Grunwald's 'America': through Luce, darkly

December 22, 1996|By Edwin Diamond | Edwin Diamond,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"One Man's America," by Henry Grunwald. Doubleday. 672 pages. $30

The year was 1952. Dwight Eisenhower was running against Adlai Stevenson. Henry Luce, boss of Time Inc. magazines (back then, Time, Life, Fortune; People, Sports Illustrated and Money came later) devotedly wanted the Republican candidate elected. Henry Grunwald, a young (30), ambitious Time writer, was assigned to write the Ike cover story, knowing Luce himself would be reading it - top editing it, in news magazine-speak - pencil in itchy hand, before sending it off to the printer.

Grunwald delivered the goods, or rather, the carpentry. As he tells the story on himself in this affecting but eventually frustrating memoir, his article was "slanted." It duly explained Ike's "middle-of-the-road positions," and was "painfully cautious about his painfully cautious handling of [Sen. Joseph] BTC McCarthy." Luce hardly changed a word.

Grunwald consoled himself with the thought that, as a Time writer, he was merely a craftsman, "a carpenter building a table or chest to specifications." Further: "I was not ashamed of this attitude, nor was I proud of it. It was never a matter of writing falsehoods, but of emphasis, tone, judgment."

Grunwald prospered, becoming managing editor of Time and then editor in chief of all Time Inc. publications. His Time career began in wartime 1945, when he was hired as a copy boy. It ended in 1987, when Ronald Reagan appointed him U.S. ambassador to Austria. A half century before, teen-age Heinz Grunwald and his family had fled Vienna, steps ahead of the Nazis.

All this should make for a great page-turner (another newsmag conceit). But the Ike vignette is as close as Grunwald comes to explaining how Time journalism was done in the Luce and post-Luce eras (the proprietor died in 1967). Grunwald was, after all, the consummate insider. He was there, pencil in hand, when Time evolved from Eastern Establishment Republican cheerleader to something closer to the political center.

But hardly a hint of these resonate journalistic matters informs this long (very long) personal journey. Instead there are pages of name dropping; People magazine vignettes of the celebrities, world leaders and walk-ons that Grunwald met in his time at Time: the pope, Nixon, Brezhnev, Whittaker Chambers, Castro, Nancy Reagan, James Baldwin, Kissinger, Arthur Miller, Golda Meir, Ava Gardner, Jimmy Carter, Jane Fonda, Norman Mailer, the Rev. Billy Graham, Marilyn Monroe (though smitten, Grunwald chastely discussed the novels of J.D. Salinger with the great American sex goddess). It's as if Grunwald were still an on-the-make craftsman pushing out another table to spec. "Names make news," you hear his agent, or his publisher, telling him. Be sure to put in that story about Marilyn.

Only occasionally is there a whiff of what one's life - and time and fortune - was really like inside the House That Luce Built. Such office tales are few and far between, overwhelmed by the names, names, names, together with a few facts already well known about the celebs. Editor Grunwald supervised coverage of the great events of our age, before ending his career as a diplomat. Unhappily, in this memoir, he has chosen to be more diplomatic than journalistic.

Edwin Diamond, a former senior editor of Newsweek, teaches at New York University. The paperback edition of his book, "White House to Your House: will be published in March by MIT Press.

Pub Date: 12/22/96

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