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Editor and Writer Michael Korda.

Editor in chief of Simon & Schuster Michael Korda. In his previous memoir, "Man to Man" he chronicled his ordeal with prostate cancer. In his new book "Another Life: A Memoir of Other People" (Random House) he tells about the world of publishing and his rise from assistant editor to editor in chief. Along the way, Korda worked with writers Jacqueline Susan, Graham Greene, Tennessee Williams, and Harold Robbins.




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Other segments from the episode on June 1, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 1, 1999: Interview with Kurt Andersen; Interview with Michael Korda.


Date: JUNE 01, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 060101np.217
Head: Kurt Andersen
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

In the new satirical novel "Turn of the Century," Kurt Andersen has imagined life in the year 2000. And what he sees is a culture taken over by infotainment, the Internet and corporate advertising. The two main characters are in the thick of it; George Mactier is a TV producer, his wife Lizzie is a software entrepreneur who has designed a Y2K program.

"Turn of the Century" is Kurt Andersen's first novel. He's a columnist for "The New Yorker," former feature writer and architecture critic for "Time" magazine and former editor of "New York" magazine. He also co-founded and edited "Spy" magazine.

Let's start with a reading from "Turn of the Century." George Mactier is in Las Vegas for the opening night of a friend's new entertainment complex called "Barbie World." As limos pull up and Ken and Barbie-looking celebrities step out, Mactier walks through the crowd on to the rainbow colored conveyor into "Barbie World."

KURT ANDERSEN, CO-FOUNDER AND EDITOR, "SPY" MAGAZINE; COLUMNIST, "THE NEW YORKER;" AUTHOR, "TURN OF THE CENTURY": "The interior is a three-level shopping center decorated in Camelot mod. The pinks come in even more varying intensities and textures, along with a lot of silvers and golds. Every Barbie World employee is under 30, and both genders have the look of tarted-up Protestant or very wide-eyed adult film stars.

"In the `Date Zone,' one of three restaurants, there's a pink telephone on each table from which diners place orders for deep fried, fat-free cheese sandwiches. The gym offers karaoke aerobic dancing. And life-size `As If' portraits, live giant screen video images distorted by means of a very convincing digital effect to reduce apparent body mass by up to 20 percent.

"The basement equestrian center, which a sign says will feature white ponies exclusively, is still under construction. `Barbie Home' is a large pseudo-apartment where Barbie ostensibly lives, like Santa in his workshop in Macy's. And where all of the furnishings are for sale.

"Barbie World has what one of the guides describes as four separate `Wearables Boutiques,' or clothing stores, for girls and women: `Barbie Baby,' `Barbie Wear,' `Maximum Cute for teenagers,' and `Madame Barbie,' sizes up to 24.

"Doll clothes for Barbie, and for every friend and hanger-on Barbie has ever had are available at the totally perfect mall, a warren of 17 separate fashion mini-boutiques packed into an acre of floor space."

GROSS: That's Kurt Andersen reading from his new novel, "Turn of the Century."

You know, in reading your book "Turn of the Century," I was wondering how the process that you used to design the world that your characters live in. I mean, a lot of it is just a slightly different version of how we live today. But there's so many new TV shows and products and shopping malls and so on that you've made up for the novel.

Did you just keep like a directory of things that you were imagining ought to go in this book?

ANDERSEN: Not that ought to go in this book, but I had made notes, and make notes, as writers do over the years of notions. Some of which were just fantastic notions for some book, some -- or some piece sometime. And some of which were half-serious notions of, well, maybe someday I'll pitch that to some television executive.

And my intention was to make them, as you say, plausible but somewhere between actual, but not so extreme or satirical or hyperbolic to be entirely implausible. And that's an interesting line to walk, or it was to me.

GROSS: Well, I think I can give an example of what you mean. George, your main character, is a producer for "MBC" -- MBC stands for the Mose Broadcasting Corporation, named after Harold Mose it's billionaire owner. And I was reading that thinking, oh, I see the statement Kurt Andersen is trying to make that someday soon instead of it being like the National Broadcasting Company or the American Broadcasting Company; TV networks will be named after the billionaire owners.

And then I thought, wait a minute. Turner, it's already happened.


ANDERSEN: No, exactly. You see that was a case where the network is entirely invented but exists in my book within the reality of today. It is the fifth network along with Fox and NBC and CBS and so forth. So, as much as possible, I try to make a kind of seamless or virtually seamless, adjacencies between reality and the kind of hyper-reality, I guess, of this novel.

GROSS: What are some of your favorite shows that you've invented for the Mose Broadcasting Network?

ANDERSEN: I would -- well, there's my favorites as interesting shows, and then there's my favorites as sort of ghastly satirical ideas. One of the former, a show that I would actually enjoy seeing, is a sort of combination of "Candid Camera" and "The Twilight Zone."

In which -- instead of simply people being led to telephone -- public telephones that don't work or work in some comic fashion, larger sort of practical jokes of a supernatural kind are played on them. Suddenly everyone in their office disappears and some green phantasm appears before them, or essentially giant practical jokes that would be played on people as hidden cameras taped them that would be intended to really freak them out and make them feel as though life had turned upside down altogether.

You know, I think that would make great television. There are some others, you know, a show -- one of the shows that MBC shows that I am convinced will exist, perhaps before the paperback of this book comes out, is a kind of morning show with attitude. Some cross breed between the "Today" show and "Good Morning America" in the existing morning television chat shows, and a kind of Howard Stern, you know, shock jock zoo kind of show. That's what they do in the morning.

So, there's -- there's a show called "Quacks Like A Duck." I love the title. I don't know what the show is, it was the one show that I just loved the title and left it there without any further explanation.

GROSS: The world that you've created for your novel, which is set in the year 2000, is a world that's really in a lot of ways owned and marketed by celebrities. For instance, Lizzie, George's wife, eats a meal of Paul Newman popcorn, Michael Jordan cottage cheese and Cherry Garcia ice cream.

And now the only food there that doesn't already exist is the Michael Jordan cottage cheese, at least I don't think it already exists.

ANDERSEN: I don't think it already exists either, but in fact it's true that there is that kind of celebrity theming (ph) sort of lurking like a dark mist around the edges of the story here. What I've enjoyed, and I noted it when you said I don't think that exists, in several interviews -- in several reviews of his book -- there have been lists, ostensibly of my inventions, in almost every case there's one thing that really exists in those lists. And that confusion on the part of close intelligent readers between the real and the invented gives me great pleasure.

For instance, at one point I mention sort of minty-flavored liquid Prozac for children which one of my reviewers thought was, you know, an amusing, horrible, satirical invention. And unfortunately, or fortunately, is absolutely a real thing.

GROSS: You know, you said that we're living in a time when almost everything, news, politics, advertising, the computer revolution is a form of entertainment. In one of your "New Yorker" columns you describe President Clinton has the "Entertainer in Chief."

What do you think some of the problems are about a culture in which things that shouldn't be entertainment become entertainment? What are some of the manifestations of that?

ANDERSEN: Well, certainly I think one of the reasons for the survival, if you will, of President Clinton is the fact that, as I argued in that piece, that a good solid, not only plurality but probably majority, of Americans regard politics -- national politics in Washington at this point as primarily entertainment. And so the Monica Lewinsky episode became, you know, a yearlong program about low comedy and hijinks in Washington.

I think -- because I think Washington right now, and national politics right now, are as irrelevant to the lives of Americans, most Americans, as they've been my lifetime and maybe in this century. I think it's understandable that politics becomes interesting only when it becomes entertaining.

It's not so much about the kind of endless leaching of entertainment, as that is I think a result of the absolute unchallenged ascent of marketplace values. Again, in my lifetime, and maybe in this century, we have not had a time in this country where the bottom line criteria for the success or failure of anything: a book, a movie, a building, a form of art, a news program, whatever is judged by how it performs in the marketplace.

And so that leads, I think, inevitably to treating everything, whether it's news or whatever it is, as a form of entertainment because entertainment can be rated according to its moment to moment popularity. And so I think this transformation of so much of culture and economy into entertainment is really a byproduct of this sort of final end of the 20th-century triumph of capitalism.

GROSS: I think your novel also gives this sense of the sometimes uncomfortable or odd interrelationship of the arts and corporate culture. I mean, for instance, John Williams is writing the music that corporations use when they put on hold on the telephone. So he has one symphony, the US West Symphony, while you're on hold with the airline, and another symphony that you've called "fanfare for the new economy."


ANDERSEN: Yes. That's a movement of the US West Symphony. It's all part of a grand scheme that he's done.


Yeah, and again, and it's part of this great ascension in hegemony of the marketplace where that is simply the way it works now. I, later in the book, have a documentary about the Mexican Civil War that I pause it going on in the background being underwritten by Benetton and MTV.

And I think that's the, you know, that is the world in which we live. And I don't know that it's going to go on forever, and I kind of hope it doesn't. But I don't see it ending anytime soon. I think we're at the high point of a cycle of, as you say, corporate brands intruding into every realm of life -- the arts and so on.

And the old categories of what was art and what wasn't, and what was off-limits for corporate branding like every -- half the baseball stadiums in America, and what isn't. You know, all those rules have -- and those lines that were pretty bright even 10 years years ago, and certainly 20, have been muddied and that makes, I think, a fertile ground for writing an entertaining story about everybody's confusion.

GROSS: My guest is Kurt Andersen, whose new novel is called "Turn of the Century." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: If you're just joining us my guest is Kurt Andersen, whose new novel, "Turn of the Century," is a social satire set in the year 2000 that satirizes entertainment and celebrity culture, business culture, corporate culture, lots of stuff.

ANDERSEN: Computer culture.

GROSS: Computer culture, absolutely.

Your novel strikes me as being written by someone who is kind of forced to keep up with things and has become both amused and disgusted by it.

ANDERSEN: I don't know about -- certainly, I'm amused and disgusted. Forced to keep up, I wouldn't quite say. I mean, I think it's very hard to not be -- I think it's very hard not to be somewhat disgusted by much of what's going on. And I think, simultaneously, it's very hard, or uninteresting to me, to be not entertained and occasionally inspired.

I mean, there is potential for good and liberation in the digital revolution. Even in parts of the kind of triumph of the free market there are good sides of that. And that's what I was trying to depict, that, you know, it's not one or the other. It is simultaneously, albeit not in a violent revolutionary way, the best of times and the worst of times.

And to try to show the ways in which those bests and worsts intermingle in the lives of real people who are sort of operating the show is what I was trying to do.

GROSS: Your novel really looks at the present and the near future, and your character George is very surprised by how the recent past looks. For instance, at the beginning of the novel he realizes that the skyscrapers that looked atrocious in 1980 and 1990 now in the year 2000 look quaint, elegant, swingy.

And he says he isn't aware of having revised his opinion. His opinion has been changed for him by "sensibility osmosis." What do you mean by sensibility osmosis?

ANDERSEN: Well, that -- although I've gone through the obligatory novelist authorial disavowals of connections between myself and my protagonist; that particular insight was one that I had one day walking up Sixth Avenue and looking at these buildings that I used to work in -- the Time-Life building and its surrounding behemoths from the late '50s and early '60s.

And what I mean by sensibility osmosis is that once you read -- see enough glossy magazine articles and newspaper feature stories and movies and so forth that are celebrating this sort of mid century, late modernism sensibility; even though you haven't gone through a formal process of revising your ideas about plastic chairs and giant ugly buildings and JFK airport and all these things that you hated a few years ago, you find yourself -- or I find myself, and I think one finds oneself, revising one's opinions in an unconscious way.

Because suddenly this stuff and this sensibility and this aesthetic is presented as attractive an interesting and sexy. And suddenly I think you find that you've changed your mind without actually having consciously changed your mind.

GROSS: So what has that happened to you with? That's happened with a kind of skyscraper that you used to find ugly and now looks kind of nice by comparison, what else?

ANDERSEN: That -- well, that whole range of stuff of Las Vegas and Frank Sinatra and kind of swinger -- Rat Pack swingerism, that's one whole realm. But I think in smaller ways it happens all the time, and, you know, whatever your hesitations or your resistance to certain forms and styles and so forth breakdown, because it's this sort of background noise saying this is cool, this is cool. This is no longer uncool. This is cool.

And there's this almost a kind of subliminal suggestion idea that I think a lot of us give into without even realizing it.

GROSS: Now, do you read style and fashion pages?

ANDERSEN: I look at them. I actually -- I used to -- I was, for about a decade, the architecture and design critic of "Time" magazine as well as when I was running "Spy." So it's something I actually care about and am interested in, in a general way.

So, yeah, I read them -- I read -- I look at them. I mean, "read" is maybe not the verb.


But I certainly look at that stuff.

GROSS: Were there any guilty pleasures, so to speak, that you gave into and chalked up as research for the book?

ANDERSEN: I think there's been a lot of those over the last 20 years of my life as a writer, or you can justify all kinds of guilty pleasures as research. For this in particular, yeah. I mean, I -- since one of my subplots involves online pornography I had to go see what that was all about. And it was more guilty than pleasurable, I must say.

GROSS: What was it like?

ANDERSEN: Pathetic and depressing and fascinating that. You know, there is this obviously large and lucrative industry driving this sector, the Internet, that is driving our economy full of -- you know, what it implies about the literally millions of people, I assume mostly lonely men sitting at home at their computers is almost too depressing to imagine for me.

And which is why it's not -- it's a glancing subplot in the book, it's not something I go into in very great depth or length.

GROSS: The two main characters in your novel are really plugged in people, you know, George is a television producer and Lizzie is a computer entrepreneur. You're pretty plugged in yourself in the sense that, I mean, you're writer, you're a journalist, you're always keeping up with things. This new novel is, you know, keeping up with so much in the entertainment and corporate world.

Do you ever want to completely unplug for a while and just stop absorbing information, stop thinking about new things?

ANDERSEN: I do. I do want to, and I do do that. I live in an unfashionable neighborhood of Brooklyn that's entirely outside this, you know, plugged in glamorous Manhattan fish bowl. And every weekend I go upstate and lie in the grass and, you know, watch the clouds.

So, no, I unplug consistently. But on the other hand, I don't think I'm -- I don't think I'm one of those people who would be happy entirely unplugging. I don't have a cell phone, unlike -- another way in which I'm unlike my characters.

You know, I'm not that plugged in. I think I figured out where I, you know, in order to maintain some sanity need to draw the line between, you know, life and media overload. And I try to do that.

GROSS: Why don't you have a cell phone?

ANDERSEN: That's a good question. I have in the past -- when I had a real job I had a cell phone, but I just -- I haven't -- it's been great actually being unplugged to some degree writing this book for the last two and a half years and not having -- not being able to be gotten all the time everywhere. And also, frankly, allowing myself to realize that what in a passing kind of thought of urgency, you can wait 10 minutes or an hour and find a phone somewhere and make the call.

So, I think actually not having a phone, a cell phone, a portable phone, you know, gives me some perspective on a kind of banal day-to-day, hour-to-hour way what really is urgent or not. And, you know, allows actual thoughts to pop into my head rather than kind of semi panicky calls from people or thoughts that I have to call this person and so forth.

So, you know, it just gives one a little space and peace in the middle of the day, I think. That just because we can do something, as one of the characters says in the book, doesn't mean that we have to or ought to.

GROSS: Well, Kurt Andersen, thank you very much for talking with us.

ANDERSEN: My Pleasure.

GROSS: Kurt Andersen's new novel is called "Turn of the Century."

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, D.C.
Guest: Kurt Andersen
High: Writer Kurt Andersen is a columnist for "The New Yorker," and was co-founder and editor of "Spy" magazine. He's just written his first novel, "Turn of the Century." It's a sprawling, satirical, futuristic novel of sorts set in February 2000.
Spec: Entertainment; Media; Lifestyle; Culture; Kurt Andersen

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Kurt Andersen

Date: JUNE 01, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 060102NP.217
Head: Michael Korda
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:30

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Michael Korda has written a new memoir called "Another Life," about the people he's worked with during his more than 40 years in the publishing world; including Graham Greene, Larry McMurtry, Tennessee Williams, Harold Robbins, Carlos Castaneda, Joan Crawford, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon.

The chapter in Korda's book about editing best-selling author Jacqueline Susann is the basis of the forthcoming movie, "Isn't She Great." It stars Bette Midler as Susann, Nathan Lane as her husband Irving Mansfield, and David Hyde Pierce has Korda. Korda's previous book was a memoir about his experience with prostate cancer.

Michael Korda is the editor in chief of Simon & Schuster, and has written several bestsellers of his own.

One of the authors who you worked with much earlier in your career was Harold Robbins, best-known for "The Carpetbaggers." And I think, you know, the reason why he was such a popular best-selling author was the sexual content of his books, which was particularly racy in the period that he was writing in, in the '60s.

Was your job as editor to make sure there was enough sex or to make sure that the sex wasn't going to get the publishing company into trouble? I mean, how where you supposed to do deal with the, at that time, pretty explosive sexual content of his book?

MICHAEL KORDA, EDITOR IN CHIEF, SIMON & SCHUSTER; AUTHOR, "ANOTHER LIFE: A MEMOIR OF OTHER PEOPLE": Well, it's interesting that you should say that because I don't altogether agree with you. First of all, you never had to worry about there being enough sex in Harold Robbins because there was always more than enough, and sometimes too much.


But curiously enough, that's not what I think made Harold a great best-seller. I think the sex was, as it were, the icing on the cake. Though I realize that sounds like a sexual metaphor.

GROSS: Yes, it does.

KORDA: A kind of scene in his book. But what made him a bestseller was that he was a wonderful, wonderful storyteller. That his books had a beginning, a middle and an end. A tremendous narrative thrust and drive. They moved very fast. You were taken from one page to the next, from one chapter to the next, unable to stop reading.

In a way, the sex scenes detracted from that because they tended to slow the reader down and stop the reader. But the readers expected it, so of course it had to be there.

When Harold began to be less successful as a writer was when his storytelling drive began to fail him, and he simply substituted more and more sex scenes for the original narrative drive and excitement of his books.

"The Carpetbaggers" is in fact an almost perfect good-bad novel. One of those great big good-bad novels. I published a lot of them in my time, and I really love them. "Carpetbaggers" and "The Adventurers" were of course very special by Harold, but is exactly the same that's true for, say, Jacqueline Susann's "The Love Machine" or for the novels of Jackie Collins today, or any of these major big best-selling good-bad novelists. Their chief ability is to keep the story moving.

GROSS: So which Harold Robbins books did you do?

KORDA: I did not myself edit "The Carpetbaggers," though I was sort of tangentially involved with it, but sometime after "The Adventurers" I became Harold Robbins' editor for the rest of his life.

GROSS: So what were the standards of language and sexual content for the time?

KORDA: Well, people were shocked by what there is in Harold, but in fact if you go back and read Robbins' books the sex scenes are shocking but the use of words is not necessarily so shocking. It's curious, I think people are more shocked by obscene words, or were then, then by obscene actions in scenes.

Harold, today, would, I think, read fairly tamely. I recently re-read "The Carpetbaggers" because I wanted to read of course that favorite sex scene of all American popular fiction in which the woman gives the man a body shave in the tub. Which, while -- a tub full of champagne, that's right.

The tub is full of champagne and he gets into it and she shaves his entire body. And I found it actually not terribly stimulating, perhaps because I really don't want to be shaved all over by anyone. But it seemed to be pretty tame.

For the time, however, it was sensational.

GROSS: I have to say I bet that would really sting a lot, because if you got shaved in a tub of alcohol that's going to sting a little bit.


KORDA: But that might add, you know.

GROSS: That's possible.

KORDA: A little sting would be a help.

GROSS: So, was it ever embarrassing for you to work on his books?


GROSS: I don't mean artistically embarrassing, I mean, you know, having to talk with him about the sexual content or language.

KORDA: No, I come out of the movie business. I never worked in the movie business, but my entire family's in the movie business. So I like to think that I'm comparatively unshockable.

No, I was never shocked by Harold. I found him an extremely difficult man to deal with, and on the whole one of the most graceless, ungrateful and genuinely grumpy and ill-tempered people that I've ever had the pleasure of working with. But I was not particularly shocked by his language.

In any case, at that time book publishing itself was going through a period in which almost everybody swore like troopers because it was just at that period where people were showing their liberation from the traditional good manners and somewhat laid-back quality of book publishing by using an expletive in almost every sentence.

GROSS: What year are you thinking of?

KORDA: This would be the beginning of the '60's.

GROSS: Uh-huh.

KORDA: Just before the Berkeley free speech movement.

GROSS: Right. Tell that great story about the character's names in two different halves of one of his books.

KORDA: Well, I used to edit Harold Robbins very gingerly because he himself was one of those writers who are not, as a matter of fact, all that rare who like everything about being a best-selling writer except doing the writing. He hated writing.

And in fact the only way in which you could get Harold Robbins to write a book was to wait until his debts from the house in Acapulco and the house in California and the yacht and the wife and the ex-wife and the children and the IRS had run up so high that he actually had to start writing. At which point his agent/lawyer Paul Getrin (ph) would lock him in a bungalow in a Beverly Hills hotel and tell Harold that he would only allow Harold to have room service after Harold had passed under the door so many pages.

So Harold would have to sit at the typewriter typing and type, let's say, 20 pages. At which point Harold would allow him to order a sandwich and a cup of coffee. And that's how Harold would write enough pages to get the next payment for the book, whatever it was. Say, 200 pages, he got another $250,000 which was a lot of money for the day.

But then the moment he got the money he would run off again to the South of France and the yacht and stop writing and start spending until the next crisis of life to pick up writing again. Well, in the case of writing this particular book there had been a several month hiatus between finishing one section of it and sitting down to finish the next.

And during that time Harold, who of course never bothered to re-read what he had written, vaguely remembered the plot but had totally forgotten the names of the characters and their physical attributes except of course the sexual attributes which were the same in all Harold's books.

And therefore the second half of the book bore very little resemblance to the first half of the book. The characters -- you could see that they were the same people, but they had different names, different eye colors, different descriptions. Everything about them was in that sense quite different.

So I went to see Harold Robbins at his hotel in New York when he was visiting to broach this difficult problem to him, and said to him, look, it's really a very simple problem. Either we go with the people as they are in part one or the people as they are part two.

All that we have to do is make that decision. I will do the work. I will do the rewriting. I will change the names. I will change the eye colors. I will change every thing that has to be done. You just have to tell me whether you want me to use the ones in the first part of the book or the second part of the book.

And Harold gave me this kind of -- he had this kind of grumpy, angry tough guy stare. He looked at me and he said, "you're telling me I made a mistake?" And I said, "that's right." He said, "you're telling me that the people in the second part of the book are different from the people in the first part of the book because I forgot?" I said, "that's right."

He said, "you're telling me that you fix it, you'll do it all yourself?" I said, "Harold, I'll do all the work myself. All you have to do is say follow part one or follow part two. I'll take that way, I'll do the whole thing, you'll never have to look at it again."

And Harold thought about it for a moment and he looked at me and he gave me this contemptuous glare and he said, "no!" So I said, "no? What do you mean, no?" He said, "no! All of these years I've been sweating my brains out sitting in front of a typewriter writing novels for these readers. Let them do some work for a change."


So, I said -- I protested. I said, "you can't do that. You can't have a novel in which someone is called Jane in the first part and has blue eyes and is called Janet in the second part and has green eyes." He said "yes, I can."

And his lawyer/agent, Paul Getrin, who is also a friend of mine but a very tough guy indeed and who looked exactly like Harold -- they looked like Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum -- said, "you heard the man! He said what he wants."

So we printed the book the way it was and we shipped out hundreds and hundreds of thousands of copies as we did on any Harold Robbins novel, and the curious thing is nobody ever wrote in to complain.


GROSS: OK. Wait. Wait. Wait. The fact that nobody ever wrote in to complain I think kind of proves my point that a lot of people read Harold Robbins for "the good parts" as opposed to his fantastic storytelling ability.

KORDA: Yes, I think so. Also, they were willing to -- Harold had been absolutely right about them. He knew his readers, as every best-selling novelist does. He knew that they would make the jump. That they would figure out that the girl with the big tits in the first part was the same as the girl with the big tits in the second part. The fact that the names were different, they simply could ride right over that.

They got the point. Harold had been absolutely right. And I learned from that, actually, that the best thing to do with Harold Robbins was to let him do what he wanted to do.

GROSS: My guest is Michael Korda, the editor in chief of Simon & Schuster. His new memoir is called "Another Life." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: My guest is Michael Korda, the editor in chief of Simon & Schuster and author of a new publishing memoir called "Another Life."

I want to ask you about another pop phenomenon who you edited. You edited Jacqueline Susann. You got her after "Valley of the Dolls," which was published in 1966, and you did her book "Love Machine."

KORDA: "The Love Machine."

GROSS: Excuse me.


KORDA: "The" is very important.

GROSS: Why is it so important?

KORDA: Because it was important to Jackie.



So, now, you talk in your book about how important "Valley of the Dolls" was in terms of its impact on publishing. How do you think "Valley of the Dolls" changed the publishing industry?

KORDA: "Valley of the Dolls" essentially proved that you can take the elements of a woman's romance novel, i.e. to write a really big tear jerker. But that you can combine them with a roman a clef about real people like Judy Garland, who of course is one of the characters in "Valley of the Dolls," and a lot of inside show business stuff.

And that you can put in a whole lot of really tough salacious, down-to-earth, dirty stuff a la Harold Robbins but from a woman's put of view. So nobody had ever put all these things together in one book. Everybody figured that they were separate categories.

That you could have big romance tear jerkers or you could have big salacious, tough, sexy novels like Harold Robbins, or you could have roman a clef celebrity novels about the entertainment industry. But Jackie very perceptively realized that you could put all these three things together in one book. And that's what "Valley of the Dolls" is.

GROSS: I think she changed the way books are sold and marketed in a way too.

KORDA: Yes, because coming out of the entertainment business Jackie felt that the book could be marketed like anything else. And so Jackie was the first person really to make the author the center of the campaign not the book. She was the first person to make the booksellers into allies by building up a huge rolodex with every bookseller in the country and every book clerk -- bookstore clerk in the country with their names their favorite flower, their astrological sign, the names of their dogs or children, their birthdays.

Jackie had in her palm tens of thousands of booksellers all across the United States who were absolutely fanatically loyal to her. And finally, she was the one who opened up for the first time the ability of the novelist to go on television and sell a novel as if it were a product. But it was not for nothing that she had sold Shiftley (ph) embroidery as the Shiftley girl on television for all those years, she simply took that and applied it to a book.

Before that, people would have said, oh, you can do that. And if you could do that it would be vulgar and wrong. But once Jackie had done it, it made perfect sense to everybody.

GROSS: What was that like for you to work with somebody who was marketing herself as well as her book? I mean, she had become such a celebrity, did it make it harder for you to work with her?

KORDA: Well, as you will have gathered from my own life, career and so forth I'm not somebody who shies away from people turning themselves into celebrities for the purposes of their books.


But I adored Jackie. First of all, let me say that Jackie was a terrific person to be around. I should tell you that I used to edit Jackie by sitting next to her in her pink apartment at the Navarro (ph) in Central Park South, and she had a pink IBM Selectric (ph) typewriter and typed on pink paper.

And in all her typing and writing career she had never discovered the "shift" key. So she typed only in capital letters like a very long telegram. And she would type one page -- also, she didn't punctuate. She would type one page and she would hand it to me and say, "read this, doll!"

And I would read it and I would make some suggestions, and then she would explode and we would have an enormous knock down, drag out, screaming fight at the end of which she would accept some of my suggestions which she would carry out by herself on the page using an eyebrow pencil to make her corrections.


And then she would put that page to one side and put a new sheet of pink paper in the typewriter and move onto the next page. The point being, A, that Jackie cared very much about what she was writing and worked very hard at it. But, B, that if you were going to edit her she expected you to fight. If you didn't fight then you weren't sincere. You didn't care.

So every page had to be fought over. She truly brought to those books an enormous energy. I mean, for one thing in "Valley of the Dolls" and "The Love Machine" she opened up the woman's novel to frank themes of abortion, oral sex, all sorts of things which hitherto had been thought to be stuff that you did in pornographic novels printed in Paris as opposed to enormous romantic women's bestsellers.

She opened it up to stuff that women knew was happening and even to some degree was happening in their own lives, but had never read about in escapist fiction before. And in doing that she truly changed the face in American publishing and American fiction.

GROSS: Now, how did you find out about her secret life -- the life that she tried to keep from her fans, that she had breast cancer, that she had an autistic son?

KORDA: I did not know about that until the end of Jackie's life. I always used to wonder why the Mansfield's owned a Cadillac and kept it downstairs in the garage -- Cadillac convertible. Because they never had, so far as one could tell, any kind of domestic life except occasionally sitting home and making phone calls to the Coast.

They were out every evening. There was never anything in their refrigerator. There was no evidence that they had any kind of a personal life. And they also -- they didn't have a country house. They didn't have a place in East Hampton. They didn't do anything like that. So I could never figure out why they needed to keep a Cadillac downstairs in the garage.

Well, it turned out that the Cadillac was kept in the garage because every Sunday the Mansfield's got in it and drove up to this institution in Connecticut where their son, Guy, was kept. He was totally autistic.

And I think that one of the things about Jackie that has to be appreciated, and I think I make this clear in the book, is that Jackie came of that generation that truly believed the show business style which was that you never let the public see you crying. You never let the public see you hurt.

She -- the fact that she was dying of breast cancer, the fact that she had an autistic child -- these were things which today she would reveal to "People" magazine in a shot. In fact, she would kill to have these things in "People" magazine.

But for Jackie in her day the public was only supposed to see the smiling happy side of your life. They weren't supposed to know there was a downside. And so she bottled this up, which took a tremendous amount of courage and kept it from us all.

We didn't know that she was in pain. We didn't know that she was dying. We didn't know that she'd had a failed double mastectomy. We didn't know that there was an autistic child. We would never have guessed that from the Mansfield's.

GROSS: My guest is Michael Korda, the editor in chief of Simon & Schuster. His new memoir is called "Another Life." We'll talk more after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.


GROSS: Michael Korda is my guest; editor in chief of Simon & Schuster. He's a best-selling author as well. His new book is a publishing memoir called "Another Life."

Now, you edited two presidential memoirs, memoirs by Nixon and Reagan. What are some of the problems unique to presidential memoirs?

KORDA: Well, the first problem with presidential memoirs is that presidents almost never tell the truth about anything. And that's difficult because as a publisher you feel a kind of vestigial tug that tells you that it would be better if a book contains some truth.

Most presidential memoirs are simply exercises in ghostwritten fiction presented as nonfiction.

GROSS: You tell a story about how when you were editing President Reagan's memoir that it was ghostwritten, and I think you were trying to keep that from everybody; make it seem like Reagan really wrote it himself.

KORDA: That's not quite fair. We weren't trying to keep it from everybody, we were just trying to play it down.

GROSS: Play it down, thank you.


KORDA: There's a big distinction.

GROSS: Much more discreet, play it down.

KORDA: Keeping it from everybody is lying, playing it down is just an aspect of marketing.

GROSS: Thank you. So you and he were posing for a publicity shot as if you were editing on a book together at that moment. And what did Reagan say to you when he left the room?

KORDA: Yes, we were surrounded by photographers and by people from all the news services. I mean, it was a full-scale press conference at which President Reagan and I appeared at this table with a pile of blank paper and a couple of pencils and pretended to be editing this book.

It was a contrived photo-op. And at the end of it when everybody had finished the president stood up and in his usual jovial way cheered to the press, and as he was going out the door he turned and he said, "I hear it's a wonderful book. I'm going to read it myself one of these days when I have time."


Only Ronald Reagan could do that.

GROSS: Did that end up in the newspaper stories?

KORDA: Of course.


GROSS: And he wasn't kidding, right? I mean, he didn't mean that as a little joke?

KORDA: No, I think he did mean it as a little joke, all right. But on the other hand he, as usual, he didn't have any anticipation of the amount of space it would take up in the stories or the amount of inconvenience and discomfort it might cause. I became very fond of him.

Again, politics to one side, I found him a wonderful man to work with. People complain about his memory, and of course now it's most unfortunate because he has Alzheimer's. But I never saw any real sign of that.

If it was something that interested Ronald Reagan he had the most wonderful memory in the world. For example, he could tell me the name of every one of his horses. He knew them all the way back. He could tell you everything about them, which matters because I'm a horseman.

GROSS: Yes, but on the other hand you describe him as basically having no attention span. You know, that when he'd drift away...

KORDA: ... well, he had no intentions span when it didn't interest him. If he was talking about his horses he had a very long attention span. Also, he had a kind of Zelig-like way of placing himself in the forefront of events where he was not.

Which, again, was not malicious and was not in anyway lying. What it was, was that Reagan coming out of show business and an actor is a wonderful, or was a wonderful, raconteur, one of the best. And over the decades each of his anecdotes had been honed, told a thousand times, refined to the point where it was a perfectly tuned and absolutely perfected story.

And the president would say, "let me tell you the story of..." and he would tell you this wonderful story. And of course, he was an actor -- beginning, middle, end, punch line -- he got it all right. The problem with it is that being an actor over the years he tended to put himself more and more in the foreground of the story. Thus he told Yitzhak Rabin and everybody else that he had been the first American to reach Buchenwald (ph) and see the horrors of the concentration camps.

And when he told Yitzhak Rabin this Rabin burst into tears because the story was so wonderful and so moving. The only problem is when we put it in the book that we discovered that it wasn't true. Ronald Reagan of course had never been outside the United States in the Second World War, and spent the entire Second World War in Culver City editing footage from military photographers.

He had seen the footage of American troops liberating Buchenwald, but over the years as he told this story he gradually moved himself into the foreground of the story. And so he was the one who liberated Buchenwald.

GROSS: I find that terrifying.

KORDA: Well, no, actually it's not uncommon. And if you get old enough you will find yourself doing it yourself. But of course being an actor...

GROSS: ... yes, but moving yourself into being the first person in this historic moment is different from forgetting...

KORDA: ... but you see, it's Zelig. Remember the film?

GROSS: Yeah.

KORDA: Where Zelig appears everywhere? Eventually Ronald Reagan's anecdotes always put him in to the foreground, done in the most innocent possible way. For example, I tell in the book, "Another Life," the story of his speech to the Medal of Honor winners in which he told this wonderful story about the pilot of a B-17 shot down over German waters, the crew had to bailout because the plane was on fire, and discovers that the bull turret gunner, a young man of 17, is wounded and stuck in his turret in the back and can't get out.

So the pilot unfastens his straps, climbs out of the pilot seat of this crashing airplane, works his way back to where the bull turret is behind the wings, sticks his arm down through the little hatchway and grips the boy's hand -- the dying boy's hand -- and says, "don't sweat it, son. We're going down together."


KORDA: And the Medal of Honor winners all burst into tears and applauded at this wonderful story. The only problem is, as we discovered, that it never really happened. It's in a 1944 war movie that Ronald Reagan saw. But his conviction that it had happened was so strong his ability to convey even to the Medal of Honor winners the pathos and the courage of this story was so powerful that it might as well have happened, if you see what I mean.

And you had to guard against that when you wrote his memoirs because it was my job to be forever in the most embarrassing way saying to the president, "Mr. President, I don't think you can say this." Not an easy role to play.

In addition to which, I had to urge upon a very reluctant president Reagan that he had to include at least one sentence of the book to indicate that he had once been married to Jane Wyman. Because he, or Nancy, whichever one it was, was determined to leave that out of the book.

And I said, "you've got to put it in the book. I don't care if it's just one sentence. But if you don't say that you were married to Jane Wyman then the critics and the reviewer's will assume that you haven't told the truth about anything else."

GROSS: Michael Korda, he's editor in chief of Simon & Schuster. His new memoir about the people he's worked with in the publishing world is called "Another Life." The chapter about Jacqueline Susann is the basis of the forthcoming film "Isn't She Great," starring Bette Midler as Susann.

I'm Terry Gross.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, D.C.
Guest: Michael Korda
High: Editor in chief of Simon & Schuster Michael Korda. In his previous memoir, "Man to Man" he chronicled his ordeal with prostate cancer. In his new book "Another Life: A Memoir of Other People" he tells about the world of publishing and his rise from assistant editor to editor in chief. Along the way, Korda worked with writers Jacqueline Susann, Graham Greene, Tennessee Williams and Harold Robbins.
Spec: Entertainment; Lifestyle; Culture; Michael Korda

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: Michael Korda
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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