BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
Bakersfield Magazine founder Les Corum loved a good promotion, but he loved Bakersfield more.
Corum, who died Sunday morning at 71 following a long illness, lived several lives before founding Bakersfield Magazine with his wife, Donna, in 1983. But no matter where in the world life took him -- from Hong Kong to Gaithersburg, Md. -- Corum always returned to the city of his youth.
"He loved Bakersfield because of the people, and at the time they came back (from Maryland, in the 1970s), a lot of things were done on a handshake, still," remembers son Mike, now Bakersfield Magazine's executive editor. (His dad was publisher, involved "until today," Mike Corum said Sunday.)
"It was a small town but it was growing into a big town, but it had that small-town feel," Mike Corum said. "He loved that you could go 30 minutes in any direction and be in a different kind of climate. He loved horses, and he used to have mountain property. (He loved) pretty much everything that everybody who really knows Bakersfield knows."
But if you really know Bakersfield, there's a chance that you may have read about some of it in Les Corum's magazine.
Born in Berkeley but raised in Bakersfield, the East High School graduate became an ad man -- and a bit of a "Mad Man" -- following a stint in the U.S. Navy that took him to Hong Kong during the early 1960s.
Back stateside, Corum worked in the advertising department for Montgomery Ward, when he was taken under the wing of TV man John Barrett of Channel 23 -- who drew him east to Maryland. Wife Donna ran an ad agency while Les worked at Channel 20, until they realized home was 2,600 miles away.
"One day they just decided they missed Channel 23," Mike Corum said. A telephone call to McGraw-Hill got Les his old job back, but before long, he was back in advertising -- this time, in Bakersfield, working for himself.
"His first client was Bill Wright Toyota Scion. They helped make his agency," Mike said. "Doing wild and crazy things. One promotion was (with) the Vargas circus. He arranged for an elephant and a Toyota to have a tug-of-war. Then they built a 20-foot wall of Pepsi cases at the dealership. The promotion was 'Get a case of Pepsi with a test drive.'"
And don't forget the "shootout" (promotion) between Chevrolet and Toyota, "based on the shootout in 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,'" Corum said.
"Then in 1983 my mom had the idea of the magazine," Corum said. "She was the driving force, he was the risk-taker. She'd come up with an idea, and he'd make it happen. They were definitely very much in love with the city of Bakersfield, and very much in love with the idea of promoting Bakersfield in a good place."
From humbler beginnings as a Christmas catalog designed to connect merchants with residents, that's exactly what Bakersfield magazine set out to do.
"I think it was a hard sell at first for the magazine concept, because there wasn't anything (like that) available at the time. But they delivered what they promised, and that was to reach a targeted audience that could afford the wares they were selling," Corum said of the early years.
Then it morphed into a magazine dedicated to "finding the unique people, places and things that made Bakersfield so special." And to making Bakersfield residents feel like they were part of something special.
"He'd always stretch the boundaries," Corum said, remembering "the Foodie Tour that we did, where we took a group of readers on restaurant tours. Five different restaurants in one night, in a limousine."
The Achievers series of articles spotlighted residents who'd realized their dreams in Bakersfield, and then came a series on Risktakers -- for which Les Corum himself might have served as a model.
"Certainly. He never gave up," Mike Corum said. "He was a fighter. Even though he's been battling an illness and couldn't put in as much time as he'd like to, the last three to four years -- he still helped steer the magazine where it is today."
Thirty years on, Les Corum's magazine prints 15,000 copies six times a year and reaches an audited readership of 130,000.
Preceded in death in 2009 by his wife, Donna, Les Corum is survived by his two sons, Mark and Mike, and seven grandchildren.