Sulzberger, Cyrus Leo

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Sulzberger, Cyrus Leo

(b. 27 October 1912 in New York City; d. 20 September 1993 in Paris, France), foreign correspondent and foreign affairs columnist for the New York Times for almost forty years and author of numerous books on foreign affairs.

Sulzberger was one of two children of Leo Sulzberger, a merchandiser in a cotton import firm, and Beatrice Josephi, a homemaker. Between 1926 and 1930 he attended the Horace Mann School for Boys in New York City. He next attended Harvard College and received a B.S. degree in 1934. Although his uncle Arthur Hays Sulzberger was the publisher of the New York Times, his immediate interests after college did not include newspaper reporting. He thought about becoming a poet, a forest ranger, or a magazine or book editor—something not connected with the family newspaper. However, to prepare to become a book editor, he took a position with the Pittsburgh Press as a reporter and rewrite man. Once employed as a newspaperman, he remained one, and in 1935 he went to work in the Washington Bureau of the United Press reporting on the Federal Reserve System, the Department of the Treasury, and the Department of Labor. In 1938 he left the United Press and wrote his first book, Sit Down with John L. Lewis.

Later that year Sulzberger decided to become a foreign affairs correspondent, and he went to Europe, where the Nazis had already taken over Austria and were threatening Czechoslovakia. He stopped first in London, where he worked as a freelance writer, but he soon obtained credentials from the North American Newspaper Alliance and became a stringer for the London Evening Standard. He next traveled to Vienna and then Prague, where he met with the Czechoslovakian president Edvard Benes, who advised him to become a foreign correspondent in the Balkans, an area where there were few or no American reporters.

Sulzberger heeded this advice and in 1938 and 1939 he visited all the Balkan countries as a reporter, writing articles for the London Evening Standard. When Mussolini’s Italian forces invaded Albania in April 1939, the United Press hired him to cover the invasion, which he did until its conclusion in May. Sometime during the spring of 1939 he also flew to London to meet with his uncle Arthur who asked him to work for the New York Times. He refused to join the family firm at this time, but he agreed to become the head of the Times Balkan bureau if war erupted.

When Hitler invaded Poland on 1 September 1939, Sulzberger immediately honored his agreement and, during his first three years as a Times correspondent, traveled 100,000 miles to thirty countries located in the Balkans, North Africa, and the Middle East, as well as to the Soviet Union and Italy. His experiences during this period were harrowing. Late in 1939 he was arrested as an English spy in German-controlled Slovakia, but was soon released. During the summer of 1940, Axis propagandists started to attack him in their newspapers for his reporting, one calling him a “hate agent.” In April 1941 he left Belgrade just ahead of the German invasion and finally arrived in Greece, where the subsequent German advance forced him to escape to Turkey aboard a sponge fisher’s boat. In July of that year he went to the Soviet Union to cover its invasion by Germany and won a 1941 Overseas Press Club Award for his reporting on the German-Soviet front.

On 21 January 1942 in Beirut, Lebanon, Sulzberger married Marina Tatiana Lada, a Greek woman whom he had met several years earlier in Athens. The union produced two children. In September 1944 he was made the chief foreign correspondent of the New York Times and the head of its foreign service. He was stationed in Paris, which became his residence for the rest of his life. In this position he traveled around the world visiting many countries and interviewing prominent people, including ministers, presidents, dictators, generals, and royalty. Much of his reporting during his career was based on these types of interviews. His approach emanated from Sulzberger’s “great man” view of history—that the prime movers of world events were individuals, not ideologies. Among the many people he interviewed over the years were Charles de Gaulle, Winston Churchill, Dwight Eisenhower, the monarchs of Greece and Yugoslavia, Marshall Josip Tito, Jawaharlal Nehru, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard Nixon, Nikita Khrushchev, and Zhou Enlai, although it was not until the 1970s that he was finally permitted to visit China. Many of these individuals were willing to talk to him because they knew their views would be reported by a tough but objective correspondent and appear in one of the world’s most important newspapers. Sulzberger realized that it was his name and the newspaper behind him that often allowed him access to men and women in power.

In 1951 Sulzberger received a Pulitzer Prize in journalism for his article based on an interview with the Yugoslavian archbishop Aloysius Stepinac, who had been imprisoned in 1946 at the beginning of the cold war. In 1954 he ceased being the Times’s chief foreign correspondent and became a journalist until his retirement in 1977, writing a column that appeared on the paper’s editorial page three times a week and later on the op-ed page.

Along with his activities as a reporter and a columnist, Sulzberger also wrote almost two dozen books over a thirty-year period starting in 1956. Most of them dealt with foreign affairs and included three volumes of memoirs: A Long Row of Candles (1969), The Last of the Giants (1970), and An Age of Mediocrity (1973). Written from working notes made at the time of various interviews, these books say little about Sulzberger but do give some very fine portraits of world leaders and show the author at the scene of momentous world events. Some critics, however, found these books overloaded with minutiae. He died in Paris of natural caused.

Sulzberger’s almost forty-year association with the New York Times enabled him to cover most of the fronts during World War II and afterward to roam the world interviewing the great and the powerful. He had the ability to arrive in a country and to produce a succinct picture of one of its leaders on the same day. He was a respected, aggressive, and objective reporter who wrote about foreign affairs in an intelligent and perceptive manner, as well as a witness of many of the major events of the twentieth century.

The three volumes of Sulzberger’s memoirs cited in the text, A Long Row of Candles (1969), The Last of the Giants (1970), and An Age of Mediocrity (1973), contain some biographical data, although the greater portion of these works is devoted to his global travels and interviews. His 1980 memoir, How I Committed Suicide: A Reverie, conveys his loneliness as a widower and his thoughts on aging. References to his life and career, especially his relations with the publishers and personnel of the New York Times, can be found in Gay Tálese, The Kingdom and the Power (1969); Susan W. Dryfoos, Iphigene: Memoirs of Iphigene Ochs Sulzberger of the New York Times Family (1981); Joseph C. Goulden, Fit to Print: A. M. Rosenthal and His Times (1988); and Susan E. Tifft and Alex S. Jones, The Trust: The Private and Powerful Family Behind the New York Times (1999). The 1944 issue of Current Biography contains details of his life up to that date, and there is an obituary in the New York Times (21 Sept. 1993).

Allan Nelson