It was typical of Henry Grunwald's unyielding honesty and his precise mind that he disapproved of using the words "passed away" to refer to someone who has died. So I will honor him in reporting what is sad news in the unequivocal language he would have insisted upon. Henry Anatole Grunwald, one of the most distinguished managing editors in TIME's history and for decades a pre-eminent figure in American journalism, died last week. He was 82 and in his later years had faced a number of difficulties, which, being Henry, he treated as opportunities. Last year he suffered a near fatal cardiac arrest, which he survived thanks to a defibrillator. He had barely recovered when he set forth to write a book on defibrillators.
Henry, a European immigrant who never took anything in the New World for granted, was a pivotal figure in TIME's development. He moved the magazine away from partisanship and strengthened the independence of its voice in national and world affairs. He directed its unflinching coverage of Watergate and wrote an editorial, the first in TIME's history, that called for Richard Nixon's resignation. He was deeply inquisitive about the tumultuous changes of his time--social, economic, political and cultural--and supremely alert to the nuances of the zeitgeist. To name one instance of his intuition: it was Henry who ordered up TIME's famous 1966 cover asking the question "Is God Dead?" (For the record, the answer was no.)
It may have been his greatest advantage as an editor that he was an insider (he counted as friends everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Henry Kissinger) who began as an outsider. Henry arrived in the U.S. in 1938 with his parents, Jewish refugees from Hitler's Anschluss of their native Austria. He would write about it much later in his memoir, One Man's America. "I love America," he wrote, "because it took me in from the madness of wartime Europe and allowed me to make it my country." Love was the key word. All his life, he approached America with a kind of infatuation, hungry to know and to understand everything about the place.
Henry's father had been a successful operetta librettist, and as a young man Henry hoped to become a playwright, but he took a job with TIME as a copyboy while earning a degree at New York University. What began as a temporary measure turned out to be a destiny. "I realized in due course that the theater was not really my calling," he once said, "but that journalism--which of course can be theatrical--indeed was." His rise was suitably dramatic. At 28, he became senior editor and 17 years later, in 1968, managing editor. Very quickly, the magazine began to reflect his venturesome, capacious mind. He devised new sections on the environment, the sexes and behavior. He launched special issues on such topics as black America and the changing role of women. Because he hated homogenized prose, he also introduced individual bylines. In those days before computers, when their stories came back to them on paper, writers strained to read Henry's always trenchant (though sometimes nearly illegible) comments, which could be lengthy and learned or just one decisive word: "Ugh" or "Wow!"