Henry Grunwald

One Man’s America, Part II

VTR Date: April 8, 1997

Guest: Grunwald, Henry


Guest: Ambassador Henry Grunwald
Title: “One Man’s America” Part II
VTR: 3/4/97

I’m Richard Heffner, your host on The Open Mind. And this is the second of two programs with our nation’s former ambassador and plenipotentiary to Austria, the land from which he had come to America as a refugee when only a boy.

Of course, it was in his enormously powerful, long time, earlier role as managing editor of Time magazine, then as editor-in-chief of Time, Incorporated, that Henry Anatole Grunwald was even better known. And now his absolutely splendid autobiography, One Man’s America, published by Doubleday, crowns a life of enormous intellectual achievement, with a work, as Alfred Kaizen has written, “suffused with the most marvelous feeling for our country.”

So let’s pick up now where we left off last time with Henry Grunwald. And, Henry, actually, I was going to begin the first program by asking you about the mea culpas that I don’t find in the book, but if one were to put it to Henry Grunwald, what they would be. Unfair question? What are the things that you would regret.

GRUNWALD: Not at all. It’s a very good question. I may have to vamp for a minute or two to think about it.

HEFFNER: (Laughter) well, vamp away.

GRUNWALD: Well, let’s begin with professional mea culpas, because that’s, in a way, the easiest subject to talk about and to think about. There are many mistakes I made as editor of Time. And even earlier, when I was only a department editor or a writer. I think I was very slow, I think, to recognize that women’s role must change more than it had for a long, long time on Time magazine. Women were in a very inferior, subsidiary position on Time, rarely being able to rise above the rank of researcher. And I was pretty slow in seeing that this had to e changed. I finally, I think I may say, that I became an instrument of that change. I appointed quite a number of women writers. I appointed the first two women senior editors at Time. Later, as editor-in-chief, I appointed a number of women managing editors of magazines. But it was slow, and I was pretty arrogant about this at first.

I think perhaps I might blame myself a little bit about being slow to recognize the disaster of Vietnam. I began as quite a hawk. The magazine remained quite hawkish for a long time. I myself remember and write about in the book about my first trip to Vietnam during the war. I think it was ’64. I came back telling my colleagues that this war could not be won in the conventional sense. To that extent I take pride in at least recognizing it relatively early. But also still believed for a long time that we must continue the war in order to achieve at least a respectable stalemate or standoff which I thought was possible. And perhaps I clung to that view a little too long. I was not alone in that, needless to say, but still.

What else professionally, I’m, you know, there are obviously, as an editor I had to make many decisions, and some of them were bad. But I can’t really remember any very much.

In my personal life, if I can switch to that, one of my mea culpas would be concerned, oddly enough – and this may surprise you – with sports. I grew up in a Jewish family in Vienna which considered sports rather dangerous, as a matter of fact. I was discouraged from, you know, going and doing anything very athletic. But, at the same time, I must admit that it wasn’t just my family; I, myself, hated physical exercise, and found gym and ballgames and so on an absolute terror. I think I would have been a, I think, a more typical American and perhaps a healthier person, although fortunately I’m quite healthy in my advanced years, if I had been more athletic in younger years, and I think I might have turned on my children to be athletic, which they are not. So that’s a mea culpa that occurs to me.

HEFFNER: You know, I’ve said to you, as I’ve read this book, I’ve felt, in a way, in a strange way, not having been involved at all in the kinds of activities of major consequence that you had been involved, that I was reading about my own life. And when you talk about this, two squat men sitting here …

GRUNWALD: (Laughter)

HEFFNER: … non-athletes, I don’t have the same reasons that you had.

GRUNWALD: I might add, my second wife (my first wife died), my second wife, Louise, did turn me on to exercise for the past 10 years, and I contribute my relatively good health to that. She gets all the credit for that.

HEFFNER: I’ll take that under consideration, Henry.


HEFFNER: But, you know, when I ask about the mea culpas, I didn’t expect those. When you talk about Vietnam, you changed. When you talk about the role of women employees, managers at Time, Inc., you’re talking about a century, a half-century of power in which the nation was changing and growing and becoming more intelligent about these things, as you did. So I don’t know whether the culpas have to include those matters.

I wanted to ask you about, turning to a different area of your activity, the interesting reference you make here to Hollywood, to your own involvements with and attraction to. The name Marilyn Monroe appears, not frequently, but surfaces here. Your interest in that aspect of American life. How do you explain it? Your father’s …

GRUNWALD: Well, it has a lot to do with my father, who, as I said on the earlier program, or maybe in this one (I forget now), was a very successful librettist in Vienna. That is, he wrote the books and lyrics for a great many operettas and some, he also wrote some prose plays. And I was fascinated and really smitten with the theater from a very early age on. In fact, my great ambition for many, many years was to be a playwright. It’s an ambition that continued while I was working at Time. I always, for a long time, considered journalism only a kind of temporary refuge before I made it as a playwright. And I was really over 30, if you can believe that, before I came to the conclusion that playwriting simply was not my calling, that I had really had no talent for it, and then settled very happily for the career of a journalist. But the fascination with show business and the theater and the extension of theater, which was film, continued, and I was always very excited to walk on a sound stage or to watch a film scene being shot and so on.

As far as Marilyn Monroe is concerned, I’ve, you know, I’ve told this story in the book. I met her in Hollywood when she was a very young, young starlet, and I happened to be at a studio party which turned out to be, to my intense disappointment, involved a movie with an all male cast, a war movie with an all male cast. And I was just about to leave in disgust when this shining apparition appeared, and it was Marilyn Monroe, and she was told about how disappointed by the guest list, and she said, “Well, I think perhaps I understand how you feel, but I guess God has sent me to make it up to you.”

HEFFNER: (Laughter)

GRUNWALD: And we became quite good friends for a while. I say “for a while” because I then went to Europe and, for a while, she went on tobecome a star. We still saw each other occasionally. We were certainly in totally different worlds. I might add – and I think I should add this – that our friendship was, unfortunately, entirely platonic.

HEFFNER: I’m sorry you added that, Henry. I’m sorry you …

GRUNWALD: Well, I think, you know, in the interest of honesty.

HEFFNER: Now, you know, in that first program you talked about the changes in newspapers, magazines, broadcasting, in terms of journalism, in terms of bringing us the news, they’ve become more entertainment. You, yourself, were very much interested in the world of entertainment. Tell me more about your criticism of what has become of the presumably journalistic media. And you don’t mind if I use the term “media,” because I’m using it correctly here, the plural.

GRUNWALD: No. Absolutely. Yes, you are.

HEFFNER: I remember that little essay of yours about medium/media, and our misuse of the words. You were given to the world of entertainment. Do you mean to be so critical of the community, the national community that wants to be entertained and can spend just so much time, and so spends less time with the product of real journalism, and more time with entertainment?

GRUNWALD: Well, I think it’s certainly difficult to be critical of people who want to be entertained. As you point out, I want to be entertained, and I’m fascinated by the world of entertainment. But when I talk about entertainment in news these days, I’m not talking primarily about publications or programs that deal with entertainment as such, whether it’s music or films or whatever; I’m talking about entertainment in a form, in the sense of tabloid journalism creeping into what look like serious programs or look like serious publications. A great deal of what is presented on the so-called newsmagazines on television – and I think it’s a misnomer – are basically tabloid stories. And I think of tabloid stories as a form of entertainment. I’m not saying that I would banish all these stories; they’re fascinating, and we all get a kick out of them up to a point. But it’s gone too far. I think confessional television shows where no holds are barred, where, you know, the more bizarre one’s personal behavior, one’s personal story, the better, that is a form of entertainment. I think it’s a slightly sick form of entertainment, but I still call it entertainment. That is what I had in mind. And the fact that, if you look at the evening news, any news broadcast on television, on network television, there is very little, there’s not nearly as much serious news or hard news as there used to be, and there’s a lot of soft news which, as I said, again verges on entertainment.

HEFFNER: Okay. Let’s go back to the question then of where you put the responsibility for that development.

GRUNWALD: I have to share the … I mean, I think the responsibility has to be shared between the audience and the media themselves.

HEFFNER: But the audience isn’t going to change.

GRUNWALD: Well, I’m not sure that the audience is not going to change. The audience, if we … Look, the audience is not going to change dramatically, but these things are incremental. And if we can persuade the audience that, for example, let’s take the example of foreign affairs, if we can persuade the audience that, even though there is no longer the old threat of communism out there, but there are many, many other problems in the world which we need to be aware of and which perhaps, to some extent, we must influence, for our own, out of our own self-interest, not simply our of moral concern for the unfortunate, although that is important too, but for our own self-interest, because a chaotic world, chaos in Asia, even chaos in Africa, which does not seem to impact us so very directly, problems in Latin America, all these things affect us through trade, through refugee flows, affect us through the amount of effort we will sooner or later have to make to restore some degree of order, therefore, how much we will have to spend on military and other accounts, all this is important to us, and I haven’t even mentioned terrorism, if we can persuade the public even to a small extent that these things are serious problems which have meaning to our country, I think we can change the audience slightly.

HEFFNER: Yes, but, Henry, where is the responsibility? That we should say to the … Are you saying we must say to the audience, “Tell us you want us to put on programs, write articles, present news dispatches … “

GRUNWALD: No, I’m not saying that. I’m not saying that the audience must tell us. I think the, of course, the initiative has to come, first of all, from our political leaders, which, at the moment, I don’t think we’re getting very much of that sort of influence from our political leaders, and it has to come from the press itself. When I came to work for Time and many years afterwards when I ran Time, the motto was, the principle was, you run a story or you run even a cover story if it is important, if people should know about this, and even if they are reluctant to know about it, even if they’re reluctant to buy this issue, we still have to do it. There’s less and less of that spirit nowadays, partly because, as I have said earlier, because of financial circumstances. It is very difficult to run a profit-making organization with profit margins narrowing, and still do a cover story, let’s say, or a television program which you know the readership or the viewership will be relatively low. So it’s a constant battle, but …

HEFFNER: You and I can’t do anything about the audience, in a sense. Not directly. Not immediately. But you’re in a position, you have been in a position, you remain in a position in which you could do something about what is presented to the audience.

GRUNWALD: Well, I’m not really in a position to do that because I don’t run Time magazine anymore …

HEFFNER: As a proselytizer?

GRUNWALD: As a proselytizer I can, and I have a couple of ideas of some things that I might want to do. For example, I would like to see a television network or a television station to produce a series of programs that I would call scenarios. And they would be scenarios about, let’s say, there is a nuclear exchange, God forbid, between India and Pakistan. I would like, almost in an Orson Welles kind of way, to dramatize what this would mean, not only for the poor people out there, but for us as a country. I would like to dramatize what might happen if there was another war between Arab states and Israel. I would like to dramatize what might happen if the Chinese take over, want to take over Taiwan by force. Again, how that would impact our country. The impact is not easily traced. I might have a hard time writing those scripts or getting those scripts written. But the impact would be there.

HEFFNER: Where do … Go ahead.

GRUNWALD: Go ahead. Please go ahead. No, no.

HEFFNER: No, no, no, no. Please, go ahead.

GRUNWALD: No, you go ahead.

HEFFNER: It’s just because I was going to ask: Where do you start then?

GRUNWALD: Where do you start?

HEFFNER: To talk about the audience that must appreciate this kind of material?

GRUNWALD: Well, I think the audience would appreciate this kind of material.

HEFFNER: But you’ve described an audience that has, itself, been trivialized.

GRUNWALD: Well, look, the audience is changeable. There’s no question about that. It changes. It can change back again. Not all the way. It can never be, it can never really resume the interest in world affairs, let’s say, that we had on the morning after World War II when we had fought a tremendous war to a tremendous victory, and when we were newly threatened by the Soviet Union, by world communism. We’ll never get back there. I’m talking about relatively, relatively minor changes, but relatively minor changes in public opinion matter. I think if we, you and I had talked 20 years ago, as we probably did, and if we had said, “Well, what’s going to be done about people’s feelings about homosexuality,” I don’t think you and I would have predicted what, in fact, has happened, which is that more and more politicians feel that the homosexual vote in this country is a significant minority vote which they have to reckon with. I could talk some more about my own personal feelings about this. I’m not saying that I approve of what happened in this department. It happened, however, and it illustrates what can, how public opinion can change.

HEFFNER: Well, Henry, I’m sure you understand that I swore to myself that I was not going to make this another program in which I tried to draw out from you anything negative that you could say about the press …

GRUNWALD: Oh, I can say a lot of negative things about the press. I certainly would think that, as I said before, the initiative really must come from the press as well as from politicians.

HEFFNER: Any sign of that?

GRUNWALD: I don’t know. I can also say negative things about the press in other ways. I think the press is too given to herd reporting, to flocking to the same story, to the same conclusion, and it is not sufficiently given, I think, to really thorough explanations and asking thorough questions. I mean, I can go through The New York Times, which remains an excellent paper, and I can mark it up from one end to the other with questions that have not been asked or are not being asked in their stories. So I’m not here to say the press is always wonderful; by no means.

HEFFNER: You know, when I was a young man, your former boss and friend, and our late friend, Dick Clerman’s former boss and friend, was considered by my group a villain. Henry Luce was a bad man. And I ask myself so many times today: Where is Henry Luce when we need him? Where is someone who had a point of view, and used his resources to hammer them home, that point of view home in the information media? Do you see any sign on the horizon of someone who recognizes the needs that you described who is making use of his or her resources in the media in this way? Any sign whatsoever?

GRUNWALD: Well, I think that the two major establishment newspapers, The New York Times and The Washington Post, are still quite responsible in this sense. You can criticize this or that policy or this or that trend in both of them, but they are there, and I think they are quite creative and quite responsible still. I think, I won’t talk about the newsmagazines because I’m too close to them, as I said earlier, I think Time is in good hands. It is not as given to news comes first. Explanation comes first, as it used to be, but that has a lot to do with societal changes. Curiously enough, no, I can’t say that I see figures like Luce on the horizon. And in some respects, Rupert Murdoch reminds one a little bit of Luce in the sense that he is never shy about using his publications or his other media to get a point of view across. But I would not want to compare the two in other ways, because I think Luce was more responsible and much more moderate than Murdoch. I don’t know whether there are many others like Luce or, for that matter, William Paley, who was quite closer to what happened to television. No, I don’t think there are.

HEFFNER: All right, now, at the end then, approaching the end of this century, obviously near the end of this program, how do I end up saying, “Mr. Grunwald, thank you for being an optimist. Mr. Grunwald, I’m so grateful to find another pessimist.” When you tote up what we’ve said, what you’ve written, what you’ve described about the media, where does it leave you?

GRUNWALD: Well, I think perhaps, if you don’t mind, if I switch the question to: Am I an optimist or a pessimist about America? Media being very much part of that. I think, on balance, I come out more optimistic than not. Partly because I see that I’ve just been in Asia, and I see, I sat in Hanoi with a leading economist there, obviously a man who is part of the establishment, although he is somewhat independent, and he was talking, and he was almost ranting about the need for free enterprise, for hard work, against the welfare state. He was, this is a member of a communist elite who is condemning the Western European welfare states for allowing people to do nothing and not to work. I’m not saying that this is Americanism that he was talking about, but in a sense it is. In a sense it is the economic philosophy that, despite quite a few disagreements, rules in this country and that which has made this country what it is. So, in that sense, I think that America is, at least for quite a while longer, on the winning side of history, if one can use that Marxist phrase. And I’m optimistic about America because, as I’ve said earlier, it has shown this tremendous capacity for renewing itself. I mean, we seem, every generation or so, to shed the old skin and do something new. The information revolution, so-called, is an American phenomenon spreading to the rest of the world with incredible consequences, but is an American phenomenon. So, with many misgivings about where we are going, which I’ve expressed in the book, I am, on balance, an optimist about this country. And the media had just better move along with that trend. (Laughter)

HEFFNER: (Laughter) You make that sound ominous, “Better move along with that trend.”

GRUNWALD: Well, I’m not really being ominous, but I do think that they do have an obligation not to be optimistic or not to report only good news, which is preposterous, or to become community journalists, whatever that may mean, the new, the new, the new slogan. But I think they do have a responsibility to be very careful in their judgments and to explain and explore. And I think, in the end, that will benefit the country.

HEFFNER: Henry Grunwald, that you so much for joining me on The Open Mind again. And I can’t say often enough, everybody go out and read, buy and read One Man’s America. Thank you for writing the book as well as joining me.

GRUNWALD: Thank you so much for those very kind words.

HEFFNER: I mean them.

And thanks, too, to you in the audience. I hope you join us again next time. And if you would like a transcript of today’s program, please send $4 in check or money order to: The Open Mind, P. O. Box 7977, FDR Station, New York, New York 10150.

Meanwhile, as another old friend used to say, “Good night and good luck.”