Since 1958, Michael Korda, the celebrated Simon & Schuster editor, has tackled some of the most formidable egos in postwar America -- Harold Robbins, Joan and Jackie Collins, Joan Crawford, Richard Nixon, Henry Kissinger, Jacqueline Susann and Will and Ariel Durant among them. His engaging new Rolodex of a reminiscence, "Another Life: A Memoir of Other People," provides a portrait of book publishing from its cottage-industry past to its synergy-driven corporate present.
Korda is as vivid about all the stars he has edited as he is evasive about himself. Try as he may, though, he can't downplay his importance in the evolution of S&S. Much of the book is told from a faux-naive point of view, as when Korda's immediate superior at S&S, Robert Gottlieb, has left to take a job at Knopf. Gottlieb's office is vacant. No replacement has been named:
Since it was by far the largest and nicest editorial office, I staked my claim to it by arguing that whatever the company chose to do about Bob's title, I was certainly next in line for his office and that it was both foolish and depressing to the staff to leave it empty. To my surprise, they gave in (although they made it clear that it was only for the time being and that I might have to move out if a new person was hired to replace Bob), which might not have been the case had I demanded the title or a significant raise. I moved into it immediately and soon had it painted light blue; I ordered a blue office couch and blue wall-to-wall carpeting and even a blue IBM Selectric typewriter, thus reinforcing my claim to occupancy. Either because of that or out of sheer inertia, the search for a successor to Bob fizzled out. I was sitting at his desk and in his office, and very soon I was given his title without having to threaten to leave or even bring the subject up.
Korda's eye for detail really shines a couple of hundred pages later, when he and several other editors have joined Ronald Reagan in Los Angeles, near the end of the president's second term, to work on Reagan's memoirs. A plate of bad, overchunked chocolate cookies has been served. Only one remains, and Reagan's good manners dictate that he offer it around before taking it himself:
One of his aides took the plate from his hand and passed it on. The aides, I noticed, knew better than to reach for the last cookie. [S&S editor] Chuck Adams passed the plate on to me, and I passed it on to [writer Robert] Lindsey, the last man in the circle. I caught a glimpse of the president's face. His eyes were hopeful and bright, his whole expression that of somebody who has done the right thing and seen it pay off. He was already reaching for the plate when Lindsey, who had been bent over a copy of the manuscript, oblivious of the small drama taking place at the table, absentmindedly grabbed the cookie and bit into it without even looking up.
Reagan's face crumpled, his expression that of a man who has just staked the farm on one card and lost.
Random House will publish "Another Life" on May 5.