TIMELESS: Love, Morgenthau and Me. By Lucinda Franks. Illustrated, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 333 pages, $28.
In 1973, when Pulitzer Prize-winning UPI journalist Lucinda Franks was 26, she was sent to interview U.S. attorney Robert Morgenthau, who had just been fired by Richard Nixon. Mr. Morgenthau was a recent widower in his 50s, just six years younger than her father. Lucinda Franks was a young radical who arrived at his office in a soggy white poncho. Mr. Morgenthau was a sedate lawyer, but he was impressed by her. He would tell her much later that at that first meeting he fell in love with her. But a great deal would happen before the consummation of that love — and marriage, and children of their own.
First, when editor friends at the New York Times, looking for more women reporters for the staff, asked Mr. Morgenthau if he knew of any prospects, he suggested the young UPI reporter who had interviewed him. Before long, Lucinda Franks was a star on the New York Times staff.
This devotedly loving book describes Mr. Morgenthau’s wooing of her over smoked oysters in little New York restaurants, and her subsequent break-up with her male fellow radical of her own age. Increasingly, she finds herself falling for the older man, though constantly reminding herself of the great difference in their ages. She begins to long for marriage. He puts her off, fearful of the reaction of his five children — one of them is older than she is and one still under 10 — to the prospect of a stepmother.
The title of the book and the cover photo of Lucinda Franks and Robert Morgenthau on their wedding day obviously indicates that there was a happy denouement. Today Robert Morgenthau is a nonagenarian who has finally retired as Manhattan district attorney. Lucinda Franks continues to write newspaper and magazine articles. Her book, My Father’s Secret War: A Memoir, about her father’s clandestine World War II activities, appeared several years ago. The Morgenthaus have now been married for 36 years.
In addition to its interest as a love story, Timeless should be of particular interest to Vineyarders, since many of its scenes have an Island setting. Members of the Morgenthau family have long been Island seasonal visitors. The late Nan Simon, a longtime Chilmark summer resident, is among them. The Robert Morgenthaus now have a West Tisbury summer home, but in the early years of their marriage they were sometimes Menemsha renters and sometimes Chilmark renters. (A too-meticulous copy editor appears to have transformed Menemsha Bight into Menemsha Bay).
Robert Morgenthau, who served in the Navy in World War II, has retained his interest in the sea and long been a boat owner and fisherman. There is one rapidly curtailed boat trip to Cuttyhunk in the book. And of course there are dinner parties with Rose and the late William Styron and the late Lillian Hellman in Vineyard Haven. At a dinner party in 1997 at the home of Bill Rollnick and his wife, photographer Nancy Ellison, attended by Bill and Hillary Clinton, a phone call informed Hillary Clinton of the death of Princess Diana.
Timeless is a gentle, endearing book.
Robert Morgenthau and Lucinda Franks Morgenthau will discuss the book on Thursday, August 21, at 7:30 p.m. at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center, 130 Center street, Vineyard Haven.