Henry Grunwald, who began his career at Time magazine as a copy boy, became its top editor and later ran Time Inc.'s vast media empire, has died. He was 82.
Grunwald, who also served as U.S. ambassador to his native Austria, died Saturday of congestive heart failure at his home in New York City.
During his nine years as managing editor -- the magazine’s highest position -- he led Time through dramatic change, broadening the scope of its journalism and brightening its pages for a generation that was accustomed to getting its news from television. When he stepped down in 1977, Grunwald was considered the second most influential editor in the magazine’s history, behind only its founder, Henry Luce.
He later spent eight years as editor in chief of Time Inc., managing the company through most of the 1980s, before being named ambassador to Austria by President Reagan in 1988. After his two-year diplomatic career, Grunwald wrote two well-received memoirs, the first about his experiences as a refugee who narrowly escaped Nazi forces in Europe, followed by his unlikely rise to prominence in a new country, using a new language.
His second memoir, published in 1999, was a darker, more personal work, dealing with the progressive loss of his eyesight. In 2003, he published his first novel. He had recently been working on a book about defibrillators, a technology that saved his life last year.
Beyond his achievements as a writer, editor and diplomat, Grunwald was known as a man of urbanity and grace who cultivated a dazzling international set of political, literary and cultural figures, including Vladimir Nabokov, Leonard Bernstein and Marilyn Monroe.
One of his longtime friends, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, described Grunwald’s most salient personal quality as “wisdom.”
“He was a man of absolute integrity with respect to journalism,” Kissinger said. “He was altogether a man of great honor and great decency who leaves a hole in this country that is almost irreplaceable.”
Grunwald was 17 when he arrived in the United States. He mastered English by going to movies on New York’s 42nd Street. After graduating from New York University in 1944, he became a part-time copy boy at Time, making $4.50 a day.
His spoken English always retained a hint of his Viennese past, but he became adept with an editor’s pencil. He became skilled at reworking the prose of Time’s writers.
Once, as he watched over a reporter’s shoulder, the annoyed writer typed, “Kid, if you don’t cut this out, I’ll break every bone in your body.”
“I left the office in a hurry,” Grunwald later said, “but muttering, as I walked out, ‘Cliche.’ ”
He was a foreign correspondent from 1945 to 1951, then returned to the magazine’s New York headquarters to become, at 28, the youngest senior editor in Time’s history.
One of his mentors was Whittaker Chambers, the journalist who accused Alger Hiss of being a Soviet spy. Grunwald had a more sophisticated and more liberal approach to journalism than the autocratic Luce.
When Grunwald took the helm of Time in 1968, one year after Luce’s death, he inherited a magazine that had once determined the weekly conversation of news-hungry Americans. Its stories derived largely from those first reported by newspapers and were often expressed in a lofty, view-from-above style.
“It became obvious over the years,” Grunwald told the Washington Post in 1978, “that a mere ... digest was not adequate.”
His greatest contribution to Time, he said, was in fostering more original reporting.
He introduced new departments and features, including guest essays by well-known writers or experts; sections on the environment, behavior and energy; and special issues devoted to a single subject. He brought color photography to the magazine and, for the first time, gave bylines to the magazine’s anonymous writers.
By 1973, he had loosened Time’s habitual political conservatism to such a degree that he wrote the first editorial in the magazine’s 50-year history. It called for the resignation of President Nixon.
“He had a rare combination of intellectual rigor and personal grace,” said Walter Isaacson, one of Grunwald’s successors as Time’s managing editor. “He was able to bring newsmagazines up to a far higher standard.”
But beyond the workings of the newsroom, Grunwald developed a well-founded skepticism toward the morality and meaning of the issues he covered.
“After a lifetime in journalism,” he wrote in “One Man’s America,” his 1997 autobiography, “observing the endless wars, mass murders, brutalities and the infinitely varied forms of deceit, I find it impossible not to believe in the existence of evil.”
He first tasted that evil in Vienna, where he was born Heinz Anatole Grunwald on Dec. 2, 1922.
He grew up in a secular, nonobservant Jewish family, but with the rise of Nazism, he was expelled from school, and his father was arrested. Leaving most of their possessions behind, the Grunwalds sought refuge in Prague and Paris before fleeing to New York.
Grunwald’s original ambition was to be a playwright, but he found journalism to be his true home. In 1979, he became editor in chief of Time Inc., but he had less success in the corporate boardroom than in the newsroom. Under his leadership, Time Inc. closed the Washington Star, launched and sold Discover magazine, and lost $50 million on a cable TV magazine.
In 1999, Grunwald published “Twilight: Losing Sight, Gaining Insight,” an account of his deteriorating vision because of macular degeneration.
Despite his fading sight, Grunwald continued to write, and in late 2003, he published “A Saint, More or Less,” a historical novel set in 16th- and 17th-century France.
His first wife, Beverly Suser Grunwald, died in 1981.
In addition to his wife, Louise, whom he married in 1987, survivors include three children from his first marriage; a stepson; and four grandchildren.
“He had great judgment and an extraordinary serenity of spirit,” Kissinger said, summing up Grunwald’s life. “He was at peace with himself and at peace with his place in the world.”