Henry Grunwald arrived at Time magazine as a part-time copy boy in 1944 at the age of 22. He was a Jewish immigrant with a thick Austrian accent. In that era, Time was staffed by Protestants who had gone to Yale, or at least it seemed that way. Grunwald quickly rose above them; he became, at 28, the youngest senior editor in Time's history. In 1968, he was chosen to be the magazine's managing editor; in 1979 he became editor in chief of all Time Inc. magazines, including People, Fortune and Sports Illustrated. Grunwald, who died last week of a heart ailment at the age of 82, succeeded because he was smarter and more gracious than most, but also because he was immensely curious about everything. He cherished old truths and timeless beauty, but he was unafraid of the new.
The empire of Henry Luce, the founder of Time Inc., was a difficult place for an outsider or for anyone who questioned the way things were or, in Luce's view, were meant to be. Luce, who died in 1967, was still an imposing presence around Time when Grunwald was a rising editor in the 1960s. (Luce once cornered Grunwald in the hallway: "I want to talk to you about this alienation business. I don't get it. Have you ever been alienated?") But as managing editor, Grunwald shed the magazine's Lucean certainties and toned down its sometimes over-the-top Time style ("Backwards ran sentences until reeled the mind," The New Yorker once parodied). Grunwald made the magazine more worldly, fresher, more evenhanded and more interesting, while preserving its authority.
He was not shy. He knew how smart he was. As a copy boy, Grunwald would rewrite the cover stories of more senior staffers to show them how it ought to be done. Once, while he was peering over the shoulder of a middle-aged staff writer as the man furiously typed, Grunwald was taken aback to read: "Kid, if you don't cut this out, I'm going to break every bone in your body." Grunwald recalled in his memoir that he quickly fled the irate writer's office, but not without muttering to himself: "Cliche."
Short and rounded, his Viennese accent rumbling professorially, Grunwald was saved from pomposity by a quick wit, especially about himself. He loved American culture, high and low; he taught himself English after arriving in New York City from Europe in 1940 by watching every movie showing on 42nd Street. He had wanted to be a playwright but settled for becoming a journalist with a keen sense of the theatrical. He had a strong sense of right and wrong and a sense of tragedy derived from more than plays. He had seen Nazi Storm Troops march into Vienna and fled with his parents after Hitler's Anschluss. His father had been a wildly popular librettist in Vienna; unable to find an audience in the new world, he killed himself in 1951. (Grunwald returned to Vienna from 1988 to 1990 as America's ambassador to Austria.)
Grunwald could write with equal facility about Ava Gardner, T. S. Eliot, Coca-Cola and Pope Pius XII and the sexual revolution. His friends and dinner guests were as richly varied: at his table, over the years, one might find Marilyn Monroe, Norman Mailer, Jerzy Kosinski, Mike Wallace, Henry Kissinger. With his equally gracious second wife, Louise Melhado (Grunwald's first wife, Beverly, died of breast cancer in 1981), he had a way of making dinner guests feel they were the most interesting, charming, gracious people in the world--at least for an hour or two. He traveled and worked ceaselessly but somehow remained close to his children, writers Peter and Lisa and political consultant Mandy.
In 1992, while pouring water on a gloomy day in Florence, he missed the water glass. An eye check revealed that he was slowly going blind from macular degeneration. Undaunted, Grunwald finished a suitably grand autobiography, "One Man's America" (1997), and an even better, more intimate memoir of losing his sight, "Twilight." He dictated a novel drawn from 16th-century sainthood called "A Saint, More or Less" (2003). He never stopped going to museums or openings or parties; he somehow concealed his near blindness. He could disarm anyone, even another reporter. To a New York Times interviewer he once remarked, with a light in his darkening eyes, "I can hear you smile, but I cannot see it."