Otto Fuerbringer; Time Editor in 1960s Helped Start Money, People Magazines

Otto Fuerbringer continued Time's conservative political bent but expanded coverage of cultural and social changes.
Otto Fuerbringer continued Time's conservative political bent but expanded coverage of cultural and social changes. (2001 Photo By Peter Fuerbringer)
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By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 1, 2008

Otto Fuerbringer, 97, the commanding managing editor who guided Time magazine through the turbulence of the 1960s and who helped launch Money and People magazines a decade later, died July 28 at the Morningside retirement community in Fullerton, Calif. His son Jonathan Fuerbringer said the cause of death has not been determined.

Mr. Fuerbringer became managing editor of Time, the magazine's top editorial position, in 1960 and held the job for eight years. He was known in equal measure for his conservative political tastes, his imperious manner and his receptiveness to the fast-moving social trends of the era.

He had a stern, demanding editorial style that led Time staffers to call him the "Iron Chancellor" as he steered the magazine on a rightward course that reflected the views of the magazine's co-founder, Henry Luce. In its skepticism of the presidential candidacy of John F. Kennedy and in its initial support of the Vietnam War, Mr. Fuerbringer's Time magazine was something of the official voice of the conservative establishment.

"Fuerbringer was a striking figure, a man of presence, and he held power decisively and did not encourage dissent," David Halberstam wrote in his 1979 book about the nation's leading news outlets, "The Powers That Be."

"He was the most controversial man within Time magazine, immensely influential, perhaps the most influential conservative of his generation in journalism, but outside the magazine almost no one knew his name," Halberstam wrote.

In 1952, Mr. Fuerbringer wrote a critical cover article on Democratic presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson that was seen as crucial to the victory of Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower. The report sparked an internal rebellion at Time and made Mr. Fuerbringer unpopular with many of his co-workers.

As managing editor in 1960, Mr. Fuerbringer was set to be a political kingmaker again until he suffered an aneurysm midway through the campaign and temporarily stepped aside. When Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, Mr. Fuerbringer outraged many on his staff by not putting the president on the magazine's cover, choosing instead to run a portrait of his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson.

After voicing strong initial support for the war in Vietnam, Mr. Fuerbringer slowly changed his mind and, in 1968, wrote that the war could not be won.

Beyond the realm of politics and warfare, he expanded Time's coverage of culture and social trends and introduced bold artwork to its covers. He commissioned works by well-known artists, and many of the original sculptures and paintings used for Time covers are now housed at the National Portrait Gallery.

A 1964 cover story on changing sexual mores broke all records for newsstand sales. In 1966, Mr. Fuerbringer published a controversial cover consisting entirely of red words on a black background: "Is God Dead?"

The article explored the various ways Americans viewed faith and theology in an increasingly secular age, but the magazine was denounced by socially conservative readers.

In 1965, Mr. Fuerbringer had planned to name the Beatles as Time's iconic "Men of the Year" until he was dissuaded by lower-level editors. The magazine instead named Gen. William C. Westmoreland, commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, its man of the year.

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