Funeral arrangements were pending Wednesday for Ed Cray, who taught print journalism classes at USC for 35 years and authored more than 18 books, including biographies of Depression-era folk singer Woody Guthrie and former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren.
Cray died Tuesday at an assisted living facility in Palo Alto of congestive heart failure and Alzheimer’s dementia, according to his daughter, Jennifer. He was 86.
Longtime USC journalism professor Joe Saltzman announced Cray’s death in a Facebook posting.
“I brought Ed to USC about 40 years ago and before he retired in 2012, we were cantankerous. opinionated journalists often at odds over some journalism course or curriculum idea or some administrative issue,” Saltzman recalled. “He was always a wonderful colleague who really cared about journalism, about students, about what was right and what was wrong. I will miss him and his integrity.”
In a long writing career that began in the early 1960s, Cray wrote books that examined social, legal and corporate issues and was considered an expert in American folklore. His last book, published in 2003, was “Ramblin’ Man: The Life and Times of Woody Guthrie,” which served as the source material for a 2006 PBS “American Masters” documentary about the singer.
Cray’s other books include “General of the Army: George C. Marshall, Soldier and Statesman,” a biography of the World War II general and namesake of the Marshall Plan; “Burden of Proof,” a 1973 account of the trial of California serial killer Juan Corona; “Chrome Colossus,” a 1980 social history of General Motors; “Levi’s,” about the San Francisco clothing company; and “The Big Blue Line,” about police malfeasance and corruption.
In his later years, Cray devoted most of his time to studying American folklore, which he started in his early career book, “The Erotic Muse.” In 2011, he edited two volumes of “Bawdy Songs of the Romantic Period,” a four-volume set of songbooks featuring margin notes on folklore of the mid-19th century.
A native of Cleveland, Ohio, Cray came to Los Angeles as a young child and grew up primarily in the Fairfax District. He was 11 when he made his first foray into the world of journalism by landing a job selling the Los Angeles Mirror on the streets, where one of his frequent customers was mobster Mickey Cohen.
Cray’s first newsroom job came in 1948 as a copy boy for the Los Angeles Daily News. He would later work as a wire reporter for City News Service in Los Angeles, and work and freelance at many Southern California newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and The Hollywood Reporter.
Over four decades, he wrote at least 500 freelance newspaper and magazine articles and reviews, published in such newspapers as The New York Times and The Washington Post.
Cray served in the U.S. Army in Korea and earned a degree in anthropology from UCLA in 1957.
At USC, Cray was known as a passionate teacher of traditional print journalism who impressed on his students the importance of a disciplined writing style and unbiased reporting, while helping hundreds of the school’s graduates get newspaper, television and radio jobs.
Cray and USC colleagues Jonathan Kotler and Miles Beller in 1990 co-wrote “American Datelines,” a collection and analysis of news stories written following famous historical events, which is still used as a textbook in many journalism schools.
From 1965-1970, Cray was director of publications for the ACLU of Southern California. He also worked in the early ’70s as the publicist for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
In 2017, Cray moved from Santa Monica to Palo Alto, where his daughter and son-in-law Marc Igler live. Other survivors include stepchildren Naomi Kovacs of Santa Barbara and Josh Kovacs of Long Beach; and two granddaughters, Emily and Tessa Igler.