Monday, November 26, 2007

The Early Years of Random House.

I've been reading Dear Donald, Dear Bennett, which are the letters between Random House partners Donald Klopfer and Bennett Cerf, when Klopfer was serving in the US Army Air Corps during World War II. It's a fascinating discussion of publishing that includes literary parties, such as one given by John Gunther, which became so, well, animated that a rhumbaing couple fell down the stairs.

I've been most interested in the mystery-related mentions. There's Cerf talking about an "electrified" sales staff over "the new Mignon Eberhart book" (probably Wolf in Man's Clothing, 1942, given the date of the letter). There's glee over acquiring "Frances Crane, whose detective novels sell about as well as Dorothy Disney's, away from Lippincott" (121). There's satisfaction over Margaret Millar: "Margaret Millar's The Iron Gates [1945] is tops in its line and I think we'll be able to run that up to between 15,000 and 20,000 too" (205). There's a swipe or two at Kenneth Fearing, best known for his later The Big Clock (Harcourt, 1946; filmed 1948; remade as No Way Out, 1987). To wit: "Kenneth Fearing has turned in some stinker that he dug out of the trunk in an obvious effort to end his contract with us. We are going to let him get away with it" (34-35).

And this from Cerf, to be filed under the category Famous Last Words:
The beautiful part about it all is that the setup can remain a simple one, right under our own control, and with no possibility, in my opinion, of ever developing into a sprawling and unmanageable menagerie like the Doubleday outfit. You know that I share your abhorrence for impersonal "big business." I don't think Random House will ever get into that category. (148)

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