Saturday, April 2, 2016

Author and publisher

I've been digging out books that have sat unread for a long time in my library.

One of them is Joseph Blotner's 700-page bio of William Faulkner, the grandmaster of southern melodrama, madness, mayhem and misery. While Faulkner is hardly my fave writer - though I vaguely remember liking Light in August - I figured his biography might make interesting reading. I'd heard he had a drinking problem, for instance, and that might have spawned some intriguing anecdotes.

So I started reading the first few pages of Blotner's bio. And then I glanced at the index in the back of the book and saw a familiar name from, of all places, game shows. Right there on page 760: "Cerf, Bennett" followed by more than two dozen page references. Duh, it suddenly dawned on me that Random House had published much of Faulkner's fiction. And we all know who ran Random House. That guy who sat on the What's My Line panel for all those years.

Cerf has a surprisingly large presence in the biography. His basic attitude toward Faulkner appears on page 371. "We didn't think he would ever be a commercial success, but he would be the greatest possible adornment to the Random House list." As it turned out, Faulkner did pretty decent business for the publishing house, and Cerf also helped get him more than a little cash from the movie industry.

Faulkner always did have problems with the bottle, though. Cerf and his wife once took him to a posh New York party, where Faulkner wound up snookered and snoozing on the carpet. When Faulkner died in 1962, Cerf attended the funeral in Oxford, Mississippi. "For twenty-five years Bill Faulkner has been trying to get me to come to Oxford, and I waited too late."

Sad to say, Blotner's bio contains no references to Cerf's role on What's My Line. I wonder if Faulkner ever watched his publisher on the show, and what he might have thought.


  1. Just watched the Yahoo clip linked in the sidebar. Did the announcer just mistakenly confuse Wheel of Fortune with the Price is Right?

    1. Well, darned if he didn't get the shows mixed up. We all know Robert Santoli was on Wheel of Fortune, anyway.

  2. It's funny how the folks who were on WML are remembered mostly for being on WML, when all of them were so highly accomplished and successful in their own separate careers. Bennett's contributions to the literary world are enormous, but most people who have heard of him today remember him only as the inveterate punster on the WML panel.

    Great post, Casey!