Brock Brower, magazine journalist, novelist and TV writer, dies at 82


Writer Brock Brower, seen here in the early 1980s, died April 16 in Santa Barbara, Calif. He was 82. (Mary Cross)
April 29

Brock Brower, a magazine journalist best known for his profiles of White House occupants and aspirants of the 1960s and 1970s, and who had second, third and fourth careers as a novelist, a TV writer, and a speechwriter for the U.S. attorney general, died April 16 in Santa Barbara, Calif. He was 82.

The cause was cancer, said a daughter, Alison Brower, the editor in chief of Dr. Oz The Good Life, a health and fitness magazine with the imprimatur of the television host Mehmet Oz.

Mr. Brower spent much of his life as a freelance writer and editor, which he described as an occupation in which freedom is often counterbalanced by a vague dread. “You don’t belong to anyone, and you can ski when you please,” Mr. Brower once quipped, “but you’re always haunted by the feeling that you should be working.”

By pedigree, Mr. Brower might have followed a more secure and traditional path. He was a Dartmouth graduate, and he attended Harvard Law School but left to study at Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship. He subsequently wrote guerrilla warfare manuals for the Army and instruction booklets for a toy company.

His ambition was to write for the men’s magazine Esquire, where he sold his first piece in 1959. It was a parody in which he imagined Shakespeare being interviewed by the Paris Review, and it began with a scene-setting of the great man’s home: “a stylish, imitation-Tudor house in Stratford-on-Avon [whose] slanting half-timbers, the asphodels, the greenwood and a new coat of arms . . . give a rich feeling of hey-nonny-no.”

Mr. Brower wrote mostly about the arts and national politics, and he became a regular contributor to Esquire, Life, Harper’s, the New York Times magazine, New York magazine and Smithsonian.

Some of his earliest profiles were of the accused Cold War spy Alger Hiss, whose ground rules included no note-taking; the pugnacious writer Norman Mailer (“By nature, he is the nervous challenger: elegant and lippy, relentless, timely and always just short”); and the fierce-minded novelist and critic Mary McCarthy.

“Mary McCarthy has the Nicest Smile,” Mr. Brower wrote in a 1962 Esquire story. “She can hold it there — flicking its long, white upper blade of handsome, emphatic teeth this way, that way at every conversational turn — for sometimes five, ten minutes at a stretch. Nothing cows it. She can smoke through it, argue through it, spill the beans through it, even smile through it.”

Mr. Brower also profiled vice presidents Spiro T. Agnew and Walter F. Mondale as well as Michigan Gov. George Romney (R) and Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D-Minn.) when they were presidential candidates. He was working on a Life feature story of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in 1969 when the Massachusetts Democrat drove his car off a bridge on Chappaquiddick Island, killing his young female passenger. The article was quickly repurposed for a cover story.

In the late 1970s, Mr. Brower wrote for the ABC News program “20/20” and for “3-2-1 Contact,” a science show produced by the Children’s Television Workshop. He wrote speeches for then-Attorney General Richard Thornburgh from 1989 to 1991 and later taught journalism at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H.

Brock Hendrickson Brower was born Nov. 27, 1931, in Plainfield, N.J., and raised in Westfield, N.J. His father, Charles, became president and chairman of BBDO, the prominent advertising company.

Mr. Brower was a 1953 Dartmouth graduate and received a master’s degree in English literature from Oxford’s Merton College in 1956.

That same year, he married Ann Montgomery, an American then working as a fashion model in Paris. Besides his wife, of Goleta, Calif., survivors include five children, Monty Brower of Natick, Mass., Emily Brower Auchard of San Anselmo, Calif., Elizabeth White of Los Angeles, Margaret Brower Elkins of Minneapolis and Alison Brower of New York; a brother, Charles N. Brower of Washington and the Hague; and five grandchildren.

Mr. Brower’s best-known novel, “The Late Great Creature” (1972), is about an aging horror-movie actor whose disdain for modern celebrity culture takes comically disturbing turns while on a publicity tour.

Time magazine declared Mr. Brower “an extraordinarily capable novelist” and other strong reviews followed. “His control of improbability is remarkable and his satiric aim is sure,” Alan Hislop wrote in The Washington Post. The book was reissued in 2011.

Mr. Brower’s other works included “Debris” (1967), a thriller set in a duck blind; “The Inchworm War and the Butterfly Peace” (1970), a children’s book written in verse, with illustrations by Arnold Roth; and “Putting America’s House in Order” (1996), a policy tome written with David M. Abshire, the longtime counselor to Republican administrations.

Mr. Brower also wrote “Blue Dog, Green River” (2005), narrated by a mongrel rover (and onetime chicken thief) and the rafting guide who owns and hopes to reform the dog. Writing in Booklist, Rebecca Maksel called it “rich in fantasy and folklore.”

Adam Bernstein has spent his career putting the "post" in Washington Post, first as an obituary writer and then as editor. The American Society of Newspaper Editors recognized Bernstein’s ability to exhume “the small details and anecdotes that get at the essence of the person” and to write stories that are “complex yet stylish.”
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