Day #9: At Random

At Random: The Reminiscences of Bennett Cerf

I don’t have the luxury of reading books I’ve already read—there are too many new books to be read for clients and reviews. There are, however, several books that I carve out time to re-read. One of them is At Random: The Reminiscences of Bennett Cerf. I purchased it in 1977 when it was first published, when I began studying the history of children’s book publishing. His memoir is not primarily about children’s books but rather the beginnings of a large publisher, Random House. I’m grateful for the history and understanding At Random opened up to me. 

Read this excerpt and you’ll want to order your own used copy.

“Meeting Horace Liveright, a publisher! I’d never met one in my life. So the very next day I went uptown for lunch with Dick and Liveright—and never went back to Wall Street [where he’d been working and making a good living, but it wasn’t about books].

“We went to the Algonquin, and Liveright pointed out the famous Round Table—the table where a group of bright young literary people met for lunch—and for the first time I cast my eyes on a lot of people who were going to be closely associated with my life: Dorothy Parker, Robert Sherwood,  Marc Connelly, Franklin P. Adams, Robert Benchley. I was delighted! …

“Liveright looked like Barrymore and was quite vain, but he had a flair, and when he wanted to be, he was a very charming man. He sure charmed the hell out of me.” [Liveright asks Bennett to invest $25,000 in his company. And he needs it quickly.]

“This was very interesting to me, so I said, ‘Let me give it some thought.’

“He said, ‘No, I’ve got to know pretty quickly. I have to get back to the office now, because I promised to take Theodore Dreiser to the baseball game this afternoon. I’m bored to death by baseball, Bennett. If you want to get in good with me quick, how about taking Dreiser up to the ball game?’

“I’d never met an important author, and at this time Theodore Dreiser was a giant. He hadn’t written An American Tragedy yet, but he had long ago published Sister Carrie and Jennie Gerhardt.

“Well, that’s when I went to the telephone and called downtown and said, “I won’t be back this afternoon. As a matter of fact, I might not be back at all. I’m thinking of going into the publishing business. Goodbye, everybody.” [pages 27-28]

And don’t miss the photo with the caption, “Outgo J. Schmierkase Award” to Theodor Seuss Geisel “for twenty-five years of dazzling accomplishment,” October 1962. [page 155]

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