Paul Grondahl Staff writer
Section: LIVING,  Page: H6

Date: Sunday, June 21, 1992

A touch of interviewer`s anxiety was understandable for Peter Golden.

For his biography of Max M. Fisher - a little- known unofficial

diplomat during four decades of delicate United States-Israel relations - the Albany author had a daunting roster of interview subjects: Four U.S.

presidents, three Israeli prime ministers, three U.S. secretaries of state.

"These were very busy, important people and I had to make sure I had

done my homework before each interview," Golden says. After four years of research, trips to Israel, interviews with dozens

of politicians and actual writing, Golden`s "Quiet Diplomat" (Cornwall Books, $24.50) has just been shipped to area bookstores.

For Golden, the project is over, but the fascination with Fisher


"I know Max met with Secretary of State James Baker the other day, but he won`t tell me about that meeting," Golden says. "When we stopped the

interviews, we stopped, although he remains very active in diplomacy."

Fisher, who will turn 84 next month, embodies the quintessential

American success story. The son of Jewish immigrants, he grew up in a small

Ohio town. Starting in his family`s tiny oil recycling business, Fisher built his power base in Detroit with a large oil refinery and development projects

that made him a multimillionaire and a leading industrialist with clout in

Michigan politics.

Soon, Fisher`s circle of influence spread to Washington and then to Tel Aviv, and he became known as one of the most powerful Jewish Republicans in

America. During three presidential campaigns for Richard Nixon, Fisher is

estimated to have raised more than $11 million.

Yet, Fisher`s name appears only as a footnote in biographies of

presidents and in books on the relations between the United States and Israel. That`s because Fisher shunned publicity and rarely granted interviews.

Although he privately exercised enormous influence in the White House

and helped broker U.S.-Israel aid and arms deals, Fisher preferred to remain

in the background. According to Golden, he turned down numerous Cabinet and

ambassadorial positions offered by Nixon as a thank-you for Fisher`s loyalty. "Max felt that taking a position with the president as a payoff was a

bad way to get things done," Golden says. "If he stayed outside the

government, he always had the ear of the president and secretary of state and could always be perfectly frank instead of having to please a boss."

Golden - handpicked by Fisher as his authorized biographer after an

interview process among several writers - had complete access to Fisher`s

archives and numerous extended interviews with Fisher, his family and


"What interested me about doing this book was that I had access to

someone important in international diplomacy that few people knew about,"

Golden says.

To Washington insiders, however, Fisher was a well-known figure. He

became a trusted advisor to presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush. He also

earned the trust of Israeli prime ministers Golda Meir, Shimon Peres and

Yitzhak Shamir.

Fisher represented the perfect sounding board. Both sides could bounce proposals off him while he kept one foot firmly planted in each country - at

once intensely loyal to both the United States and Israel.

"President Ford told me that Max was invaluable because he could help

discover what was do-able and to define the parameters of a deal with Israel," Golden recalls.

Golden, 38, who earned a degree in philosophy from the State University at Albany, has been a freelance writer for the past nine years and a former

editor of the defunct Capital magazine. He lives in Albany with his wife,

Annis, and 9-month- old son Benjamin.

None of Golden`s journalism assignments prepared him for the crash

course on international diplomacy he got doing the Fisher biography.

"The only way I got this story was because I was writing an authorized biography about Max, who is respected by a lot of powerful people," Golden


Shamir, Israel`s prime minister, calls Fisher "the leading Jewish

personality in the United States." Former U.S. Secretary of State George

Shultz cites Fisher`s "profound influence and achievements."

Golden found Fisher the least likely power broker he could imagine.

"Max is a very reticent man whose veneer of small-town America has

never worn off," Golden says. "He is courteous, soft-spoken and very private. He`s the quiet diplomat. He likes to be in the background, fixing things and

helping people work together. He gets satisfaction out of finding common

ground between disparate groups."

Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of the Fisher biography was the all- star lineup of interview subjects. Here are Golden`s thumbnail impressions

of each:

Nixon: "He`s got to be one of the most organized thinkers I`ve ever

met. He speaks in perfectly organized paragraphs. I was also surprised by his apparent shyness and sense of humor. He was very candid."

Ford: "Everyone thinks of him as this clumsy, kind of dumb guy, but he was a tremendous athlete and he`s still in terrific shape. I also was

impressed by how thoughtful and learned he is. The books in his library are

well-thumbed, like he`s actually read them."

Reagan: "I had one thing on my mind going in and came out totally

disarmed. He also seemed to me to deeply believe the things he says about

Israel`s profound importance as a U.S. ally."

Bush: "He wouldn`t admit that this private diplomacy exists, and stuck to the traditional line that it all goes through official channels, but that`s just not true."

Henry Kissinger: "He`s endlessly fascinating. He said the secretary of state job is all negotiating and consensus building. If you`re not a first-

rate negotiator, you need not apply. And negotiating in the Middle East is

a true art form."

Alexander Haig: "He displayed an amazing intellectual depth, and his

command of history was enormous. History is a lifelong passion with him and

all these people."