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Journalist, newpaper editor

Real name: Zalmenas Ribinavicius
Born: Lithuania, March 1932
Died: Sydney, 13 Novemeber 1966

Rabin's Lthuanian-Jewish family emigrated to Australia just before WWII and settled in Brisbane. Twice married, debonair, handsome and talented, Rabin rapidly earned a reputation as a fine journalist and a ladies' man

The Rabin family moved around frequently, and after completeing his secondary studies at Sydney Boys' High, Zell returned to Brisbane, where he studied physical education at the University of Queensland. He became deeply involved in student journalism through the UQ student union paper, Semper Floreat. As editor, Rabin waged a long and celebrated battle with the conservative Brisbane daily, the Courier-Mail, but their famous print feud did not prevent the paper from knowing talent when they saw it and they were quickly to offer him a cadetship after he graduated in 1953, which he eagerly accepted.

It was during his student years at UQ that Rabin became friends and had a brief but intense affair with writer and journalist Lillian Roxon; like Rabin, Roxon came from a Jewish family which had also escaped to Australia just before the war, and she was a gifted writer. Rabin remained one of Roxon's closest friends, although their relationship was often strained by Rabin's temperamental behaviour.

In the Fifties Rabin moved to the Sydney and took a job with the Fairfax daily The Sun. He became the Sun's New York correspondent before switched over to the rival Daily Mirror when he was offered the job as the paper's New York bureau chief. Because of the time he spent in America, Rabin has sometimes been mistakenly identified as being an American, but this was not the case. Roxon kept in contact with rabin and met up with him on her first trip to the USA. He also hired her to write for the Murdoch press when she moved to New York permanently in late 1959.

Rabin rose rapdily to the top after Rupert Murdoch took over the Mirror newspapers in 1960. In 1961 Murdoch visited the U.S. and Rabin was able to arrange a brief meeting between the fledgling magnate and the newly-elected President John F. Kennedy. A grateful Murdoch appointed Rabin as editor of the Sunday Mirror later that year and promoted him to editor of the Daily Mirror in 1962.

Rabin was a crucial player in the Murdoch story at a crucial time. His editorship was by all accounts a spectacular success, and he oversaw the paper's rapid rise from the lowest to the highest-selling afternoon daily in Sydney. This success was critical to Murdoch's expansion and provided him with a solid base from which he was able to launch his endless campaign of takeovers. Murdoch had a high regard for Rabin and, alone among his many hirelings, Murdoch is on record as saying that Rabin was the best editor who ever worked for him, and the two men became close friends. Murdoch no doubt found in Rabin a kindred spirit. He was hard-working to the point of obsession, moody, cantakerous, perfectionist, intensely driven and hugely ambitious -- by all acounts someone for whom, like Murdoch, every waking minute was occupied by the newspaper business.

How Rabin might have figured in the later fortunes of the Murdoch empire makes for fascinating speculation, but his brief career as an editor ended quickly and tragically. While working in London in the late Fifites, Rabin had been diagnosed with melanoma. It was treated at the time but by 1966 it had recurred and was found to be incurable. Incredibly, the full truth of his final illness was withheld from him by his wife and doctor. He died in November 1966, and it is said that Murdoch's visit to Rabin's parents was the only occasion on which the flinty media baron was seen to cry.

However, Murdoch's high personal and professional regard for Rabin did not mean that he was going to permit his friend's death to cause any interruption in his all-consuming business activities. Jewish funerals are traditionally held in the morning, but (according to Roxon's biographer, Robert Milliken) Murdoch approached the Rabin family to ask for the funeral to be moved to the afternoon -- because he feared that all the staff would attend the service and the paper would not come out.


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Milliken, Robert
Lillian Roxon: Mother of Rock
(Black Inc. Melbourne, 2002)

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