From world leaders to Mafia dons, from Hollywood stars to the literary world's most eccentric writers, the notable and notorious alike have entrusted their life's work to Simon & Schuster's preeminent editor, Michael Korda. In this masterful memoir, Korda reveals the unforgettable cast of characters and outrageous anecdotes behind four decades of blockbuster publishing, bringing us face-to-face with dozens of larger-than-life figures: Richard Nixon, who maintained his "presidential" persona long after his public life was over; Joan Crawford, whose autobiography reflected a life she would have liked to have lived but did not; Joseph Bonanno, the retired Mafia don who'd do anything to keep from being killed by the reviewers.
And in a revelatory account that reads as compulsively as fiction, Another Life paints a vivid picture of publishing's glitterati, including Jacqueline Susann, who liberated women's fiction--and terrorized a publishing house, and Tennessee Williams, who nourished his genius on four-course vodka lunches. A veritable Who's Who of stage, screen, and letters, Another Life is the deft interweaving of publishing at it most fascinating--and storytelling at its finest.
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May 09, 2000
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Excerpt from Another Life by Michael Korda
I was twenty-three before it occurred to me that my future might not lie in the movie business.
Until then, I had always taken it for granted that I would follow in my family's footsteps sooner or later. Admittedly, I did not seem to have those gifts that had made my father, Vincent, a world-famous art director, nor did I flatter myself that I had the monumental self-confidence that had made my Uncle Alex a successful film director at the age of twenty-one and a legendary producer and film entrepreneur before he was thirty. As for my Uncle Zoltan, the middle of the three Korda brothers, the steely determination to have his own way that was at the very heart of his genius as a film director had not, I had guessed even as a child, been granted me in my cot. The brothers were, in any case, each unique and inimitable, with their strange accents, their many eccentricities, and their uncompromising (and unself-conscious) foreignness.
Still, throughout my childhood and youth I clung to the notion, without much in the way of encouragement, that I would eventually make my living in the film business, if only because it was the only adult world about which I knew anything. It was not just that my father and his brothers were in it; my mother and my Aunt Joan (Zoli's wife), as well as my Auntie Merle (Oberon, Alex's wife), not to speak of Alex's ex-wife, Maria (a great star until talkies put an inglorious end to her career), all were actresses. It could not have been more the family business had we been shopkeepers living above the shop, and in fact all this often seemed just like that, except on a grander scale.
I was not unrealistic enough to suppose that "all this"--the mansion at 144/146 Piccadilly (once the residence of King George VI when he was Duke of York, now the headquarters of London Films), the sprawling film studio at Shepperton, the London Films offices in New York, Paris, Hamburg, and Rome--would one day be mine, but I anticipated, more modestly, a place for me somewhere there, doing something, though exactly what was never clear to me.
I learned French and Russian because Alex had remarked casually that his command of many languages had proven useful to him in the movie business. I took up photography because my father always carried a Leica in his pocket and believed taking photographs improved his eye for a scene or a detail. I labored at learning to write because Zoli believed that no movie was ever better than its script, and until you got it right it wasn't worth thinking about anything else. He himself labored for seven years on the script for a movie of Daphne du Maurier's The King's General without ever bringing it to the point where it satisfied him, or, more important, Alex. As a schoolboy on holiday, I cut my teeth as a writer trying to make the dialogue of this Restoration drama read more like English than Hungarian, at half a crown a page.
Even history, my first love at school, I studied largely because it seemed likely to be useful in the movie business, at least as it was practiced by the Korda brothers. Alex's favorite subjects for movies tended to be drawn from history and biography--The Private Life of Henry VIII; I, Claudius; That Hamilton Woman; The Scarlet Pimpernel, for example--while most of Zoli's great successes were drawn (improbably for a Hungarian) from British colonial history: Elephant Boy, The Four Feathers, Drums, Sanders of the River. My father mostly read history and art history, rather than fiction, and could produce depictions of a Roman bedroom, the drawing room of the king of Naples, or Henry VIII's throne room on demand, mostly from memory, and pretty much overnight when required, without getting a single detail wrong.
If the Korda brothers believed deeply in anything, it was the value of education. The Austro-Hungarian Empire might have been a ramshackle house of cards, but it had had a remarkably efficient educational system, with perhaps the highest standards in Europe. Even though they were Jewish, Alex, Zoli, and Vincent had had mathematics, ancient and modern history, foreign languages, and Latin beaten into them, like every other boy who attended the Gymnasium. These lessons were not forgotten, if only because of the blows that accompanied them. Nothing one learned was ever truly useless, my father liked to say--however nonsensical it seemed when one was young, it would sooner or later come in handy.
I clung to this belief throughout my school days, and even through university, though it went against the evidence of my eyes. I could see no way in which studying the poetry of the French Symbolists, for example, was likely to prove useful to me, still less the early roots of the Russian language--a suspicion that subsequent life has proven to be only too well founded. Increasingly, I came to feel that I was being educated to no purpose at all, that three years as an undergraduate at Magdalen College, Oxford, were just an expensive way of putting off the day of reckoning when I would finally have to make a choice and do something--but what?
I had spent two years in the Royal Air Force doing intelligence work in Germany before going up to Oxford and had enjoyed it as a kind of enforced pause in which nothing very much was expected of me except to keep my boots and buttons shiny and to not destroy any expensive pieces of radio equipment. If there was one thing to be said for the RAF, it was that in it I could be sure of being kept busy every hour of every day, without a moment's leisure to worry about my plans for the future--or the lack of them.
Since I was due to be graduated in the summer of 1957, the new year of 1956 provoked much thought: the future was closing in fast; all my friends already knew exactly what they were going to do after graduation, while I was still waiting fecklessly for the family summons to the motion-picture industry. As it turned out, the summons was never to arrive. On January 23, Alex died, and it was very shortly apparent that his film "empire," however solid it looked on the outside, was not going to survive him--indeed, that he had never intended it to.