We remember mid-2oth century Westport as an artists’ colony. We recall the many “Mad Men” advertising executives who lived here too.
But Westport was also home to movers and shakers in the publishing world. Last week, the New York Times ran an obituary of one of the most remarkable of all.
Gerald Gross died earlier this month of bladder cancer. He was 94.
The longtime book editor “was instrumental in bringing the memoirs of Adolf Hitler’s close associate Albert Speer to an English-speaking readership,” Bruce Weber wrote.
Gross — who had already won National Book Awards as a Harcourt Brace editor — was in the top ranks at Macmillan in 1968. Though he was Jewish — and had flown bombing missions over Germany during World War II — Gross “developed a collegial relationship if not a friendship” with Speer, Hitler’s minister of armaments who during 20 years in prison surreptitiously wrote notes for what later became 2 best-selling memoirs.
Gross worked on contracts for the books, and with translators to edit them.
Speer later called his collaboration with Gross “one of the wonderful experiences of my life.”
Gross’ son Adam — a 1973 graduate of Staples High School, and now a noted architect — told the Times that his father felt “conflicted.”
“As a publisher he thought it was an important book, and I think he saw it as an obligation to have this guy tell his story.”
Gerry Gross said in 2005 that for “the sake of my own conscience in working with Speer,” he told the former Nazi to send his American royalties to a refugee aid group.
Gross — a Jersey City native who got married the day after Pearl Harbor, and enlisted in the Army Air Forces the day after that — first came to Westport in 1950. He and his wife Flora rented a summer cottage on the Saugatuck River. Boarders included Robert Penn Warren, who sat in their little cabin and wrote while Gross was in the city.
Gerry and Flora moved to Weston full time when their daughter Sarah was born in 1952. The house they bought on Godfrey Road was lived in earlier by Burl Ives, then sailing dinghy racer and designer Sandy Douglass.
The Grosses moved to a farmhouse on Greens Farms Road in 1962, and were part of a wide circle of artist and writer friends.
In the late 1960s Flora opened the Illustrators Gallery on Main Street. She later became director of the American Institute for Graphic Arts in New York.
In 1976 the couple relocated to Boston, where Gerry became vice president for the arts, publications and media at Boston University. He helped found and run the Huntington Theater Company there.
They kept their Westport home, renting it out and intending to retire here. They moved back in 1996, but could not stay long because of Flora’s Parkinson’s. In 1998 they moved to Baltimore, to be near Adam’s family.
His wife died 10 years ago. Now Gerry Gross — one of the last living links to one of World War II’s vilest men — is gone too.