L.A.’s First Female TV News Reporter, Ruth Ashton Taylor

By Steve Propes

To those regular viewers of local TV newscasts who were born after 1960, it would be hard to convince them that in their first decade of existence, save one exception, the world of anchors and reporters was populated entirely by males, and almost entirely by white males.

On channel 4, the newscast was held down by anchors Jack Latham, Tom Brokaw and later Jess Marlow. In 1960, KTLA, channel 5 promoted field reporter Stan Chambers to anchor, replaced by George Putnam who moved on to channel 11.

Channel 5’s Hal Fishman came over from channel 13 and was replaced by ex-LAPD Chief Tom Reddin, a failed experiment in anchor sourcing. Channel 7 was anchored by Baxter Ward, who came over from channel 13 and later changed careers as a L.A. County supervisor.

A native daughter of Long Beach, Ruth Ashton was born on April 20, 1922. In 1939, she graduated with honors from Long Beach Polytechnic High School. At the time, she had begun her own business, specializing in bill collecting, gift shopping and bookkeeping.

Taylor completed her undergraduate degree at Scripps College. Relocating to New York City, she received a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University in 1944.

Following her graduation, she took a job as a news writer for Robert Trout at CBS radio, taking a place among the original members of the documentary unit of legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow. As a writer and producer there, she had no thoughts of going on air as CBS management didn’t want to broadcast women because they “just didn’t like those squeaky voices.”

After producing the documentary, “Sunny Side of the Atom” and interviewing Albert Einstein, who greeted her as “the broadcast lady” and the father of the H-bomb, Robert Oppenheimer, Ashton departed CBS radio in New York and returned to Los Angeles.

This was the decade when it was assumed males were interested in current events and politics; that women opted for stories about housekeeping, cooking, fashion, raising children and similar issues. After all, only about 30 years had passed since the passing of the 19th Amendment allowed voting rights for women. And the failed Equal Rights Amendment was to be passed by Congress 20 years in the future.

In 1951, Ashton hired on with CBS Los Angeles’ KNXT-TV, now KCBS-TV, to supply the “women’s angle.” She conducted interviews on KNX radio and CBS Pacific and Mountain radio. In 1957, she anchored “Women’s News Desk,” then left CBS for four years, taking a public affairs spokesperson job with her college alma mater.

As of 1961, the cast of the KNXT’s Big News was anchor Jerry Dunphy with Bill Stout, who began with channel 2 in 1953, Warren Olney, Ralph Story, Bill Keene with weather and sports with Gil Stratton. Not a female in sight, except for Ruth Ashton Taylor, who returned in 1962.

Her “Salute to Long Beach” on Aug. 14, 1963 took her to a destroyer in the harbor, oil barge, the International Beauty Contest parade, the Iowa picnic and the NuPike, then at the first oil derrick on Signal Hill, Long Beach State College, the marina and jazz at the Breakers Hotel – all this edited to a 50-minute presentation.

At the same time, she co-hosted the “Ruth and Pat Show” with western movie comic Pat Buttram – Mr. Haney on Green Acres – on KNX radio. Her almost three-decade stint as L.A’s at-first only female general assignment reporter for channel 2 began in 1966.

The next well-known female in local TV news personality was Kelly Lange, who began her career as KABC Radio traffic reporter Dawn O’Day, hired on as an anchor at channel 4 in 1970,

Though she never made the anchor desk, Ashton covered a variety of local news stories and interviews with such diverse people as Jimmy Carter and Jimmy Durante, retiring in 1989. She turned 100 in 2022 and passed away on January 11, 2024, at the age of 101.

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