Remembering Dave McNary: Variety Veteran Leaves Legacy of Heart and Hard Work
He was kind, warm and funny. He was the type of journalist that every newsroom needs: dogged on his beats, ready to file at all hours of the day and resourceful in drumming up copy on slow news days.
Dave McNary, the beloved Variety reporter who died Dec. 26 at 69 after suffering a stroke, usually knew more about the subjects he covered than the myriad executives, producers, agents, PR reps and union members who fed him information for stories.
After graduating from UCLA in 1974, McNary spent five decades as a journalist, most of it focused on entertainment business reporting. Over his 21 years at Variety, where he focused primarily on film and labor unions, McNary became a store of institutional knowledge that was invaluable to his colleagues. He was always willing to stop what he was doing to help a co-worker with a phone number or a suggestion of who to call. At other times, he’d help ease another writer’s struggle with a joke or a “been there, done that” story that offered important perspective.
In an industry that can be cutthroat, McNary was admired for his generosity. He would often invite Variety interns or junior staffers to join him for film premieres or award shows, knowing how important it was for them to see the inner workings of the biz. He would patiently explain complicated labor issues to fellow writers, and then offer to send them a few sentences to make sure it was clear. He was always among the first to welcome new recruits with a “let me know if I can be of help” email or text message that were reassuring to many newbies.
I was one of those who benefited from McNary’s kindness in my cub reporter days. We met in 1993 when I was freelancing for UPI, where McNary was a staff reporter in the downtown Los Angeles bureau. I was a mere stringer, but McNary was immediately friendly. What stands out in my memory was how he treated me with respect even though I felt I had no business calling myself a reporter at that early stage of my career. I didn’t know then that McNary would have a long track record of mentoring journalists through UCLA’s Daily Bruin Alumni associations.
McNary was renowned for his work ethic. Editors would beg him to “really take a day off this time” but the stories would still flow in — filed from baseball stadiums, family gatherings, road trips and the like. McNary operated by the principle that news never stops and neither should he.
He was consistently one of Variety’s most prolific writers. In 2020, McNary filed 1,103 stories, according to Variety’s internal tallies. In 2017, he managed to deliver almost twice as many with a total of 2,061. In 2018, the number stood at 1,772, while the following year yielded no less than 1,326 McNary bylines across Variety platforms.
Devoted as he was to his work, McNary had many fulfilling pursuits beyond the pages of his notebook. His wife of 21 years, KPCC-FM correspondent Sharon McNary, was the love of his life. A Northern California native, McNary was an ardent fan of the San Francisco Giants and avowed “Dodger hater” who nonetheless spent many a spring and summer night at Dodger Stadium with friends.
McNary also loved comedy. In his younger days, he performed with a sketch troupe dubbed the Procrastinators that made a few appearances on “The Gong Show.” For nearly 30 years, McNary produced a Sunday-night standup comedy showcase for Pasadena’s famed Ice House comedy club. In that capacity, he was known for handling the audition process with sensitivity and for giving honest but gentle feedback to performers.
Those of us who were lucky enough to work with Dave McNary will never forget him or his hearty “hee-hee-hee” laugh. He leaves a legacy of kindness and hard work that will serve as an inspiration to Variety scribes for generations to come.
Cynthia Littleton is the Co-Editor in Chief of Variety.