White, Theodore H. (Theodore Harold), 1915-1986

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1915-05-06
Death 1986-05-15
Americans
English

Biographical notes:

Theodore Harold White (1915-1986), American journalist and author, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1962 for his book, The Making of the President, 1960.

From the description of Papers of Theodore H. White, 1922-1986 (inclusive). (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 77002817

A pioneering political journalist, Theodore Harold White (1915-1986) gained prominence for his indepth coverage of American political campaigns. His book The Making of the President--1960 helped to alter the style and character of presidential campaigns as well as the way reporters cover them. Born May 6, 1915, in Boston, Massachusetts, Theodore H. White (known as Teddy) was the son of David and Mary Winkeller White. His father, a Jewish immigrant from Russia, was a poor neighborhood lawyer until his death in 1931. After graduating from the Boston Latin School in 1932, White could not afford to attend college. He found a job selling newspapers on a streetcar--his start in journalism. After working two years as a newsboy and Hebrew teacher, White enrolled at Harvard in 1934 with the help of a scholarship from Harvard and a grant from the Newsboy Foundation. He studied Chinese and graduated summa cum laude with a degree in history. Awarded a travelling fellowship, he arranged to write articles for the Boston Globe and headed for the Far East. He sold articles to the Globe and to the Manchester Guardian and obtained a job with the Chinese Information Committee. After witnessing the Japanese bombing of Peking (now Beijing) in 1939 he decided to remain a journalist rather than return to Harvard and become a professor. While in China White accepted a job as a stringer for Time magazine. He became a staff reporter in 1940. Among his early contacts was the future Communist leader Chou En-lai. In 1941 White moved to New York to become Time''s Far East editor, but after the United States entered World War II he returned to Asia as a war correspondent and chief of Time''s bureau there. During the war he covered the Honan famine in 1943, followed the internal political struggles in China, interviewed Mao Tse-tung [Zedong], observed the conflict in American war strategies, and reported the formal Japanese surrender above the U.S.S. Missouri on September 2, 1945. After the war White''s unfavorable opinion of the nationalist Chinese leader Chiang Kai-chek, whom Time publisher Henry Luce admired, led to a break with Time magazine. White elaborated his own views of China in a book, Thunder Out of China (written with Annalee Jacoby), which was selected by the Book-of-the-Month Club and became an immediate best-seller in 1946. He served briefly as an editor of The New Republic magazine, but found the demands of Henry Wallace too restricting. White edited the papers of Gen. Joseph Stilwell whom he had met in China and respected. Given the political atmosphere in America in the early Cold War years, White''s stand on China was considered radical, and he found the pages of major publications closed to his writings. With the sizable amount of money he received for Thunder Out of China he left for Paris to work for the Overseas News Agency. When the agency went broke, he became a free-lance writer and then in 1951 the chief European correspondent for The Reporter magazine. He spent over five years in Europe covering the major postwar stories, the economic recovery program (the Marshall Plan), and the formation of a Western military defense alliance (NATO). He wrote a book summarizing his European experience, Fire in the Ashes, which was also accepted by the Book-of-the-Month Club. White returned to the United States in 1953 to concentrate on American politics. Almost immediately he became a victim of the politics of the McCarthy era for defending his old China friend John Patton Davies, who was under investigation by the State Department. White found himself targeted and had his passport temporarily revoked. The experience not only frightened him but also inhibited him (which he later regretted) from writing again about foreign policy or defense issues. In 1954 he became national political correspondent for The Reporter and then for the mass magazine Colliers. He wrote stories on a wide range of topics, including aviation and the emerging national highway system. When Colliers folded in late 1956, as the growing popularity of television undermined the market for general-interest periodicals, White was unable to find a job in journalism he liked. He turned to fiction and wrote two best-selling novels. The Mountain Road, set in China, was accepted by the Book-of-the-Month Club and was made into a movie. His second book, The View From the Fortieth Floor, depicted his experience at Colliers. It was a Literary Guild selection, and the film rights were sold to the actor Gary Cooper for $80,000. With his financial independence temporarily secure, White embarked on the major project of his career, a study of presidential campaigns, which earned him respect as a political reporter and as a contemporary historian. He chose to view presidential elections as a dramatic story--with an eye for anecdotal details and an awareness of historical themes--in books that would be published after the votes were counted. Auspiciously he began his quest with the 1960 presidential election which featured a ready-made hero--John Kennedy--and villain--Richard Nixon. Journalistically, he had the field to himself as the media tended to ignore primaries. His book, The Making of the President--1960, was enormously successful. Combining a novelist''s skill for storytelling with an historian''s sense of the wider significance, White initiated a new genre of political reporting. Another Book-of-the-Month Club selection, the book sold over four million copies and earned him about half a million dollars. With his accomplishment, presidential campaigns would never be the same again for either the news media or the candidates. White regarded Kennedy not only as a personal hero but as a watershed figure in American politics. In the aftermath of Kennedy''s death, White met with Jacqueline Kennedy at her request and in an article for LIFE magazine attached the label "Camelot" to the Kennedy myth. Looking back, White pointed to Kennedy''s assassination as the moment of division in American politics between a period of stability and what he called the stormy era. Yet, despite the turbulence of the later stage, White remained a fascinated and optimistic observer of American politicians. White continued his coverage of elections with books on the 1964, 1968, and 1972 campaigns. After President Nixon''s resignation he wrote Breach of Faith: The Fall of Richard Nixon. He skipped the 1976 campaign while he wrote his autobiography, In Search of History: A Personal Adventure. White''s later effort, America in Search of Itself (1982), focused on the 1980 campaign but also served as a review of 25 years of history, culminating his project. White received numerous journalism awards, including a Pulitzer Prize (1962) and two Emmys for his television writing. White had two children by his first wife and lived with his second wife, Beatrice Hofstadter, in Bridgewater, Connecticut. He died in New York City on May 15, 1986, following a stroke.

From the description of White, Theodore H. (Theodore Harold), 1915-1986 (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration). naId: 10679521

Theodore Harold White (1915-1986) earned his Harvard AB 1936.

In Spring, 1936, History 5b was taught by Arthur Schlesinger, Sr.

From the description of Student notes for History 5b, Spring, 1936. (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 77064999

Theodore H. White (1915-1986) was an American journalist. He was a foreign correspondent and later wrote books about United States presidential electons .

Hewas born in a Jewish neighborhood of Dorchester, Massachusetts on May 6, 1915, the second child and first son of David and Mary Winkeller White. A Russian immigrant who had earned a law degree from Northeastern, David White was barely able to support his wife and four children on the income from his meager law practice. The family lived with White's maternal grandparent's in a two-family house on Erie Street. Despite his family's economic situation, White received an excellent education, first at the William Endicott school and Christopher Gibson school in Dorchester and then at the Boston Latin School. At the insistence of his orthodox grandparents, White also attended the Beth-El Hebrew school and later the Hebrew College of Boston in the evenings.

After David White's death in 1931, the White family was forced to go on home relief. Upon his graduation from the Boston Latin School in 1932, White became the primary breadwinner for his mother and three siblings and had to postpone college for two years to work as a newspaper boy. A scholarship from the Burroughs Newsboy Foundation along with a Harvard scholarship finally enabled White to enroll at Harvard as a commuter student in 1934. In his sophmore year, White became interested in Chinese history and decided to become the only undergraduate major in Chinese. John Fairbank, then a first-year professor, was assigned as his tutor and became an important mentor for White, greatly influencing his early career. White graduated summa cum laude in 1938 and won a Sheldon Travelling Fellowship. Fairbank had encouraged him to become a journalist rather than a history professor, and White used his fellowship to fund a trip around the world.

White arrived in Chungking, China in 1939 and was hired by the Kuomintang's propoganda office as a writer. He soon became disillusioned with Chiang K'ai-shek's government, and accepted John Hersey's offer to become a stringer for Time Magazine. White's dispatches immediately impressed his editors at Time, and he was soon promoted to Time Bureau Chief in China . White's relationship with Henry Luce and Time soured when his story of Joseph Stilwell's dismissal in 1944 was rewritten to reflect Time 's pro-Chiang K'ai-shek bias. White resigned from Time in 1946 and wrote, with colleague Annalee Jacoby, Thunder Out of China (William Sloane, 1947), an uncensored account of the Kuomintang's approaching collapse and the rise of the Communists.

Despite the critical and popular success of Thunder Out of China, White's career foundered after leaving Time . At the request of Stillwell's widow, he edited a volume of Stillwell's personal papers published in 1948 and worked briefly as an editor for the New Republic in 1947. Labelled as too sympathetic to the Chinese communists and left wing in the post-war climate, White was unable to find work as a foreign correspondent for any major newspaper. Finally he was hired by the Overseas News Agency, a tiny foreign news service, as their Paris correspondent in 1948. After O.N.A. went bankrupt in 1950, White spent three more years in Paris writing free-lance for The Reporter and other magazines. He summarized his five years covering the rebuilding of Europe under the Marshall Plan in Fire in the Ashes (Sloane, 1953). Like his first book, Fire in the Ashes was critically acclaimed and selected for the Book-of-the-Month Club.

White returned to New York in 1953 and was hired as the national correspondent for the liberal magazine The Reporter . In 1954, White testified on behalf of the diplomat John Paton Davies who White had worked with in Chungking and was being investigated by the State Department's Security Hearing Board . During the hearing, White was also accused of supporting the Chinese communists and temporarily had his passport confiscated. Chafing under the domineering control of The Reporter 's publisher Max Ascoli, White quit to become the national political correspondent of Collier's Magazine in 1955. Even though it had a circulation of over 4 million, Collier's was unable to compete with the more successful weekly magazines, Life and Look, and ceased publication in December, 1956.

White later wrote that after he left Collier's "I would never again be employed by anyone." White had previously attempted to write short fiction, and in 1957 decided to write a novel about his experiences in East China during World War II. The Mountain Road, published in 1958, was once again a Book-of-the-Month Club selection, a best seller, and a critical success. White fictionalized his experience at Collier's in a second novel, The View from the Fortieth Floor, published in 1960. Gary Cooper purchased the film rights to the novel, and White used the proceeds to finance his next book project, The Making of the President, 1960.

White had always been fascinated by American politics and decided in 1960 to follow the presidential campaign and write a book-length analysis. White's publisher William Sloane was not interested in the project, but Simon Michael Bessie, who had just started Atheneum, was willing to give White an advance. Until then, most political reporters felt that readers' only interest in a presidential race was who would win, and that no one would want to read a book-length treatise after the election was over. The Making of the President, 1960, which told the story of the 1960 election with the suspense and drama of a novel, was not only a phenomenal best-seller but also significantly changed the nature of political reporting . After 1960, coverage of presidential campaigns went far beyond reporting daily events to look at the behind-the-scenes machinations. The Making of the President, 1960 won the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction.

White wrote three more books in the Making of the President series, on the 1964, 1968, and 1972 elections. Critical reactions to the subsequent books were mixed. Some critics lambasted White's flattering portrayal of Richard Nixon in the 1968 and 1972 campaigns. White decided to quit the series after the turbulence of Watergate and published his own Watergate analysis, Breach of Faith, in 1975. White's final summary volume on American politics, America in Search of Itself, was published in 1982.

Throughout his career, White was a remarkably prolific writer. In addition to his quadrennial books on presidential elections, White wrote numerous articles on a diverse array of subjects: U.S. political figures, civil rights, urban development, the environment, and the opening of China. After 1962, White reestablished his relationship with Time/Life and was a frequent contributor to Life Magazine and Time, as well as the New York Times Magazine, The Saturday Review, and the Reader's Digest . His play about Julius Caesar, Caesar at the Rubicon, was published in 1968 and produced in 1971. He wrote eight documentary screenplays, including the Emmy award winning China, the Roots of Madness . He described his childhood and early career in his autobiography In Search of History, published in 1978.

White held many board and consultancy positions. He was on the Encyclopaedia Britannica board from 1962 to 1986, and was a consultant for CBS in the early 1960's. He was a member of the Harvard Overseers, 1968-1972, and was chair of the Harvard History Department Visiting Committee, 1968-1972. In 1958 he started a small business which published the Executive Desk Diary, a bound engagement calendar. He also served on the board of many small organizations including The Author's Guild, the Citizen's Research Foundation, and the Empire State Report. He was an active member of the Century Club and the Council on Foreign Relations.

White married Nancy Bean in 1947. They had two children, a daughter Ariana Van der Heyden (Heyden) in 1949, and a son David Fairbank in 1951, both born during White's sojourn in Paris. White's first marriage ended in divorce, and he married Beatrice Kevitt Hofstadter in 1974. White died of a cerebral hemorrhage on May 15, 1986.

From the guide to the Papers of T. H. White, 1922-1986, (Harvard University Archives)

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Subjects:

  • Journalists
  • Presidents--Election--History--20th century

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not available for this record

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  • United States (as recorded)