Well, It's About Time

WHAT DOES THE FORMER EDITOR of NEWSWEEK do when invited by his old magazine to review the memoirs of his longtime rival, the former editor of Time? The first thing he does is to look for his name in the book's index, of course. Then he reads the book, sits down at his Royal typewriter and lets the memories flow--beginning with his own days as a young Time writer almost half a century ago.

Back then, Time was the undisputed superpower of news magazines, and to join its staff was to become some kind of knight in the court of beetle-browed, staccato-stammering Founding Father Henry Robinson Luce, as he might have been described in the Time-style of yore. It was a semi-benign dictatorship where the writers were kept under the thumbs of the editors, and the editors kowtowed to Luce. "When in doubt, use a clichE," cracked one writer, "because if you don't, your senior editor will."

But there was a camaraderie about the Round Table, inspired in part by a feeling of superiority and in part by the separationist pressures of the workweek, with Tuesdays and Wednesdays constituting our weekends and late nights the norm. We were cosseted in the un-air-conditioned cocoon of the "old" Time & Life Building, where expense accounts were seldom challenged ("Trip down the Nile, $25,000") and late-night closings were eased by a steady flow of alcohol supplied by the management.

Legend had it that the route into this strange kingdom almost always led straight from New England prep schools through the Ivy League to Rockefeller Center. But for Henry Anatole Grunwald the journey was quite different. As he movingly tells it in One Man's America (658 pages. Doubleday. $30), Grunwald escaped as a teenager with his parents from Nazi-occupied Austria. They made their way to France, to Casablanca, to New York--where Henry painfully taught himself English by watching every movie on 42d Street (his first exposure to Ronald Reagan). He graduated from New York University and landed a job as a part-time copy boy at Time--one of the very few Jews in a hive of WASPs. Grunwald befriended a jokey, twinkly-eyed senior editor (as he describes the man) and soon was writing foreign news. The senior editor was Whittaker Chambers.

Moving quickly up the Time masthead, becoming a senior editor at 28, Grunwald took advantage of the magazine's beneficence to move around the country and the world. His book is full of cameo appearances by the likes of Shirley MacLaine, Norman Mailer, Billy Graham, Vladimir Nabokov, Madame Nhu and Beverly Sills.

Grunwald's big break came in 1968. By then, Harry Luce was dead, and Time was beginning to show some early symptoms of rigor mortis under the autocratic editorship of Otto Fuerbringer, unfondly known as "the Iron Chancellor." The turmoil of the '60s seemed somehow to pass Time by. "Moreover," writes Grunwald, "the magazine looked too staid, too constricted, for a TV generation." And on top of that, he adds generously, NEWSWEEK "had become remarkably good." Indeed, we bumptious NEWSWEEKers (I had become the editor in 1961) rejoiced in what we considered our triumphs over Time--from our advocacy of civil rights and de-escalation in Vietnam to our coverage of John Kennedy's assassination to the cutting edge of our cultural criticism.

But soon, under Grunwald, Time began to improve. A political independent, he moved the magazine to the center, freed his writers from the remaining strictures of Time-style and allowed their own voices to be heard (within limits). In the early stages of Watergate, I thought Time was beating NEWSWEEK with infuriating regular-ity--and in 1973 Grunwald wrote the first openly acknowledged editorial in the 50-year history of the magazine. It called for President Nixon to resign.

Later, when Grunwald became overlord of all Time Inc. magazines, he had his failures--the aborted invention of Discover magazine, the disaster of TV Cable Week, with its $50 million in losses.

But this story has an exceedingly happy ending. In 1987 Ronald Reagan--he of those long-ago 42d Street movies--named Henry Grunwald, the Austrian Jewish refugee, as America's ambassador to Austria. It was the kind of ending that Grunwald's father, a noted librettist of Viennese operettas, might well have concocted in the romantic long ago.

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