Dear Donald, Dear Bennett: The Wartime Correspondence of Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer

Dear Donald, Dear Bennett: The Wartime Correspondence of Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer

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by Bennett Cerf, Donald Klopfer

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Donald Klopfer and Bennett Cerf had been partners in Random House for seventeen years, but Donald decided that he had to become a part of an even greater endeavor—the defeat of Nazi Germany. Not long after Pearl Harbor, Donald, who was then forty years old, took a leave from Random House and joined the United States Army Air Forces. He served for two and a


Donald Klopfer and Bennett Cerf had been partners in Random House for seventeen years, but Donald decided that he had to become a part of an even greater endeavor—the defeat of Nazi Germany. Not long after Pearl Harbor, Donald, who was then forty years old, took a leave from Random House and joined the United States Army Air Forces. He served for two and a half years, finally becoming an intelligence major in a B-24 group in England.

Donald and Bennett wrote to each other regularly all during that period. Bennett sent Donald long newsy letters about the book business—authors, sales, publishing gossip—as well as about what was happening in New York. Donald reacted in his wise, serene way to Bennett’s letters, and conveyed news of what was going on in the war, though sometimes censorship took its toll.

This is nostalgia with substance, and because these letters were never intended to be read by anyone else, they reveal, in a convincing and wonderful way, just how special these two men were and how that specialness was reflected in the company they founded.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“My lucky star is a house—and an imaginary one at that.
Rockwell Kent drew it, one day, sitting in my office,
and it was adopted forthwith as a trade mark for our publishing firm.
We called it Random House because we said we were going to publish anything under the sun that came along—if we liked it well enough.
That was in 1928. We’re trying to make the star burn a little brighter each year.”

—Bennett Cerf
In 1941, Donald Klopfer, the cofounder of Random House, surprised himself and his staff by volunteering for military service. When he departed for England, he left behind his partner and dear friend, Bennett Cerf. Despite pressing engagements on both sides of the Atlantic, the two corresponded, Klopfer offering snippets about his intelligence job and Cerf providing sprightly (and sometime spicy) news from the publishing front. This delightful collection of their letters confirms that both were indefatigable geniuses.
Library Journal
Published to celebrate Random's 75th anniversary, this book collects the correspondence between Random cofounders Klopfer who joined the air force in 1941 and relates the horrors of war and Cerf whose letters document Random's growing business. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Charming WWII-era letters exchanged by the founders of Random House. Both men were too old to be drafted (Cerf was 43 in 1942, Klopfer 40), but their correspondence sparkles with the youthful joie de vivre of people who love their work. Quiet, modest Klopfer writes only a little about his service as an intelligence officer in England; the letters mainly concern Random House business, discussed by Cerf with the ebullience familiar to readers of his popular humor books and the memoir At Random (1977). They describe book publishing in its pre-corporate heyday, when selling 100,000 copies of a new title like Guadalcanal Diary was a huge achievement, and maintaining the backlist was still a primary concern for a hardcover publisher. The winds of change are in the air, though, as Random snaps up a major interest in Grosset & Dunlap, snatching it away from hated rival Simon & Schuster because Cerf can see that in the future making a "package offer" to authors including paperback and book club deals will provide a crucial commercial edge. His partner was less sanguine about these developments. "Will Random House be any fun at all as a ‘big business' instead of our very personal venture?" he writes in 1944. We can see how personal relations were among the staff, as Cerf recounts marital breakups, alcohol-soaked dinners, and weekends by the pool with key members of the Random team. The extended running joke concerning the men's secretary, nicknamed "Jezebel"-her supposed love for fur coats, her bosses' alleged lust for her-will strike many modern readers as sexist and patronizing, but the intent is so obviously affectionate that they'll be inclined to forgive this manifestation of anothergeneration's attitudes. Klopfer's and Cerf's deep love for each other permeates every page of this delightful book to make it a moving record of friendship as well as an illuminating snapshot of American cultural history. Intelligent, thoughtful, and deliciously gossipy: a must for anyone interested in book publishing.

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.78(w) x 8.52(h) x 0.79(d)

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June 9, 1942

Dear Klopf:

Harry Maule has just started to give the plot of the new Mignon Eberhart book to the electrified sales conference, so I ought to have about an hour and a half of free time to clean up the mess on the desk and finally get off a letter to you. As you can imagine, I have been literally up to my neck ever since you left getting jacket dummies, and what not ready for the conference. It has gone wonderfully and I see a little daylight ahead.

Under separate cover, I am sending you copies of the summer list, the juvenile list, and the multigraphed fall list. It was the last job that was the tough one, of course, but I don’t think that the result is bad.

Bob Linscott came down yesterday [from Houghton Mifflin, where he was still employed, though he was about to agree to come to RH] to sit in on the conference and was literally over-whelmed by the wealth of stuff we’ve got on this fall program. Barring unforeseen transportation difficulties and the like, we really ought to clean up in the coming six months and that should be a happy thought for you while you are learning to do right shoulder arms. Incidentally, I am the only man in the history of the U.S. Army who ever cut his nose while performing this simple manual. I did it with the sight on my gun and won the official title for my squad of “The Bloody Fifth.”

Everybody in the office was delighted with your two letters. We all envy you the experience that you are having and I am particularly sad that I can’t be with you every morning to get up at 6 o’clock. You know how I always love to breathe in the early morning air.

Bob and Saxe I know, have written you all the detailed news of the office. The total on PARIS last week was over 2500 copies. The coming Sunday Tribune tabulations are a clear first with 60 points; Cross Creek [Marjory Kinnon Rawlings] is back in second place with 52. The Benson book [Sally Benson, Junior Miss] isn’t going to set any worlds on fire, but on the other hand, it will be a comfortable success. Yesterday’s total was 166 copies for it. I think we’ll surely hit 8000 and very possibly ten. The big surprise for us this summer may well be Quentin Reynolds’ ONLY THE STARS ARE NEUTRAL. We are beginning to get enthusiastic telegrams from several accounts and Kroch [owner of a Chicago bookstore], my new-found buddy, wired to increase his order from 25 copies to 100. The first review I have seen is a proof of Linton Wells’ review for the Saturday Review of Literature. It is an unqualified rave. This book really may go places.

We haven’t lifted a finger to get any of the boys who came home on the Drottningholm. Denney and Loechner are the only two who seem to have any story to tell, and they seem to be spilling the works in their syndicated newspaper articles. I guess we are the only publishers in America who haven’t gone after them. Herb Matthews was in to see us. He isn’t a bit sore about the Spanish book. He thinks he has a good book in him on the Italian business, but is honest enough to say he doesn’t think he will have time to write it before he is off again, this time for India. The Times saved this post for him for months. Most of the other boys who came home on the Drottningholm haven’t the faintest idea of the kind of work they are going to find from now on.

I sat up until almost 3 o’clock this morning galloping through Sam Adams THE HARVEY GIRLS. It is really a pretty good yarn, but shows the effect of a rush job. I think we can safely count on selling about 6000 of it. Bernice is going to try to sell it as a one-shot to Cosmopolitan, in which event we’ll get 10% of those proceeds. We are also in for 10% of the movie price (excepting the $5000.00 down payment) and, since I understand that MGM like the job that Adams has done, we may get quite a substantial sum out of this end of the project, too.

Mannie, Abe and I had a fine old time with your inventory job the other afternoon. The final figure will be about 3800. The Duplaix stuff is figured at 13 cents. The Modern Library figure isn’t what it used to be. I’d like to give you more complete details. Before I do so, I wish you’d tell me how many other people are likely to see our letters to you—if any!

Everybody in the office misses you like hell. Your manicure girl informed me this morning that she managed to get a kiss in before she left. You’ve been holding out on me, Klopfer.

The only item of social interest concerns the party at Bob’s tomorrow afternoon. I understand that a big exhibition doubles match has been arranged involving Haas and Kreiswirth on one side and Mrs. Haas and Cerf on the other. Bets are flowing freely. I think we ought to win because I am thoroughly hep to Jezebel’s weaknesses. Incidentally, I hope my wire to you came through in ungarbled form and that you remembered the title of our old No. 88! [Flowering Judas, Katherine Anne Porter]

I realize that you are working your whoosises off, but please remember that we are all terribly anxious to hear as full reports of your activities as you can possibly give us. Your letters are passed from hand to hand and literally devoured by everybody in the place.

Let me know if there is anything at all I can do for you here. And please tell your Commanding Officer that we would like to have you stationed permanently at Governor’s Island as soon as your training course is over. If Cerf’s recommendation won’t do this, maybe I can get a letter from Major Silberberg (boy, could I have spit when I heard this bit of news!). Incidentally, I will probably have the pleasure of seeing that old shit (I had to spell this word out to Jezebel, she had never heard it) on Thursday afternoon.

Do you want PW [Publishers Weekly] or any other things of that sort sent to you? Or would you rather not be bothered with trade details so that you can keep your mind clear for military matters?

As ever, Bennett

Meet the Author

In 1925, Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer bought the Modern Library from Horace Liveright, and three years later they launched Random House. For more than forty years they personally guided its fortunes, creating one of the most successful publishing companies in America. Cerf died in 1971, Klopfer in 1986.

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Dear Donald, Dear Bennett: The Wartime Correspondence of Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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