James Christopher Porterfield

James Christopher PorterfieldA cultural critic, influential editor at TIME magazine & Emmy-nominated producer of The Dick Cavett Show, died at his home in New York City on October 22. He was born April 3, 1937, in Weston, WV, the son of James Herman Porterfield and Irene Smith Porterfield.

Chris graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa in 1958 from Yale University. There he organized the Chris Porterfield Big Band, a 13-piece jazz orchestra that played Carnegie Hall on Thanksgiving weekend in 1957. Upon graduation, he abandoned a promising music career for another passion, writing. He became a reporter at the Minneapolis Star Tribune, where he met his wife, Stephanie “Stevie” Brown, a star reporter who, at first impression, thought he was “cocky.” In 1963 he was hired away by TIME magazine, serving in its bureaus in Washington and Chicago. He covered the Beatles’ first U.S. tour, the Kennedy assassination and an Alaskan earthquake before becoming the weekly’s music critic.

While working full-time, he obtained a master’s degree in modern British and American literature from Columbia University. He moved to London in 1969 to become European cultural correspondent. One of his biggest scoops there was to convince Australian-born writer Robert Hughes, once described in the New York Times as “the most famous art critic in the world,” to join him at the news magazine. “Scrupulous, sympathetic, measured,” Hughes said of Chris shortly afterward. “TIME is bloody lucky to have him.”

Chris was made a senior editor in 1972 but left TIME two years later to co-author the autobiography of his longtime friend and Yale roommate, Dick Cavett. That collaboration led to a five-year stint as executive producer of The Dick Cavett Show, earning the program two Emmy nominations. Over the years, the duo produced three other books. “His two best traits,” Cavett wrote of Chris, “are (a) he is smarter than I am and (b) despite this, he generally treats me as an equal.” Returning to TIME in 1980 from what he jokingly called his “apostasy in television,” Chris went on to write or edit more than 100 cover stories, took on increasingly senior editing roles and became a mentor to countless young journalists.

By the time Chris retired in 2003, he had become executive editor, the magazine’s second-in-command. Vanity Fair contributing editor Bruce Handy, a former TIME editor, described Chris’ management style, unusual in the high-pressure world of magazine journalism, as “a rare combination of kindness, grace, wit, humility and high standards.” In addition to Stephanie, his loving wife of 59 years, Chris is survived by son Christopher and his children Maya and Christopher, of Hermosa Beach, CA; and son Kevin and his wife Bridget, and their children Wren and Scott, of Chicago. A daughter, Tessa Porterfield, died in 2017. A memorial will be held at Frank E. Campbell in New York City on Saturday December 4th at 11am. Donations may be made to the National Endowment for the Arts (arts.gov) or the Alzheimer’s Association (alz.org).