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 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 party—the 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 agreed—in 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 Frontiers—which had become more of a People magazine—and 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 issue—a 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.
L.A. City Councilmember Paul Koretz:
With the passing of Mark Hundahl, we lost a visionary genius who had a huge impact, especially upon the LGBT community. His imprint upon journalism was particularly significant, as a co-creator of IN magazine and co-owner of Frontiers. He touched the lives of so many people, and he will be sorely missed.
Longtime LGBT ally L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who met Hundahl during IN L.A.’s heyday:
Mark was an astute businessman who became a real civic leader and almost an accidental pioneer in the field of gay journalism. He had a vision and he had a commitment to the LGBT community during one of the most difficult times in its history, covering the AIDS crisis from the very beginning when too many mainstream outlets misreported, downplayed or simply ignored it. His contributions deserve to be remembered, and he will be deeply missed.
West Hollywood Mayor Jeffrey Prang, who has worked with Hundahl and Stern on several joint city/Frontiers-sponsored projects:
In hearing of his passing, it is hard not to reflect on the contributions Mark Hundahl has made to the City of West Hollywood. And although he was a straight ally, he contributed more to the cause of the LGBT movement than most LGBT people. He never sought the limelight; he was content to do the right thing for its own sake. But more important than his civic and business contributions and successes, Mark was a man of great character who was kind and generous to everyone he met, and it is his humanity that leaves an indelible mark on our community and among those whom he knew and loved.
Before heading back to Washington, D.C., to deal with the “fiscal cliff,” Congressmember Adam Schiff said:
The Los Angeles and West Hollywood community would not be the same today without Mark's great contributions. When WeHo businesses and press were finding it hard to recruit investors and make a go of it, Mark was there— and he was there until the end. Mark was one of the most important members of our community, and he will be sorely missed.
Longtime friend and Frontiers columnist Dana Miller, director of the AIDS Heathcare Foundation Fund and executive producer of the organization's events:
Mark was a warm, loving, astute mentor to so many of us. He planted seeds that will grow for many years to come. If Mark believed, it was true. That was his magic. That was Mark. He ended every conversation with me with the same line: I love you. It was indeed love yet beyond that it was the core of Mark—his constant encouragement.
Longtime friend M.D. Sam Smith, CFP, President Genesis Financial/Creative Employee Benefits, Inc.:
Mark Hundahl was a cultural pioneer whose imagination was always two steps ahead of the current trend, and his determination was legendary!
Longtime friend, attorney Ronald Jason Palmieri:
I am devastated beyond comprehension that a wonderful and loving friend of over a quarter of a century has passed from my life and created yet another void in a community and world of so few truly meaningful people who have changed the way each of us lives. To have done so much, for so many, in so many different aspects of this universe, and then to pass at such a relatively young age, makes this loss and the sadness so much harder to comprehend, much less accept. You will be deeply missed, my dear friend, but always in my heart and fondest memories. Love you…Big Daddy Ron Palmieri.
Longtime friend and president of Christopher Street West, Rodney Scott:
With the passing of Mark Hundahl, we have lost a strong, quiet, fearless leader of equality, and a courageous visionary in the LGBT media community.
Attorney, business owner, LGBT icon and former Equality California PAC chair Diane Abbitt:
Mark Hundahl was quiet, smart, savy, intuitive—an observer who understood the challenges faced by others and made a difference without any expectation of recognition. He and his contributions will be missed by those who knew him and many who never even knew his name.
Jim Key, Chief Public Affairs Officer, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center:
We're mourning the loss of a man who was one of L.A.'s greatest straight allies. As co-publisher with David Stern at IN, then at Frontiers, Mark was a smart, powerful and generous supporter of the Center and of many other local LGBT organizations. I'll miss his dry humor, his keen insight and fresh perspective on local politics and his passion for the news business. This is a big and sad loss for our community, and my heart goes out to his wife Bethany.
Friend, LGBT icon and former columnist and sales associate for Frontiers Yellow Pages, Ivy Bottini:
I am very saddened by the death of Mark Hundahl. He was a very quiet entrepreneur. He seemed to go through his life quietly but would take chances. To me he was kind of a dichotomy—because risk takers are not quiet. We had a strong mutual respect, and I will miss knowing he’s not there anymore.
When I first met Mark, I was a little intimidated because he was so quiet and seemed to move with whatever power he had very gently. David is the opposite—and it was odd for me to think of them as partners—they were kind of like the odd couple. I stopped being intimidated when Mark moved towards me and looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘I’m one of your admirers.’ And I was surprised he even knew who I was! And from that time on, we were friends—not in the sense of hanging out, but I was always glad to see him. He was a very nice man. And I think the creative world in our community has a little bit of a hole in it now.
Bethany Marshall’s parents, John and Gloria, provided this additional information:
[Mark] will be missed by his wife Dr. Bethany Marshall; brother and sister-in-law John and Jeanne Marshall; nieces and nephews Nicholas, Andrew and Julianna Marshall; brother Ernest Hundahl (married to wife Louise) and nieces Kelly Zocks (married to Jason Zocks) and Megan Streete (married to Foster Streete); and Uncle Jack Hundahl (married to Pam Hundahl). He is also survived by three half siblings—Heidi, Eric and John.
Remembrance from Jacci Ybarra:
The call came at 2:50 a.m. This morning, my friend, my “Boss," a brother to me in many ways, Mark, crossed over…
We met almost 30 years ago. A friend of mine bartended in a club he owned call the PROBE. Cheri had unfortunately inherited a crappy bartending shift where the customers never tipped and always fought. Her way out was me. She asked if I could cover a bartending shift for her, then never returned. That’s how I met Mark and became his employee.
Fifteen years later, I was his general manager and he was about to sell the club. When I first started, I was in my late 20s, and he in his early 30s. Now, I’m a woman of a certain age, and he's gone.
We grew up a lot together in that club. I watched as he grew into his business acumen. I began working part-time with a career as an art director in print. And with the advent of desktop publishing, I watched my career evaporate. And it was those bartending gigs that helped me through the lean times as I continued my education. As I struggled, it was Mark who made sure I was given more shifts, even though I lacked the seniority to earn those shifts.
We shared many adventures at the Probe, made many friends and supported many a big-name career in its infancy or at its zenith—like Mary J Blige, Stacey Ferguson (aka Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas), Guns N Roses, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jane’s Addiction, Warrant, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, Grace Jones, Jennifer Holiday, Sheryl Lee Ralph with Divas Simply Singing and Chaka Khan to name a few.
We lost a great number of friends as well. When Mark originally started the Probe with his friend John Hirsch, their 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. Though always a healthy and quite popular straight man, he was always a great friend, ally and champion for the LGBT community.
Just as he was always there for me, with a stern look and a leady laugh when I stumbled in life, I always did my best to repay his kindness by working hard and being a loyal friend and employee.
When Mark sold the club, we parted as close friends, He had just begun his first battle with skin cancer. I went into luxury retail in Beverly Hills. Mark had just sold an idea to create a magazine with Bob Craig and David Stern called IN Los Angeles magazine (in one of the first incarnations, it bore the name BLISS!!! To which I asked, “Could it sound more gay?!") Mark was now endeavoring to create a business and strong presence in the new world of the internet.
Five years later, I received a call to come work for him at IN Los Angeles. The call couldn’t have been better timed, as I was deeply unhappy and felt trapped in the shallow world of luxury retail.
Four years after that, IN purchased Frontiers, and the rest, as they say, is history. I left in 2010, and soon thereafter began raising a 12-year-old girl, my niece. There, too, Mark was kind and generous to my niece and me.
Eight months ago, Mark again asked me to come work for him, and I became his assistant. Truth be told, I desperately needed a job, and this time he would be aiding me as I aided him. Shortly thereafter, he asked me to help him put his affairs in order, as the skin cancer that he’d battled a decade before returned for a third time. I was honored to be so trusted and deeply grateful for the opportunity to repay even a small measure of the debt of gratitude I owed him.
I have been asked many times today, by close friends, how I am doing…Having been a practicing Buddhist since early childhood, I have been taught that death is an integral part of life. Every evening we die a little, as our day ends and we rest and rejuvenate ourselves. Every morning we are reborn with renewed vigor as we are gifted with a new day. Buddhism has also taught me that there are no mistakes in life. That the people in our lives are there because there is a deep connection that was forged lifetime after lifetime.
This morning, a giant of a man, a champion in our community crossed over. And though I miss him and his kindness and friendship, my prayer to the universe is that he enjoy his respite from the matters of this mundane world. And with the full knowledge that we will meet again, I am happy that he has begun this new adventure.
Remembrance of Mark Hundahl by his longtime friend and business partner David Stern:
We’ve visioned and dreamed
We’ve planned and we’ve schemed
How do I sum up my long relationship with my business partner and dear friend Mark Hundahl? Those who knew us well and experienced how we worked together called us "the odd couple." 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 others' backs, and we never let each other drown.
The synergy between us created an amazing energy and bond. He was one the most gay-friendly straight men I’ve ever known, and the lesson learned from and with him along the way will be carried forward as a part of me as I continue my journey.
Mark was also a very private man and played things close to the vest. I have always been an open book, wearing my heart on my sleeve. At the end, Mark's body was frail and failing him, but when he was awake, his mind was still there, sharp as ever. I was lucky enough to have a great visit with him about a week prior to his passing. In that conversation, he compared us to two puppy dogs, bouncing down the street, always running into things, but still getting to that small bowl of food at the end. He had his humorous analogy right to the end.
The last thing that Mark and I were working on was the creation of the Frontiers Awareness & Education Foundation. It’s a vision Mark and I talked about for years as our way of paying it forward to the community. We wanted to create training and mentoring programs ensuring there is a next generation of LGBT journalists out there reporting on the stories of the community. I am so glad that Mark got to see this vision come to life in his final days. He was so proud of me for following through with it. I feel that joy from him in every fiber of my being.
Mark's program idea was called "A Diamond In the Rough." He wanted to make sure that we reached out to underprivileged or struggling LGBT-friendly youth and mentored and trained them for the media of tomorrow. This will be the first program created and carried out by the foundation, in honor of Mark Hundahl—my friend, partner and family.
If ever there was a diamond in the rough, it was Mark. I will miss him dearly, but as he said in our last conversation, we will be working together always. Always.
A closing note from Karen Ocamb: I will be writing a personal essay remembering my friend and boss Mark Hundahl for the next issue of Frontiers.
Frontiers Magazine was honored for outstanding contributions to the LGBT community at Los Angeles City Hall on June 1, 2012 for LGBT Heritage Month. Introductions were by L.A. City Councilmembers Bill Rosendahl and Paul Koretz and comments were made by Frontiers' Mark Hundahl, David Stern and Karen Ocamb. This video was shot by LGBT POV and Frontiers contributors Renee Sotile & Mary Jo Godges of Traipsing Thru Films.