Warren Hinckle in 1987, with his dog Bentley, in San Francisco. (Eric Luse/San Francisco Chronicle via AP)

Warren Hinckle, a magazine editor who transformed Ramparts from a narrow-focused Catholic literary quarterly into a swaggering voice of the 1960s New Left movement and who was an early proponent of the opinionated first-person reporting style that came to be known as gonzo journalism, died Aug. 25 at a hospital in San Francisco. He was 77.

The cause was complications from pneumonia, said a daughter, Pia Hinckle.

Ramparts began in 1962 when a wealthy California businessman, Edward Keating, and his wife, Helen, founded a publication aimed at puncturing what its owners saw as hypocrisy in the Catholic Church.

But the liberal magazine’s scope quickly broadened when Mr. Hinckle, a former publicist and contributor, was named executive editor in 1964. The freewheeling young editor, fond of dandy clothes and stiff drinks, set about making Ramparts a Time magazine for the left: a “radical slick,” as he put it, published monthly with glossy pages and a stylish design that framed hard-hitting investigative reports and crusading opinion pieces.

Mr. Hinckle hired journalist Robert Scheer — who came to the magazine with a story, rejected elsewhere, about the role of Cardinal Francis Spellman in promoting U.S. involvement in Vietnam — and dispatched Scheer to report on American atrocities in Vietnam.

The December 1967 cover of Ramparts magazine, which showed Mr. Hinckle and three other top editors burning Vietnam War draft cards. (Ramparts / )

Under his leadership, the magazine published reports on clandestine CIA efforts to underwrite cultural organizations amid the Cold War; ran excerpts from the diary of revolutionary Ernesto “Che” Guevara (with an introduction by Cuban leader Fidel Castro); and printed the prison letters of Black Panther activist Eldridge Cleaver, missives that formed the basis of Cleaver’s 1968 book “Soul on Ice.”

A 1967 Ramparts photo essay, which featured stark images of Vietnamese children maimed by American bombs, was credited with inspiring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to speak out against the war for the first time.

“Ramparts did stories that no one else would touch,” said Peter Richardson, whose 2009 book “A Bomb in Every Issue” chronicled the magazine’s history and impact, “and then they publicized those stories so that they couldn’t get ignored.”

It was as publicist in chief that Mr. Hinckle made perhaps his greatest contribution to the magazine’s success, whipping up coverage from mainstream newspapers and magazines across the country. Employing tactics inspired by his mentor, San Francisco advertising executive Howard Gossage, Mr. Hinckle sometimes purchased full-page ads in the New York Times and other major daily papers to draw attention to a Ramparts report.

One of the magazine’s biggest articles — a 1967 feature that exposed how the CIA was secretly influencing and funding the National Student Association — was announced in such a fashion, when Mr. Hinckle learned that the agency was planning a news conference to announce certain details of its funding program.

In response, Mr. Hinckle purchased ads in the Times and The Washington Post to get ahead of the spy agency. “I was damned if I was going to let the CIA scoop me,” he wrote in a 1974 memoir, “If You Have a Lemon, Make Lemonade.” Scooping himself with the advertisements, he added, “seemed the preferable alternative.”

The magazine won a prestigious George Polk Award for reporting that year, with judges citing its “explosive revival of the great muckraking tradition.”

Ramparts editor Warren Hinckle at a 1967 meeting with assistant managing editor Sol Stern and writer Robert Scheer. (RHH/AP)

Ramparts’ cover images, overseen by art director Dugald Stermer, were often equally explosive. A 1967 cover featured four hands holding burning draft cards; two years later, the magazine showed a 6-year-old boy holding a Viet Cong flag. “Alienation,” the caption said, “is when your country is at war and you want the other side to win.”

Mr. Hinckle’s changes to the magazine attracted a new crop of readers and contributors — Susan Sontag, Noam Chomsky and a young Christopher Hitchens all wrote for the publication, and circulation skyrocketed from several thousand readers to about 250,000 in 1968. But advertising dollars remained scarce, and the magazine was never profitable, Richardson said.

Amid ongoing financial problems and failed fundraising attempts — including an effort to woo Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner — Keating was pushed out of the magazine by its board of directors in 1967. Mr. Hinckle was named president but resigned two years later as the magazine faced bankruptcy and reorganization.

Unabashed about his five-year run as editor, he was quoted in Time as saying that the magazine was “totally and absolutely and joyfully biased. We went in to hang the Saigon government, to kill the war in Vietnam. That’s what political journalism is about.”

Six years later, Ramparts published its final issue.

A lifelong resident of San Francisco, Warren James Hinckle III was born Oct. 12, 1938. His mother was a survivor of the city’s 1906 earthquake; his father was a shipyard worker.

Mr. Hinckle attended parochial schools before studying philosophy at the University of San Francisco, a Jesuit institution, where he was editor of the college newspaper. He left school in the summer of 1960 without graduating, the registrar’s office said, and joined the San Francisco Chronicle as a reporter.

By temperament and appearance, Mr. Hinckle was almost piratical. He wore an eye patch on his left eye (the result of a childhood car accident), and in his Ramparts office, he kept his pet capuchin monkey, Henry Luce, named after the co­-
founder and longtime head of the Time publishing empire. His preferred workspace was the local watering hole, where he downed screwdrivers with abandon.

Mr. Hinckle wrote several nonfiction books after leaving Ramparts — including “Deadly Secrets,” co-authored with William Turner and originally published in 1981 as “The Fish is Red,” about the CIA opposition to the Castro regime in Cuba. For many years, he focused on starting a new magazine in the spirit of Ramparts.

In 1970, he joined Sidney Zion, a former New York Times reporter, in founding Scanlan’s Monthly. The publication lasted for only eight issues but achieved a kind of journalism immortality for helping to launch the career of Hunter S. Thompson, whose profile of skier Jean-Claude Killy ran in the magazine’s first issue.

Issue 4 featured Thompson’s acclaimed, manic account of a trip to the Kentucky Derby horse race — “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved” — alongside a series of illustrations by Ralph Steadman. Writing the story on deadline, Thompson later said, was like “falling down an elevator shaft and landing in a pool of mermaids.” Its success launched a wave of imitators and a new term, “gonzo journalism,” to describe reporting that incorporated the writer’s subjective thoughts, feelings and experiences.

Mr. Hinckle later edited City of San Francisco, a publication owned by filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, and he also founded the short-lived publications Frisco and the Argonaut. In the 1980s and 1990s, he was a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle, the San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Independent.

Pugnacious in print and in person, Mr. Hinckle targeted powerful figures on the left and the right — including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who as mayor of San Francisco threw a drink on him in public over a quarrel he delighted in stirring. He so abhorred singer Tony Bennett’s rendition of “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” that he campaigned for the song’s removal as the city’s anthem by calling Bennett “an over-the-hill Italian croaker.”

A marriage to Denise Libarle ended in divorce. Additional survivors include two children from their marriage, Pia Hinckle of San Francisco and Hilary Hinckle of New York; a son, Warren Hinckle IV of Boston, from his marriage to the writer Susan Cheever, from whom he was separated; his companion, Linda Corso of San Francisco; a brother; a sister; and five grandchildren.

Although Ramparts never struck on a successful business model under Mr. Hinckle, the “audacity and irreverence” he espoused shaped many of the politically minded publications that followed in its footsteps, Richardson said — particularly the San Francisco-based magazines Mother Jones and Rolling Stone, which was founded by Ramparts contributors Jann Wenner and Ralph Gleason in 1967. (Rolling Stone has since relocated to New York.)

“What journalism is about is to attack everybody,” Mr. Hinckle told The Post in 1981. “First you decide what’s wrong, then you go out to find the facts to support that view, and then you generate enough controversy to attract attention.”