Jewish-American journalist, photographer, humanitarian, and former Virginia Woolf pal Ruth Gruber turns 99 this month, and if the moxie (chutzpah?) she has displayed throughout her career and even today is any indication, she’ll probably outlive us all. The September Issue cinematographer Bob Richman’s directorial debut may be a straightforward doc portrait of an extraordinary woman, but splitting the difference, the unspooling of her life is a truly fascinating yarn of proto-feminist achievement and humbling empathy. Fleeing her native Brooklyn at an early age, Gruber became a dedicated academic, finishing her Ph.D. in Germany at the age of 20 (the youngest person ever to complete such a degree), around the time she first observed a Hitler rally. Four years later, she was on foreign assignment for the New York Herald Tribune, reporting on the Nuremberg trials and turbulence in the Middle East, not to mention becoming the first correspondent ever to take a Soviet Arctic voyage. One single paragraph can’t distill her many illustrious exploits (she escorted Holocaust refugees from Italy to the U.S. on a secret mission for FDR!), but Richman does a bang-up job with rare archival footage and new vérité interviews, even allowing for Gruber’s acquaintances and their descendants to grill the still-sharp nonagenarian.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on September 8, 2010