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Top Post editor Levy dies at age 72

Top Post editor Levy dies at age 72

Posted: April 08, 2004

By Mark Nessmith

Prague booster, writer, raconteur experienced two epic historical eras

Alan Levy, editor-in-chief of The Prague Post, died peacefully in Prague April 2 after a brief battle with cancer. He was 72.

During a career that spanned nearly half a century, Levy interviewed political and cultural icons, covered the Russian-led invasion of Czechoslovakia and wrote 18 books. Expelled from the country in the early 1970s, he returned in 1990 and helped document the post-revolution changes in the city he cherished.

"The miracle of my life is to awaken every morning in the 21st century - in Prague," he wrote.

Prime Minister Vladimir Spidla praised Levy's legacy of caring for the Czech Republic.

"His death is a loss not only for his relatives and journalism but to the same measure for the Czech Republic," Spidla said. "We, and the Prague that he loved, will really miss him."

Levy moved to Prague in 1967 with his family. He arrived having agreed to collaborate on an American version of a musical by Jiri Slitr and Jiri Suchy.

In 1968 Levy covered the Prague Spring, a brief period of reforms, and later that year, the Warsaw Pact invasion. He chronicled the events in Rowboat to Prague, published in the United States in 1972. Josef and Zdena Skvoreckys' publishing house, 68 Publishers Toronto, translated the book in 1975, and visiting emigres smuggled it back to Czechoslovakia, where it became an underground classic. It was republished in 1980 as So Many Heroes and translated into numerous languages.

After Czechoslovak authorities expelled Levy in 1971, the family settled in Vienna, where he wrote for the International Herald Tribune, Life, Good Housekeeping, the New York Times Magazine, Cosmopolitan and others. He was dramaturge of Vienna's English Theatre and taught literature, writing, journalism and drama.

Clarion call

He returned to Prague in 1990, and in 2002 he wrote: "I dreamed only of seeing Prague again before I died. Isolated in Austria by an Iron Curtain ... I nonetheless had a premonition that somehow I would die here. It never dawned on me until soon after 1989's Velvet Revolution that first I could live here."

Hired as editor-in-chief of The Prague Post in 1991, Levy continued working until his death.

American Gene Deitch, a longtime Prague resident who has known the Levy family since 1967, said Levy "wanted to be the editor-in-chief of The Prague Post and he did it."

"He really was an excellent writer. He also had a great deal of ego and ambition and was able to get what he wanted," said Deitch, an Oscar-winning animator and author of For the Love of Prague. "He always told me it was the most satisfying job of his life. He said the only way he would leave the newspaper was feet first."

Levy's Prague Profile was among the most popular features in the Post, appearing 549 times. In his own words, it sought to capture "the nuts and bolts of what it was like and how it felt to live and be in liberated Prague."

In the first issue, Levy wrote, "We are living in the Left Bank of the '90s. For some of us, Prague is Second Chance City; for others a new frontier where anything goes, everything goes, and, often enough, nothing works. Yesterday is long gone, today is nebulous, and who knows about tomorrow, but, somewhere within each of us, we all know that we are living in a historic place at a historic time."

In the wake of that article, even more young people poured into Prague from North America and all over the world. "Because of his boosterism ... in the early 1990s it was nearly impossible to pick up an American newspaper without reading an article in which he hyped all the happenings in Prague," said Marc Ballon, a reporter at the Post in 1993 and '94.

A life in letters

Levy was born in New York Feb. 10, 1932. He studied at Brown and Columbia universities. He worked seven years as a reporter for the Louisville Courier-Journal in Kentucky and later spent seven years in New York writing for Life magazine, the Saturday Evening Post, the New York Times and others.

He interviewed W.H. Auden, the Beatles, Fidel Castro, Graham Greene, Vaclav Havel, Sophia Loren, Vladimir Nabokov, Richard Nixon and Ezra Pound.

In 1993 he published The Wiesenthal File, telling the story of controversial Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal. The book earned Levy the Author of the Year award from the American Society of Journalists & Authors. Levy also wrote a play, The World of Ruth Draper, and wrote the libretto for Just an Accident?, a symphonic requiem by Austrian composer Rene Staar.

In November 1998 the Czech National Symphony Orchestra performed Just an Accident? at Dvorak Hall in the Rudolfinum. In the refrain, the soprano sings: "Life is fragile. Death is final. Any one of us can leave this hall, turn a corner and be no more." Following the performance, held at his favorite concert venue, Levy stood triumphantly on the stage. He took five bows before the applause ended.

Levy is survived by his wife, Valerie; daughters Erika and Monica; and two granddaughters.

Mark Nessmith can be reached at mnessmith@praguepost.com

"Alan Levy was a man who loved not only journalism but also our country, which he first got to know during the dramatic period of 1968. His death is a loss not only for his relatives and journalism but to the same measure for the Czech Republic that he loved. We will really miss him."

Vladimir Spidla, prime minister

"When my wife, Catherine, and I met Alan, we

encountered that combination of journalistic inquisitiveness, precision, wisdom, empathy and wry humor that made Alan unique. I last saw Alan

two weeks ago, still full of fascinating stories and still covering the latest news and events, in spite of his

debilitating illness. Diplomats come and go, and there is a long list of U.S. ambassadors now spread around the world, whose understanding of

the Czech Republic was enriched by Alan's insights, and who will long remember his charm, warmth and wit. Alan, we thank you, and we will miss you."

William Cabaniss, U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic

"I think of Alan as a person loving life and people so much and trying to find the truth in difficult situations. I think he was very sincere and really wanted to

discover how things are. I saw how professional he was, how he was able to talk with people really deeply. He had a way of finding the

little pieces that when put together make history. At The Prague Post he made, with others of course, a

testimony to everything happening here since the Velvet Revolution. The American view is unique, and so the newspaper will be an

important archive in the future."

Sylva Danickova, Academy of Sciences editor and a heroine of Levy's 1972 book So Many Heroes

"He had endless interest in everything that was going on around him. I never knew anyone with more enthusiasm and diligence toward his work. These were his characteristics until the last day of his life. He was not judgmental about people and he had empathy for their errors. That is also how he saw our republic. Her democracy was the center of his interest."

Martin Otava, stage director, State Opera

"I'm still forming and maybe I'll find out who I am when I read my obituary. Until then, I work hard, play hard, take good care of my health and enjoy life to the hilt."

Alan Levy, former Prague Post editor-in-chief

Memorial service

A public memorial service for Alan Levy will be held Friday, April 16, at 3 p.m. in the Prague Symphony Orchestra's concert hall at Kostel sv. Simona a Judy, Na Frantisku, Dusni street, Prague 1.

A second memorial service is being planned in New York in June. Details will be posted at www.praguepost.com.

In lieu of flowers, the Levy family has asked for donations to support housing costs for students at Romska stredni socialne pravni skola, a private high school whose goal is to provide Romany students with a complete education emphasizing Romany culture and history. For more information, see http://romskaskola.wz.cz. Donations can be made to Raiffeisenbank account no. 1031104747/5500.

By Mark Nessmith

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