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Ralph de Toledano, 90; Ardent Conservative

By Joe Holley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Ralph de Toledano, 90, a prolific author and journalist and a passionate partisan for the cause of conservatism, died Feb. 3 of cancer at Suburban Hospital in Bethesda. He was a longtime resident of the District.

Mr. de Toledano was a former editor for Newsweek and National Review. His political views migrated steadily rightward through the decades, a political path trodden by a number of leftist intellectuals from the 1930s and 1940s. Ardent anti-Communism was the impetus, Mr. de Toledano said in books, articles and interviews.

He once described himself as "a non-conformist conservative with general (though often critical) Republican sympathies." Toward the end of his life, he labeled himself a libertarian, his son Paul Toledano said.

Mr. de Toledano's disillusionment with the left became irrevocable when Newsweek assigned him to cover the 1950 trial of Alger Hiss, a State Department official accused of perjury in a case involving charges that he was a Soviet spy. Mr. de Toledano came to believe in the veracity of Whittaker Chambers, a former managing editor at Time and Hiss's chief accuser.

"Whittaker Chambers became like a surrogate grandfather," his son said.

"Communism was a serious threat in many ways," Mr. de Toledano said in a 1998 interview with the National Security Archive at George Washington University. Those who raised alarms about its dangers, he said, "had a hard time, because we were considered wild men, we were considered Red baiters, we were considered Fascist and so on."

Mr. de Toledano was close to Richard Nixon over the years, having written a number of columns in support of his 1950 Senate campaign. He remained a Nixon supporter, even when his National Review colleagues backed Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater for the Republican presidential nomination in 1960.

Interviewed on MSNBC's "Hardball With Chris Matthews" in 2005, Mr. de Toledano said that during the Watergate crisis, he advised Nixon to burn the White House tapes on the White House lawn.

"They haven't been subpoenaed, so they can't do anything to you, because, otherwise, you're going to be dead," he said he told Nixon. "And he said, 'Oh, no, they're history and they'll never be able to get them.' And that's what killed him."

He wrote 26 books, including "Seeds of Treason" (1950), "Nixon" (1956), "The Goldwater Story" (1964), "Lament for a Generation" (1960) and "Cry Havoc: The Great American Bring-down and How It Happened" (2006). He also wrote several books on jazz, two volumes of poetry and two novels.

Mr. de Toledano, of Sephardic Jewish heritage with roots in Toledo, Spain, was born in Tangier, Morocco, to American parents. When he was 5, the family moved to New York City, where he studied at the Society for Ethical Culture's Fieldston School. A violin prodigy, he also studied at the Juilliard School.

He received an undergraduate degree in 1938 from Columbia University, where he majored in literature and philosophy and edited the Jester, named the best college humor magazine in the nation during his tenure.

In 1940, he became editor of the New Leader, founded in 1924 by the American Socialist Party. By the time Mr. de Toledano took over, the magazine had broken with the Socialists over the issue of Stalinism and was becoming an outspoken voice of liberal anti-Communism.

Mr. de Toledano served in the Army during World War II, initially as an antiaircraft gunner. He was proficient in Spanish and French, and the Office of Strategic Services, predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency, sent him to Cornell University for a crash course in Italian with plans to use him in Italy for undercover operations. He was dropped from the program after being deemed too anti-Communist to work with Italian leftists.

After the war, he was publicity director for the International Ladies' Garment Workers' Union before joining Newsweek in 1948.

For National Review, founded in 1955, he wrote "National Review Bulletin," a twice-monthly column from Washington. Later, he was the magazine's music critic. He also wrote a column syndicated nationally by King Features.

In 1975, consumer activist Ralph Nader filed a lawsuit against Mr. de Toledano in connection with a de Toledano suggestion -- denied by Nader -- that Nader had "falsified and distorted" evidence about the Corvair. The case lingered in court for years and cost Mr. de Toledano his life savings. Paul Toledano said it was settled out of court.

In 1979, Mr. de Toledano was the ghost writer for a memoir written by Mark Felt, the former FBI official who revealed in 2005 that he was "Deep Throat," the anonymous Watergate source for Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein.

Mr. de Toledano said that when he helped write the memoir, "The FBI Pyramid: From the Inside," he had no idea that Felt was Deep Throat. Otherwise, Mr. de Toledano said, he would not have agreed to sign away his rights to the book for $10,000. In 2006, he sued, saying that Felt's son Mark Felt Jr. and his attorney duped him.

His marriage to Nora Romaine de Toledano ended in divorce.

His second wife, Eunice Godbold de Toledano, died in 1999.

In addition to son Paul, of Brooklyn, from his first marriage, survivors include another son from that marriage, James Toledano of Costa Mesa, Calif.; a brother; a sister; and two grandchildren.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company