: Former Time Inc. Editor-in-Chief Henry Grunwald died this weekend. I respected Henry, because one had to. But I came up against him more than once.
He rejected my proposal for Entertainment Weekly because, in his view, one magazine could not possibly serve people who read and people who watch TV because people who watch TV do not read. Considering that everyone watches TV, he apparently did not see much of a future for reading.
Just as soon as I become TV critic of People, I gave a rave review to Concealed Enemies, a PBS miniseries about Whitaker Chambers vs. Alger Hiss. I’ve told this story before: I said that I liked the mini and also mentioned that it portrayed Chambers as a fat wimp. One of the old-timers at People said there’d be trouble to pay, for Chambers was Grunwald’s mentor. “Henry lived under Whittaker’s desk,” the old pro said. I shrugged. But sure enough, my review came back from the 34th floor with the scribblings of Jason McManus — then No. 2 to Henry — utterly rewriting my review. They turned it into a negative review, making incredible changes. I went to my boss, Pat Ryan, managing editor of People, and said I could not allow this to appear under my byline. Bless her, she stood by me. She sent an edit back up with all the worst of the distortions taken out. We waited by the phone. It rang and Pat said she was going to lose either her critic or her job; she was prepared for the latter. But Henry was out at some social event, so the deadline passeed and the review went in. Jason the next day said there’d be hell to pay. But Henry, to his credit, knew he had gone overboard and allowed his personal history to influence his editing. “He came as close as he ever will to apologizing,” Pat reported to me. That was the end of it. I kept my job and so did Pat.
When Henry retired, Jason took his place and he green-lighted EW. He still had no spine, wimping out when my magazine dared to give entertainment negative reviews just as his journalistic company was merging with an entertainment company.
Henry was a formidable, albeit short, presence. He used to hold occasional cocktail parties (those were the days, my friend) to get to know editorial staffers and I remember when one colleague at People was invited and had to borrow another colleagues shoes and socks.
Henry Grunwald was one of the last of the scary editors. The New York Times had its share, but they’re gone, too (a cup of coffee with the current editor sounds like fun). Ditto the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune and The New Yorker. Now big-time editors are as often scared as scary.