1970, Mr. Wolf and Mr. Fancher sold control of The Voice for $3 million to Mr. Burden, and in June 1974, the newspaper was merged with New York magazine. Five weeks later, Mr. Wolf and Mr. Fancher were removed as editor and publisher respectively after a meeting between staff members of The Voice and Clay S. Felker, the editor of New York, in which the staff failed to win a promise of continued editorial independence. In recent years, facing increased competition, the paper lost circulation, and on Wednesday began free distribution in Manhattan.

Having become affluent, Mr. Wolf read a lot, edited a little and enjoyed the company of his friends.

When Mr. Koch won election to City Hall in 1977, he asked Mr. Wolf to become his press secretary. Mr. Wolf — fearful that the home he shared with his wife and two children would become an extension of his office — declined. Instead, he consented to be the Mayor’s adviser at large, at $1 a year. (Later, Mr. Koch paid Mr. Wolf $5,000 a month.)

Although Mr. Wolf had his own desk in an adjacent room, mostly he was to be found in the Mayor’s office in the northwest corner of City Hall, silently sipping coffee, eating a sandwich and smiling faintly. “I suppose,” Mr. Wolf said then, “that my role is to encourage him to be himself.”

The Mayor said: “Look, I’m under a lot of pressures. And they are generally to avoid this problem, avoid that.” He indicated that Mr. Wolf was a taskmaster who forced him to make decisions and also calmed him down.

Mr. Koch called Mr. Wolf an extraordinary source of strength. “When emotions are very high,” the Mayor said, “he is very cool.”

Mr. Wolf said Mr. Koch was able to talk to him about anything. “He knows I’m not looking to gain points,” Mr. Wolf said.

By all accounts, Mr. Wolf was indeed a good listener. “I have a feeling I’ve listened to more talk in my life than any other single person,” he said.

But he was reluctant to talk about himself and grant interviews. “I don’t like reading about myself,” he said.

After Mr. Koch returned in 1990 to a very public private life, which included writing books, columns and letters among other activities, Mr. Wolf continued to work with him. Mr. Koch said, “I’m the only person in America I know who has his own editor and probably the best editor they’ve ever had at any newspaper.”

In addition to his wife of 40 years, the former Rhoda Lazare, Mr. Wolf is survived by a daughter, Margaret Wolf of Manhattan, and a son, John Wolf of Washington.


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