Robert Joseph “Bob” Dowling, who for 17 years ran The Hollywood Reporter as publisher and editor-in-chief, died on December 30 following a brief illness. The Santa Monica resident was 83. The affable journalist not only grew the publication into a force in entertainment coverage but helped to change the rules of engagement at the Hollywood trades.
Born in Long Island, New York, on September 16, 1939, Dowling was abandoned by his birth mother and spent three years in a series of foster homes before finding adoptive parents. Dowling grew up with the skills of a natural salesman, he wrote in his 2019 memoir “My Life…and Then Some,” partly due to his ability to empathize with those on the other side of the deal.
After entering magazine publishing in his 20s, Dowling became editor and publisher of a series of publications: American Druggist, High-Tech Marketing, Menswear and Sports Marketing News. “I was always launching something or improving something,” he once said.
When Dowling relocated from Westport, Connecticut, to Los Angeles to join The Hollywood Reporter in September 1988 as president, the daily trade was considered a poor cousin to the mighty Daily Variety. He soon was named publisher and editor-in-chief, even though he admitted he had little knowledge of how the entertainment industry functioned.
He took on the task of meeting the leaders of the entertainment business and learned as much as he could about this strange new world. Again, Dowling’s marketing instincts were an asset as he created special editions and events and expanded international coverage. Eventually, during Dowling’s last decade which ended in 2005, The Hollywood Reporter kept pace with Variety both editorially and financially.
There’s no question that The Hollywood Reporter was far ahead of its competitors in terms of embracing the digital revolution. THR was the first trade to post its content online, three years ahead of Variety. THR.com now serves millions of unique monthly users and remains the most-read industry website. (It’s also a sister site of IndieWire along with Variety, all owned by PMC.)
Dowling was a man of character and integrity who was also a generous mentor, consistently helping anyone who asked for his assistance or advice.
Dowling is survived by his beloved wife of 56 years, Juanita; his three children and their spouses: Rob (Diane) Dowling, Michael (Gia) Dowling and Matthew (Anna) Dowling; his seven grandchildren: PJ, Larissa, Lena, Devan, Ella, Miles and Radley; and his precious dog K.C.
Memorial arrangements are pending.