The Nation's Pulse

The Fountain of Youth

It seemed to flow freely for Bill Buckley for so long. His good friend L. Brent Bozell, Jr. was not so fortunate.

By 3.14.08

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William F. Buckley became famous very young when he published his critical essay on Yale University, God and Man at Yale. That was 1951, a year after his graduation from Yale.

His Yale years marked his life in other profound ways. He was apparently assigned to room with one L. Brent Bozell, Jr. These two lights stormed Yale together.

There exists a photograph of the two of them, probably about the time they co-wrote McCarthy and His Enemies, in 1954. Still looking like brilliant college boys, they face what is apparently some kind of audience -- a press conference, perhaps. Buckley leans back in his familiar languid posture, a great grin on his face. Bozell, the redheaded tornado from Omaha, sits bolt upright, a hand raised, engaged in animated conversation, his face alight.

Buckley married Pat Taylor in 1950. Bozell married Buckley's sister Patricia Lee Buckley, and the two had ten children. One would have supposed them to be bound together for the rest of their lives, grand pals into old age. It was not to be.

BOZELL GOT HIS law degree from Yale in 1953 and moved to California to start a practice. His interests drew him back to Washington, where he collaborated with Buckley on the aforementioned McCarthy book, worked as a senior editor for Buckley's new magazine, National Review, founded in 1955, and wrote what became "the best-selling polemic of all time" (Buckley), Barry Goldwater's Conscience of a Conservative.

Strangely, since National Review always displayed a substantial streak of orthodox Catholic philosophy, his break with Buckley came over Catholicism. Bozell moved to Spain and founded the magazine Triumph, "devoted to Catholic thought," as Buckley wrote, sparingly, in his 1997 obituary for Bozell. "It was a profound venture, theocratical in orientation, in one sense another expression of the totalist tendencies of the culture of the 1960s."

John B. Judis treats the conflict between the two former roommates more frankly. Quoted in a review by Dr. Enrico Pappas on Intellectual Conservative's list of Top 25 Philosophical and Ideological Conservative Books, (William F. Buckley, Jr., Patron Saint of the Conservatives), Judis writes:

It was clear that Bozell thought outside of the right-wing establishment. After a series of rebuffs by Buckley in effect, warning both privately and publicly that his sister's brilliant husband had become eccentric over the Catholic Thing, Bozell organized Triumph magazine and struck out on his own.

Then Bozell's mental health began its decline and the break with Buckley became final. Neal Freeman had reported that, "I think Bozell's deterioration hurt Bill more than anybody...Brent simply started to fade, and you could see it happening, but you couldn't do anything about it."


BOZELL, IT DEVELOPED, suffered from a bipolar disorder, known then simply as "manic depression." His son, L. Brent Bozell III, now head of Media Research Center and Newsbusters, remarked in his funeral eulogy that
Dozens of times over...25 years the attacks would come, and with each bout, yet another blow, yet another public humiliation. There were arrests and forced hospitalizations, escapes and re-arrests and recommitments. There was the never-ending parade of lawyers, police, doctors, and, yes, from time to time the State Department was on the line to brief us on yet another prospective international upheaval caused by this very unpredictable man.

Manic depression by itself is enough to break the spirit of any man, but Pop was no ordinary man. He suffered from peripheral neuropathy, sleep apnea, osteoporosis, degenerative disk disease, asthma, and Alzheimer's. One by one they came, and when it seemed that no part of his body had been left untouched yet a new illness was diagnosed.


THE SPECTACLE EVOKES sorrow and pity to this day. I will indulge in a preposterous bout of speculation and presumption here. I had brilliant friend in college, too, and we were separated shortly thereafter, and I never saw him again. For me, and, I think, for Buckley, our friends were therefore preserved in the glittering amber of eternal youth.

For William F. Buckley, who died week before last, I think that memory served him well as he appointed successors to carry on his life's work with National Review. In 1997, Buckley chose the-then 28-year-old Rich Lowry to be editor of NR. Lowry describes himself as "young, inexperienced" at the time, in his Editor's Note to the memorial edition to WFB of National Review.

Indeed he was. He had graduated from the University of Virginia in 1990. At college, he had edited a monthly conservative magazine. He joined NR in 1992, as his bio notes, "after finishing second in a National Review writers' contest." He became the magazine's articles editor, then moved to Washington, D.C. to cover Congress.

I thought at the time -- greatly presuming, as I have said -- that something about Lowry reminded Buckley of his great good friend Bozell. Buckley himself was, throughout his life, perpetually youthful. It does not have to be so.

But how good it is, no matter the reason, that Buckley turned his enterprise over to a man of about the same age and achievements as himself when he started what Lowry calls "his dear magazine." Long may it wave.

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About the Author

Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.