Margo Kaufman, 46, humorist, writer for television and film

April 02, 2000|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,SUN STAFF

Margo Kaufman was a former Baltimore City Paper columnist who moved to Los Angeles and wrote three books of humor, reviews and commentary for newspapers and radio, and had credits for movies and television -- but proudly billed herself as the Hollywood correspondent for Pug Talk magazine.

She died Friday at age 46 of breast cancer at her home in Venice Beach, Calif.

Jon Winokur, author of "The Portable Curmudgeon," included some of her comments in the anthologies he edited.

"She had perfect pitch as a humorist," Mr. Winokur said yesterday. "She made it look so easy that people still don't know how good she was -- and she did it without being mean."

Ms. Kaufman had screenwriting credits for the movie "Love at First Bite" and for the television series "A Different World."

A Baltimore native, the former Margo Pearlstein grew up in Pikesville and was a 1971 graduate of the Park School and a 1975 graduate of Northwestern University.

After a stint in advertising, she began writing a column for the Baltimore alternative weekly City Paper from the late 1970s until she moved to Los Angeles in 1983.

There, she continued writing a column, first for the LA Weekly, then for daily newspapers, including the Sunday magazines of The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. She contributed essays, reporting, travel pieces and book reviews to these newspapers and to other publications, including Working Woman, Cosmopolitan, the Village Voice and USA Today.

Ms. Kaufman also had been a familiar voice to L.A.-area listeners of KABC since 1994, and in 1998 she began as a rotating panelist on National Public Radio's syndicated show, "Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me."

Her most recent book, "Clara, the Early Years," was published in 1998 and made the Los Angeles Times best-seller list for its description of life with her imperious 12-pound dog. Ms. Kaufman had pugs since college, and her most famous pet, Clara, survives. "I'm a dog person, not necessarily a pug person, but Clara is an extraordinary being," said Mr. Winokur. "The closest thing to a canine diva I've ever encountered -- in large part a creation of Margo's."

The book resulted from her lifelong ownership and affection for pug dogs, which she called "living proof that God has a sense of humor." She carried a business card identifying herself as the Hollywood correspondent for Pug Talk magazine.

Upon the publication of her first book in 1992, a collection of her work entitled "1-800-AM-I-NUTS," she was described as "droll, level-headed and, on occasion, a talented kvetch" by reviewer Neil A. Grauer, writing in The Sun.

He questioned Ms. Kaufman's preference for L.A.'s weirdness -- because she wrote, "It's easy to tell who the strange people are" in Southern California, while in Baltimore "even the ax murderers wear suits."

But, of her book, he said: "If you don't recognize an experience or trait of your own or someone you love (or despise) in these pieces, you are a hermit."

A second book, "This Damn House: My Subcontract with America," was published in 1996. Ms. Kaufman also built doll houses, which she occasionally sold.

She had continued to work until her death, her sister said.

Her cancer was diagnosed in 1989 and spread in 1992, but she used her difficult medical regime as material for humor.

She is survived by her husband Eric Mankin and son Nicholas of Venice Beach; a sister, Laurie Goldberg of Atlanta; a brother, Robert Pearlstein of Baltimore; her father, Allen Pearlstein of Boca Raton, Fla.; her mother, Gloria Asnes of New York; and a grandmother, Flora Pearlstein of Baltimore.

A private memorial service will be held Saturday in Southern California.

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