Book Beat; 83
A. We're going to talk about publishing and about the sound of laughter. A collection of the very amusing stories put together by Bennett Cerf and published by Doubleday. And we return to Mr Cerf who is a kind of a national repository of good stories and jokes in just a moment. This is book week introducing you to leading authors and critics. This program is made possible in part by the National Book Committee and the American Booksellers Association. Your
host is Robert Crumb a daily columnist for The Chicago Tribune and a contributing editor of book world the Sunday Literary Supplement of the Chicago Tribune and The Washington Post. Shirley Bennett this is what about your 15th book of fun. Yes well it's about the tenth book for adults and then I've done books of riddles and jokes for the little kids which I write popular. Well you of course are one of the renowned punsters. Of our age I guess. How do you happen to drift into this particular category of. Putting words together. Yeah well when I was in college before you were born Bob at the Columbia School of Journalism back in the days before the Boer War I became the editor of the Columbia jester which was a funny magazine a clown bee. And I was I with Corey Ford who later became quite well now and yes and yes and Dick Simon who started Simon and Schuster and. I began collecting stories at that time and I've never gotten out of the habit. And I
always loved puns that drive my wife crazy. And it's gotten so that now anybody makes a bad pun people that laugh a groan as much opposed to it upon I get blamed for it. Do you have a favorite song by the way. Well it's always one of the newest ones you've heard I think one of the most awful ones is the story about what might you see if a bank we exploded in your face. A Napoleon Buonaparte. Oh I'm sorry I asked. And there's another one equally bad about the fact they chased all the puppies out of Fairbanks Alaska Did You Know That. It's now known as Douglas Fairbanks. Let's call the whole thing off. I wish I could end the program. Well I must say I think my favorite one was that it was a story about the fellow was locked up and to tell he could make 500 puns you know that one. Now we got to 499 and it was completely blocked and they were going to let him out until he made the 500 and they came out and started taunting me he finally said well upon the door. And they let him out they let him know that's where they made a mistake. How do
you get these stories been keeping you as open. And reading everything in sight. If you pick up a newspaper today even though the headlines are appalling and one disaster after another seem to fill a paper is there was always buried somewhere inside the paper something that's happened that's funny. And you can use that as a as the kernel of a story. Put a few little tragedies on it and you got a new anecdote. You're in a broader are you. Well I think anybody who is a storytellers in a broad read something happens to you which probably is a disaster when it happens. And then you tell it at a dinner and you find that people mused by your discomfort you'll. And if you're anything like me then you begin to add little trimmings. And after I told a true story about the eighth time my wife Ella says there's not a word of truth left in it but it's a good idea you know and a lot of the stories I put in and the sound of laughter the reason I think this book is is coming out of the good time Bob is that. I think we're hopping too much on I want
troubles which God knows at manifold but there's a there's a pleasant side of life and I don't think we should lose sight of it. Well I think you have a good point because what humor writers on the left Bennett. Well it never what to many in this kind of know but we had as you mentioned Corey Ford Benchley Parker. Sorry but third SJ Perelman has not gone to England and the widest and I show him and he's got a new novel coming out next year. HLN Smith may have to sort of retired. He's going he's a moderate is my ashes. We were getting ready oh I was not his way don't say he's retired he's on his way to the South Seas to do a novel he is years and he says it's going to be a novel about an island. And all the girls how they're prudes prudes always approach roads. Well one of the things I like in this book of mine is it not almost always a jest just always to make you laugh. I filled it purposely with stories about some of the nice people it's people you know want to and yes I have. I've said this before and I'll say it as long as I can have breath. That the
American people are the nicest people in the world and if you wander around the country not stay in New York and Chicago and Hollywood but going to the backwoods and and talk a little college you know the kids in your new colleges and the junior colleges and meet the people in the 50 states of the Union. They are wonderful people and all you have to do is meet them halfway. You show that you are friendly they will respond immediately and in this book I have some of the stories of some of the nice people I've met and some of the nice things that have happened. You know who's the best storyteller you ever and the best storyteller I have met was Ben Hecht. Really good now. He was the only right is right and Morris Hart was a wonderful storyteller. Somebody said about Moore's hot something once said I hope somebody bought me some day said he was a kind of fellow who made everybody in a room a little bit nicer than they really was. And he left people feeling better than when he'd come in. Well most of the day most people come in for you with gloom and tell you about all the chaos in the world.
When I was there's plenty of it but there's always there are some good things going on to what's the opposite about the old story about somebody of whom it was said when he came to the room you felt as were some of the just going out. Yeah. I was somebody who I once saw some fellow coming on and everybody's face fell and he just cast a small poor you know and I said it must be awful for him to see the faces on people he said No we've never seen any other kind of hits. And but those are the people you John Boy. You know somebody once said there were only about 20 people who really understand the international situation today in that funny you keep meeting them all the time. These experts who keep telling them what's wrong with the world I never thought of that but that's very true. Some of them have been through the country you know like two days in there and I tell you all about what's wrong with it and how they would run their gray and what's wrong with the administration. Do you have any favorite stories in there. Well forget the fun is the honey fairy story as I've got a couple. I like to tell you one about a man that I think most of people who are listing to have seen at one time or another. And that's just me doing it you know yours.
This is a story just to show you how nice some people are. And Jimmy's one of the nicest people that ever lived. They're scattered around the country a lot of hospitals for disabled soldiers who have been badly banged up in either Korea or Vietnam and many of them a forgotten they are living out their lives battered destroyed. And Ed Sullivan has troops that go around and attain them. And everybody likes to do that once in a while it's a very nice thing to do. And he wanted Jimmy Durante to come out with him one night to the hospital on Staten Island. And Jimmy said I can't come with you that night dad because I have a very high priced private engagement I've been hired for a private party I'm getting a fortune for it. And Ed said well I'm doing it two weeks from now too. Jimmy said I'm leaving for Las Vegas on the coast I won't be back. So Solomon said well the kids love you come out and do one number. And I'll have a limousine that will take you to a private party. Too and he said he would do it. And he came out in front of this audience of disabled
kids and they gave an uproarious welcome. And he did his number. Sullivan was waiting for him in the wings. And then to Solomon's amazement Jimmy Durante proceeded to do eight or nine more songs he went right through his entire repertoire. And of course by the time he was finished it was light and the date was over. And Sullivan said what came in the you know I was beckoning to you would do and he said I saw you he said well why did you suddenly start doing all those other numbers and do any style tell you why. When I finished my lumber the first number I was going to do the kids applauded me and I looked down and sitting in the front row there were two lieutenants sitting together and one of the Midwest is right OB and the other one had lost his left. And they were applauding me by the boy using his left hand the other way and said When I saw that. He said tears came into my eyes and I thought What the dickens was that private engagement. I'm going to give them everything I've got. That's a beautiful have a nice day. So are there people like that all over the world. Yeah. And I think if we started talking more about the nice people.
And maybe forgot for a little while that one half of 1 percent of the kids who were the rotten apples in the barrel. Maybe people would feel a little bit better. Don't you have a story that I'm sure is not in this book. But one that. Always sort of. It saddens me and yet it was a fascinating story. Sinclair Lewis on this last night and in time you remember that of course I do because you spend it with. Yeah I know but you told me the story I want to know is would you like to. Yes I got time to tell him you're sure. Well. Lou was in the late years of his life was a very lonely man. He had managed to alienate a lot of his friends by his gruff manner. He didn't mean to but he did. And he was leaving America to go to happily try not to be his last visit because he died shortly after he got to Italy. But his last night in New York he spent with my wife and myself we have a private house and with a guest room and use for what his friends and since you have to take his boat the next morning at seven in the morning he didn't want anybody at the house he had to go to bed
about 9 o'clock. He wasn't very strong. He was on his last legs on my back and he wanted to be alone with us and the three of us were having dinner together. When the phone rang. And. I answered the phone it was William Faulkner who had suddenly come to New York totally unexpectedly and was at the airport with nothing to do and I said gee this is right. Bella read Lewis is here and I came and I said I had built for it and I just arrived New York and I asked him to come here. And Louis said you certainly cannot. This is my night. So I had to go and tell. And I'd have breakfast with him the next morning and I came in and Louis said How long have you been in the publishing business. I said twenty years why. He said Don't you know by this time you don't have two big watches at the same time he said this night belongs to me. Well about 9:30 he went up to bed and Elvis and I were laughing over the quarry. Some people great authors in their little foibles and about a half hour later I suddenly heard about that. And I went out and he was reading Lewis
leaning over the banister and I said What's the trouble. He said I just wanted to see if he had staked off the sea floor. I don't have said that it was that he went to Italy and I practically allow a couple of months later this great man who had written mainstreet Babbitt Dodsworth and Alice math. Oh you've been publishing now since you came out of school. Well not at all that yeah I went to Wall Street for a cup of tea is I was a days when there was a bull market and. Then I got a job with bone I live right and they were publishing the Modern Library series which I used when I was in college which wasn't doing very well. Oh it was doing very well. When I talked to a few took it I don't know is doing very well live right was it was not exciting enough or liberal arts or so you know these were reprints and we bought it from them he needed money and I'm ice to raise enough to buy it from them. And my partner Donna copper and I started the modern library. And then we decided we were going to do some few books of my own. And. I came into the office one day and said you know we said we're going to do a couple books at
random let's call it Random House. And sitting at my desk that guy was Rockwell Kent who was at that time one of the most famous artists in America and Kant said I'll draw you a lot. And sitting at my desk he do that little house that's when I try you know I have a sense gave it to us as a present when we got big Every time we madam he said if I had known I was going to have to randomize what I would have judged you for that trite. That's funny. What authors are you published now that you're especially fond of over the years. Well now we have on our list James Michener. I did order a marvelous show with him by the way they did. You didn't see it was last week and it was great. Well they come in your shows come in they're on you know last week was it. Yes and it was great I've had I was coming on that much more show than anything in a long time ago. Well he's got a new book coming out in the spring called the draft is which has just been chosen by the book of the Month Club that's why he was at Kent State wasn't it he was going to come back I was doing and he doing two books and he was going to be one can state. But that's what I said it's a factual book but the draft is a novel and I call it a gold mine because that we need touches is a
smash bestseller. And then of course we publish children capacity so we don't have to do any publicity for him a charming little guy. He's the greatest publicity man for himself that I will live. And then we've got a couple books as for all that sensational success is shot by Alan Thomas. Yes and the greening of America by Charles right and this is what's fun in publishing. He's had to sleep is you know anybody can publish Juris. Robbins you know they are one of many bestsellers you publish when you jump out of the way. But the fun of publishing is finding something brand new somewhat that nobody's ever heard. I usually Pred a small addition you don't know what's going to happen to it. No Harper Lee for example To Kill a Mockingbird with flippant God that was into that lady she's German Kaposi's cousin and all that. Yeah when he went out to get the facts for in cold blood he took her along as a secretary and nobody knew it. And the reason she didn't come to randomize was she didn't want to trade on Truman's
reputation. And that's how he was getting your money which I think is one of the loveliest now is that when published that book will live long after this felt that's been spewed out today is long since been forgot. You're right of course you've got the feelings or I'm beautiful picture with Gregory Peck Yeah but you had a publisher the lady of whom I was very fond. Jean a. I just like to pay tribute to her. She was recently very favorite people. She died very suddenly as she went home on Friday night and then never came back and she was a kind of woman that you don't meet too often to die she was dedicated with job and she was invariably sweet I never saw her ruffled or unpleasant or in the slightest. Out of sorts I'm delighted to pay tribute to her because she was one of the nicest women we have had in our office. Then at worst publishing going because of course you know we were known by our CIA and I think 100 owned by CBS. That's right and IBM but as a scientific research and Raytheon as bought part of the Athenaeum. I don't know. Time zones quadrangle
and world. Los Angeles Times and I understand the Chicago Tribune is looking around for a book publishing house we'd like to buy. I don't know what's going to happen in publishing. What worries me is that first of all fiction is going way down you know. When I came into the publishing business fiction outsold nonfiction about six to one. Now the ratio is exactly we just the world is moving so fast that the novelist can't keep up with the headlines and everything so exciting around it's rough you know I was of course are still sold tremendously well who does a few dollars a few months out of the book like a love story which was that last year when we did Portnoy's Complaint the big bestseller sell better than Abba. But what's difficult today is to put up oh how hard it is to put over a first love story was a first novel that happens happened just often enough to break the rules and that was a movie was done for and then he did that and. With Allie McGraw that lovely creature was in good like Columbus.
Well I had a first novel issued by Alice Walker. For whom I have very high hopes. And I don't even know what young black author she was a sharecropper's daughter and she went to Sarah Lawrence on a scholarship and her first novel was called The Third life of Grange Copeland who is one of the best written novels I've seen in many a year. Really who you know published I can't remember now. Please forgive me whoever published it but it's a beautiful thing. Now by members who publish books why should they I rt who publish yours Doubleday and your with random splaying that plays well I think it's very bad for a publisher to publish his own books because all my authors would come and say I see you advertise your own book this morning how about may I when I see you spending a lot of time going on and talking to Bob Kwame about your book Why I have to talk about my book. You know when I did mention field shock and greening of America. Yes you did. I'll tell you how publishing by this is a business of surprises and one of the reasons it's so exciting. We didn't know that the greening of America would be a huge bestseller When the first edition was exactly
5000 copies. Last week we sold twenty one thousand copies. When we do I think my keyboard is twenty five hundred thirty five is what they said on it yes. How do you how do you think these these huge. Octopi taking over publishing firms are going to have an effect on publishing. I don't know if they have a movie in they may make trouble but luckily for the publishes these big shots don't know much about book publishing and they left as an RCI for instance have been wonderful to us. We had been in the contract that we would be in complete control of our own business and they have been meticulous about it and have not interfered in any way shape or manner. But when you took over come out you told me a funny story about Alfred come out. And his one sentence warning to you to leave him alone don't sully the image. Yes. He said Well I tell you we promised outfit collapse when we took out what perhaps that we would not interfere with him. Yeah and I lived up to that for two reasons. One I am a man of my word and to have always been scared to death of Alfred.
And three is a damn good publisher is a wonderful publisher he's he's he's been very sick. But he's a wonderful man and I think he's the best publisher Maggette. Were you getting the novelists now do you find that when you scour the Bush years you have talent scouts out there just come in over the transom. Well we when I go around to the colleges I this is one of the nice raisins I like to go around talking to the colleges. You always meet the head of the English department and there's always some young hopeful. And once in a while they come through oh that's William style and came around that way. He's one of my what does not prohibit right up where he came from much Chapel Hill. Oh and now Duke got it wrong. God he's letting you kill me. It was not killing you. Yes well Duke isn't too far away but. That's how they'll start get static. About foreign authors not going off is very big on foreign authors. Well he has been yes. Mostly foreign authors like good wines they don't travel well. Well they'd be great best sellers in France or Italy but we don't translate well maybe yes. But
every once in a while something like France when I say go comes along and writes the rule and that's why they hate publishing exciting it never can be absolutely sure. Sometimes you'll do a book you think is going to be a big bestseller when it is a resoundingly flop the public will have none of it. And another time a greening of America will come along that suddenly becomes a bestseller before you know what's happened to you when you publish a lot of children's books that we should explain something to you why do they call a lot of those things children's books. Well it's obviously adult books and merely being sold to children. Not until we publish documents about yours especially Well I don't like to talk about tonight. All right all right for the most part they are bought by parents for the children. And the children themselves aren't allowed to pick out the books the parents come in and buy books they think that children are going to like and very often these medals that are given given by librarians who haven't talked to children in 10 years. But if you let the kids themselves pick out books they will buy books like Dr. Seuss now the cat in the hat. You know I guess the biggest selling job and I'll
leave out the hat. And the wonderful part about children's books is that the audience we know is itself a novel gets published in five or six months it's forgotten and comes out in paperback and then it's forgotten again. But a book like the cat I had every year there's a new generation of kids ready for it. Well and of course something like the Oz books for example all the parents want their kids to read it because they really loved it. Yes yes. You never know how how that name came into existence. No. What's rather interesting Frank Rhoda had got the whole story in his mind he didn't know what to call this mythical land of his and he looked over his filing cabinet one day in the wood to draw as I am and I was dizzy or dizzy I was a bit I was a I was a and he said that's it that's funny. Isn't that funny. Yass. Your wife has something to do when you're your children's book promotions I believe she's still doing the beginner book a very limited vocabulary books like one hundred thirty three words as well call them beginner books you know when the cat in the Hat is this is the star and I see the words
there's certain limited vocabulary and that's very hard for and I don't know what that surprise you often at all others think I'll toss off at you when they don't realize that writing a successful deal when I was sometimes much more difficult than writing an adult book because you have to be so careful what you say and how you say it. Now there are a couple of books in that series like green eggs and ham. And Go Dog Go which are absolute classics and those books took months and months to write and rewrite. You had it limit night words then you have to fit the text in with the pictures. And that's another. Tough job layout man sometimes has a lot to say well how would you when Al comes out because the page has to be has to be symmetrical. Yeah the text has to fit in with the pages. But once you get a deal when I was I say it it goes on and on a good juvenile lot is like having a hundred shares of IBM it gets royally twice a year for years on end because the book goes right on selling. Well I said a lot of them were juveniles I was talking about things like Seuss but I love the books that they put out and
label kids books I'll swear are not. What what do you have what do you have in mind. Well there are some that they will sell indiscriminately. I guess maybe not juveniles but as young adults. Well I guess the best example of that that Bob is Charlotte's Web by E.B. White which is like I say it's a joke. I think it's one of the great books of our times. But they put out science books which I will swear would be very difficult for a college graduate to understand and so it was for teenagers. You'd be surprised what kids know today and one of the things that people swear was destroying children's books is what's responsible and that's television. These kids see huge programs and what about the weather about the stuff about the sea and then they want to read more about them and these books we have a series called all about books about the weather what about the scenes that they sell wonderfully because these kids have learned to be interested in them by watching this monster television you have a great interest in all kinds of things you have a kind of a very pleasant boyish enthusiasm about more things than anybody I've known in a long time.
The first time you were on book we had an awful job getting you away from the train exhibit in the Science Museum I remember that. And today we had trouble getting you down because they were showing Sesame Street on the lobby and you want to stand watch that little thing that lives in the ash can. Well my son Chris is working with Sesame Street now. I didn't suggest that he got a wonderful job that he's in charge of all the subsidiary writes books and records and what not. And so I've started watching Sesame Street and I love it. I think oh this is one of the great things that's happened in television last few years have been manly but Sesame Street is one of them. Johnny sample but I was very fond of your son. I don't know if you had to tell me last night when we did a show Bob had a show last night. Johnny sample the old jet back which was the night of the big one. What a bruiser. But what a nice man he was. We've been here today I don't throw you off for those two puns. But how many books do you publish you know random at random. Oh I guess when you count modern library and juveniles and I college texts I would say
about three hundred books trade books just new trade books really tried books but 150 are selling as well. Per capita as they used to say 12 I think the best sellers sell better than average but we getting to be a need to cut great. Everybody wants to read the books everybody else is ready. Story comes number one it stays there. But as I say the newcomers are having a harder and harder time of it. And. Unfortunately so many bugs are born dead they're dead. The day they come out the reveal was have no place space for them you never see a decent review the author says this is why publication date and nothing happens. Yeah it's very sad very sad. And even the booksellers won't don't want them even though they can return them when they're not so well all they want. They can't I guess talk about it so you make it a best seller and then we'll order a book that's a year old I guess something can't be stocked in most bookstores. They're so busy selling records and games and puzzles and statues that the book department seems to get smaller all the time I know somebody went in for something that I think won a very big prize in the booksellers and I'm sorry but that
was last year's book. Yeah well I'd say we'll get it for you going to say that a lot of places they say I'm sorry we don't have it and turn to some other customer let's say which is where the world is going. Which books you're importing a lot from England today England's importing drugs from us. Really. Yes. When I started publishing we used to go to England to get kept playing in my G Wells and Donald Bennett and of course goes way these Forsyte Saga has become a great bestseller again again because of television. But today if you look at the bestseller list in London you'll find that three out of every four books on it are books that already been successful in America. But are there more readers now than ever. Yes capita Yes there are. And that's probably due to paperbacks which you know when a big salad like The Godfather comes along just come out in paperback. Like They've sold about five million copies and Love Story which is just coming out in a national bank for millions 400000 and they've gone back to press when they're ready. Yes yes. He's going to be the wealthiest young college professor in the country listens with a profit in publishing as now this weanie of
- Book Beat
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- Book Beat is a literary radio program hosted by Chicago Tribune columnist Robert Cromie and made possible in part by the National Book Committee and the American Booksellers Association. In each episode, Cromie interviews an author about a specific book theyve written or translated. Authors discuss the books background, topics, and themes as well as their research and writing process.
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Host: Cromie, Robert, 1909-1999
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 69-36-83 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
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- APA: Book Beat; 83. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-gt5fgk33