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Another Life: A Memoir of Other People [Hardcover]

Michael Korda
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)

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Product Description

From Amazon

Michael Korda has spent 41 years at Simon & Schuster--most of them as editor in chief--and it proves to be a front-row seat for observing book publishing's transition from a gentlemanly trade to a hard-nosed business. He chronicles that evolution with impressive perceptiveness and tearing good spirits in this juicy memoir. Korda has a novelist's gift for capturing people's personalities in a few paragraphs, and he nails everyone from bestselling fantasy mongers Jacqueline Susann and Harold Robbins to his boss and good friend, S&S's notoriously dictatorial publisher, Richard Snyder. But he also seems to be incapable of bearing a grudge or truly disliking anyone, so his smart, razor-sharp portraits never appear nasty, just good fun. The key to Korda's appeal is his zest for all manner of books and people, from the highest to the lowest brow, so long as they sincerely believe in what they're doing. (He's amused rather than outraged, for example, by Ronald Reagan's ability to recount with total conviction events that never occurred.) Korda gives a brief, frank account of his personal life, including a failed first marriage, but--luckily for his readers--it's clear that he spent most of his time at the office. --Wendy Smith

From Publishers Weekly

Readers of the New Yorker will already have encountered some choice passages from this gloriously funny, charming and ultra-readable book: those that deal with Jacqueline Susann (soon to be the basis of a movie), Irving (Swifty) Lazar and two noted S&S authors, Richard Nixon and Ronald ReaganAthough neither of their books sold nearly as well as those of their editor, the present author. It is a piece of hoary folk wisdom that books about publishing don't sell, because the people most interested don't have to buy books, and the people who do buy aren't interested. If any book can give that old saw the lie, this is the one. A more candid, engaging and warmly knowledgeable survey of the past 40 years of American publishing cannot be imagined. From the time he joined the firm that was to become his life, at the end of the 1950s, Korda saw the business change almost beyond recognition, from a cozy occupation performed almost like a hobby to one where stakes were almost as high as Hollywood's and the market ruled. Korda creates for himself a persona of guileless innocence coupled with quiet sophistication, and it works wonders in his countless trenchant character studies of S&S's founding family and such colleagues as editor-in-chief Bob Gottlieb and CEO Richard Snyder. His picture of Snyder, though it does not disguise the man's less agreeable aspects, is arguably too sunny, but most people of whom he writes are as entertaining as characters in an endless comic novel. Korda even treats his own workAwhich has embraced such major hits as Charmed Lives, Queenie and Power!Awith bemusement, quite without vanity and rather as an excuse to poke fun at author tours and the perils of overnight success. Nobody who loves the book business with Korda's hopeless and enduring passion can fail to be delighted and touched by this endearing saga. Long may he edit. First serial to the New Yorker.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

Korda's fascinating "memoir of other people" follows his own upward-moving tour of the publishing world. Rising from lowly young Pocket Books editor to the top job at Simon & Schuster, he encounters vivid writers, editors, agents, hacks, flacks, mentors, and rivals such as Max Schuster, Swifty Lazar, Robert Gottlieb, and Harold Robbins. (LJ 5/1/99)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews

This is more entertaining than lunch with a power editor at the Four Seasons Grillfull of delicious gossip plus a lesson or two in book publishing. Korda, of course, is a power editor (editor-in-chief of Simon & Schuster) as well as a best-selling author (Man to Man, 1996; Charmed Lives: A Memoir, 1979; etc.). He's also a world-class raconteur with apparently total recall. In this memoir, which skims quickly over his career at Oxford and his experiences in the RAF and in the Hungarian Revolution, he alternates snapshots of authors, editors, and publishers he has known with exploration of the growth and changes in book publishing since he began at Pocket Books (a division of Simon & Schuster) in 1958. As he moved up in the hierarchy to edit and buy books for S&S, he took on Will and Ariel Durant, Irving Wallace, Harold Robbins, and Robert Moses. He became friends with legendary agent Irving Lazar, who called every day with a new book or proposalinvaluable to a young editorand with Dick Snyder, just starting out on the publishing side of S&S and who was later to take it to a multi-billion dollar business. Korda also began working with authors like Jacqueline Susann, Carlos Castaneda (``I have never doubted for a moment the truth of his stories about Don Juan''), Larry McMurtry (drawn to Korda because they shared an interest in rodeos), Joan Crawford, Graham Greene (an old family friend), Tennessee Williams (who literally drank himself under the table), Jesse Jackson (who never did produce a book), and Claus von Blow (ditto). Korda both roasts and toasts most of these notables, embroidering tales of their not always endearing eccentricities and at the same time applauding their talents. Neither modest or boastful about his own considerable abilities, Korda offers relatively few glimpses into his private life: long hours at work broke up his first marriage; his second wife is fond of horses and pigs. Deft, amusing, informativejust what the editor might hope for from one of his own authors. (Author tour) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Review

Advance praise for Another Life:

"If anybody could make the world of book publishing seem as interesting and lively as show business or the mob, it's Michael Korda, and this book proves it!"--Nicholas Pileggi

"Once--before the telephone, television, and Internet--the village elder gathered people round a fire and told mesmerizing stories. None told stories better than Michael Korda does in this enthralling memoir about publishing and squeezing the most out of life. Your jaw will drop listening to this village elder tell wise and comical tales about the great and nongreat, about a publishing industry convulsed by change, about his own vivid, and admirable, career."--Ken Auletta

"A wry, lively, informative, and wonderfully written chronicle that puts to the lie any idea that publishing is a stodgy business."--George Plimpton

From the Back Cover

Advance praise for Another Life:

"If anybody could make the world of book publishing seem as interesting and lively as show business or the mob, it's Michael Korda, and this book proves it!"--Nicholas Pileggi

"Once--before the telephone, television, and Internet--the village elder gathered people round a fire and told mesmerizing stories. None told stories better than Michael Korda does in this enthralling memoir about publishing and squeezing the most out of life. Your jaw will drop listening to this village elder tell wise and comical tales about the great and nongreat, about a publishing industry convulsed by change, about his own vivid, and admirable, career."--Ken Auletta

"A wry, lively, informative, and wonderfully written chronicle that puts to the lie any idea that publishing is a stodgy business."--George Plimpton

About the Author

Michael Korda is the editor in chief of Simon & Schuster as well as the author of Charmed Lives, several bestselling novels, the number one bestseller Power!, and Man to Man. He lives with his wife, Margaret, in Dutchess County, New York.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

CHAPTER 1

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.

Perhaps as a reaction to this dose of reality, perhaps because I felt a desperate need to join in something, however exotic, or perhaps simply because I needed, if nothing else, an escape from having to make up my mind about a profession or a job, I left Oxford in the late autumn of 1956. With three companions, I set off for Budapest at the first news of the outbreak of the revolution there, carrying medical supplies and helping out in the besieged city's hospitals. Like so many others throughout modern history, I thought better a uniform or the barricades than a lifetime of boredom as a clerk--a sentiment which to this day provides the French Foreign Legion with more recruits than it needs. In something of the same spirit, my friends and I drove a decrepit, borrowed Volkswagen convertible to Vienna, ready to do battle.

I did not speak a word of Hungarian, I did not feel myself to be in any way Hungarian, and the little I knew of Hungarian history and politics filled me with dismay rather than with any pride or sympathy. I went because I was looking for adventure, because it seemed like a good opportunity to be a part of history in the making (as so many of my father's friends had done in Spain, not to speak of in World War Two), and perhaps because it looked fairly clear which side was the right one. It was David and Goliath, with the Hungarian Communist Party and the Red Army playing the role of Goliath.

My years of RAF service, plus my obligatory annual summer stint in the RAF Reserve, were enough to give me the illusion that I might prove useful to the insurgents. I knew a lot about radios, there was hardly a weapon in the British arsenal that I could not strip and reassemble blindfolded, I was a good shot, I knew Russian. I saw myself perhaps playing the role in the streets of Budapest that the hero of The Four Feathers had played in the Sudan, or that T. E. Lawrence had played in Arabia. I would then, I thought, even more improbably, return home to woo Alexa, my Uncle Alex's young widow, with whom I had been hopelessly in love for years, to the annoyance of my family.

My decision to go to Hungary brought tears to the eyes of Alexa (who had agreed to buy the medical supplies) and to those of my father, who, having survived two earlier Hungarian revolutions by the skin of his teeth, had a good idea of exactly what we were getting ourselves into. Except for Alexa, the only adult who seemed enthusiastic about this adventure was the writer Graham Greene, an old friend of my father's and something of a mentor to me, who believed that young men had the right, if not the obligation, to seek danger anywhere, however remote. The cause, as such, did not seem to him important--the main thing was to be "in the thick of things," with the heady sound of bullets whistling past one's ears.

In the spirit of his later spoof of the British Secret Intelligence Service, Our Man in Havana, Greene introduced me to a member of MI6 over drinks at the Ritz Hotel bar, on Piccadilly. Greene himself had been a wartime spy for SIS, as well as one of Kim Philby's oldest (and most loyal) friends. Intrigue was second nature to him, and he reveled in mystery, so it was not surprising that I never learned the name of his companion, a military-looking gentleman with a Brigade of Guards tie who urged me to photograph the unit markings on any Soviet vehicles I saw, as well as the collar and shoulder flashes of the troops.

What, I asked, should I do with the exposed film? "Place the film cartridges in a French letter and insert it into your rectum," the gentleman from SIS whispered. "Vaseline helps," he added delicately, sipping at his pink gin.

He also told me the telephone number of a man in Budapest who might be able to help me in case of need, although, he warned, I was to use it only in the direst of emergencies. I must memorize the number, right then and there, since i...
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