THE PURPLE DIARIES WRITING JOURNAL
(© Joseph Egan. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be duplicated in any form without the written permission of the author.)
(A brief proviso: correcting spelling and typos have never been my strong point so please forgive. It should also be remembered that this is pretty much first draft writing with all its pitfalls.)
This writing journal came about in an odd sort of way. While writing the Purple Diaries, there were many times when I needed to get away from writing the book but still remain in a writing mindset so that, when I was ready, I could easily transition back to the book. So, what I did was glean through the many emails I was writing to friends about how and what I was doing with my writing. I then transferred this material to an MS word document. There, I cut, rewrote and elaborated so as to discuss the actual writing process and my many, if sometimes random, thoughts and observations concerning it. I then used this journal periodically to help clarify my thinking or, at other times, express my fears and insecurities so that they could be brought to the surface and dealt with accordingly.
Frankly, I never intended to use this material as anything more than a tool to help me write the book. Then, while trying to determine what to include on The Purple Diaries website I re-read this journal and realized that people who read the book might enjoy this look into the process from which the book emanated. Also, for people who don’t like the book, they’ll now be able to determine where and why I went wrong.
The core of the story that comprises the Mary Astor-Franklyn Thorpe Custody Battle is fairly simple. At the end of July 1936 actress and Hollywood movie star Mary Astor went to court to regain custody of their four year old daughter, Marylyn Thorpe. Eighteen months earlier Astor had given up custody when she and her husband Dr. Franklyn Thorpe divorced. This was done because Thorpe had gotten hold of Astor’s two volume diary. Reading what his wife had written about him, herself, and others and most especially about her very passionate affair with playwright George Kaufman, Thorpe went absolutely ballistic. In a purely vindictive act, he told Mary Astor that unless she gave him full custody of their daughter, he would make the two volume diary public.
Written in two, red cornered ledger books, these diaries not only contained detailed descriptions of Mary Astor’s personal activities—including extra marital affairs—but what she knew and/or heard about the activities of others. For example, when Mary Astor married Ken Hawks in 1928 she became a member of an extended family that included Irving Thalberg—perhaps the single most powerful studio head in Hollywood. Before marrying actress Norma Shearer Thalberg was quite a womanizer running around with John Gilbert and the Hawks brothers. There was a good possibility that Mary Astor may have discussed this in the first volume of her diary written during her marriage to Hawks. If made public it would be an immense embarrassment to Thalberg, perhaps even adversely affecting his career. What might be true of Thalberg could also true of many others. This was during the highly moral 1930s when adultery—or any sex outside of marriage—was universally condemned and could and often did destroy Hollywood careers. So, at the time of the divorce Thorpe made it clear that if Astor didn’t relinquish custody of their daughter he would make the diaries public with the intention of destroying her career and the careers of anyone else whose private indiscretions were mentioned in the two ledger books.
At that time Mary Astor was sick with the flu and every night for weeks Thorpe would scream at her for hours that he would destroy her, destroy her career and the career of all her friends because she was an unfit mother and didn’t deserve custody of their child—while failing to mention his own numerous infidelities. Mary Astor was so exhausted, so sick and so frightened about what this man would do to her and her friends that she simply didn’t have the physical or emotional strength to battle him or his threats any longer. So, she agreed to his demands with the promise that he would allow little Marylyn to remain with her mother for six months and stay with her father for six months.
Unfortunately, during the 15 months following the divorce when Thorpe had full custody of the baby—and prior to the custody battle—Thorpe continually countermanded the set routines that Mary Astor was implementing with the baby by threatening to take the little girl away from her mother. Mary Astor soon realized that this conflict between herself and her former husband worked against the consistency that she was trying to implement with Marylyn and, eventually, would cause the baby emotional harm. There was also the fact that Thorpe was extremely harsh in his discipline of the baby and whenever Astor tried to interfere he would always threaten to take the baby away. As Astor saw it, all of this adversely impacted on her effectiveness as a mother because Thorpe–in sheer spite—was putting his needs ahead of the baby’s. Ultimately, this was the reason why she went to court. Having been raised by parents who had also put their needs first, as an adult, Mary Astor was a woman with substantial emotional problems and didn’t want the same thing happening to her little girl.
So, returning to court 18 months after the divorce Astor was now ready to put everything, including her career, on the line for the sake of her child. Knowing that during this court action the diaries might be put into evidence and go public—which Thorpe tried very hard to do—Mary Astor understood that she would become a pariah in Hollywood both personally and professionally. Consequently, the court battle and the dread over the diary’s contents going public put the fear of God into Hollywood because of the damage which diary revelations might have on the careers and box office draw of anyone even associated with it.
Fortunately Astor had a brilliant attorney who fought in the courtroom while Thorpe’s attorney did much of his fighting in the press, continually threatening to introduce the two diaries. Unfortunately for Thorpe and his threats, Astor’s attorney managed to keep the two ledger book diary out of evidence on a technicality. Earlier, Thorpe’s lawyer had pulled one of the volumes apart to be photo-stated and two pages were missing (concerning Thorpe giving one of his girlfriends an abortion which could have led to criminal charges.) The technicality was that a mutilated and/or incomplete document could not be submitted as evidence.
So, with the diary out as evidence Thorpe lost his main leverage. In a last ditch effort to regain it, he released to the press the section of the diary dealing with Astor’s affair with Kaufman. It got him nowhere as the judge, disgusted by all the publicity and threats, put a halt to the proceedings and told Thorpe and Astor to work out a compromise or he would do it for them. So, over a two day period a compromise was reached whereby Mary Astor had the baby for 9 months and Thorpe 3 months during the summer. Regarding the diaries, once Thorpe’s attorney turned them over to the Judge they were never again in the possession of either Mary Astor or Franklyn Thorpe. Sealed by court order and put in a bank vault, they remained there until Marylyn turned 21 and a custody issue was moot. Mary Astor with Thorpe’s approval asked for it to be burned and it was incinerated in the presence of a judge.
In the end Mary Astor had won. When the film on which she worked during the court battle, Dodsworth, was previewed, the moment that her name appeared in the opening credits the audience cheered. In short, the public had seen the custody battle as a mother fighting for her child and all the revelations that came out due to the diary excerpts were neutralized because it had also come out in court that Thorpe was a real lothario type who had slept around even when he was married to Mary Astor. Thus, his indiscretions counterbalanced Astor’s and the result was that Mary Astor was not only able to raise her baby but her movie career was now bigger than ever.
How The Purple Diaries came to be written is an interesting story in itself. A number of years ago I wanted to put together a massive conceptual installation which would consist of a series of paper collage works dealing with the American film Industry from the 20s through the 90s. One collage per decade it would alternate the complete newspaper coverage of a film release verses a Hollywood scandal. For the 20s it was The Big Parade, the 30s Mary Astor, the 40s The Grapes of Wrath, 50s Lana Turner, 60s Lawrence of Arabia, 70s Roman Polanski, 80s Heaven’s Gate and the 90s the Woody Allen scandal. I managed to collect everything except The Big Parade and Roman Polanski and even exhibited a 10′ X 100′ foot collage on Heaven’s Gate both in the mid-west and in New York City. The idea of the piece was to demonstrate visually that 1) the film business hasn’t really changed over the years and 2) that the past can be made to live again for anyone viewing these works as they would be experiencing them as current rather than as history.
I never got around to completing the entire 8 part work as no gallery really had the space and, frankly, I had moved on. Nevertheless, the Astor material intrigued me. It wasn’t as with Woody Allen, Lana Turner and Polanski about something distasteful. It was about a woman who, for the sake of her little baby, took on the media and the Hollywood establishment to do what she believed was right. As I read and reread this material as well as Astor’s two auto-biographies, I learned about the woman’s emotionally deprived childhood—and how tremendously difficult it had been for her to go to court and fight for her baby. This struck a chord with me
I soon discovered that every book and even magazine article written years after the fact which contained an account of the scandal—either briefly or at length—had never gotten the story right but, more often than not, printed rumor as fact. The idea of utilizing the Astor material to write something about the custody battle was sparked when I read the Mary Astor chapter in Kenneth Anger’s hugely successful book, Hollywood Babylon. It was Anger’s intention to scandalize and he succeeded quite well at this. Thus, the piece on Astor was filled with so many falsehoods, often substituting the salacious for the truth that I felt the record needed to be set straight. Unfortunately this idea languished for a number of years until I read a short piece on the trial in the April 9, 2012 issue of New York Magazine for which Anger’s book was the principal source. In short, Hollywood Babylon and its many falsehoods had, and would continue to be, source material for any writer wanting to discuss the Mary Astor Franklyn Thorpe Custody Trial. This proved to be just the motivation which I needed to write something that would finally ‘set the record straight’.
Mary Astor was a complex, intelligent woman who lived with many demons and I wanted to celebrate her courage by showing that in going to court she did what she thought was best for her child no matter those demons. Also, this is an important piece of Hollywood history that many writers have gotten wrong and, in their writing, Mary Astor came out on the short end of the stick. I believe she deserved to have this false picture corrected and, frankly, I wanted to be the one who did it.
At this point in the process, it was not my intention to write a book. I thought I was merely writing a long form magazine piece of no more than 20,000 words in which I planned to tell the story in two parts. The first would deal with the events leading up to the custody battle and the second with the custody battle itself. The writing of the first part was pretty straight forward and took me about a month. I used approximately fifteen sources—mostly books and a handful of newspaper and magazine articles. After reading and thoroughly absorbing this material I quickly determined how I wanted to tell this part of the story. So, after sitting at my computer, I spread these books and articles on the floor beside me and began to write. When I needed a quote or to clarify some background information, I would stop writing, pick up a book or article, find what I needed and then continue at the computer. Eventually, I produced what would become the first six chapters of The Purple Diaries.
The second part—the trial section—unlike the first for which I used a limited number of sources, was extremely complex. It had a large number of players acting simultaneously. It also concerned some relatively complex courtroom machinations. This all had to be culled, for the most part, from nearly 1000 contemporary newspaper articles. There was no way that I could work with this massive amount of material spread out on the floor beside me. Frankly, it was simply too overwhelming. I needed a better solution.
So what I eventually did was sit down and, over a period of about month—article by article—cataloged what each character did and said on a given day as well as what was happening in court. I also noted what the various newspapers were reporting. That done, I then went through it, eliminating repetition so that, when it was completed, I could instantly determine what this or that character was doing or saying on a certain day. It certainly wasn’t easy to get this done in a month as it was pure drudge work but the result was a research “bible” that I could use to write the story in a quick and coherent manner. Nevertheless, this “bible” was merely carefully cataloged notes and in no way gave any indication, or even a hint, of the eventual structure of the book.
After I had completed my research “bible,” and was ready to work on the trial section of the story, I realized that I lacked some crucial information which I needed to complete what I believed was a magazine piece. The only person who could answer my many questions was Marylyn Thorpe Roh, Mary Astor’s daughter and the subject of the Astor-Thorpe custody battle. So, I did a little web searching and, after finding Marylyn’s email address, I wrote to her. I told her what I was doing and asked for her help. At first she was cautious and wanted to know why I wanted to tell this story. After I explained it in great detail her answer was that she would prefer me not to write the book. Marylyn told me that she knew very little about the custody battle and thought of it as something akin to a family skeleton. It was, and is, my opinion that she had lived so long under the shadow of her mother’s celebrity that she just didn’t want to go through it all again. But I persisted and she finally relented, asking me how I was going to deal with the story. I told her and she answered that I had a right to tell this story and then offered me her assistance by answering any questions that I might have. She had only two provisos; make sure that she was quoted correctly and not to use the name of any of her children or grandchildren, as she wanted to protect their privacy. I agreed.
Instead of sending her a long list of questions, what I did—and what she found reasonable—was to ask questions as they presented themselves in the writing. What I was asking might not have been pertinent to what I was writing then, but might be relevant at a later date. Eventually these questions and answers went far beyond the parameter of the book as Marylyn told me most of her crucial memories of her mother—both positive and negative—as well as her father and many others in the story about whom I knew absolutely nothing. Her descriptions and memories were always filled with vivid and essential detail. In the process I got all the information that I needed but also, and this soon became apparent, in answering my questions, Marylyn was bringing her parents back to life for me in such a way that I now saw them as living, breathing human beings. In other words she made me feel that I had gotten to know them personally. In short, I could not have written The Purple Diaries in the form that is now without her help. This help was not merely invaluable, it was absolutely essential.
After contacting Marylyn at the beginning of February 2014, I resumed writing. But this was a very different kind of writing than I had done for the first part of the envisioned magazine piece. There, I was able to impose my own ‘take’ so to speak—my own overriding interpretation of these events by what I chose and not chose to write about. For the second part I soon learned that the events themselves would determine the story and I would merely act as a Greek chorus clarifying what was happening for the reader. The first step would be to create a bare bones outline to guide me when I actually wrote the book proper. This outline—or superstructure as I liked to call it—was crucial as it would serve as the backbone of the book. So, as the outline and, later, the book grew out of the material, my sensitivity to this fact—and lack of resistance in allowing the material to take on a life of its own—became the key to writing this part of the book.
FEBRUARY 14, 2014
I’ve been working 24/7 and I discovered—and no one was more shocked than me—that it will probably come in at 100,000 plus words; more like 125. In other words I’m not writing a long form magazine piece. I’m actually writing a book. I’m already at 46,000 words and I’m just through the second day of testimony.///// This shows how much I don’t know. I had sent a magazine proposal to the New Yorker and an editor at the magazine called me and told me that everyone at the magazine who read what I sent liked it but what I really had was a book and I should approach it that way. (How’s that for a nice rejection.) Being my mother’s son, I of course didn’t agree but, it now appears the man was right. Truth is, anyone tells you that when they write something, it turned out as planned they’re probably talking through their hat. Truth is, writing often takes on a life of this own. Well, this one sure is.
When I told my wife about the length she wasn’t at all surprised. This was our conversation in brief.
HER: You have any Mary Astor pictures.
ME: Is Paris a city?
HER: So full the book with them.”
Realizing that I am writing a book and that I had better get myself really immersed in the subject, now sitting in front of me are scores of the photos that I’ve collected. I’m writing with them literally staring at me and, in my head at least, these photos have become as much a part of the story as the text. Also, using them in the book I’m freed from wordy descriptions of characters and, especially, locations. I personally hate that stuff because when I actually see the person or place they are nothing like what I read. What I read was merely a writer’s subjective interpretation. I want my readers to see these things for themselves and reach their own and interpretations.///// I’m now thinking that as a book this might be appropriate to submit to a University Press. I see it as basically a film enthusiast book—for people who might enjoy reading an important piece of Hollywood history. Although, I would like to make it more accessible—as in a page turning courtroom drama. But, that remains to be seen.///// Because I thought I was writing a magazine piece (LOL on me) I had planned to have this finished at the end of March. Now I’m looking at June and believe it or not I’m a fast writer. (Oy Vey! What is crazier than someone who wants to be a writer? Someone who is a writer! And that is coming from a writer.) .
Marylyn, has been an enormous help. She’s assisted me to understand what a complicated woman her mother was and this has made me want to write this book even more than I did before. My admiration for Astor grows the more I write. The things that woman had to overcome in her life is amazing. Writing is really a discovery process. Before I contacted Marylyn I had a more idealized picture of her mother. Now, I still have the same take on her, in fact it has even been strengthened. But I now see her as a many sided and an immensely complex individual and I owe that entirely to Marylyn. Also, regarding Thorpe, before Marylyn I saw him very much in the black-and-white terms in which the press portrayed him. Marylyn has helped me better understand why Astor loved him during the early days of their marriage as well as the reason for all the conflicts they had which eventually lead to the custody battle. They were two very strong willed people—he on the outside and she on the inside. Everyone who met Thorpe liked and respected him and even after the custody battle, Thorpe remained Mary Astor’s primary physician for many years. That has to tell you something.
FEBRUARY 15, 2014
Just finished Astor’s first day on the stand. Wow, it was the performance of her life. She had almost everyone in the court room crying except for Thorpe. He was looking at his lawyers to see if they could do anything about it and but there was nothing to do.///// Today I work on Friday August 1, 1936 when Judge Knight made a trip out to Astor’s Toluca Lake house to visit the baby and access her home environment as well as determine whether she loved both her parents. Marylyn was extremely outgoing and pretty much entertained the press. She seemed to be in love with her oversized teddy bear and also wanted to show everyone, especially reporters, the swans that swam on Toluca Lake which spread out behind the house
FEBRUARY 16, 2014
A lot of writing today. Finished Knight’s visit. On Sunday Mr. Kaufmann is subpoenaed when he is about to about to board Thalberg and Shearer’s yacht in Catalina. The man was definitely not happy that day. Pretty pissed off would be the best description.
FEBRUARY 17, 2014
I’m not a big interview-researcher unless it’s absolutely necessary. I try to hit as much of the primaries sources as possible with interviews used to fill in the holes as memory isn’t always that reliable. I did write what I call “a tape recorder book” about a gangster as in GANGSTER; guns, whacking and all that nice stuff. It was me essentially asking him questions and him answering with a tape recorder turned on and then me converting those answers into a book. The poor man was exasperated by the amount of questions and the depth that I wanted to go into certain areas—everything except murder as there is no statute of limitations and I certainly didn’t want to be a witness for the prosecution. One time he got so angry at me that I was worried for a while that he’d pull some of his gangster stuff as in swinging a bat at my head. From then on I interviewed him exclusively on the phone.///// With me, it’s the final work that matters and so I must make it the best that I can make it. If not, that’s when I feel I failed. If the book doesn’t work; OK, I did my best. If I didn’t do my best that is when I really know with an absolutely certainty that I failed because I failed myself.///// Right now I’m working like a dog to get this outline finished ASAP and then have the first draft done by the end of April so that, with a rewrite and polish I can have this book finished in June. Wish me luck.
FEBRUARY 18, 2014
I’m at 94,000 words and the words just pour out. The outline/structure is really writing itself and I grow more and more amazed by this. Sometimes I don’t even feel that I am writing the book; just acting as a typist. In the story it’s Monday August 4, 1936 and Astor is about to take the stand once again for the cross-examination. I can’t wait to see how it turns out.///// Chaplin felt that creativity emanated from one’s enthusiasm. He wrote that without enthusiasm there’s no inspiration and nothing comes. He was absolutely correct about this. Right now I’m really hot on this and it’s lighted me up. When I leave my office/cabin and go to the house to talk with my wife, she tells me I’m in this world of my own and am so alive. That, in a nutshell, is why I write. Once, when I was writing something and I gave part of it too early in the process to an idiot to read, they tore into it as if it was a finished work and this literally knocked me out. Afterwards, I was looking at the computer screen and I didn’t understand anything I had written. I couldn’t make any sense of the sentences and only saw a bunch of strung together words. Remembering that Hemmingway and other writers drank when they wrote, and not thinking of anything else left to do, I drank two shots of whiskey from a bottle someone who visited left behind. It was sitting in a closet for months as I don’t drink. Suddenly the confidence and enthusiasm returned and the words flowed. Never had to drink again to write but then again, I never gave my writing at such an early stage to an idiot. The only person I do that with now is my wife as she has been trained to critique at that early stage of writing understanding that it is still formulating.
FEBRUARY 19, 2014
I’ve been writing for fourteen hours straight. Astor under cross examination was simply incredible. When she was through they practically carried her out of the courtroom on their shoulders. I mean wow! Poor Franklyn Thorpe. I felt so bad for him. It was like a Sherman tank rolled right over him.
FEBRUARY 20, 2014
Watched Dodsworth last night. Astor owned the second half of the movie and that last shot of her had me crying. It can give Chaplin’s last shot in City Lights a run for its money. The scene in the telegraph office was shot the day after the cross examination that I just wrote about. How’s that for co-incidence. There’s more; I woke, up turned on the television and guess what; The Hurricane with Astor was on TCM. It’s got to be fate telling me something.
FEBRUARY 21, 2014
I should have the outline of the book done by the end of next week. There’s the final—‘whatever happened to’—chapters to write but that will come later when I am actually writing the book proper not just the structure as that won’t be nearly as complex. Regarding the outline, with all the facts and the details in place, I will then write the book proper. I have given myself two months to do this. For these kinds of non-fiction projects getting it done in so short of time is really an accomplishment—especially as the story is nearly 80 years old. Good or bad, I think it’s the challenge of doing this in so short a time that is really driving me to work as hard as I am. I think that’s called a challenge.
FEBRUARY 22, 2014
Marylyn has been invaluable with Lillian Miles. I could find out nothing about her once the trial was over. Marylyn knew everything down to the woman’s beautiful skin. As for the trial, it’s becoming clear that Astor went in there with guns blazing and Thorpe just didn’t know what was coming.
FEBRUARY 23, 2014
Found out from Marylyn that her mother donated some of her papers to the Boston University achieves. I will make contact and see what they have. I’m looking for the early writing she did before she wrote her 59 bio. In the bio she changed some names and I’m hoping to get the real names from that material. Interesting that she donated her papers. It’s an indication that she expected that someday someone would want to write about her.
FEBRUARY 24, 2014
I just got off the phone with someone from BU. Welcome to the wonderful world of Archives. They don’t give this sort of information on the telephone and I will have to email and even then they provide only “limited information.” About the only thing I got off the phone was their email address and wasn’t even given a person to direct my email. As I said, welcome to the wonderful world of archives.
FEBRUARY 26, 2014
As an aside Marylyn wrote the details of how her father saved Clark Gable’s life. On a hunting trip Gable suffered an appendicitis attack. Thorpe drove him to a hospital and operated. She didn’t think it was all that important but I explained why—breathed life into character and in this case explains why the two became such good friends. That’s EXACTLY the kind of stuff I’m looking—no praying—for. I just don’t want to write a lot of facts. I want the reader to feel that they know these people. In this way they can relate and in turn the material becomes interesting and, hopefully, even compelling.//// Got the email from BU. “Our Mary Astor Collection here at the Gotlieb Center consists of 13 boxes. The Mary Astor collection includes manuscripts, correspondence, printed material, and photographs. Manuscripts in the collection include Astor’s drafts of My Story (autobiography, Doubleday, 1959); The Incredible Charlie Carewe (novel, Doubleday, 1960); The Image of Kate (novel, Doubleday, 1962); The O’Connors (novel, Doubleday, 1964); Goodbye Darling, Be Happy (novel, Doubleday, 1965); A Place Called Saturday (novel, Delacorte, 1969); A Life on Film (autobiography, Delacorte, 1971); and I Remember Elizabeth (novel, unpublished, ca. 1977). Other writings by Astor in the collection include various short items, including “The Problem and the Actress” (essay, 1960); teleplay for Checkmate (not used); teleplay for Dr. Kildare (not used, 1962); “Bogie — For Real” (short memoir, 1967); “The Sound Gimmick” (short memoir, 1967); and other miscellaneous items. Most of the correspondence in the collection is between Astor and her editors and publishers; these date from ca. 1959 to 1977. Other letters include fan letters to Astor, letters regarding legal problems from individuals mentioned in My Story, and a letter from Hedda Hopper to Astor regarding a column to be written by Astor for Hopper (not dated; clipping of column attached). Printed material in the collection consists primarily of clippings, reviews, and publicity regarding Astor and her books. Other items include a movie theater program for Don Juan (1926), starring Astor and John Barrymore, and three articles about Humphrey Bogart. Photographs in the collection consist of images used in A Life on Film; several of the images are stills from films discussed in the book. The collection does not contain dairies, much is dedicated to her writings and dealings with publishers.” ///// Well nothing there for me and I’m saved from a drive up to Boston.
FEBRUARY 27, 2014
Still putting the outline or super structure together. Torture and an immense amount of work. Here is all the research compiled the way I believe that it will work as a book. What it doesn’t have is the interpretation of these events which a writer (me) must do once they amass all this information as well as the motivation and characterization I will now need to add to make it all work as a book. I don’t know how some writers can get all this material in their head and then write. That’s called gray matter. I just don’t have enough of it so, I have operate like a little kid working with building blocks—adding on layers as I work until it’s complete. And, for me the outline stage is as difficult as it is because I want to get to the interpretation of this material and in doing so finally tell the story. I just have to get the structure finished first. In certain respects it is merely a creative form of task work.”
MARCH 1, 2014
Working hard to meet my 700 words a day writing quota. I’m up to the day after Astor’s final cross examination (August 11, 1936) when Judge Knight took over the trial and told the lawyers that, if they didn’t work it out, he would. WOW. It took long enough. Boy was that one pissed-off judge. I can’t wait to see what happens in court tomorrow.///// I just discovered that there is a Ruth Chatterton bio—published about a month or so ago. I ordered ASAP as well as one on Barrymore that I hadn’t read so that I can get this writer’s take. The books will give me a few facts but more importantly the spirit of the people—hopefully. Am now re-reading books I read to make sure that I have everything straight. Right now it’s a thoroughly researched bio on Kaufman. Not only did the writer get the diary story completely wrong but the damn thing is boring as hell. I keep telling my wife that if my book lands up as boring as this I will burn it. Facts, facts and no life. Teichman’s bio on Kaufman had life but, regarding the custody battle, it was pretty much all fiction. The stuff in it on the trial and Kaufman activities during this period had absolutely no bearing on the truth and, also, makes absolutely no sense. It is so filled with inaccuracies and stuff that the writer seems to have made up about the Astor Trial that the book is pretty much useless to me and another reason my book needs to be written. Nevertheless, I did refer earlier to some of the personal things he wrote about Kaufman. I mean he did know the man and much of what I used was confirmed in other sources. The Scott Meredith Kaufman bio was pretty useless except for some comments made by Beatrice Kaufman to a friend. This all means that I will need to walk a fine line making sure all the facts are correct but also breathe life into these people and events. Not an easy task I have set for myself. As it is looking now, it may take me through June.
MARCH 2, 2014
I read Astor’s diary extracts again last night; the pages Thorpe handed over to the press. Now that I’m into the book, I found it all even more fascinating. What I get from it is someone trying—no struggling—to understand who she is and discover what her needs are so that she might satisfy them. Diary and letter writing is so different from memory writing. In her books Astor had reached firm conclusions about why this or that happened and where she was at emotionally at this or that point in time. It’s a completed thinking process where facts are used to make some sort of sense and bring an order to things seen with hindsight. Here, in the diary, it is the thinking process as it is happening and basically unresolved, with seeming resolution illusive. The writing is not building to anything but an end in itself. Therefore, I think it is far more representative of the life experience. I wish after she died people hadn’t stolen the diaries she kept later in life. They would make such interesting reading. She was such a really bright lady.
MARCH 4, 2014
I should be done with the outline this weekend and am already figuring how to approach the actual writing of the story. So last night I slept for two hours and now can’t fall asleep because I’m all hyped up. Since my wife snores (truth is I that I snore far worse) she asked me if it was her snoring keeping me awake. I’m annoyed so I just say “No, it’s not you so go back to sleep so I don’t also have to worry that you are not getting enough sleep.” Eventually I took a valium and I was off to dreamland. So, this morning my wife tells me that I’m worried now because I must really begin writing the book and that’s why I couldn’t sleep. And she was right. Truth is that I feel that I’m not up to task and worried I’ll make a mess of it. I feel this way every time I begin a project of any kind. Astor wrote that if you don’t worry before you start something—she was talking about acting a role—than you’re not worth your salt. How right she was.
MARCH 5, 2014
Getting prepped for certain parts of the book. One of the big surprises which I’m really getting a kick out of is Marylyn’s nurse/nanny Nellie Richardson. Because she had testified against him, Thorpe wanted her fired on the spot. Richardson told the court about all the women Thorpe had slept with at the Toluca Lake house while Marylyn was asleep in the bedroom across the hall. One of these women, because Thorpe didn’t want her over that night, actually ran around the house with a “turkey fork”. She then stabbed him in the leg and the cops had to be called in. Thorpe was absolutely steaming in court when all this time out. This testimony made headlines all over the world. Time Magazine even called Richardson the “Tattling Nurse” as she completely destroyed Thorpe’s pose as the bastion of morality. Marylyn remembers the woman quite vividly.
MARCH 6, 2014
I promised my wife that I would spend the day shopping with her today and yesterday I worked like a fiend and wrote nearly 2000 words to make up for not writing today. I refuse to fall behind in my writing quota.
MARCH 7, 2014
The way the book is heading I realize that I will need detailed background information on the attorney’s on the case and I spent much to the day tracking down information on them. After much work and much charm and much long distance calling, I got some of the information I needed. The research set me back so I’m off to make my writing quota. I’m pushing hard for completion of the outline on Sunday. Then a few days absorbing material from some books I need to re-read—not the entire book, just the parts that I need to know for my book—and then I hit those keys.
MARCH 8, 2014
Since this is my last day of outlining, I decided to take Sunday off and finally watch my copy of Downton Abbey-Season 4 which has been sitting there for me to watch since January. I just didn’t have the nine hours to spare. Well, so much for plans and so much for a rest. This rest lasted exactly three hours. I’m now beginning to fill in some holes and flesh out the “supporting” players.///// Scott O’Brien who he wrote the Chatterton book (also one on Ann Harding) got back to me and he was incredibly generous. Sent me photo scans and tons of info and resources. There are good people in the world.
MARCH 9, 2014
I’m now certain about this. I’ve chosen not to write wordy physical descriptions of the participants but, instead, generously use the photos and newspaper headlines I have amassed. I have them all over the place while I write and I’m now certain that they are as important to the book as the text. I feel that they give a far greater sense of the size and importance of the story and, more importantly, really bring it to life for me. Fortunately I’m writing about a limited time period with a small cast of characters so this will work to my advantage.
MARCH 10, 2014
Received the Chatterton book and dived right in like a ravished dog. It literally brings the woman back to life. It is exactly what I needed and I’m so happy Scott wrote it. It’s a fantastic book. Chatterton, for the most part forgotten today, will “be alive and kicking” as long as this book is around.///// Read and studied all the Woolley (Astor’s attorney) material Scott sent. Fascinating! As a result I’m re-thinking my approach with the man and agree with Scott that Woolley being a Mormon is central to understanding the man and his overall motivations.
MARCH 10, 2014
The inter-library loan service at the local library up here proved a disaster. It is definitely not the research division of the New York Public library. They only bring in books locally. In NYC you can get books from any library in the country—in fact even overseas. If I need any additional books it’s eBay or nothing.
MARCH 11, 2014
Finished the Chatterton book and can now write about her with a degree of insight with respect to Astor. Emotionally, before the trial Astor had been in a place where compliance had become a way of life. Therefore, Chatterton’s forthrightness—if she didn’t like you, she told you—must have definitely had an empowering effect on Astor. Thank god for this book. I don’t know how I would have been able to write at length or intelligently about the woman without it.
MARCH 11, 2014
I’m going to ease into the actual writing of the book today. Usually when I write I don’t want to disappoint myself. Now, I’m feeling I don’t want to disappoint Marylyn. It’s not that I want her approval; it’s that I want it to be good for her since she is giving me so much and, after all, this is about her mother and, in an indirect, way about her.
MARCH 12, 2014
I got so sick of the NYP Library nonsense about some photos that I wanted copies of that I said to hell with writing for the day and put on Downton Abbey. Well, there I was watching the nine hours back to back—crying, laughing and enjoying every bit of it. Talk about escapism. There I was in an English Manor house most of the day.
MARCH 12, 2014
To hell with the Lincoln Center Library and their bureaucratic nonsense. I’m emailing all the ebay photo dealers so can I purchase originals of the photos I want.
MARCH 13, 2014
Good day of writing. I am now actually writing a book and not just organizing a collection of details.
MARCH 16, 2014
Last night while I was writing—suffering through a problem with something that I couldn’t figure out—I was suddenly hit with a wave of anxiety and felt that I could not make this book work. I was in a panic and leaving my office/cabin walked to the house where my wife was watching TV. I didn’t even ask if it was OK but shut off the television. I was practically crying telling her that I didn’t have it in me to write a good book and I was a fraud etc. etc., on and on it went. This happened only once before but this time it hit me hard. So, my wife listened for about 15 minutes and then excused herself for a moment, got a 10 MG tablet of valium and ordered me to take it. Then she looked at the clock and continued listening to me and at one point I was even crying in her lap. Then about 20 minutes after taking the pill I didn’t feel so bad. Thirty minutes after taking the pill I told her that I knew how to solve the problem and I immediately ran back to my office/cabin. It took me an hour to get back on track, get what I wanted written and figured out where I wanted to take it and how to do it. Thank god for valium.
MARCH 17, 2014
I’ve decided how I am going to cit sources and do the bibliography. I’m not going to cit every piece of information. I’m not an academic and it would take me more than a 100 pages to list all that. Anyway, no one is going to read it all anyway except another writer. What this book is evolving into (I hope) is a fast paced minimalist book that will honestly and fairly treat its subject. (Therefore, I am definitely not submitting to a university press.) What I will cite are all the quotes and list an extensive bibliography of most of the books, articles, documents and websites I used. There will also be an acknowledgement section where I will speak of how Scott as well as others helped me, and of course how much Marylyn has helped.
MARCH 18, 2014
I managed to get in my writing quota for the day—700 words. As it stands now Dodsworth will be the only Astor film I will discuss at length simply because it is the only film she made that is really relevant to the book. I am writing it now and I think that this chapter may be one of the best things I’ve ever written. Not only did the shooting occur during the court case but the film’s success and Astor’s role in it ensured her career in Hollywood would continue. Also, the chapter gives a clear idea how independently minded and strong willed Ruth Chatterton was as she continually battled with Willie Wyler over their different interpretation of her part.///// I’m coming down with the flu. I did get a flu shot but I still feel fatigued. I think I’m going right to sleep. My wife took my blood pressure and it was 120/84 when it is always a rock solid 120/80. If I get sick I won’t be able to write and won’t finish on time. Forget about my health. What I’m worried about is some artificial deadline I set for myself. (What is crazier than someone who wants to be a writer. Someone who is a writer. And I’m definitely in that fraternity.)
MARCH 19, 2014
Only got five hours sleep. I didn’t have a headache when I woke up which is a good sign, so I think I’m getting better. I can never sleep when I’m sick. I read more of the second Irving Thalberg book. Interesting subject, well researched but is a boring academic sort of thing—absolutely nothing on Astor Case. As I read I kept praying that my book won’t be this boring. God, please listen to me.
MARCH 22, 2014
Last night I skimmed through parts of Barbara Goldsmith’s “Little Gloria, Happy at last.” It’s a terrible title but a fabulous book I read years ago and it’s just as good today as it was when I first read it. She is a wonderful, truly gifted writer and the book is brilliant. It is the kind of book that, if I could do what I wanted, I would like my book to be. In other words use the trial to provide a look into the social fabric of Hollywood in the 1930s. Goldsmith used the Gloria Vanderbilt custody trial to present an in depth look at the social scene of the International Cafe Society of the 20s and 30s. But she wrote her book only 43 years after the event, (Published in 1980) took five years to do it and her research is exhaustive and absolutely impeccable. The book is an awesome achievement. I’d sell my soul to write a book as good. Initially, while reading it I got the fear—”Like who am I to attempt what she did”—but then reason set in (It’s also called rationalization) and I realized that I’m not writing a book anything like hers except that we both wrote about famous custody battles. Nevertheless, I could see how she solved some of the problems I’m encountering and better realized that the scope of my book is smaller and much more intimate which doesn’t diminish what I am trying to achieve but only makes clear what the book’s parameters are. In fact by the time I went to sleep I was really encouraged as I concluded that I could do it. I also realized that it might take me through the summer. I’m already up to 100,000 words and it might come in 150-175,000. This will of course mean—when the book is done—a massive amount of cutting, which I’m pretty good at since I always write long and never try to pre-edit while I’m writing. Well, almost never. It also means a lot of polishing and that takes time. So, if it wasn’t absolutely clear to me before, last night I realized to what extent this book is really writing itself and I just have to give myself to it. In short, it will be done when it’s ready to be done.
MARCH 24, 2014
The book is coming along fine. I should be done according to schedule in June. Have finished another Barrymore bio. I had to check a few things but found the book so interesting that I read the whole thing and was practically crying at the end of the book. This is the book written back in the 70s. He was such an immense talent on the stage and was always good to and helped everyone he worked with that people really loved him. I mean they really, really loved him. Instead of tragic, which in a certain way it was, I found reading about the end of his life extremely moving. It is now obvious to me why Astor loved him so much and why he was the great love of her life. Glad I read this book.///// I just received a wonderful email from Marylyn’s grandson Andrew. It knocked me out; honest and quite candid. He wrote that he would help me any way he could.
MARCH 27, 2014
I’m now reading the two Moss Hart bios back-to-back. Both pretty boring and the material on the custody case completely off the mark. A few good facts but that’s about it. It’s the same with every book. These people really didn’t do their primary research but just re-hashed what they read in other books. To a certain extend I’m doing the same thing with material outside the scope of the trial so, really, who am I to complain. But, at least I check their sourcing and occasionally go back to primary. (And that of course makes me a better person. Right!) Reading this stuff on Hart makes it almost impossible to believe that Moss Hart was the man who wrote Act One. That is one of the best books on theatre ever written and one of the best books I have ever read period. These writers make the man and the ground wonderfully covered in Act One absolutely tedious. Hart’s book is so alive and filled with his intellectual vitality as it takes the reader into the heart (no pun intended) of the man—into his true inner self. This is exactly what I mean about facts. It was the same with the Myrna Loy books. Her auto-bio was full of life and really interesting but her bio written a few years later was dead, dead, dead. And I think I can do something different. Who am I kidding?
MARCH 28, 2014
Working on Nellie’s testimony. Chatterton had to fight back laughing during some of it. It just blew Thorpe out of the water. I mean, he didn’t even see it coming. Boy, did he detest that woman.
MARCH 31, 2014
This weekend has really beaten me down and writing has been an absolute struggle. Also, I’m time shifting—my wake-to-sleep schedule is changing and now I’m pretty much sleeping during the day. So I took a valium and watched two movies. Done with Nellie and the two witnesses who followed. Astor is now on the stand. She’s got half the courtroom in tears talking about how much she loves her little girl, was pained when she saw how Thorpe punished the toddler and couldn’t do anything about it. Ruth Chatterton was even fighting back tears. Astor had that courtroom eating out of her hand.
APRIL 1, 2014
Skimmed through new Fredric March bio—I wanted some info on why Florence Eldridge wasn’t at the hearing earlier. No good as book didn’t even mention the custody hearing. This is the kind of insipid star bio popular in the 60s and 70s. After reading something like this I walk away knowing absolutely nothing about who the man was—just a lot about what he did. So different from Scott’s book on Chatterton when halfway through I knew Chatterton like I would know a friend. I hope my book is half as good.///// I’m always stressed when writing because I’m frightened of falling on my face. (Here I go again with the crybaby stuff. Boring!) Especially with this nonfiction book which for many years—if not indefinitely—will be definitive on the subject. I’m also scared to death that I’m not getting everything right with the facts and little details. It may be stressful, but is exciting and challenging and makes me feel alive. (You know, as in a crazy writer.)
APRIL 2, 20014
Well, I finished—in rough draft of course—Astor’s first day on the stand. She was simply extraordinary and basically won in the court of public opinion and held onto it until everything was resolved. She really was brilliant. When she spoke about her daughter and her feelings for Marylyn the tears come, she couldn’t speak and the court needed to recess three times. I really didn’t do justice to it but I’ll go back and work on it more after I’m done with the rough draft which should be the end of April. Tomorrow the judge visits the Toluca Lake to see little Marylyn and determine how well adjusted she is. This one’s going to be a lot of work as in outline form it’s pretty lifeless.
APRIL 3, 2014
Figuring out how these people tick and writing about it affectively is my main worry right now. I have to go into their heads via deductive reasoning using their actions to determine their motivation AKA their thinking. It’s really informed speculation; but when you have so little material it—at least for me—becomes my only option. This is especially true of the courtroom machinations. It’s almost like forensics. You have to re-create what happened and the thinking behind what motivated what happened by using the physical evidence, i.e. what actually happened in the courtroom. It then becomes an expression of my informed understanding of the people and the events. Fortunately I’m writing a snapshot—the actual custody hearing took place over a three week period—and will be writing a short book. When finished it should be no more then 75-85,000 words when it’s finally cut. (Goldsmith’s book came in at over 300,000 words, practically half the size of Gone With The Wind but when you start reading it you just can’t put it down. It’s that good.) The first draft looks like it will be coming in at 140,000 words forcing me to be the grim reaper when I finally do the cutting. I will try to make it a fast paced “what’s happening next” page turner that finally gets the story right that people can enjoy and be useful to other writers in the future.
APRIL 7, 2014
I got up today at 3 AM, immediately watched Game Of Thrones and then sat at the computer. It’s now 6:38 and I need to wake up my wife in an hour and so am pushing to get in my writing quota. As I write long and cut later I will worry about pacing then.
APRIL 8, 2014
I now have to write some more about John Barrymore. What a mess he turned his life into. But what an amazing man.
APRIL 9, 2014
I’m now writing about Tommy Manville. What a nut. It’s really quite funny and the reason he is in the book. It’s called comic relief.///// Right now all I do all day is write and then spend the rest of the day preparing and hoping to be inspired so I can jot down some notes for the next day. Complain, complain; that’s all I do. I think I see myself as a victim (of myself probably) and on top of that I’m so damn negative. The Spanish call it being ‘Un Negativo.’ Example, I’m almost two-thirds of the way through the rough draft. Part of me tells myself that I’m doing a hell of a job and the other part tells me it will be a disaster. Welcome to the wonderful world writing. It was much more fun when I was only an editor fixing other people’s stuff. I had a clear objective vision of the work—good and bad—and so could determine how it needed to be fixed. Here, I’m completely lost and have absolutely no ability to judge it. This is probably because I’m in the midst of the creative process where criticism will impede that creativity. Or, as I wrote somewhere else, cause my muse to disappear. It was so much easier editing.
APRIL 10, 2014
I’m on a “normal”—up during the day—schedule. I got up at 5:00 AM and when it was just lighting up outside I hit the computer. I am officially on a day schedule—a farmer’s day that is—and I watched the day light up through my office/cabin’s two plate glass doors while I wrote. It was lovely. This schedule should last a couple of weeks and I can get my writing quota done early and spend more time with my wife.
APRIL 11, 2015
I so envy Andrew Yang, Marylyn’s grandson, as he is a total artist. He is his art. When I did my conceptual installations it was just stuff that I did which is why I eventually grew tired of it. It is only in writing that I attain a true sense of satisfaction and sense of real accomplishment. I work so damn hard at it that I had better.
APRIL 4, 2015
I’m now writing a particularly difficult section of the book. In other places, although I know some of it really isn’t working, I can fix it. But the next couple of days I have to get it right from the start and in doing so need to bring in a lot of material from different sources. So, of course I’m anxious and stressing. (What else is new? Where’s the valium?)
APRIL 12, 2014
The writing came off better than I thought. All that stress was for nothing. Reread the custody trial material in the Goldwyn book. A few interesting bits about Goldwyn but the rest mostly taken from Astor’s two auto-bios and covered only briefly. I remember when I first read the book I thought it was a damn good biography and felt that I got to know Goldwyn. Skimming through it now, I felt the same. Goldwyn was quite a character.
APRIL 13, 2014
I’m just finishing chapter 23 of a proposed 34. I’ve been up for six hours and not until now was able to get back to the computer. Reason: as soon as I got up I looked at Mad Men and then my wife came over and we talked about her weekend and my step-daughter’s baby shower. Then she decided that we had to put up the screens in the house. Then I had to spray 80 Eastern Pine with anti-deer spray. Then we had to decide where we are going to plant some evergreens this summer. Then we sat down and discussed the garden shed that she wants us to build. Finally finished with all that I managed to make it back to my office/cabin and start writing again. It took me a while to stop feeling guilty for not writing and once that was out of the way I could finally concentrate and write. Make sense of that.
APRIL 14, 2014
What a day. Two hours ago I accidentally lost everything that I had written today and I was absolutely frantic. I was screaming at the computer, at myself, at the world and God and the universe. Then I sat down and patiently began over again and, fortunately, because I remembered most of the things that I had written have—in the past two hours—re-written all of it. I just lost the time I wanted to watch a movie as I’m going to bed after I write this. This has happened to me before and once, I actually found what I thought I had lost. What I rewrote and what I lost were almost identical. The reason is that the real problem in my writing is how to formulate the ideas into prose and make it all work together—as in one idea logically flowing into the next. Once that is worked out it’s just getting it down as concisely as I can. Thus, if I lose something it’s always best to re-do immediately hen everything is still fresh in my mind. This is exactly what happened here and I redid six hours of work in about two. (Good for me and give the kid a cheer.)
Yesterday was such a horror—losing six hours work—that I had a nightmare about it. I was back in college screaming at everyone, “Wait a minute, I don’t belong here, I already graduated.” In other words losing all that writing was for me, emotionally, like having to start school again. What a horrible thought.
APRIL 16, 2014
I’ve been writing for 10 hours and am so burned out that at 7:29 I’m calling it quits so I can watch some movies. By tomorrow I will be 4/5 finished and should be done with the trial sections before the end of the month which is in line with my revised schedule. I’m getting ready for that last chapter—maybe two—which I’m two weeks or so away from writing. It’s not in the outline and, so, I need to structure as I write.///// Today I was down about the book, once again thinking that I was failing. (What else is new?) This is, of course, the writer speaking and not the editor. Well, I went and read some of the stuff and it wasn’t as bad as I thought and I felt some of it was quite decent. So the editor side of me, which will kick in when I get this first draft done, thinks he can do something with it.
APRIL 18, 2014
I did some research on the web. It so interesting, before the web I had to tramp to the 42nd street library—I was still living in Mid-town Manhattan—and spend hours struggling to find the material I needed. Now I can check things and find facts in a few minutes on the web. It is an incredible research tool.
APRIL 22, 2014
After today I’ll be 90% done with the first draft. This is exclusive of the final two chapters—whose structure I pretty much have in my head. I will probably be getting to them this weekend or early next week. Then there’s two months of cutting, rewriting and polishing. The book has definitely is writing itself.
APRIL 25, 2014
I’m finishing up the main body of the book today and will begin the final two chapters tomorrow. I’m working hard to meet my April 30th deadline. As I’ve been writing I’ve also been cutting away and hope to initially bring the second draft in at about 110,000 words. With cutting and polishing I think I can later reduce that to 85-90,000 words which I hope to make an interesting and fast paced read. I really don’t want this to be like the boring academic things I’ve been reading. I’ll commit suicide if it turns out that way. I want it to read like a “what happens next” movie. But, that remains to be seen.
APRIL 26, 2014
I finished the first draft of the main body of the book yesterday so I will be working on the final two chapters over the next few days which means that I won’t be able to complete the book by the April 30th deadline but, instead, next weekend. After that the real work begins—cutting, rewriting and polishing. Whenever I worked with a writer; especially a novice I used to tell them “writing is not writing; writing is rewriting—a ton of it.” Truth is, that sometimes that can be worse than facing that blank page first thing in the morning because you know what you have and it isn’t very good.///// What I have now—or will have by the end of the week is a 140,000 word book. Everything is there that I want to say. But, like a rough cut of a movie, it’s not a finished product. In order to make it read fast, read interesting and say precisely what I want it to say the way I want to say it in the least possible amount of words, I probably will cut it at this stage by 20-30,000 words. The writing itself right now is clunky—wordy and awkward. Every single sentence needs to we worked on until the writing flows and, when reading, the reader doesn’t even notice the writing but is pulled into the story. Hemmingway once said, that “you know you have a good book when the stuff you cut is good.” The question is, is the stuff I’m going to cut good
This brings to mind something I wrote a friend some years back. So I dug it out and decided to put it here. It’s pretty funny:
“During the writing process I’m four very different people performing four distinct tasks. First, I’m the writer. He is a terrible writer who makes everyone’s work difficult but he can fill up pages with his rambling often incoherent and disjointed text. The man can spit out the words and that is important. I just wish he would make an effort to write stuff that makes a little more sense.///// Next in the process comes the re-writer. This guy’s got a little bit of talent because he can actually make sense out of the ramblings of that god-damn writer who puts the poor re-writer through absolute hell. This guy often walks away from the computer with a headache, but he always finds the thread and re-arranges the material so it does what it is supposed to do. He usually comes in the day after a writer gets the stuff on paper and when he is finished the writing is decent, not good, just decent.///// The third person in the process is the editor. This guy is ruthless and doesn’t put up with garbage or especially nonsense from either that stupid writer or overworked and often exhausted re-writer. If something doesn’t work, it’s out or it goes back to the re-writer to fix. This is the guy with the real talent. He is a first rate cutter. The writer and then re-writer might have spent days on something and think that it is the most important thing they’ve written in the book and the editor will take one look at it, ask himself if it is necessary and then press the delete button without a single regret. You give this guy a 100,000 words of overblown and over-long text and he’ll hand you back a concise 50,000 words and you won’t have missed a single thing that he cut. E.B White and Emlyn Williams are his gods! When he’s through; after getting what he wants from the writer and re-writer, he turns the text over to the polisher.///// This guy doesn’t know that there is a clock. He will work on one sentence for an hour and sometimes a whole day on a paragraph. He changes a word there, a phase here and gets the writing so that it reads, not like a Volkswagen on a bumpy back-country road but like a Rolls Royce on a super highway where the ride is so smooth you don’t even know that you are in car because you are too busy enjoying the scenery.///// Then when that’s all done it sometimes goes right back to the writer, rewriter and then editor. The polisher is patient almost to the point of obsessive. He’s not all that talented but he’s like a bulldog who will keep his teeth in until he feels that it is right. He will read and re-read and re-read again and doesn’t let go of the text until after a 10th or 20th reading he hasn’t changed anything.”
I want what I write to be as good as I can make it and this is the only way that I can do that. You can’t imagine how much I envy writers who create great prose first time on paper. They’re what I call ‘real’ or born writers. Unfortunately that’s not me. I had to work like a dog to get here. For me writing is not writing, writing is re-writing—and a damn hell of a lot of it at that.
MAY 1, 2014
I’m wring the last chapters—the ‘whatever happened to’ chapters. Today I wrote a little about Nellie Richardson. What a sad life; an old maid taking care of other people’s children.///// I wrote so little because my wife wants to build a shed and I spent three hours lugging wood, moving it with the tractor and piling it up onto skids near where she wants to build a “garden shed.” Construction starts next week. I’m going to have to build and write at the same time. I’ve done this before and it is not easy as the physical work drains all my mental energy. Now that I did all that work for my wife, I can finally go back to writing.
May 3, 2014
Even though my writing is suffering because of my wife’s project, I should be done with the next to last chapter this weekend and hopefully finish the last chapter during the week.
MAY 4, 2014
Have been moving wood for a good part of the day. I’m really tired and going right to bed for a long nap. I haven’t worked physically all winter and it caught up with me today. I still have more work to do later today. Because of all this physical work I won’t have this chapter done until tomorrow and I’m going to be a week or more behind with my writing schedule and this is dragging down on me as I am anxious to move unto the next step—wholesale rewriting and cutting.
MAY 5, 2014
I just got up and am busy trying to finish this chapter which is taking longer than I planned. So, last night while in bed and before I fell asleep—with paper and pen—I wrote the “whatever happened to” section on Barrymore and today, hopefully on Kaufman so I can start the final chapter tomorrow. Hopefully!
May 8, 2014
Between My wife’s shed and the writing I have absolutely no time. Since the material keeps expanding I needed to do some re-arranging and landed up creating an additional chapter which I’m trying to finish tonight. That leaves one chapter for next week with a total of 35 chapters—So far.///// I’m probably not going to be writing much this weekend as my wife and I will be working on the garden shed trying to get the area cleared, the deck built and get the frame and ridge board up with rafters left for next week.
MAY 10, 2014
Absolutely no writing. Worked all day with my wife and should have the frame and ridge board up by Sunday. I’m exhausted. My wife conked out an hour ago and told me that she doesn’t know where I get all my energy. Neither do I. Tomorrow everything’s going to ache.
MAY 13, 2014
I am so exhausted, that I did next to no writing today. I just laid on the couch and watched movies. Is this what it feels like to be old? I don’t like it.
I feel a bit better. Did a little work on the shed for two hours and I’m back to the computer.//// I just woke up from a nap and I feel like myself again. God-Bless naps. For some reason the writing is going very slow. But physically and mentally, I feel great now. I had a good few hours writing. This is the “whatever happened to” chapter on Astor and I want to write it in a way that is both truthful and upbeat. I mean getting old is a drag—no matter how or when; it’s still the absolute pits. Nevertheless, Astor lived pretty much on her terms and her last years were no different and that’s how I’m writing it.
MAY 15, 2014
I’m going to be working most of tomorrow on the shed putting up the rafters as well as sheathing walls and the roof. This will put a hold on the writing. I hate this physical work. It’s agony and gets in the way of my writing.
MAY 16, 2014
I am utterly exhausted; my body hurts so much that by tomorrow I won’t be able to get out of bed. But the sheathing for the roof and walls is done. My wife will shingle the roof when she has the time. Than later it’s just the siding with me helping her. I can soon fully concentrate on the writing again.
My Body is getting back to normal. I feel a little fatigued but the mental energy is back. Did some writing.
MAY 19, 2014
I have another chapter to go as the final chapter landed up becoming two separate chapters; one on Astor and the other on Marylyn. No doubt about it, this book is writing itself.
MAY 21, 2014
Yesterday, Monday, I had a panic attack that was something to behold. I had to take TWO valiums before my anxiety subsided. It got so bad that I was looking at a movie and asking myself, what a waste of time it was making this. Driving past a movie theater, I thought “I’m never going to sit in one of those awful boxes with all those annoying noisy people to watch a movie again.” Talk about negative, phew! All I have to say is, thank god for valium. Then my allergies kicked in—they’ll last through June and now I feel tired and weak. So, I just read over stuff I’ve written and worked a little on the Astor chapter.
MAY 21, 2014
Still working on this book. The dam thing writes itself and I’m just its complaining cry-baby servant. Three weeks left. I’m absolutely knocked out.
MAY 22, 2014
I’m a little grumpy this morning. I want to get this last chapter done but I want to get my part of building the shed done so my wife can take over the roofing and siding and the pressure is off me. This pressure makes it hard for me to concentrate on this chapter. In addition, once the book’s first rough draft is completed, good or bad that’s what I have to work with and I think that is what the anxiety attack was about. (Worry, worry, when does it ever stop.)
MAY 25, 2014
If it isn’t bad enough struggling through this last chapter while still having to work with my wife on that shed, I fell off the ladder and hit the ground six feet below with a thud. I stayed still and had my wife make sure that I hadn’t broken my neck or any bones before I got up. Fortunately the ground was soft and I’m pretty limber. So, with a slightly wrenched neck and a few strained muscles I was back to work five minutes later. All I could think going down was that if I died I wouldn’t be able to finish the book. Christ!
MAY 28, 2014
Preparing the house and grounds for summer has taken hours away from the writing. When I finally got back to the computer it was 4:30 and I am struggling to finish that last chapter which is, for some reason inching along. I hope to have it done by the end of the weekend unless some other crisis comes up. I’m impatient to get into the cutting and re-writing so I can make a real book out of this. I’m also thinking of asking Andrew to write the introduction. He’s a good writer. But I have to have the book finished in rough form so that he can read it before he decides yes or no.
MAY 30, 2014
Finally got back to the writing after almost two hours of “chores.”
MAY 31, 2014
I finished the book! Now it’s three months of whipping it into shape. It’s like a ten ton weight has been taken off my shoulders.
JUNE 1, 2014
After finishing the book I didn’t even want to look at the computer and didn’t turn it on yesterday. I’m taking a few days off to clear my mind and clean up my office/cabin which becomes a total wreck when I work. I think I also have little bit of burn-out. (I know, poor me!)
JUNE 4, 2014
The best way I can describe re-writing it is to compare myself to a sculptor. In front of me is a roughed out carving. None of the detail, none of the polishing none of the things that makes it a completed sculpture are there yet. What I have to do now is to take the 140,000 words I have and get it down to 90,000 that simply fly by and make for an interesting and compelling read. I can’t explain it better than that.///// It’s 6:25 and I woke up at 3:30 PM and didn’t want to get out of bed. So, I began to re-read the second William Wyler bio to make sure I have my facts straight. What I had originally wanted to do with my book was—ala Barbara Goldsmith—write social history of Hollywood during the period and guess what, this is exactly what this guy did with Wyler’s life. The early parts of the book are quite good and left me relieved that this writer did what I wanted to do better than I would have done it and, so, now I don’t feel bad about not having done it. (Yea. Like that makes any sense.)
JUNE 5, 2014
Finished the Wyler book. It’s as good as it is because the writer was able to obtain extensive interviews with Wyler and his contemporaries before they died and it’s their quotes that makes the book work so well. The writer is also extremely knowledgeable about the period and paints a vivid picture of the movie business in the 30s and 40s that gives the reader an idea of what it was really like working there. He brings Wyler alive on paper and in reading I got to know the man. Now, this is a book.///// I’ve sort of inched into the rewriting and should be whole hog probably on Friday and then it’s in for the penny in for the pound. By this time I think I have acquired almost every picture of Astor during the trial and I know what she wore each day so well I can see a picture and automatically date it. I think that’s called being an expert.
JUNE 8, 2014
I’m now back deep in the book cutting and rewriting like mad. I think I can really make something good out of this. It really is a fascinating story and I find it even more so now that I’m back digging in.
JUNE 9, 2014
It’s beautiful outside and I’m in here working.
JUNE 10, 2014
I’m about to go to sleep. I’m really deep into the book beginning to get a grasp of it as a whole and understand the structure I created so I can make it work. I think I can really make a good book out of this.///// A friend of mine with a 180 plus IQ once told me that I didn’t have the amount of gray matter that he had but what I did have was the ability to totally focus what I had and in this way came up with some brilliant stuff. It’s taken me a while to understand that. Part of it is OCD but OCD completely focused on a fixed point. It’s a strategy that helps me achieve my ends. Today that end is trying to make this into a good book. (God, are you listening!)
JUNE 11, 2014
What I really would like to read is Astor’s original notes—the stuff she wrote in therapy before it was developed into her 59 book. Some pages were put up for auction and I found them on the web and was able to read a page or two. The material is almost exactly like the original diary extracts that I have. It could have been written the next day. The same thing about needing to get her life in order, the same thing about needing to start over, etc. etc. What I had attributed in the 30s material as being just her at that age was Mary Astor period. And that is fascinating. I have to find out who purchased that stuff so that I could beg for photo copies. I’ll have to write the gallery. This is not stuff that I will be covering in my book as my scope is limited. But, as I would like to fully understand Astor, I’m driven to learn as much as I can. Astor was an immensely complex woman with keen incisive, insights while at the same time—when it came to personal choices—made the same mistake over and over. She even writes about that.
June 12, 2014
Reading some of what I’ve written, the writing appears to be better than I thought and I’m quite pleased with what I have up till now. I just finished re-working the chapter when Thorpe first took the stand. Astor’s lawyer made ground beef out of him. Thorpe was so angry that I believe if he could, he would have gotten up and punched out Astor’s lawyer. For a great deal of the testimony he had to fight from losing his temper. The whole time, Astor just sat there looking as cool as a cucumber.///// Writing non-fiction can really be a drag sometimes because as I go along have to check and double check everything; continually pulling up information to make sure I’ve got dates, locations and facts correct. And still, I think I’m going to miss a few. Thank God for the web. If not I would have been on this for a year trying to get things right. The book is being built in layers all stemming out from the research. Marylyn is helping me as much as she can but in the end it’s got to be my interpretation of those facts that makes the book and I’m becoming more and more aware of that.
JUNE 14, 2014
I just finished working on Nellie Richardson on the stand. It’s pretty good. (At least it is today) It turned out much better than I had thought. I’m actually happy with what I wrote.
JUNE 15, 2014
I’m through a third of the book and might actually have a readable draft by the end of June. I don’t think I’m going to cut a lot on this draft as I need to learn what works and doesn’t work from the people I give it to read. I wouldn’t like the final draft to be more than 80-85,000 words but that will have to wait for a later cut when I have more perspective.
JUNE 16, 2014
OCD is definitely at work here. I was with my wife in the car and she took one look at me—my mind was elsewhere—and told me, “You are thinking about the book.” I told her she was right and then began to talk about some of the things I needed to do and she patiently listened. How and why she puts up with me I don’t know.
JUNE 17, 2014
I am now completely cocooned in the book and think of nothing else. My poor wife. When I interact with her it’s “I’m busy! Okay, what do you want, what do you need.”
JUNE 21, 2014
Sometime early next week I should be done with a rough second draft of the book that can be read. It will still need weeks of polish and some cutting—with much more extensive cutting later. But, I will be able to send a draft to Andrew so that he can determine whether he still wants to write the introduction. Also a copy to Ken so that he can go over the legal aspects and help me, if I haven’t, to get it right. I’m scared witless sending a copy to Marylyn. I think I’ll wait till I hear what Andrew thinks; perhaps it will soften the blow if I’ve written a turkey.
JUNE 24, 2014
I’m struggling on a really hard part of the book tying to get it to work. I can’t think of anything else right now. My wife’s almost done with the siding and whenever I take a short break from writing I walk over and help her by cleaning up, organizing and moving things around. It’s a good way to clear the mind.
JUNE 29, 2014
I just finished the chapter on Astor post-trial. It is one of the most completely satisfying things I have ever written. It’s also the most straightforward and perhaps simplest. I tried to be as upbeat with it as possible—because in a way she did triumph over so much. I cried when I was done. It’s like I had to finally let her go and I felt bad losing her. Although I have another month or two of polishing but, that’s different. That’s just mechanics. The real writing—which requires heart and soul—is done. I just have the final chapter on Marylyn to do which should be finished by Monday which means I’ll be finished at the end of June and that will be right on schedule.
JUNE 30, 2014
I’m finishing the last chapter tonight and am stretched like a rubber band until book is finally done. When it’s over it will be like another great weight off my shoulders. I think it’s a good book, but then again, I’m only the writer.
JULY 1, 2014
My wife informed me that we had to drive to Poughkeepsie and do our monthly shopping. So, I printed up what I had of the last chapter and, while she went in and out of stores, I remained in the hot 90 degree car writing away in pen as, fortunately, the muse was there and when you have her there you want to keep her there. I managed to break the chapter’s back. I still think it’s a good book but really, who I am I to judge. Being cautious, I would say I’m not ashamed of it.
JULY 3, 2014
I sent a very rough draft off to Andrew. I was going to take a few days before I jumped in on the initial polish. Instead I took exactly 10 minutes. Am I am a glutton for punishment or what?
JULY 13, 2014
Got this from Andrew: “TO BE FRANK, I HAVEN’T STARTED THE BOOK YET, BUT I HOPE YOU’LL BE HAPPY TO HEAR THAT I HAD MY SISTER PRINT IT OFF FOR ME AND, IN THE MEANTIME, SHE DOWNLOADED IT ONTO HER KINDLE AS A PDF AND DEVOURED IT. SHE AND WANTED ME TO TELL YOU YOU’RE AN AMAZING WRITER WHICH IS A GOOD COMPLIMENT FROM HER. SHE GOES THROUGH BOOKS LIKE KIDS GO THROUGH CANDY. THAT IS ACTUALLY ONE OF THE REASONS I HAVEN’T STARTED. I OPENED UP THE FIRST FEW PAGES AND WAS LIKE, “OH OH, THERE GOES MY WEEKEND.” BUT, ITS GONNA HAPPEN IN THE NEXT FEW DAYS!”///// I know that this is from and interested party and, so, not totally objective but, still, after all the work I put into it, I’m in heaven.///// Right now I’m once again going through all my research material making sure I’ve gotten everything right. Then it’s two weeks of pencil edits and I’m done with this stage. I’ll go back in a month or two and do a final cut and cut it down even more. But I’m thinking that if it works at this length maybe I should leave well enough alone.
JULY 15, 2014
Thinking about Andrew’s sister’s comment. That was really good to hear as that is what I had set out to write—a page turner. Although biased, if anyone was biased not to like it, it would be a member of the family. That was a concern of mine; how the family would react?
JULY 19, 2014
Before, I was all anxious about the book—whether it was good or not—now I am all anxious about what I will be doing after it’s done. I’m frantic, feeling there will be a big hole in my days and so am already lining up what I will be doing next so that when I finish this project, the very next day I will be working on another. No question about it, as Marylyn keeps telling me I’m a real OCD-er.
JULY 22, 2014
I sent the book to Ken to get his legal take on it.
JULY 23, 2014
Andrew response to the book and I quote: “I FINISHED THE BOOK! I AM NOTHING SHORT OF THRILLED. IT IS PHENOMENAL AND YOU SHOULD BE VERY PROUD OF YOURSELF. I WOULD LOVE TO WRITE THE INTRO.”/////Once again, I’m in heaven.
I had sent the book to Scott O’Brien—he wrote the Chatterton Bio—as I wanted to see if I was on target with my take on Ruth Chatterton. He liked the book a lot and thinks film fans will as well. Better, he felt I did justice to Ruth Chatterton. He also said that my writing “makes it seem so fresh” and I “did a fine job making the legal proceedings and ramifications interesting and understandable.”///// Couldn’t ask for better than that. I may have pulled it off!
JULY 28, 2015
I should be done with the final interim polish this weekend. So I will send Marylyn a copy to read for her to check for any factual errors so that I can correct.
JULY 31, 2014
I printed up the book for a pencil edit. When polishing, seeing it on paper and on the computer are two completely different experiences. Don’t ask me why, it’s just the way it is for me. This helps me better fine tune.
AUGUST 4, 2014
It’s taken me longer to finish the polish and proof read than I thought and it really was torture. Andrew firmed that he was coming up this weekend. His sister might also come.
AUGUST 6, 2014
I’m still struggling to finally finish the pencil edit by this weekend. Sleep, what’s that? Andrew suggested changing the title to The Purple Diaries. He really doesn’t like L’ Affair Astor—my title for the book. He said I should use it for the French edition.
AUGUST 8, 2014
I decided to go with Andrew’s title.
AUGUST 9, 2014
I have today and tomorrow to complete the final read through for polish and proof read. It’s amazing but after what must be 20 or 30 reads, I can still find some of it interesting. I think that’s called living with it.
AUGUST 10. 2014
I finally finished the polish. As soon as I hear from Ken (the attorney) and implement his suggestions I will send Marylyn a copy. At this point I think the book is nothing to be ashamed of. (I keep saying that; maybe I’m trying to convince myself.)///// I’m beginning to scan all the photos I’ve been looking at for months while I wrote the book so I can create a mock-up of what I would like the finished book to look like. The pictures are such a big part of the book that I want to make sure it’s done right.
AUGUST 12, 2014
Got the feedback from Ken (the attorney.) He liked the book and thought it should be published. Some really great suggestions which I have already begun incorporating and he gave me some astute legal insights.///// I now have nothing to do and feel completely lost. My wife has me cleaning the house and the property for Andrew. She keeps repeating, “He’s Marylyn’s grandson what is he going to think of us.”///// What I feel is a tremendous let down.
AUGUST 17, 2014
Andrew and his sister are up here and they are better even than Marylyn led me to believe. My wife is in love with both of them. I was of course my outrageous self but they seemed to enjoy it. They really are genuine people, frank and honest and that’s rare. I’m learning a lot about their family.
AUGUST 18, -2014
It was wonderful having the two here. Alyssa, Andrew’s sister is a Mary Astor look-a-like. Bright, sensitive, kind, ambitious; it was a real pleasure having them here for the two days. They filled me in on a lot about of the family and helped me understand Marylyn even better.///// Right now my wife says I look like someone who a hurricane just sweep over as I am so lost with nothing to do but scan photos. Nevertheless, I can’t shake this empty feeling that I am experiencing. Just to keep busy today I will continue scanning and later prepare the studs for the frame to the second shed we’re building.
AUGUST 21, 2014
I’m just dealing with the pictures now. Finished scanning the rest of mine am now organizing Andrew’s and what Marylyn’s daughter, Gabby, sent from Utah as well as all the newspaper banner headlines I have.
AUGUST 23, 2014
When he was here, Andrew and I had a discussion about Diary verses Diaries in the title. I explained that Astor kept her diary in two separate volumes. The newspapers referred to it as the diary but they were incorrect. It was contained in two volumes covering two separate time periods. The first, September, 1928 to January 5, 1930 written during her marriage to Ken Hawks and the second, March 25, 1930 to March 1935, written while she was married to Thorpe. So the more accurate description is Diaries. The discrepancy occurred because the Kaufman references brought out in court were in the second volume but the names that would ‘ruin’ Hollywood were in both volumes. In court Astor was only confronted with pages from the second volume while the newspapers were continually referring to the contents of both volumes. Mystery solved.
AUGUST 28, 2014
Now I am cleaning up the photos and trying my best to restore the airbrushed and “retouched” photos that came out of the newspaper picture morgues. This is extremely tedious work as it sometimes it takes two or three days per picture. I didn’t realize how much work this would be. It’s turning out to be harder work than writing the book.
AUGUST 29, 2014
I got this from Marylyn: “YOU’VE DONE QUITE AN AMAZING JOB. I FINISHED THE BOOK LAST NIGHT. I COULDN’T PUT IT DOWN. I JUST HAD TO SEE HOW YOU ENDED IT!”//// All the work was worth it.
SEPTEMBER 1, 2014
I’m implementing most of Marylyn’s suggestions. Some of her comments are really funny. I wish I could use them in the book. When her father says he’s sorry that Astor brought this suit and that he’s always tried to protect her, Marylyn comment was “B.S. 101.” I made all the changes in the final chapter—the one on Marylyn—that she requested but taking out some of it hurt. A lot it was quite funny but she didn’t want to offend anyone.
SEPTEMBER 8, 2014
Between cleaning up the photos and the Newspaper headlines as well as prepare material for the second shed I haven’t had time to spit and I’m very tired. Cleaning up those photos is a horror. Right now I could use a 35 hour day. I stress on these things; getting very little sleep and that makes things that much more difficult. Today we bought the siding and roofing and everything else for the second shed that will go up on Saturday. I can’t wait for the winter so that I can get some rest.
SEPTEMBER 24, 2014
I’m incorporating the illustrations and should “finally” be done with that next week. Back in February when I thought I was writing just a long magazine piece I planned to spend only a month on it. It’s turned into a project that seems to go on and on.
OCTOBER 5, 2014
Finished with the second shed, we’re setting it up as a wood shop and that means moving everything out of the basement. I still have to make a door and do a few other things. Meanwhile, I’m still putting the illustrations into the book
OCTOBER 10, 2014
I’m now writing the captions for the photos. The work goes on and on.
OCTOBER 13, 2014
Yesterday it hit me how tired I am. And I’m really knocked out and do not have energy to do anything. So, other than some emails and putting captions on the photos I am now just watching movies.
OCTOBER 16, 2014
Got the picture of Astor with the two Oscars from Astor’s eldest granddaughter. It’s a great picture. I’ll use it at the end of the ‘whatever happened to’ chapter on Astor.///// I’m struggling to finish captions as I am really exhausted. My body has finally caught up with me. Building that second shed was really too much. This is what total exhaustion is like.
NOVEMBER 8, 2014
I’m now working on the bibliography. Just the newspaper articles total over 700 items. Add the books, magazines, documents and Internet and it’s over a thousand. I was dumb founded when I added up the numbers.
NOVEMBER 13, 2014
Finished bibliography, now I have to cite the quotes. A nightmare. I was going to leave this till later but I said to myself screw it, do it now and I won’t have to do it later. Pure drudge work that has absolutely nothing to do with writing. This is why I don’t like writing non-fiction.
NOVEMBER 23, 2014
I’m citing the quotes now because I didn’t have the patience to do this when I was writing—a very big mistake. I am now re-reading all my research material two and three times to find the quotes so I can list their sources. It is an absolute horror. We’re talking over a thousand articles and books. As I said a horror.
NOVEMBER 28, 2014
I have been so busy completing the addendum section—and those goddamn quote cites—that I haven’t had time to do much else. Absolute torture but now it’s done I won’t have to think about it again. I thought it would be easier to do now than later as I’m very familiar with the material. It took nearly a month. I’m completely burned out on this book. I’ll be starting my next book—or getting ready to start it in the next few days. I just need some rest first. Now that it’s over I feel completely drained.
Approximately five months later, when the book was ready for submission to publishers, my agent gently but persuasively argued that the book needed to be cut even further. So, with an objectivity that I hadn’t had months earlier, I managed to cut the text to 85,000 words. It was the length I wanted when I started writing the book a year before. Lesson learned; always listen to your agent.
THE EDITING PHASE
After a book is written, but before it is published, it must be appraised by an editor with an objective view of the work. This is essential because a writer, any writer, cannot see the forest for the trees. It’s simply the nature of the beast and, thus, the necessity for an editor trained to see the forest. This phase of the writing process has its advantages and its disadvantages. The advantage is that when completed the book will be much better; focused and with a far more effective text that, hopefully, will transform the book into its best possible form.
The disadvantage is that for the writer an editor will look at the book through the hard eye of reality and not what the writer thinks or wishes or even deludes himself into believing that he has written. The editor will see what is actually there and determine what works and doesn’t work and what needs to be done to put the book into its best possible form. Thus, the editor will request cuts, changes and even rewriting in an effort to make the book work more effectively. In short, it’s through the editor’s eyes that the writer will understand where he has failed and/or succeeded.
The editor’s job—and in this he must be both diplomat and therapist—is to delicately persuade the writer to return to a book with a different perspective in order to fix writing that he or she previously believed was perfect the way it was. And, that folks isn’t easy. It also means that the writer will often need to jettison material they love, slaved over to write thinking that it is essential to the book. It is a process that not only requires humility on the writer’s part but also trust in the insights of an editor which the writer uses as a third eye to improve the work.
Randall Klein edited my book. To my discredit it took me longer than it should to realize how fortunate I was to have an editor with his skills and insights edited my book. After Randall worked on the manuscript and submitted it to me he wrote me that he liked the book and thought it an effective, even handed telling of the story that hadn’t transformed any of the participants into villains. Structurally, he thought the book was pretty much “on the page” but required cuts—some light, some heavy—to make it tighter. He thought that the book frequently meandered, and in doing so eliminated tension in what was essentially a courtroom drama. So, he had trimmed material that felt was “antithetical to that.”
I had absolutely no trouble with his cuts regarding redundancies and overstatement. I thought these cuts were good, insightful, astute and I envied Randal for catching them because I hadn’t seen them first. In a few cases I took his word changes as a starting point to improve overall wording.
It was the large cuts with which I had a problem and to which I was resistant. This was a typical case of a writer falling in love with his writing and not seeing the forest for the trees. Nevertheless, some of my resistance did have legitimacy as elimination of some material would create loose ends as I had introduced information early so that later certain reader wouldn’t be surprised asking, “where did this come from?”. I was also adamant about other cuts because they eliminated what I believed was necessary motivation. Nevertheless, I promised to reduce length and quicken pace.
Randall’s reply, and this is what makes him such a good editor was his ability to explain in terms a writer could understand and act on. Randall, who is always direct, was very frank in his comments. For him, my book appeared be “a small story wearing the ill-fitting clothing of a big story.” It was an intense depiction of an actress and a custody case that captured the nation’s interest which explored themes of gender equality, reputation, and public vs. private life. Unfortunately, I had added all this other material that took the reader away from the real story the book had to tell. In short, and in his words, the book’s focus “should be narrow and insightful, which it is, without the larding of too much periphery.”
Randall’s reply set me to thinking. What he had done was to pare away ‘supporting characters’ and as much back story as you could from these minor characters. I began to see what Randall was doing and wrote him back, “When I do the shortening of your deletes and a bit of rewrite/polish I will better tie these characters to Astor’s mindset and or experience. I took it for granted that the reader would do this for themselves but I was obviously mistaken. I will definitely rectify that.”
What I was now concerned about was the final chapter—a chapter devoted to Marylyn’s life following the trial which I felt was crucial to the overall impact of the book. Randall had cut this chapter to the absolute bone and when I asked him why his reply was straight to the point. He felt that, for the most part, throughout the book Marylyn was a “prop” and the final chapter focused too broadly on someone whose story was best laid out in short postscript.
The efficacy of Randall’s argument caused a shift in my perspective necessary for me to see that the chapter didn’t work. And this is why an editor is so crucial to a writer. In addition, some of Randal’s deletes told me, not that the material had to go, but that it needed to be re-written more effectively. In other words, I had some fixing to do.
In response I eliminated almost all of the huge cuts Randall had requested and shortened or eliminated all the unnecessary background of the minor characters as well as implement some cuts of my own. Regarding the final chapter, as it clearly didn’t do what I had intended it to do, I completely re-wrote it, concentrating on Marylyn’s relationship with her mother. This rewrite It was unquestionably better, more true to life and now accomplished what I had intended it to do; leave readers thinking and reframe the entire book .
When Randal read the revised manuscript he agreed that the chapter now worked and accomplished what I intended. Thus the book was now in its best possible form and ready to publish. I was extremely happy with the results and believed that all the time and effort I had put into the book was worth it as I had produced a book of substance and the final result was due in great part to Randall’s insights, patience and vision of what this book should be. It had truly become a partnership and I want to make it clear that Randall deserves much credit for the final form of the book and whatever success the book might achieve. My only wish is that I can work with him again. My trust in his decisions is absolute.
When Randall Klein was still At Random House working in their Bantam division he participated in a symposium along with a moderator and two literary agents. This symposium is on You Tube and I have put the link below. To any ‘would-be’ or novice writer it will prove extremely helpful. But more to the point, during the video Randall succinctly and, at times, eloquently explains his editing ‘philosophy’ and overall take on the process. My hope is that anyone who watches the video will find Randall’s insights as beneficial to them as they were to me.