When I first met Henry Ehrlich on one of his annual visits to England, he seemed to personify the kind of American to be found in the pages of Henry James.
Tall, handsome, beautifully dressed, with patrician manners and bearing, he had at the same time an unmistakably transatlantic enthusiasm and freshness of approach to both people and places. But when I saw him in his home town of New York that same straight back, well-cut tweed coat and old- fashioned combination of modesty and confidence seemed to make him stand out from the crowd in a very European way.
Ehrlich's friendship with the English began in the Second World War. Having worked as a journalist for the Boston Herald in Washington, he joined the US Army when the war began, and served in the Pentagon. Later he was an information officer on General Mark Clark's staff and was present at the Allied landings at Salerno and Anzio. At Caserta, Field Marshal Alexander's headquarters in Italy, Ehrlich served as liaison officer between the Americans and the British and made many lasting friendships.
When he left the army in 1945 with the rank of lieutenant-colonel, Ehrlich resumed his career. With his well-informed curiosity about people and places, music, painting, and architecture, his job as features editor and then managing editor of Look magazine suited him very well. When it ceased publication in 1971 he continued to write freelance articles and to indulge his passion for travel. He spent a month in Britain every summer, keeping in touch with old friends and making new ones of every generation. He got on well with young people, and himself kept into old age the cheerful high spirits of youth.
Henry Ehrlich was the keenest of sightseers. His enthusiasm never waned. He leapt up from his chair at the most tentative suggestion of an expedition. Whether looking at a Humphry Repton landscape or a rainy street in Oldham, he saw the points and could draw out the interest of an 18th-century country house or a terrace of industrial revolution back-to-backs equally well. Perhaps it was his journalist's training which led him to keep a notebook in which he wrote the names and addresses of everyone he met on his travels. New acquaintances made on one visit to north-east England included a young offender who was looking after the goats at the Newcastle City Farm, and Dr Habgood, then Bishop of Durham, who appeared incognito in a pale grey suit when Ehrlich and his friends were exercising their dogs inthe grounds of the Bishop's Palace.
One thing he never mastered was the geography of England. "Is Devonshire on the way to Yorkshire?" he asked, and he was convinced that the only way to reach Newcastle from Edinburgh was via London.
No mere journalist, Ehrlich had a scholar's knowledge of art. He came to Durham to search out the 11 Zurbarn portraits of Jacob's sons for an exhibition in New York, a task he completed by tracking down the 12th picture in a country house in Leicestershire. Music was another great love and he had a passion for opera, whether performed by the Royal Opera company at Covent Garden or by a travelling group on the lawn of a private house.
The unpredictable details of ordinary life amused him too. When he saw a rifle propped up in the corner of the bathroom of a farmhouse where he was having lunch, he roared with laughter. "Now I have seen everything!" Perhaps, coming from New York, he found it hard to believe his hostess's assurance that the gun's sole purpose was to shoot the rabbits which sometimes appeared in the garden while the farmer was shaving.
Henry Ehrlich died as the result of an accident. He fell while walking in Washington Square Park. He had been busy planning his next visit to Britain.Reuse content