Frances Lear, 73, a former self-described Hollywood wife who burst on the New York publishing scene in the 1980s when she launched Lear's, a pioneering magazine aimed at raising the image of women over 40, died Sept. 30 at her home in Manhattan. She had breast cancer.
Mrs. Lear, who said she had reclaimed her life with the advent of the women's movement, was divorced in 1985 in Los Angeles after being married for 28 years to legendary television producer Norman Lear. She moved east and began plowing what was to add up to about a quarter of her $100 million divorce settlement into the production of a glossy magazine.
She dedicated it to "the woman who wasn't born yesterday," a subscriber with some money who might be reentering the job market or still raising a family. Lear's began with a circulation of 250,000 and was considered a success at birth.
"I believed a magazine could hold up a mirror for women over 40 and raise their self-image," she said. "Lear's made older women visible in a culture that overlooked them."
But Frances Lear -- a tiny, elegant woman with signature black-rimmed glasses and thick white hair that floated about her face -- proved a mercurial editor. Staff members said she was tyrannical and erratic, prone to tearing up layouts on deadline and even going so far as to change direct quotes in stories. She acknowledged in an interview in 1992 with Washington Post staff writer Judith Weinraub that she was "learning on the job."
"I'm very volatile," she said. "And I change my mind a lot."
She told Weinraub that, as a former department store saleswoman and buyer who never went to college, "I didn't know I had a good mind until I was older, and when I discovered it, it was exciting to use it."
After several years at the helm, Mrs. Lear decided that the magazine should change direction and begin pitching stories to younger readers. That put it in fierce competition for advertising with other women's publications. Lear's soon was losing $6 million a year and, in 1994, was closed abruptly, despite a circulation of 500,000. Mrs. Lear then began a video production company, also aimed at the women's market.
Outside publishing, she was known as a major benefactor of feminist politics, civil rights and mental health research and public awareness. Diagnosed at age 50 as having manic depression, she was candid about her illness in articles and lectures and also wrote about incest and sexual abuse.
"She probably gave more money to change society's attitudes toward mental illness than anybody else," said Kay Jamison, a professor of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University who worked with Mrs. Lear on public broadcasting programs about their shared illness. She described Mrs. Lear as one of the first public figures to openly acknowledge her struggles with the condition.
Jamison, whose autobiography, "An Unquiet Mind," was published recently, said Mrs. Lear was "a fiery independent and the most imaginative woman I ever met in my life. . . . She encouraged me to write my own book about my own illness when I was reluctant to go public about it. . . . She was a tremendous influence on a lot of people who work in the field of mental illness."
Mrs. Lear's own autobiography described her childhood with an abusive adoptive mother, a father who killed himself and a stepfather who molested her. It also detailed her subsequent struggles with alcoholism and mental illness and her two early divorces. She said she had attempted suicide a half-dozen times and, even after her business and personal successes, kept a potentially lethal drug supply at hand.
Mrs. Lear was born at the Vanderheusen Home for Wayward Girls in Hudson, N.Y., and adopted at 14 months by a Larchmont, N.Y., couple. Her biological mother and father were unknown to her.
Her adoptive father killed himself during the Depression, when she was 10. She regarded her adoptive mother as a glamorous but cold figure. Mrs. Lear wrote in her memoir that her mother's second husband began sexually abusing her when she was 12.
She went to boarding school and then began working in New York department stores while a teenager. Briefly, she was a camera girl at the Copacabana nightclub, and then had two marriages. She also worked as a buyer at Lord & Taylor. In 1957, she married Norman Lear, then a television writer, and moved with him to Los Angeles. There, she had two daughters and did not work outside the home.
Norman Lear created enormously successful television programs, including "All in the Family" and "Maude," whose character was said to be based in part on Frances Lear. Mrs. Lear said she believed she was eclipsed by her husband's triumphs.
"I was nothing. Nobody. I had no identity," she told Weinraub. "I was nothing but my marriage and my motherhood. . . . I was what the women's movement was all about. I was a traditional wife and mother. I took care of people, nurtured, loved -- though I must say I did it to the extreme. I was very neurotic."
Buoyed by the burgeoning feminist movement, however, she became an advocate for women's issues in the mid-1960s. She campaigned for the Equal Rights Amendment and later began an executive search firm for women.
Ultimately, she said, she came to believe that, in many ways, she was getting better as she got older. She said she took care of herself, had an active love life and "dipped into cosmetic surgery" when she felt she needed it. "I think I'm admirable now," she said when she was 68, "and interesting. Not run-of-the-mill."
Survivors include her daughters and two grandsons. ROY JEROME POWER Teacher and Businessman
Roy Jerome Power, 58, a physical education and biology teacher at Washington-Lee High School from 1960 to 1975 and owner of a sporting goods firm until 1982, died of cancer Sept. 27 at the home of his daughter in Troy, Va.
Mr. Power was born in Fairfax, Ala., and raised in Wheaton. He was a graduate of Wheaton High School and George Washington University, where he also did graduate work in education.
He coached cross-country and track and field while teaching at Washington-Lee. He opened Power Athletics in Falls Church in 1975 and later opened stores in Charlottesville and Berwyn, Pa. He moved from Northern Virginia in 1978.
He was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon social fraternity.
His marriage to Rosalee West Power ended in divorce. Survivors include four children, Michael Weldon Power of Richmond, Kirsten Power Wentz of Troy, Susan Power Critzer of Charlottesville and Christopher West Power of Pittsburgh; two brothers; and six grandchildren.