Pioneer Journalist Ruth Gruber, 99, Photographed 1947 Exodus; Honored With Norman Mailer Award
October 21, 2010
I was delighted that 99-year-old Ruth Gruber—reporter, photographer, memoirist and humanitarian—was honored with the Distinguished Humanitarian and Journalism Prize the other night at the second Annual Norman Mailer Center Benefit Gala and feted at Cipriani 42nd Street by New York’s literati.
First, Gruber, born in Brooklyn in 1911, could not be more deserving.
A feminist before feminism, she was a remarkable reporter and photojournalist. Soon after becoming the youngest woman to earn a doctorate (for her thesis on Virginia Woolf), she became the first foreign correspondent to fly across the Siberian arctic to report on the Soviet Union in 1936 at the start of her career for The New York Herald Tribune. She went on to file reports from Alaska in 1941.
Most importantly, she escorted Holocaust refugees to America in 1944, covered the Nuremberg trials in 1946, and documented the attack on the refugee boat Exodus by the British in 1947.
Graciously accepting her award, Gruber cited advice she had received from photographer Edward Steichen: “He said to me one day, take pictures with your heart.”
And, boy, did she ever. Her photos form aboard of the prison ship Runnymede Park were sent by the Herald Tribune around the world, and her photo of the swastika painted on the British Union Jack became Life magazine’s Picture of the Week. Her book, Exodus 1947: The Ship that Launched a Nation, provided the material for the book and movie Exodus and for numerous TV documentaries.
I was also glad she received the award now because I had missed the opportunity in September to write about Ahead Of Time, a documentary about her life by award-winning cinematographer Bob Richman (An Inconvenient Truth and My Architect) when the film was released. Here’s the trailer:
After the Norman Mailer Center gala, Vanity Fair writer Patricia Bosworth went over to congratulate Ruth, whom Bosworth has known since she was a little girl. “Ruth,” she said, “what does it feel like to be 99 years old?” Ruth is tiny and delicate. She smiled and in a soft little voice said, “Oh, Patti, being 99 feels just like being 98.”
Here’s Bosworth’s report: