For me, The Paris Herald (*****) was like a thrilling ride in a time machine. It covers in detail the desperate time in the late 60s when the New York Herald Tribune failed, threatening its Paris satellite with extinction or (even worse in the eyes of the ink-stained wretches who worked there), a takeover by The New York Times. That eventually happened, but not until much later, after Katharine Graham’s decision to take a minority position for The Washington Post blocked the Times from gaining effective control.
This novel is catnip for the Paris or journalism junkie. James O. Goldsborough chose to relate a mostly true story as a novel, which of course gave him greater freedom of choice in his characters and the precision with which he deploys them. For what it’s worth, my memory matches up pretty well with his story.
Goldsborough, a talented journalist who was the paper’s most visible and interesting reporter during the time he recounts, explains well the tense period when the newspaper’s continued existence hung in the balance. But in addition to the business story, his sharp vignettes of the editors and managers, their wives and their mistresses (generally their secretaries; this was the time of Mad Men, after all) illuminate the old stories we’ve all read about being an American in Paris after the war.
I wrote for the International Herald Tribune in the early 70s, just after the period he describes, but as a special correspondent in matters economic in the German-speaking world, so my view is filtered by the limited personal contact I had with the editors in Paris. I remember with special fondness the editor, Buddy Weiss (here transformed into Sonny Stein) and his friendly but splendidly ugly dog Baron, who had his own place at the table when we went to lunch at the hotel across the street. Baron, alas, didn’t make it into the book.
As Goldsborough portrays it, the staff of the IHT was sixties American journalism boiled down. Barely twenty years after the end of the war, the American presence in all of Europe was still immense and the IHT was a must-read for the entire American business and diplomatic establishment, as well as many French business and government leaders, most of whom were comfortable in English. In France, De Gaulle reigned until 1969, after the famous demonstrations and strikes of May 1968, when he lost an insignificant referendum and resigned — but not until he’d pared back French cooperation with the American military very substantially.
Every American who went to Paris bought the Herald at one of the green newspaper kiosks of the time and took it away to read, whether in a park or a café. It’s hard to say whether it commanded the same respect it did between the wars — as Goldsborough writes in his Author’s Note, “Any American traveling in Paris in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century came across the Paris Herald at one time or another. It was available in the same kiosks on the Champs Elysées and quais along the Seine as the latest article in l’Aurore by Zola…. The Paris Herald … belonged to Paris as much as did Zola or Proust.”
Big changes came to the newspaper after the epoch Goldsborough recounts. In 1970 it was still printed on heavy old rotary presses in the basement of its seedy building on the Rue de Berri, a few steps off the Champs-Elysées. Goldsborough intelligently dissects the many difficulties it had with its communist printers’ union. Partly as a way to escape the union, it considered relocating to Zurich or somewhere else more orderly (I know from personal experience that it considered moving much of its printing to Frankfurt, where I lived), but ultimately decided to relocate to the ritzy suburb of Neuilly and switch to more modern printing technology. The union was pensioned off and the paper moved into a new age.
Now, of course, it’s truly international, printed in many locations from London to Hong Kong.
My author interview with James Goldsborough will appear July 31.
The Paris Herald: a Novel, by James Oliver Goldsborough. Prospecta Press, 2014. 304 pp. (This review is of the Kindle edition.)
The author’s personal web site.
Blog post from 2009 by Andrew Cusack: The Decline and Fall of the International Herald Tribune.
Breathless (À bout de souffle), the 1960 Jean-Luc Godard film starring Jean Seberg as a street vendor of the New York Herald Tribune involved with a petty criminal who shoots a policeman, with the predictable unfortunate results. Jean Dorothy Seberg of Marshalltown, Iowa, died young and is buried in Montparnasse Cemetery.
The film was remade in 1983, starring Richard Gere in a story moved to Los Angeles. . The French title was À Bout de Souffle Made in USA.