NewsHour Remembers Time Magazine Editor Henry Grunwald

March 30, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT

ROGER ROSENBLATT: Of Henry Anatole Grunwald, who died recently, it may be said he was the last of a breed without fear of trumpeting a cliché. The breed in question is that group of gifted, confident and all-powerful editors who had total, far-ranging command of a publication.

In the case of Grunwald, it several publications. As editor-in-chief of Time Inc., He put his brand on Life Magazine, Sports Illustrated, People, and of course, Time Magazine, where I and others, such as Lance Morrow and Frank Tripett, wrote essays under him– and I mean under him.

I take it back about the last of a breed, because Abe Rosenthal, the former editor of the New York Times and Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post are still around, fortunately, but they emeritus. And perhaps there are one or two others.

But Grunwald and his ilk had the freedom of authority that is denied or is not available to editors today. The reasons are all around us. Publications today are parts of vast, corporate entities, so the power of any individual editor is delimited. One begins to think there are four companies left in the world and they are run mainly by bottom-line mentalities. Not the best atmosphere for imaginative, autocratic leaders.

In 1942, the poet Czeslaw Milosz wrote: “In an historical moment when nothing depends on man, everything depends on him – this paradoxical truth is revealed today with particular force,” he said. And today as well, though there are few around to act on the revelations.

From the sprawling corporate structures of 2005, one hears the voices of boards of directors and of spokespersons for boards of directors but not from one talented, albeit often pigheaded, person in charge.

Henry Grunwald could be pig- headed and wrong-headed, but he was a treat to work for. When arguing with him, one knew one was going up against not a profit or a merger or an amalgamation of others’ shopworn ideas, but rather a man — one intelligence confronting another. He lived for ideas and spoke of them with charm, wit and surprisingly sweet laughter.

At work, he saw it as his business, indeed his duty, to interpret the world. Along with his colleague, the great managing editor of Time, Ray Cave, he sent us writers out on grand errands like an Arthurian king. “Write about the U.S. protest of the 1980 Olympics.” “Write about the Iran hostages.” “Write about the election of Ronald Reagan.” “Write about war, politics, religion, culture, custom.”

“See it all. See it fairly. Be truthful, be sensible and be careful with language.” “When nothing depends on man, everything depends on him.” So it went for the years I knew him and for the others who, as we wrote, only wondered this at the end of the day: What will Henry think? I’m Roger Rosenblatt.