Lindbergh family bashes biographer

They claim she told them she wasn't writing a biography; she claims she told them she was.

Published February 7, 2000 5:00PM (EST)

Recently in the "Customer Reviews" section of, a reader of Susan Hertog's "Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Her Life" took issue with Hertog's research -- "I often found myself asking the question, 'Is this the real story?'" -- and wondered why Hertog claimed she worked closely with her subject when in fact she never received access to her unpublished papers.

Hertog's copious footnotes certainly quell any suspicion that the biography was faked. But with the second observation, the Amazon customer stumbled onto a truth: Hertog, who spent 10 years writing the book, had a rough journey with the Lindbergh family.

When she approached Anne Morrow Lindbergh in 1985 with the idea of chronicling her life, Lindbergh not only rebuffed her but also rejected her request to examine her personal papers at Yale. That honor eventually went instead -- and exclusively -- to A. Scott Berg, whose "Lindbergh," published by Putnam in 1998, followed the life of Anne's husband, Charles, the ace aviator and Nazi sympathizer.

According to Reeve Lindbergh, who in 1998 published her own memoir of her famous family, "Under a Wing," "Scott met my mother 10 or 11 years ago, and my mother felt that he was trustworthy." She adds that there was good reason for the family to reject Hertog's request: "My mother didn't want a biography of herself written during her lifetime." She says she hasn't read Hertog's book, which has more in it than Berg's on some of Charles Lindbergh's unsavory acquaintances -- including Nazi Field Marshal Hermann Goering, who in 1938 awarded him the Service Cross of the Order of the German Eagle.

Another of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's biographers, Dorothy Herrmann, had a similar experience with the family when, in 1990, she embarked on "Anne Morrow Lindbergh: A Gift for Life," which the now-defunct Ticknor & Fields brought out in 1993. "Charles definitely didn't want any papers to be seen during his lifetime, and I believe that Anne felt the same way," Herrmann says.

The Lindberghs did -- cautiously -- allow Hertog some access to the family. "My mother was willing to talk with her, but she did not want a biography. It was an ambivalent situation," Reeve Lindbergh grants. Hertog was allowed 10 interviews with Anne Morrow Lindbergh and was also permitted to speak to various other family members. But according to Reeve, the Lindberghs had some mistaken impressions about the nature of Hertog's project.

"We got a letter from Susan and her editor, Nan Talese, saying that this was a feminist study of the women in the Lindbergh and Morrow families," Reeve explains. "So a lot of the people who didn't normally talk said, 'Oh, sure, that's fine. I'll talk about my ancestors.' Then I think what must have happened is that Susan went back to biography and didn't tell the people she interviewed."

Indeed, Hertog did face some structural issues as the biography evolved. "The book came in at 1,000 pages," reports Nan Talese, of Nan A. Talese Books. "You hardly got to Anne until halfway through. I thought we should focus on Anne."

Hertog sent the galleys of the finished book to Reeve Lindbergh last July. "When she wrote that she had finished the book, I said, 'Oh, how wonderful," Lindbergh recalls. "Then I realized that it was a biography, and we had to go back and retract."

Hertog maintains that she deceived no one in the process of her research: "Mrs. Lindbergh may have been ambivalent about a biography, but she kept inviting me back. I had 10 interviews, and she knew I was writing this book. She knew I was recording her thoughts and her memories. I made no attempt to hide anything from them."

Not only did the Lindberghs then force Talese and Hertog to pull the family's quotations; Hertog also lost her permission to quote directly from Anne Morrow Lindbergh's journals. Talese insists, however, that the biography didn't suffer as a result: "The book hardly rests on a few quotes from the family." She also maintains, pace Reeve Lindbergh, that the book was always intended as a biography of Anne Morrow Lindbergh. "Our contract was for a biography. Reeve was very encouraging right from the beginning."

Hertog feels equally confident about the final book. "Scott Berg had access to the Yale papers, and his story reveals less about Anne Lindbergh than mine does. I think mine goes beyond those papers -- and way beyond whatever has been written before on Anne Lindbergh."

In the meantime, Reeve Lindbergh is at work on a book about her relationship with her mother. "It's not a biography," she says. "It's about now. My mother has a lot of disorientation and confusion from a stroke. There are a lot of families going through this. It's about how we all manage."

By Craig Offman

Craig Offman is the New York correspondent for Salon Books.

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