Gerald. J. Gross, 94, noted American publisher and editor, dies

Gerald "Gerry" Gross was a noted American publisher and editor.
Gerald "Gerry" Gross was a noted American publisher and editor. (Baltimore Sun)

Gerald J. Gross, a noted American publisher and editor whose stable of authors included former Nazi official Albert Speer, Eudora Welty, Robert Penn Warren, Barbara W. Tuchman and E.E. Cummings, died Thursday of complications from cancer at his Brightwood retirement community home in Lutherville.

He was 94.


"He is entirely responsible for my literary career," said Jerald Walker, an author and professor of English at Emerson College in Boston. "I had been writing for some time for literary magazines and one day, out of the blue, he called me and said he had read my story 'Visible Man' — which reminded him of Ralph Ellison, with whom he had worked and who had written, 'The Invisible Man.'

"He asked if I had other pieces and helped me get a literary agent," said Dr. Walker, whose memoir, "Street Shadows: A Memoir of Race, Rebellion and Redemption," won the 2011 PEN New England/L.L. Winship Award for Nonfiction and was named the Best Memoir of the Year by Kirkus Review.


"Gerry was patient and knowledgeable. He was a good pitcher and could see how to makes changes in a story or a chapter for a broader audience," said Dr. Walker. "He was a very generous and kind man."

The son of David Gross, a milliner, and Fay Gross, a homemaker, Gerald Jeremiah Gross was born in Jersey City, N.J., and later moved to New York City, where he graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School.

Mr. Gross was a student at the College of the City of New York when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

He dropped out of college, married the former Flora Finn, and enlisted in the Army Air Forces "all in the same week," said his son, Adam Gross of Ruxton.


He served with the 8th Air Force's 44th Bomb Group , the most decorated group of World War II, as a navigator and bombardier aboard Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers, and flew 24 missions over Germany until the war's end.

A lieutenant, he was involved in the Battle of the Bulge and Remagen, "two of the most harrowing bombing runs of the war," his son said.

At the end of the war, he landed his first job in publishing with Rynal & Hitchcok in 1945, a company that merged with Harcourt Brace, where he remained for 14 years.

In 1947, he earned a bachelor's degree in English literature from Columbia University.

During his years at Harcourt Brace, he was the first editor to have the National Book Award presented to two of his authors in the same year: for fiction, Wright Morris' "Field of Vision," and for poetry, Richard Wilbur's "Things of This World."

He later joined Pantheon Books and supervised publication of "Born Free," "Dr. Zhivago," "The Tin Drum" and "The Leopard," which became motion pictures.

In 1962, he joined Macmillan Publishers, where as senior vice president he was in charge of the company's general book division, responsible for publication of 450 books per year.

Other authors Mr. Gross worked with included Alfred Kazin, Le Corbusier, George Orwell, Lewis Mumford, Carl Jung, Hannah Arendt, Mary McCarthy, film director Frank Capra and actors Marlene Diertrich, Jack Lemmon, and Maurice Chevalier.

One of Mr. Gross' notable publishing coups was arranging — 20 years after the end of World War II — the publication of the English-language translation of Speer's book "Inside the Third Reich." It became an international best-seller.

During his confinement at Spandau Prison in Berlin, Speer completed the memoir in 1954 that became the basis for his book. He had been a German architect and an adviser to Adolf Hitler, and he became a close friend of Mr. Gross'. Their relationship continued until Speer's death in 1981 in London.

"Unknown at the time, my father had Speer agree to release all his income from his American sale of the book directly to New York refugee aid organizations," said Mr. Gross' son, adding that his father was "one of the only World War II veterans to have had a relationship with a high-ranking official of Hitler's Cabinet."

Baltimore Circuit Judge Gale E. Rasin became a good friend of Mr. Gross, who urged her to write about her judicial anecdotes.

"Unless you're O.J. Simpson's lawyer or a Supreme Court justice, who cares about judicial anecdotes?" said Judge Rasin with a laugh, who said she never got around to writing the book.

"We just hit it off, and he was one of the most fascinating individuals I've ever met," said Judge Rasin.

Mr. Gross left publishing in 1975 and moved to Boston when he was named vice president for arts, publications and media at Boston University.

He engaged Dan Gustin, assistant manager of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, in a project to guide inner-city children to careers as orchestra musicians. From that discussion, the program Project STEP was conceived.

In 1984, he persuaded BU President John R. Silber to start Huntington Theatre, which has grown into Boston's leading professional theater company and was the 2013 recipient of a regional Tony Award.

"There would have been no Huntington Theatre Company without Gerry Gross," wrote Michael Maso, managing director of the theater company, in a memo to trustees and others informing them of Mr. Gross' death. "He was a warm and passionate supporter of all of the arts, but ... he was deeply devoted to the Huntington."

Mr. Gross also encouraged intellectual copyright lawyers to found a literary agency in 1990, and the Kneerim, Williams and Bloom literary agency in New England was born. Mr. Gross continued directing talented authors to it until his death.

After Mr. Gross moved to Baltimore in 1995, he maintained a vigorous schedule. He taught and lectured on publishing at Goucher College, New York University, Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, Boston University and the Pratt Institute.

He was a member of the boards of the National Translation Center, the Ford Foundation, the American Institute of Graphic Art and the National Book Committee.

In addition to continually reading and searching for new literary talent, Mr. Gross maintained an extensive interest in musicology, film, theater and art history.

His wife, who was a director of the American Institute of Graphic Arts, died in 2005.

Mr. Gross was a member of Bolton Street Synagogue, 212 W. Cold Spring Lane, where a memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Nov. 12.

In addition to his son, he is survived by a daughter, Sarah Gross of Weston, Conn.; and two granddaughters.