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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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780375507687
Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/05/2002
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.78(w) x 8.52(h) x 0.79(d)

About 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.

Read an Excerpt

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

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