The Death of Richard Holbrooke
The legendary ambassador and special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan had collapsed in Washington while Marton was in New York. He called her from the ambulance, en route to the emergency room. “I feel a pain I have never felt,” Holbrooke said, with fear in his voice, according to Marton. “I am on my way!” she shouted. “Those were my last words to Richard.”
“For months letters arrive each day.” But Marton noticed a handwritten note, “addressed to Mrs. Richard C. Holbrooke in the tiniest handwriting I have ever seen.” It said: “I woke up this morning and thought of you, and of all the mornings you will wake up without Richard. Signed, Joan Didion.”
After college and graduate school, Marton worked as an investigative reporter for WCAU-TV in Philadelphia. She won a Peabody for a special report on the Philadelphia Orchestra’s historic cultural exchange trip to China. But after the award ceremonies in New York, her boss directed the car to the Hilton on Sixth Avenue instead of heading back to Pennsylvania. He had reserved a room for the two of them. Marton diverted his attention by spinning amusing stories until he fell asleep, just as Scheherazade did. Then she snuck out and returned to Philadelphia, and didn’t tell anyone until she went public with the story in a 1991 article for Newsweek. “My triumph was marred by an act that did not yet have a name. The term sexual harassment would not be coined until the late seventies,” she wrote.
Peter Jennings, Not Love at First Sight
In 1978, Marton became a foreign correspondent for ABC News, and was earning her stripes in the London office when she phoned her sister in Paris, saying she’d visit her that weekend. “And just who do you think is going to cover for you here?” a voice growled. It was Peter Jennings. “Don’t blame me if something breaks,” he said. What a total jerk, Marton mumbled on her way out, and went off to Paris. Sure enough, something breaks—an IRA attack at a dog show in Belfast. Marton rushed there and got her spot on the evening news. When she went back to London, Jennings took her to a modern dance performance (they were supposed to see Gilbert and Sullivan, but he mixed up the night), and by their second date he was saying that they’d “produce beautiful and smart children together.”
Her Royal Highness Barbara Walters
Marton was Berlin bureau chief when Barbara Walters swooped in in 1978 to cover a story Marton had been working on for weeks: President Jimmy Carter’s first state visit to Germany. “Nice work,” Walters said, sitting at her desk and looking over her scripts. “We can use these on [Good Morning America].” Marton left in tears.
Unknown Jewish Roots
Marton wrote her first book on Raoul Wallenberg, who as a Swedish diplomat in Budapest had saved thousands of Jews during the last months of World War II. A woman who was rescued by Wallenberg told her, “Unfortunately, Wallenberg arrived too late for your maternal grandparents.” Marton was shocked. She was raised Roman Catholic, and was told her grandparents died in an Allied bombing raid.
Marton had briefly been married to a fellow graduate student at George Washington University many years ago, but Jennings was really her fist husband. They had two children. But Jennings called her “glib” and too “ambitious.” In 1993, when the couple were just leaving a friend’s party in East Hampton, she turned to her husband and said, “Shall we go, sweetheart?” Jennings tossed the car keys to her and said, “You can go, if you want.” The next day, she asked for a divorce.
During the Christmas of 1993, a friend told her that “Christmas is no time to be alone. How about a little trip to cheer you up?” The friend was ambassador Richard Holbrooke. “Our love story unfolded over the telephone. There has never been a better talker than Richard Holbrooke.”
Peter Wants to Interview Richard
The Dayton Accords, which ended the Bosnia war after three and a half long years, made Holbrooke a household name, for he was the chief negotiator who engineered the peace. Marton was there alongside Holbrooke, and the day they returned, Jennings called. “I’d like to do the first interview with Richard if he wins the Nobel Peace Prize,” he said. “Can you arrange it?” Marton said of course. “I knew that phone call must have been one of his life’s toughest. But he was a pro.”
Marton said that while writing her book The Great Escape: Nine Jews Who Fled Hitler and Changed the World, she had “let a friendship go too far.” There were no problems with Holbrooke, but they were approaching their 10th anniversary and were treating each other as best friends. Marton said she had “allowed someone to walk in. He was handsome, witty, and above all, Hungarian at a time when I was engrossed in the history that had been kept from me for much of my life.” She admitted this to Holbrooke, who said, “You got us into this, you have to get us out of it.” That “us” was crucial, and Marton ended the relationship. “We had been tested. We had survived.”
In April 2005, Jennings called Marton and told her to meet him in Central Park. “I have been diagnosed with lung cancer,” he said. “In the face of death, our old passions and battles seemed ridiculously trivial. We were a family again and we loved each other and our children.” When Jennings died in August, Marton did not tell her father. “One evening, I walked in and found Papa watching the news, tears streaming down his face. He had just seen a report about the death of his son-in-law. Papa died three months later, a year after my mother’s passing.”
Paris: A Love Story
“I have come to Paris in search of healing and distance. Paris holds memories of a time before Peter, before Richard—a time before I had children. Grief imposes its own rhythms: my feelings of loss and sadness collide with an appetite for life I’ve not felt since I was a girl here in 1968.”