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In Memoriam: Gilbert Harrison
Gilbert Harrison, 1936 editor in chief of the Daily Bruin and longtime publisher of The New Republic, died on Jan. 8, 2008 at the age of 92. For those alumni who knew Gil, please share an anecdote or memory to help us commemorate his life and achievements. You can also read more about his career in the New York Times obituary. We've taken the liberty of republishing this recognition of a stellar DB alumnus.
Gilbert Harrison, 92, Ex-Editor, Dies
By Dennis Hevesi
Gilbert A. Harrison, a former publisher of The New Republic, the political and cultural opinion journal that for nearly a century has adhered for the most part to a liberal bent, died Thursday in Phoenix. He was 92 and lived in Scottsdale, Ariz.
The cause was heart failure, said his son, James.
Mr. Harrison was the owner and editor of The New Republic, an influential though rarely profitable publication, from 1953 to 1974. Under him, the magazine was a strong voice on behalf of the civil rights movement. After initially supporting the war in Vietnam, it became a forceful opponent of it, repeatedly criticizing Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon.
In 1968, the magazine refused to endorse Hubert H. Humphrey, the eventual Democratic Party nominee, and proposed the creation of a new political party to be headed by Eugene J. McCarthy, the liberal senator from Minnesota who had unsuccessfully sought the presidential nomination.
Lots of old friendships were strained, if not snapped, Mr. Harrison said in a 1974 interview with The New York Times, but thats what this magazine is all about.
In the early 1970s, with noted journalists like Walter Pincus writing about Watergate and Stanley Karnow writing on foreign affairs, the magazines circulation rose to about 100,000. (Until last year, when it began publishing every two weeks, it had always been a weekly.)
Weve never been in a better financial position than we are now, Mr. Harrison said in 1974, acknowledging that in the past weve gauged our success by the size of our losses.
You can say losses ranged from about $200,000 to $50,000 a year, he said.
In 1974, for $380,000, Mr. Harrison sold the magazine to Martin Peretz, then a 35-year-old social studies lecturer at Harvard. Last year, Mr. Peretz sold his shares to CanWest Global Communications, a Canadian media conglomerate, but stayed on as editor in chief. In recent years, many staunch liberals have complained that the magazine has shifted somewhat to the right.
Founded in 1914, by Willard and Dorothy Straight with Herbert Croly as its first editor, The New Republic originally became known for its advocacy of Woodrow Wilsons world peace initiative. It later appealed to Depression-era intellectuals to take communism away from the Communists. It championed Roosevelts New Deal. At first it questioned, but then supported, the nations entry into World War II. Contributors and staff members have included Walter Lippmann, John Dewey, Alfred Kazin, Edmund Wilson, Henry A. Wallace and Theodore H. White.
Gilbert Avery Harrison was born in Detroit on May 18, 1915, one of three children of Samuel and Mabel Wolfe Harrison. His father owned several jewelry stores, but had to close them during the Depression. Samuel Harrison then took to the road, selling jewelry from his car, later joined for a time by his son.
Still, Mr. Harrison managed to attend college and in 1937 received a bachelors degree in psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles, where he had also been an editor of the student newspaper.
After college, he became active in the University Religious Conference, which promoted inter-religious cooperation. That brought him in contact with Eleanor Roosevelt, who asked him to go to Washington as chairman of the youth division of the Office of Civilian Defense. A year later, he enlisted in the Army Air Forces. He was a flight controller in the Philippines in World War II.
After the war, Mr. Harrison joined and, in 1948, became national chairman of the American Veterans Committee, a liberal alternative to the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The post would lead to marriage and his ability to buy The New Republic.
Mr. Harrison went to Chicago in 1950, seeking a donation to his organization from descendants of Cyrus McCormick, the inventor of the reaper and a founder of the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, which later became part of the International Harvester Company. There Mr. Harrison met Anne Blaine, McCormicks great-great-granddaughter. They were married a year later and, in 1953, Mr. and Mrs. Harrison bought The New Republic. Mrs. Harrison died in 1977.
Besides his son James, of Denver, Mr. Harrison is survived by two other sons, David, of San Francisco, and Joel, of Manhattan; a daughter, Eleanor, of Denver; and five grandchildren.
Mr. Harrison was the author of two books, A Timeless Affair: The Life of Anita McCormick Blaine (University of Chicago Press, 1979), a biography of his grandmother-in-law; and The Enthusiast: A Life of Thornton Wilder (Ticknor & Fields, 1983).
Mr. Harrison received a George Polk Award in 1964, honoring him for revitalizing The New Republic. When he sold the magazine a decade later, he said: I learned from Walter Lippmann, if youre going to be in this business you wont have politicians for friends. You have them as acquaintances or sources.