The Life of Otto Friedrich

Boy OttoOtto Friedrich was born in Boston in 1929 to Carl J. Friedrich and his wife Lenore. Carl Joachim Friedrich (also known as “C.J.”) was born in 1901 in Leipzig, Germany. He received his PhD from Heidelberg University in 1925 and came to the United States on a student exchange program. It was there that he met his future wife, Lenore Pelham, and also came to the attention of the Chairman of the Government Department at Harvard University, Arthur Holcombe. Carl received his first academic appointment at Harvard in 1926 and stayed there as Eaton Professor of the Science of Government until his retirement in 1971. Carl wrote numerous articles and books. Among them was seminal work, “Constitutional Government and Democracy”. He is also known for his 1956 book, “Totalitarian Dictatorship and Autocracy”, which he co-wrote with his student, Zbigniew Brzezinski. As a German American, Carl often felt that it was his responsibility to represent Germany’s more noble traditions. He was a vocal opponent of Hitler and the Nazi regime and, in keeping with his sense of obligation to persecuted peoples, he became a fervent Zionist. Carl was an exceptionally gifted political scientist and writer who extended his influence by taking an active part in the creation of Germany’s constitution after World War II. The young Otto was deeply involved with his parents and they enjoyed a lively written communication throughout their lives. In one especially fascinating letter, Otto recounts how, at age 16, he hitchhiked across the country. America was still in wartime mode and Otto met a variety of interesting people who gave him rides through the heartland. He made stops in Buffalo, Kentland, Indiana, Peoria, Illinois, Chicago and Milwaukee until he ended up in Des Moines. In Des Moines he went to the Register Tribune and convinced them to let him have the police beat since the man who had covered it was in the hospital recovering from a breakdown. Otto ended up spending the summer  in Des Moines  as a reporter. He took a while to find his literary stride. His career took him from the copy desk at Stars and Stripes to a top writing job at Time, with stops in between with the United Press in London and Paris and with The Daily News and Newsweek in New York. But it was the seven years he spent with The Saturday Evening Post, including four as its last managing editor, that established Mr. Friedrich as a writer of note. When the venerable magazine folded in 1969, Mr. Friedrich, who had seen the end coming and kept meticulous notes, delineated its demise in a book, ‘Decline and Fall,” which was published by Harper & Row the next year. Hailed as both an engaging and definitive account of corporate myopia, the book, which won a George Polk Memorial Award, is still used as a textbook by both journalism and business schools. From then on, Mr. Friedrich, who had tried his hand as a novelist in the 1950’s and 60’s and written children’s books with his wife, Priscilla Boughton, wrote nonfiction, turning out an average of one book every two years. They include “Clover: A Love Story,” a 1979 biography of Mrs. Henry Adams; “City of Nets: Hollywood in the 1940’s” (1986); “Glenn Gould: A Life and Variations,” (1989); “Olympia: Paris in the Age of Manet,” (1992), and “Blood and Iron,” a study of the Von Moltke family of Germany. He wrote his books, as well as reams of freelance articles and book reviews, while holding down a full-time job with Time that required him to write in a distinct style far different from the one he used at home. Otto, who joined Time as a senior editor in 1971 and retired in 1990 after a decade as a senior writer, wrote 40 major cover stories as well as hundreds of shorter pieces, all of them produced on an old-fashioned Royal typewriter that he was given special dispensation to continue using long after the magazine converted to computers. Friedrich Family Otto and his wife Priscilla had 5 children: Liesel, Molly,  Nicky, Amelia and Tony. Tony would tragically die at age 28 in a plane crash in Honduras. Otto’s oldest daughter, Liesel Friedrich, portrayed her father as a New England moralist whose life and literary interests reflected his disenchantment with much of 20th-century culture, noted that his aptitude for anachronism did not end with typewriters. “We had five rotary telephones in this house,” she said. In addition to pursuing his eclectic interests into print, Mr. Friedrich also had a knack for turning his own life into art. When he tried to grow roses, the record of his failure became a book, “The Rose Garden” (1972). When relatives were stricken with schizophrenia, his frustration drove him to produce a study of insanity, “Going Crazy” (1976), which is both literary and clinical. Otto died at the North Shore University Hospital in North Shore, L.I.  The cause was lung cancer, a disease diagnosed two weeks before, said Liesel. She said her father, once a heavy smoker, had given up cigarettes 20 years prior. He was 66 and lived in Locust Valley, New York at the time of his death.