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No Time Outs for Ruth Gruber

November 4, 2010 By:
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Ruth Gruber: A life bookended by reading and writing

The book of Ruth has a brio of biblical proportions: A prolific and popularly published author/journalist Ruth Gruber grabbed life at its most newsworthy, covering the Nuremberg Trials and serving as photojournalist witness of the troubled waters bridged by the Exodus in 1947 (a memorable accomplishment in itself, even if Paul Newman wasn't aboard).

Gruber was also the Roosevelt administration's admired choice of companion guide to accompany 1000 Holocaust refugees on their bonjour of a secretive 1944 journey from Naples to America.

Woman, hear her roar!

At 99?

At 99.

The woman so ahead of her time is now so timely a choice for a documentary of derring-do: The ageless writer/adventurer/agile docent of political tours she almost inadvertently signed on for -- a smart Jewish Zelig with the zeitgeist sewn into her soul -- is the subject of "Ahead of Time," a fitting title for the success story of a woman who has been able to also head off the ravages of time itself.

"Ahead of Time" opens on Friday, Nov. 5, at Landmark Ritz Five.

Interviewed in her New York abode, abetted by flashy flashbacks of archival footage and fiery remembrances of those who joined her gypsy-like sojourns, Gruber graces the screen not so much in a fragile state as adrenaline-rushed with recall.

And there is much to recall by this Jewish woman once described by political envoy Richard Brooke as one who bridged the troubled and joyous waters of the world's politics: "You could not invent Ruth Gruber ... not even in a movie."

No time out for Gruber: Brooke's stream of consciousness comment proved ever so wrong; the screen is a haven for Gruber (whose own prose penmanship of her role in escorting the Holocaust refugees, Haven, found its own haven on TV, adapted into a 2001 telefilm).

Always inventive, invariably ingenious, Gruber grew from a Brooklyn-born naif to neighborhood name, holding the distinction of being the youngest person in the world to earn a doctorate, which she did at age 20 as a college co-ed, co-opting expectations and drop-kicking corrosive caricatures and limitations for women off the field of play.

She was a blend of smarts and street-savvy, helping her blend in -- against her mother's frightful entreaties to stay away -- surreptitiously attending a Hitler rally in Germany while a student, struggling to surmise how such an obvious madman could manipulate furor and fire into a national psychosis that could contaminate all those who would seig heil on their way to a siege of hell.

In a man's world, she muscled her way into scoops and scores of awards, honors and applause, as this correspondent in foreign lands for so many papers found her writing grounded in terra firma (and terra frozen, as the first nonmilitary person to travel the Alaska Highway).

It is not so ironic that just weeks ago, Gruber grabbed the Distinguished Humanitarian and Journalism Prize from the Norman Mailer Center, named for a macho writer who would as soon box a subject as write about him.

For there was never boxing Gruber in, as she would edge out and ease into crowds to grab her story or -- while working as an aide for Roosevelt -- rise to a humanitarian level.

Truth is, it also takes someone with a special warmth for words and wit to portray this wordsmith warrior so well. Who better than a man of global warming to weather such a figure than Bob Richman, making his directorial debut after having served as cinematographer for other works -- namely the Oscar-winning "An Inconvenient Truth."

What a piece of work is man: He has made "Ahead of Time" more a timely mystery maze with a knowledgeable nonogenarian knitting the secrets of the world together.

Convenient truth? Richman may well meet Gruber on yet another assignment -- covering, with herself, as so often in the past, the story itself at the Oscars next year in the documentary department.

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