Mark Hundahl, the straight co-owner of the Los Angeles-based LGBT publication Frontiers, died of cancer early Thursday morning, Dec. 27. He was 61.
"Those who knew us well and experienced how we worked together called us 'the odd couple,'" said David Stern, Frontiers co-publisher and Hundahl's longtime friend and business partner, who's been running the magazine for the past four years. "I'm the eternal optimist, always seeing the glass half-full. Mark, on the other hand, was more like, 'Where's the glass? There's water everywhere.' He always saw that you could either ride its wave or possibly drown in it. We always had each other's back, and we never let each other drown." (See full remembrance below.)
Mark Hundahl was born on March 20, 1951, in Tekemah, Neb., to Jean Tobin Hundahl and Robert E. Hundahl. After graduating from Southern Methodist University with a Bachelors degree in communications and film, Hundahl moved to Los Angeles seeking business opportunities. In 1983, at age 32, fate led Hundahl to the exciting world of Hollywood's gay disco, becoming co-owner with Jon Hirsh of the popular Probe at 836 North Highland.
Hundahl's longtime friend and assistant Jacci Ybarra remembers:
"[T]heir idea was to have an exclusive, membership-only gay men's club. But that was in the early '80s, the beginning of the AIDS crisis. Though the private membership idea was initially successful, the Probe actually enjoyed an international membership. Who knew that they would lose a large portion of their clientele to a pandemic? I think that experience indelibly changed him."
Probe made an indelible mark on those who danced their hearts out there, as indicated in this website devoted to the disco, where one patron reminisced:
"PROBE PROBE PROBE! All I can say is that there will be something very similar like it in HEAVEN. It was a musical oasis in the city where the beautiful ones would gather. … It was a place where your imagination could run wild and everyone there was good company! Even the outcasts were welcomed with open arms. … Anyone who was fortunate enough to have the Probe experience knows what a one in a million night club it was."
Jon Hirsh commented on the website this past July, "Mark and I were at dinner tonight and just [laughed] about some of the memories from the one and only Probe! We certainly knew how to throw a partythe great days of Hollywood Disco."
But there were dark days, too, when crystal methamphetamine and GHB became popular. Hundahl was quoted in one story about drug use in Hollywood:
"Mark Hundahl, owner of the in club PROBE, says he got tired of calling ambulances to take people away after they'd collapsed from using the drug in the alley behind his building. 'We're the first club in the city to put a 'No GHB' sign in our advertisements.'"
Interestingly, it was those advertisements that eventually lead Hundahl to David Stern, who was working as a sales associate at Edge magazine at the time. As described in a chapter on Frontiers written by news editor Karen Ocamb in Tracy Baim's new book, Gay Press, Gay Power: The Growth of LGBT Community Newspapers in America:
[I]t was the lack of a print voice for the gay community that spurred Greg Carmack and Jerry Hyde to sit around a kitchen table in 1982 and envision Frontiers magazine. The first edition featured a two-color front cover with 35 pages of copy and ads. By 1983, that much-trumpeted gay consumerism had not found its mark in the magazine, and the new publishers were having financial problems. They approached Mark Hundahl, a straight businessman who had just become co-owner of the popular gay Probe disco, and asked for $5,000. Hundahl agreedin exchange for two years' worth of advertising.
"Greg told me that he and Jerry started the magazine to be an advocacy magazine," Hundahl said. "They made Frontiers the voice of the Los Angeles gay community and had the foresight to become part of the strong advocacy movement across the United States. In L.A., lots of people wanted to read it. It struck a nerve at the right place and right time."
Gay businessman Bob Craig joined Frontiers in 1983 and tried to break Hundahl's contract but was unable to do so. Two years later, Hundahl moved Probe's business to a new magazine called Edge, where he met David Stern, with whom he would later become business partners."
Many years later, in 1997, Craig, Hundahl and Stern created IN LA magazine, as Frontiers' sister publication. "Frontiers would be more like Newsweek, while IN would be the gay People," said Stern.
Ten years later, in 2007, Gay Press, Gay Power reports:
Hundahl and Stern bought Frontierswhich had become more of a People magazineand merged it with IN, which had become more like Newsweek. "I respected Bob's vision and his capabilities," Hundahl said. To which Stern added that Frontiers continues to strive to fulfill its original mission, "to build and help unite the LGBT community."
Hundahl's experience watching the devastation of AIDS and crystal meth during his years at Probe enabled him to grasp the significance of the crystal crisis when then-West Hollywood Mayor Pro Tem John Duran held several town hall meetings to draw attention to what seemed like an explosion of meth in WeHo and its intersection with risky sexual behavior leading to new HIV infections. Hundahl committed to publishing a column in every issue of IN LA magazine to address the issuea practice that continued when Hundahl and Stern merged with Frontiers.
Hundahl was also an aficionado of the art of the deal, and launched or participated in several other business enterprises outside of the gay press. For instance, he managed the career of his longtime companion (and later wife) Dr. Bethany Marshall, securing her spots as a psychotherapy expert on television shows such as ABC's Good Morning, America and HLN's Nancy Grace. Marshall also published a regular column in IN LA magazine and Frontiers, and developed a following among the magazines' gay readers.
Hundahl's last venture with Stern was the creation of a nonprofit called the Frontiers Awareness & Education Foundation to train and mentor the next generation of LGBT journalists to report on and for the community. Hundahl felt proud that the foundation would be part of his legacy.
A very private man, Hundahl successfully fought skin cancer in his late 30s, and hoped and expected to defeat a recurrence of cancer earlier this year. But despite positive progress from an experimental drug, the melanoma in his lung proved too strong, and Hundahl passed away quietly at around 2:45 a.m. on Thursday morning, with his wife and her family by his side.
A public memorial will be held later in January. Meanwhile, in lieu of flowers, donations are requested for the new Frontiers Awareness & Education Foundation online at frontiersfoundation.org, or tax-deductible checks can be made payable to Frontiers Awareness & Education Foundation and sent to 5657 Wilshire Blvd. #470, Los Angeles, CA 90036.
Here are reactions from prominent elected officials and community members, with longer, moving and historical essays from David Stern and Jacci Ybarra at the end:Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who joined L.A. Councilmembers Bill Rosendahl and Paul Koretz in honoring Frontiers at City Hall last June for the beginning of LGBT Pride Heritage Month (see video below), said:
Mark Hundahl was a tremendous ally in the fight for equality, breaking down barriers and providing a voice to the voiceless. He left an indelible mark on the LGBT community and will be sorely missed. My thoughts and prayers are with Mark's family and those he touched with his life. I'm lucky to have known Mark and witness the amazing impact his work had on the community.
L.A. City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl, the City's first openly gay elected offcial, said:
Mark Hundahl helped create that one great journal in Los Angeles that everyone can identify with. I honored Mark and the magazine last summer during LGBT Heritage Month. Mark said he took pride in publishing a magazine that had an excellent reputation for fair and accurate reporting, and an incredible history of covering national stories developing in our own backyard. Mark's guidance created a highly acclaimed publication. The community may have lost a leader, but his legacy will continue to reach hundreds of thousands of faithful readers every month.