Diana McLellan died Wednesday.
Most Washingtonians did not know her by name, and to many of those who did, she was simply “The Ear,” the writer extraordinaire who gave respect to what otherwise would have been tagged as tabloid journalism or yellow journalism.
“The Ear” began as a gossip column in The Washington Star, a conservative, evening newspaper whose editor, Jim Bellows, wanted Diana and another writer, Louise Lague, to help resuscitate circulation in the mid-1970s.
After Louise left, prolific biographer Kitty Kelley, who was writing her first monster book “Jackie Oh!” dubbed me “Ear’s Little Helper,” as it was my job to transcribe phone recordings, take messages and conduct “background” researches on Washington newbies.
I also conducted firsthand sleuthing on the Washington scene, becoming a slushie to gather tidbits (sometimes learning a tad too much about Washington’s black power brokers, athletes and political hacks.)
Back then, everybody either knew “The Ear” or Diana or both, and she returned the respect by not reporting every tit and tat — true or not — that came over the transom.
She taught me that not everything you hear is worth repeating.
And Diana did something else: She debunked rumors.
In 1985, for example, “Diana Hears” answered the question about whether Liz Taylor and Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame were engaged. She debunked the rumor.
That’s why Diana could take her hefty Rolodexes after The Star closed and go to The Washington Post before joining The Washington Times, where, with “Diana Hears,” she resurrected her wit, apolitical outlook on life and infectious optimism.
“Diana was sui generis — one of a kind,” said Wesley Pruden, editor emeritus of The Times, and a friend for many years. “She understood both wit and humor, and when everybody read a newspaper she kept Washington reaching for her column first. Her wit was not always gentle, but Diana was never mean. I’ll miss her.”
Another witty gal, Inside the Beltway columnist Jennifer Harper, said this: “Diana McLellan was an old school ace reporter with an eye for details, humor, irony and much style — and she consistently excelled at her craft. Diana also was a grand lady of much optimism and good cheer. Those qualities could only enhance her wide appeal as a writer and columnist.”