Image Credit: Private, Photographs by Alison Jackson
“Be a first rate version of yourself, not a second rate version of someone else.”
Image Credit: Double Exposure: Take Three
In the recently published Avid Reader, Robert Gottlieb recalls editing Jessica Mitford’s The American Way of Death, which became of one of the most influential and best selling exposés of its era. Jessica was the Mitford sister who went Red, but that label is far too simplistic for such a complex character. Per Gottlieb:
Yes, she had been a fierce Commie; yes, she was a savage fighter for equal rights—for everyone’s rights; yes, she loved to expose chicanery; but I think what she loved most of all was revealing the idiocies of the foolish, the greedy, and the pompous. Certainly she went to town on them in AWOD, as we referred to her book. It wasn’t just the machinations of the funeral people that called to her, it was their language, their posturing. The more she tormented them, the dopier they became—it wasn’t a fair fight because she was so much smarter than they were, and so much more ruthless.
Gottlieb’s experience editing and promoting The American Way of Death was as successful as the book itself:
Everything about AWOD went flawlessly. There were no editorial conflicts because we saw everything the same way—gleefully. The title was perfect. The ingenious designer Janet Halverson … came up with the single best symbol for a book I’ve ever seen: a funeral wreath in the shape of a dollar sign.
Gottlieb and Mitford became chums. He appears throughout Decca, The Letters of Jessica Mitford. In one missive from 1984, she inquires about her old friend Katherine Graham, publisher of the Washington Post.
Is Kay following through on the autobiog. discussed years ago with you? I DO wish she would. Quelle fascination THAT would be.
Graham did indeed follow through with her autobiography, and Robert Gottlieb edited it. Mitford did not live to see it, however. She died in 1996. Katherine Graham’s Personal History was published in 1997.
“I read Tennessee’s Memoirs. Conclusion: there is a sensitive and poetic girl called Rose Williams, confined to asylums since 1939, who writes plays. These are performed and published under the name of her wastrel brother ‘Tennessee,’ a raffish low-life homosexual addicted to dope and drink.”
--Kenneth Tynan, The Diaries of Kenneth Tynan
Image Credit: Goodbye Baby & Amen, A Saraband for the Sixties
"The premiers of the big pictures [in Golden Age Hollywood] were black-tie events and all the big names turned out to cheer on their friends. Outside, bleachers were erected to enable the screaming fans to catch a glimpse of their favorites and searchlights weaved to and fro across the sky. After the show, a loudspeaker alerted the fans to the departing of the great: ‘Mr. Clark Gable’s car! Miss Marlene Dietrich’s car! Miss Constance Bennett’s car! Miss Shirley Temple’s mother’s car!’ And on one glorious occasion: ‘Mr. Alfred Hitchcar’s cock!’"
David Niven, The Moon's a Balloon
Image Credit: Nobs & Nosh, Eating with the Beautiful People
Note: The word in Hollywood was that David Niven had an impressive "MacGuffin" himself, but more on that another day.