Friday, April 16, 2010

A Great Novelist And A Passionate Dog Lover: BARBARA TAYLOR BRADFORD

For any writer, one of the most enjoyable parts of creating a book--is FINISHING one! No doubt about that. Then, once the book is done, it's time to hope that people who read the manuscript in advance will actually like it--giving it a literary thumb's up, which is certainly the best feeling in the world.

Anyone who has written a book knows, of course, that completing a book is just the start of the work, as mapping out the marketing and advertising campaign is essential to any book's ultimate success. And one of the necessities of book promotion is procuring advance testimonials from prominent people with the idea that their quotes appear on the back of the book, enticing readers to take a second look and buy it.

With this goal in mind, for the last two months, I've been collecting such quotes and have been very lucky that celebrities I've interviewed in the past have kindly offered to read KATIE UP AND DOWN THE HALL and provide their viewpoint on it.
One of my all-time favorite interview subjects is the great novelist BARBARA TAYLOR BRADFORD, the master storyteller who knows a good plot when she creates one, a true woman of substance.

Her latest novel, BREAKING THE RULES, is breaking bestseller records, as her novels always do, and it features a mysterious new heroine, along with some of the familiar faces from the dramatic Harte series. But never one to rest on her laurels, Barbara is also hard at work on PLAYING THE GAME, a novel to be published in October of this year.
A few weeks ago, after many years of not seeing her, I ran into Barbara at a sparkling reception in her honor hosted by LIZ SMITH, a party at Michael's that was a benefit for Liz's great charity, Literacy Partners, of which Barbara and her husband, film producer Bob Bradford, are both champions and generous contributors.  That night, I asked Barbara if she would read my new book and offer a quote. And since she's on deadline for the new novel before departing for a summer trip to Europe, I would have completely understood if she didn't have the time to do it.
So you can imagine my pleasure about two weeks later when I came home from dinner and heard this message on my machine: "Hello Glenn, it's Barbara Taylor Bradford! I just wanted to tell you how much I really loved your book Katie. It was very touching--and I couldn't put it down. I'd be very happy to give you a quote. Please call me."

Subsequent to this, we had a long talk about our mutual love of dogs, and the recent sad loss of one of Barbara's beloved Bijon Frises's. We shared the depth of sadness that happens when one of our "children" leaves us. It's a very empty feeling that only a fellow dog lover completely understand.

After finishing talking to Barbara, inspired by what she said, I went back to the interview we did for my book, Turning Point: Pivotal Moments In The Lives Of America's Celebrities, and it was fascinating to see that the seeds of greatness in Barbara were planted so early. 

As she told me: "I sold my first story about Sally and her little pony at age eleven to a magazine for seven-pounds-six. And my destiny was sealed," she laughed. 

She brazenly quite high school at sixteen, bought a trench coat, and joined the typing pool at the Yorkshire Evening Post. Over the years she wrote for magazines and newspapers, dreaming of one day fulfilling her childhood dream of becoming a novelist. Finally, in l976, she hatched the idea about a woman of substance. Within a few hours she had the whole sixty-four year history of Emma Harte's story in her head. "The whole world loves a survivor, someone who uses adversity to make herself stronger. I put emotion on paper well."
   Did she ever. A WOMAN OF SUBSTANCE was an overnight bestseller, spawning Harte sequels and TV miniseries for each successive book.
"I tell a good story," she merrily shrugs. 

Indeed she does. 

And I can't thank Barbara enough for what she generously wrote about my story: "I picked up this book to glance through it and suddenly found myself unable to put it down. This warm, touching, tender and loving memoir is probably the best book I've ever read about a dog. Glenn pulls you into this moving story instantly. Even people who are not crazy about dogs will love this tale." 

Thursday, April 15, 2010

New York Legend, Global Phenomena: The Unbeatable Donald Trump

   Mega Achiever  DONALD TRUMP, who I've known for twenty years, doesn't need much sleep--and he doesn't get much, overseeing a multi-billion dollar empire that includes vast real estate holdings, his NBC hit reality series, The Apprentice, and countless other business ventures--including the Miss Universe Organization, Trump University,Trump Entertainment Resorts, even menswear and bottled water!--all if it keeping him busy from dusk to dawn.

The most meticulously organized person I've ever known, Trump also, more privately, devotes himself to his family--to his exquisitely beautiful (and very nice) wife, Melania (debuting later this month on QVC with a costume jewelry line), their four-year-old son, Barron, and of course to his older children, Donald, Jr., Ivanka, Eric, and Tiffany.
 One of the amazing things about the multi-tasking Donald, I discovered when I first met him, is that his mind misses nothing, and that he's eerily calm as he goes about his day, accomplishing more in a 24-hour period than most people could manage in a month.
I first met Donald during my Daily News years, for a cover story titled "Man Of A Thousand Deals." As I write in my upcoming book, Katie Up and Down The Hall: Tall, and intimidating at first, he turned warm and witty once relaxed behind his desk at Trump Tower for what turned out to be a series of long talk, first to the News, then a multisession marathon interview for Playboy. This Playboy interview drew headlines due to his comments on Leona Helmsley and feelings about women and marriage.

Trump also expressed his very human, more reflective side when expressing grief for the death of his executives in 1989 helicopter crash: "I lost not only brilliant, key players in my company but true friends--and I couldn't believe it. At first, I was shocked, called their wives, just kept functioning...My own sense of optimism and life was greatly diminished. I never realized how deaths outside the family could have such a profound effect on me."

Donald, one of the most resilient figures in American culture, has, of course, also survived the ups and down of the economy and his own fluctuating fortunes, now at their zenith, though he always bounced back bigger and better, unbeatable, and most importantly, an example of what can happen with discipline, imagination, and a vision that knows no limits.

He's also tough: As he told me: "I study people and in every negotiation, I weigh how tough I should appear. I can be a killer and a nice guy. You have to be everything. You have to be strong. You have to be sweet. You have to be ruthless. And I don't think any of it can be learned. Either you have it or you don't."

The answer is clear.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Indomitable Mary Higgins Clark Does It Again

Last night at celebrity hot spot Elaine's, in came the Queen of Suspense, the great MARY HIGGINS CLARK, looking radiant in a fur-trimmed evening wrap at the publication party for her latest thriller, a fantastic book titled The Shadow Of Your Smile. It's all about a deceased nun who's a candidate for sainthood and 31-year-old Manhattan pediatrician who becomes the target of those who don't want her to inherit a fortune, the taut story featuring many of Mary's trademark twists and turns. 

As always, it's a guaranteed hit that will keep you on the edge of your seat. The indomitable Mary is like a boxer who never loses a match, for each of her 42 books have become instant bestsellers, with more than 80 million copies sold in the United States alone. Paid $64 million for a four-book contract in 2000, she's hardly resting on her laurels, continuing to be just as productive and hard-working as ever. 

It must run in the family because also appearing last night was another incredible mystery writer, Mary's daughter, Carol Higgins Clark, with a great new book of her own debuting yesterday titled Wrecked (A Reagan Reilly Mystery) that will also hit the bestseller list, as her books always do, the apple definitely not falling far from the tree.  
Yesterday morning, Mary's assistant, Nadine, kindly wrote me a note, inviting me to the party. And chatting with Mary about her technique for creating those  intricate plot lines and colorful characters, I was struck by her youthfulness and bright outlook, her buoyant energy filling the room. 

Seeing her again reminded me of our first interview a number of years ago, which appeared in my book, Turning Point: Pivotal Moments In The Lives Of America's Celebrities. In it, she describes her incredible rise to fame as a 26-year-old New Jersey housewife of modest means, busily tending to her home and five kids with the dream of one day becoming a successful writer.
"Honey," her husband Warren remarked, watching her bent over the Formica kitchen table, "think of it just as a hobby." She agreed until l964 when Warren, who smoked three packs a day, suffered a third heart attack and died. 

Then, at just age 36, with five children to raise, she was left with a $13,000 mortgage and a few small insurance policies. "I had to work. I began writing radio scripts, twenty dollars a script." 

Then one day, looking over at her bookcase at the mysteries she loved reading, she had hunch that she would write what she loved to read. The result: the l975 bestseller Where Are the Children? a terrifying tale of a childnapper. 

"I knew that anytime a child is missing, the whole world cares." It sure did, and the rest was history.
Saying good-bye last night, Mary was kind enough to tell me that she was in the midst of reading my upcoming book, Katie Up And Down The Hall, not a mystery, for sure, but a story that will hopefully touch her heart. I was so flattered as I headed home to get under the covers to read HER book, which kept me up until 2 a.m. 

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Mystery Of The Phone: You Never Know Who's Calling (if you don't look at caller ID)

A few nights ago, at 9 p.m., the phone rang and, when I absently picked it up, there, to my utter surprise and delight, was the unmistakable voice of the great MARLO THOMAS, my frequent interview subject and friend, still known to millions as THAT GIRL, the spunky, upbeat, always-independent heroine who won the heart of a nation.

Unforgettable in that role and many others since, Marlo is also a philanthropic powerhouse, working tirelessly for her father's great charity, St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the top children's cancer center in the nation. As the National Outreach Director for St. Jude, Marlo also hosts A Place Of Hope, an hour-long television special that documents the lifesaving work of St. Jude, which provides free medical services to desperately ill children while also devoting itself to research and new treatments.
     Marlo was kindly calling up to congratulate me on the upcoming publication of my new book, Katie Up and Down The Hall--while also mentioning her upcoming book, also being published in September, titled Growing Up Laughing, (Hyperion), a brilliant memoir about her childhood and the star entertainer friends of her father, comedian Danny Thomas. It will feature childhood memories from Jerry Seinfeld, Jon Stewart and other contemporary comedians and it will be a must read.

Marlo, a great comedienne, says her own experiences made her want to learn how the seeds of humor got planted for other entertainers as well.

And speaking of great entertainers, I thought back to one of our classic interviews together that appeared in my book Turning Point: Pivotal Moments In the Lives Of America's Celebrities which centered around her loving and supportive Dad, the legendary Danny Thomas.
    In the book, she reminisced about the time she was an eighteen-year-old fledgling actress appearing in a production of Gigi when some audacious interviewer asked her if she'd ever be as good as her Dad.
    "That was stupid and insensitive and I felt terribly upset by it," she told me. "Daddy said, 'Don't let them do that to you. I raised you to be a thoroughbred--and thoroughbreds run their own races...they just put on their blinders and run!'
   "Long ago," she said, "on that opening night of Gigi, Daddy sent me a box with old horse blinders in it. His note said: "RUN YOUR OWN RACE, BABY!"
       And so she has, and brilliantly so. Toward the end of our recent phone talk, I invited Marlo and her husband, the great PHIL DONAHUE (who I had the pleasure of once interviewing for a Family Circle profile), to come to the KATIE launch party in September, to be hosted by Joan Rivers and Mario Buatta, a benefit for Guide Dogs For The Blind.
       Marlo said she'd love to come--and I can't wait to see her and Phil, two icons in American television, both indelible in our collective memories, and most personally, in mine.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Flash Back: The Most Magical Introduction Ever: How I Met The Great CALVIN KLEIN

      Picture This: A 31-year-old writer with one book under his wing gets a letter from the former First Lady of the United States, admiring his biography of Vladimir Horowitz and inviting him to meet with her to discuss his next book project. After a few phone conversations, together, they decide to invite the king of American fashion to lunch to discuss the possibility of working with him on his autobiography.

Fact or fiction? I'm happy to report that I made the lunch reservation! And I'm thinking of it just today for reasons I'll soon explain.
Back in the summer of 1984, JACQUELINE KENNEDY ONASSIS, indisputably the most famous and glamorous woman in the world (and also a book editor at Doubleday), wanted to meet the legendary CALVIN KLEIN, the undisputed master of American couture and the hottest designer of his time. He was also the genius behind a billion dollar empire that included jeans, underwear and perfume, all of it advertised in daringly-trailblazing billboard and TV ad campaigns that to this day are classics, the most emulated, artistic, sensuous, and erotic ever created.

On a hot early summer day that year, more than a few forks dropped when my new friends "Jackie" and "Calvin" walked into a Park Avenue bistro named Rafael. Jackie, with no make-up or jewelry, looked radiant, dressed down in a simple blue summer shift. And Calvin, dashingly handsome in a blazer and a green-striped rep tie, was as warm and down to earth as I ever could have imagined him to be. In fact, despite their mind-boggling fame, I was taken aback by their warmth and high spirits and genuine interest in me. "Glenn, can I share?"Jackie asked girlishly, dipping her spoon into my chocolate mousse at dessert. Here was the woman who had seduced heads of state with her beguiling smile, a fashion icon who had transformed the White House. She'd conquered France on her first state visit there. And, of course, she'd forever won over the hearts of Americans with her bravery and dignity after the President's assassination.

But on this day, the conversation was light and sparkling--skipping from fashion to real estate, to the news of the day and Hollywood, but always circling back to the idea of a possible Calvin Klein autobiography. In the end, however, Calvin, at age 41, was just too young to do it--as his life story was still being written. So although Jackie was disappointed that Calvin decided to forego such a book--something wonderful came out of it anyway.

He decided to accept my invitation to do a PLAYBOY  Interview, one that was conduced over a six-week period, with hours of conversation taped, the final result published the following year, the most extended interview Calvin has ever given, before or since. It was recently re-printed in a special Playboy hardcover book titled Movers and Shakers, a collection of the magazine's favorite thirteen profiles, which also includes my interviews with Leona Helmsley and Donald Trump.

The Playboy Interview captured Calvin at his candid best: "What's bad about sex?" he laughed when I challenged him about his racy TV commercials. "I'm more offended when someone's killed on television than when there's something that's sensuous or sexual or amusing, or when there's a double-entendre. So what?" To read the entire interview, just pick up the the Playboy book.

I can tell you that that interview cemented my friendship with Calvin for a lifetime and it was followed by our Today Show interview a few years later--and by so many acts of generosity by Calvin over the years. For example, he introduced me to both Nancy Reagan and to Diana Ross, putting a good word in and helping me secure those exclusives. He kindly introduced me to the great fashion editor, John Fairchild, and I wound up working at that company for a number of years. And not least meaningful to me, on one occasion, Calvin came on the phone to talk my grandmother, Essie, who loved Calvin's clothes. This small act of kindness was just the kind of thing he did all the time, and I'll never forget it.

Most recently, I sent Calvin a copy of my upcoming book, Katie Up and Down the Hall, and I was so touched by the testimonial quote that he sent back to me. It says as much about him and his values as it does about the theme of the book.

"Glenn's book is engaging, open-hearted, and very warm. His story proves that the true and small pleasures in life--friendship, loyalty, and trust--are the ones that matter most."

Indeed they do.  And that's why the photograph to the right, of Calvin and me, is my all-time favorite.