Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Rabin, Zalmenas (Zell) (1932–1966)

by Robert Milliken

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Zalmenas (Zell) Rabin (1932-1966), journalist and newspaper editor, was born on 5 March 1932 at Kovno (Kaunas), Lithuania, elder child of Jewish parents Aleksandras Rabinavicius, pharmacist, and his wife Zeny (Sonia), née Berman. Fleeing from the threat of war, the family reached Sydney—where some of Sonia's relations lived—on 18 February 1939 in the Orontes. Aleksandras was not permitted to practise without retraining; he farmed at Blacktown before buying a small chemical business in central Sydney. In 1944 he was naturalized and Anglicized his name to Alexander Rabin.

At the age of 6 Zell spoke German, Lithuanian, Russian and Yiddish, but not English. He attended public schools at Mosman, Blacktown, Rose Bay and Randwick, and, eventually, Sydney Boys' High School. Excelling at sport, he moved to Brisbane to enrol at the University of Queensland (Dip.Phys.Ed., 1953) where he also studied commerce. With another student David Malouf, Rabin co-edited Semper Floreat, the student newspaper. Although they embarked on a running battle with the conservative Courier-Mail, Rabin surprised Malouf by accepting a cadetship with that newspaper when he graduated.

In 1954 Rabin returned to Sydney and joined the Sun, an evening tabloid owned by John Fairfax & Sons Pty Ltd. He rose quickly and in 1956 was sent to its New York bureau. Rabin wrote a weekly column, 'New York Diary', for the Sun and articles for the Sydney Morning Herald, interviewing, among others, Marilyn Monroe, Arthur Miller and former president Harry S. Truman. While in New York he married Barbara Lewis, an American; they were to be divorced in Mexico a year later. After moving to London in 1958, he returned to Australia in 1959, travelling via Africa, where he reported on nascent nationalist movements.

Late that year Rabin went back to New York as bureau chief for the Daily Mirror, a rival Sydney evening tabloid briefly controlled by Fairfax and bought by Rupert Murdoch in 1960. Rabin arranged a visit to Cuba for Murdoch and, in December 1961, an interview with President John F. Kennedy at the White House. Murdoch saw in Rabin the man to lead the assault on his rival Sydney publishers. Rabin embarked for Sydney in 1962 to edit the Sunday Mirror. On the way home he married Regina Janine Dombek, another American, on 21 March 1962 at the registrar-general's office, Nadi, Fiji. They later separated.

In 1963 Rabin became editor of the Daily Mirror. He insisted on, and obtained from Murdoch, complete control of the newspaper's editorial side, something which Murdoch rarely granted to subsequent editors. Under Rabin's dynamic leadership the Mirror flourished. He had a flair for bold headlines, and a sense for giving world stories as much display as a local scandal. Encouraging women, he also promoted young journalists, hiring Robert Hughes as art critic. The Mirror was the only metropolitan newspaper to oppose Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War. Ron Saw, a columnist on the paper, wrote of Rabin's approach: 'He brooded and snapped and crackled at everyone from copyboys to Rupert Murdoch'.

Rabin died of cancer on 13 November 1966 at the Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick, and was buried with Jewish rites in Rookwood cemetery. The son of his second marriage survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Brasch, Australian Jews of Today (Syd, 1977)
  • G. Souter, Company of Heralds (Melb, 1981)
  • G. Munster, A Paper Prince (Melb, 1987)
  • Daily Mirror (Sydney), 14 Nov 1966
  • Sun (Sydney), 14 Nov 1966
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 15 Nov 1966
  • naturalisation file, A435, item 1944/4/1953 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Robert Milliken, 'Rabin, Zalmenas (Zell) (1932–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rabin-zalmenas-zell-11474/text20459, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 1 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Rabinavicius, Zalmenas
Birth

5 March 1932
Kaunas, Kaunas, Lithuania

Death

13 November 1966
Randwick, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence
Occupation