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June 27, 2005

Shana Alexander dies at 79 Pioneering Journalist, 60 Minutes Debater

Shana Alexander, the pioneering journalist who was hired as the first woman staff writer at Life magazine and later became a familiar television face as the liberal voice on the “Point/Counterpoint” segment of the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes, died from complications of cancer on June 23. Alexander, who was 79, was residing in an assisted-living facility in Hermosa Beach, California, near the home of her sister, Laurel Bentley, of Manhattan Beach.

Alexander, the daughter of celebrated songwriter Milton Ager (“Happy Days Are Here Again,” “Ain’t She Sweet”) and Cecelia Ager, a Variety columnist regarded as one of the best-dressed women in America, grew up in comfort in a household where visits from such family friends as the Marx brothers and composer George Gershwin were not uncommon.

Upon graduation from Vassar College in 1945, Alexander began writing for Mademoiselle, Junior Bazaar and other magazines. In 1951 she was hired at Life as a researcher, and in time became the first woman staff writer. In the 1960s she penned an award-winning column, “The Feminine Eye.”

She later became editor of McCall’s (the first woman to hold that post), and a columnist for Newsweek. It was this position that led to Alexander’s role on 60 Minutes, when she and conservative columnist James J. Kilpatrick of the Washington Star squared off on issues of the day. Their occasionally pointed banter (“Oh, come on, Jack,” “Now see here, Shana”) was famously lampooned on Saturday Night Live as “Point/Pointercount,” in which Dan Aykroyd’s acid rejoinder to Jane Curtin, “Jane, you ignorant slut,” became a catch phrase of the era.

A prolific author in addition to her journalism work, Alexander wrote 10 books, including Anyone’s Daughter, about Patricia Hearst; When She Was Bad, about former Miss America Bess Myerson; and a 1995 memoir, Happy Days: My Mother, My Father, My Sister & Me.

Alexander, whose two marriages both ended in divorce, lived for many years in Wainscott, N.Y., the site of a memorial service in her honor.

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