Former Executive Producer Henry Morgenthau Releases New Book

Screen Shot 2016-08-14 at 3.16.22 PMPassager Books, a not-for-profit press dedicated to publishing the work of older writers, has just released A Sunday in Purgatory, a book of poems by 99-year old Henry Morgenthau III (he’ll be 100 next January).

Henry was a WGBH staffer from 1955 to 1977.  During that time he executive produced a variety of series and documentaries, including “The Negro and the American Promise” (1963) with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., James Baldwin, and others; Focus on Metropolis; and Eleanor Roosevelt: Prospects of Mankind (1959-62).  His work won him and WGBH national acclaim, including Emmy, Peabody, UPI, and other awards and nominations. 

Henry’s father, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., was FDR’s Treasury Secretary and played a major role in shaping the New Deal and America’s post WWII policies toward Germany; his grandfather, Henry Morgenthau, was ambassador to the Ottoman Empire during WWI and the most prominent American to speak out against the Armenian genocide. 

Photo_of_Henry_Morgenthau_IIIAfter a long and impressive career as a producer and as an author, Henry III began writing poetry in his 90s.

The poems in A Sunday in Purgatory combine memoir (his father “steadying the trembling hand [of FDR] as he mixed Bourbon Old Fashioneds and nibbled caviar, a gift from the Soviet ambassador,” for example), reflections on aging (“Anticipation of death is like looking for a new job”), and wrestling with the tension that exists between being part of a famous American family and yet knowing that he’s an individual, separate from his family history:       

I need to be the person
my friends and family believe me to be…
I can’t be the person I am,
but can’t push him out.
Perhaps he will be stillborn
After I die… 

2016 Pulitzer Prize winner Peter Balakian said, “Henry Morgenthau’s poems are crisp, elegant forays into memory both personal and cultural… His surgical examinations of self and his unflinching stare into mortality define the unique and honest voice of this remarkable first book of poems.”



From Paul Noble: Last night in Washington DC,  35 relatives and friends came together to celebrate Henry’s 100th birthday. Henry read one of his poems, entertained with his usual wit.


WGBH alum Henry Morgenthau III is scheduled to be interviewed tomorrow morning (Sat, 1/14) by Scott Simon on NPR’s Weekend Edition Saturday. 

Henry turned 100 on Wednesday and just published his first book of poetry, A Sunday in Purgatory (Passager Books).

Happy Birthday, Henry.

7 thoughts on “Former Executive Producer Henry Morgenthau Releases New Book

  1. Paul Noble reports: Last night in Washington DC, 35 relatives and friends came together to celebrate Henry’s 100th birthday. Henry read one of his poems, entertained with his usual wit.

  2. Just want to congratulate Henry on his poetry collection. Where can I find it?
    I’ve also been working on a poetry collection, trying to get it published. I published a novella back in ’97 called “The Francesca Diaries”, which can be found on Amazon. People tell me it’s a great read!
    My memories of ‘GBH are cherished. It was a great time in my life!

  3. It’s amazing to read that Henry’s writing poems in his ’90’s. I think it’s wonderful. I, too am writing poems, although I’ve been writing them for far longer than he. I’m also working on getting them published, (hopefully), as I think they’re quite good. (I published my novella, “The Francesca Diaries”, in ’97, which was very well received. You can find it on Amazon.
    Joan Summerfield-Gray (1966-68 WGBH)

  4. How wonderful to have HM III’s sights and insights. I look forward to reading the new book. Working with him was one of my best memories from my time running WGBH’s early “Film Department.” The logistics of getting crew, equipment and special film stock from Kodak to accompany him to Africa, in the mid-’60s, was a new and testing experience for all of us. Totally rewarding. HM III is in my permanent lexicon of acronyms, recognized immediately.

  5. After graduating from Smith College in 1961 and UCLA with an MA in African History in 1963, I began working for Henry’s wife Ruth Morganthau when she was teaching at Brandeis. Not long after that, I started working for Henry at WGBH, helping to make several documentaries on Africa: South Africa (2) and Tanzania (1) for PBS. Along with Tom Bywaters, we all traveled to Tanzania in 1965, where I got malaria and returned early to the US. I left ‘GBH in May, 1966 when I got married and moved to Colorado, where I still live w/ husband Ed Kahn, 3 kids and 6 grandchildren, ages 8 to 15. I even worked for a while making documentaries in Denver, initially for the ABC affiliate, then for the public TV station KRMA. Mostly now I work on educational reform issues.

    I just want to say hi to Henry (those were great years!) and congratulate him on his new poetry book. Where can I buy a copy? Anyone know? Dang, it’s been 50 years! Thanks to Caroline Isber, a fellow WGBH employee during the 1960s, who linked me to this site. Anyone know the whereabouts of Ruth Curtis? Or Tom Bywaters? I think we knew each other too, Ginny Kassel.

    • Dear Cyndi Chutter Kahn,

      Delighted to see your mention of Caroline Isber, with whom my Globe teammate Bryant Rollins and I did a old-time freebie weekly GBH Radio broadcast of “This Week at the Statehouse.” Can you point me toward Caroline today with email address or phone numbers?

      Up with you and Henry Morgenthau and Caroline and the pioneers who still think like pioneers.

  6. Delighted to read the news of HM III new book. What an honor it was to work with him and what a precious memory. I look forward to reading his poetry.

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