James Brady, a longtime celebrity columnist for Parade magazine and prolific author who brought graceful writing and sharp observations to worlds as disparate as those of the tycoons of the fashion industry and the Marine “grunts” of the Korean War, has died. He was 80.
Brady died Monday at his home in Manhattan, N.Y., Parade announced, possibly of a stroke.
Brady also wrote comic novels about life on Long Island and, for nearly three decades, had a column in Advertising Age in which he enjoyed the freedom and budget to roam wherever his imagination took him.
In his final Advertising Age column in 2005, he summed up the experience:
“I wrote about Maxwell Perkins, my brother the priest, having dinner with the Rolling Stones, meeting Lindbergh and watching Apollo 11 lifting off at the Cape, being terrified of sharks, attending the Oscars, hanging out in Havana before Fidel, reporting de Gaulle’s press conference, rugby, Sheepshead Bay, surviving a stroke, skiing in the French Alps, interviewing Streisand, overnight in a Brooklyn Rescue Co. firehouse, Wimbledon, being sued by Oleg Cassini, writing ad copy for Macy’s, snowstorms, a hurricane crossing aboard QE2, deaths in the family, writing novels, the Yankees, covergirls, the Henley Regatta, and breakfast with Kate Hepburn.”
His resume may never be matched.
As a Marine lieutenant, he commanded an infantry platoon during the fighting in Korea in the 1950s. His books about Marines in Korea are praised for their realistic portrayal of close-in combat during brutally cold weather.
From 1964 to 1971, he was publisher of Women’s Wear Daily. He is credited as an innovator of the New York Post’s gossipy Page 6.
Brady wrote with equal aplomb about being befriended by fashion legend Coco Chanel and being treated with indifference by combat veterans when he was a “skinny, baby-faced, untested” lieutenant.
He never succeeded in convincing Chanel that he was not an American Indian (she called him “mon petit indien”) but he overcame the veterans’ skepticism by being awarded a Bronze Star.
Born Nov. 15, 1928, in Brooklyn, N.Y., James Winston Brady graduated from Manhattan College in 1950.
After serving in the Marine Corps, he attended New York University and joined Fairchild Publications, serving as the New York and Washington correspondent and then bureau chief in London and Paris.
He worked for Rupert Murdoch, the Hearst Corp., and Roger Ailes as an editor, publisher and then television talk-show host.
During various tours, he was a vice president for Hearst, publisher and editor of Harper’s Bazaar, a columnist for Forbes, editor and publisher of Murdoch’s weekly tabloid Star, and commentator for WCBS-TV and CNBC.
Brady is possibly best known for his weekly “In Step With” column for Parade, in which, for nearly 25 years, he interviewed the famous and up-and-coming in the entertainment industry.
His final interview, with Kevin Bacon, is set for publication Feb. 15. Bacon stars in “Taking Chance,” an upcoming HBO movie about a Marine private killed in Iraq and the officer who accompanied his body home.
Another Marine project also consumed Brady’s final days: editing his new book “Hero of the Pacific: The Life of Legendary Marine John Basilone,” to be published in October.
Basilone was awarded the Medal of Honor for valor at Guadalcanal and the Navy Cross for his actions at Iwo Jima, where he was killed.
In fiction and nonfiction, Brady probed the particular élan of the Marine Corps and showed his admiration for many of the officers and senior enlisted men.
Brady downplayed his own heroism and found little glory or romance in combat.
In his 1990 memoir, “The Coldest War,” he wrote of the brutality of a winter in North Korea when Marines were dug in just a few hundred meters from their enemy.
“The socks you put on were filthy, but after 24 hours they were dry, the sweat evaporated. Frozen feet were a continual fear; we all knew horror stories from the winter before; men who had lost toes or an entire foot, sometimes both feet. If you could somehow keep your feet dry, the cold wasn’t as dangerous. You might, if the Koreans didn’t get you, or a mine or an accidental discharge or a short round, survive the winter with limbs intact. How the socks smelled didn’t matter, only that they were dry.”
In “Why Marines Fight” (2007), he interviewed Marines from various conflicts and praised those he served with in Dog Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment.
“I never knew better, truer men than in the rifle company ranks in which I served, bold and resourceful Americans, beautiful men in a violent life,” he wrote.
“What each of them was and did later at home and at peace, having let slip the leash of discipline, I can’t always say. But in combat such men, even the rogues and rare scoundrels, were magnificent, hard men living in risky places.”
Brady is survived by his wife, Florence; two daughters, Fiona Brady and Susan Konig; a brother; and four grandchildren.