Remembering acclaimed editor Robert Gottlieb
DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies. Today, we remember Robert Gottlieb, perhaps the most acclaimed editor of his time. He died last week at the age of 92. His first real job was at the publishing house Simon & Schuster in 1955. From there, he became the editor-in-chief of the literary publishing house Alfred A. Knopf. Gottlieb edited scores of books, including fiction, history, biography and memoir, by such authors as Joseph Heller, Doris Lessing, Toni Morrison, John Cheever, John le Carre, Katharine Graham, Bill Clinton, Nora Ephron and Michael Crichton. He left Canada to become the editor of The New Yorker in 1987, taking over from William Shawn.
One of the remarkable parts of his career is his more than 50 years as Robert Caro's editor. Caro wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller "The Power Broker," an exhaustive investigation into how Robert Moses reshaped New York City and how he used and abused power. The use and abuse of power is also at the heart of Caro's biographies of Lyndon Johnson. Caro is still writing the fifth and final volume, and Gottlieb was waiting to edit it. Terry Gross spoke to Robert Gottlieb about his life and his often contentious collaboration with Caro last December, when their relationship was portrayed in a documentary called "Turn Every Page," directed by his daughter, Lizzie Gottlieb.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
TERRY GROSS: Robert Gottlieb, welcome to FRESH AIR.
ROBERT GOTTLIEB: Thank you.
GROSS: So Robert Caro's books are about the use and abuse of political power, how powerful people affect the lives of other people, for better or worse. What was the power dynamic like in your relationship? Since he writes so much about power, what is that power dynamic like?
GOTTLIEB: Well, I don't really believe there is a power dynamic between an author and an editor when the relationship is wholesome. Both have to be strong, have strong opinions and feel free and safe in expressing them in as polite a way as possible. We had disagreements along the way, certainly, and we could both get excited about them or by them. But, on the whole, for 50 years of work, it's been productive, to my mind, pleasant, except when it wasn't. And it's gotten better and better. And, in fact, our relationship has gotten better and better through the years. So I can say, today, which I could not have said 50 years ago, that we are friends.
GROSS: You say that you knew after 15 pages that this book was a masterpiece. How did you know? The book is over a thousand pages.
GOTTLIEB: Well, that's what makes you an editor - a good one. You respond to what you're reading. If you're stunned by it, excited by it, amused by it, thrilled by it, then you assume that you're not alone, that if you like it, others would like it. You know, I mean, an editor is a reader who edits. And I trust my reading because it's what I've spent my life doing. I think of myself as an editor and a New Yorker, and "The Power Broker" challenged me on those scores. It was a wonderful experience and an exhausting experience.
It took me one year to finish my editing of "The Power Broker" not because there were so much that had to be done for editorial reasons as because we simply couldn't fit more than we did into a single volume 'cause we couldn't print and bind a book that would accept them all physically. And there was no way that I could publish two volumes about Robert Moses. I remember saying to Bob, you know, maybe we can interest readers in one book about Robert Moses, but there's no way I can interest them in two. So we cut. I - we finally decided, after years of discussing it in an amicable way, that we cut 350,000 words out of the original manuscript.
GROSS: It must be really hard to tell somebody like Robert Caro, who worked so much on every detail, that, you know, passages or chapters or whole larger sections of the book have to come out because of length when Caro spent, like, so much time working on those passages. What are the typical things that you fought about?
GOTTLIEB: Well, it could be anything. It could be punctuation. It could be overusage of a given word. It could be repetitions because Bob and I - it was not that we disagreed. We saw things differently. I, who was reading it and editing it, would see that - would think, feel - I would feel that he had made this point perhaps 20 pages earlier, and he didn't really need to make it again in somewhat different language. He felt - he was aware of that, and - but he felt that it was so important that it needed to be stressed through repetition. So he was thinking as a writer, and I was thinking as a reader. That's the way it should be.
GROSS: You had to work on, like, the macro and the micro of...
GOTTLIEB: That's it.
GROSS: ...Of "The Power Broker." On one hand, you're trying to cut, like, this huge number of pages - I don't know exactly how many - but, at the same time, you were, you know, dealing with, like, commas and semicolons and sometimes having pretty heated disagreements, as far as I can tell, over whether some - you know, whether there should be a comma or a semicolon.
GOTTLIEB: Yeah, sometimes, because not everyone sees punctuation the same way. So I feel, as an editor, it's my job to make the case that I need to make. And then it's his job to eventually agree or disagree. You know, I never cease explaining or telling young people who want to be editors, it's a service job. Our job is to serve the word, serve the author, serve the text. It's not our book. It's not my book. It's his book or her book. But it's a very gratifying job. And I love the editing process. I love it as an editor, and, since I've done a lot of writing myself, to my astonishment, I love being edited because it's the process that I like. I don't care whether I'm the editor or the editee. It's fun, and it's interesting to see how you can make something that you believe is good even better.
GROSS: You know, we were talking a little bit about the dynamics of power. One of the many books that you edited was Bill Clinton's memoir. And when you were working with him - and you recount this, I think, in your memoir - like, he said, we're going to have a good time working together. Ask anyone here. You'll find that I'm good to work for. And you corrected him and said, in this relationship, you're working for me.
GOTTLIEB: Well, it wasn't quite that brutal. But it was - first of all, it was in a room filled with people, all his assistants and secretaries and who knows who else. And there was little me. So what he said was - I think he said something like, ask any of these people who work for me, you know, and you'll hear, I'm sure, that I'm very good to work for - some words like that. And I said, actually, Bill, in this instance, I'm not working for you. You're working for me. And there was a kind of - if you can have a silent gasp, it was a silent gasp around the room, and he sailed right past it. We never had a moment's difficulty. At one point, I wrote, in the galleys of the book, which we were working on - they'd go back and forth between us - I wrote, this is the single most boring page I have ever read.
GOTTLIEB: And when he wrote back, when he sent the galleys back, he wrote next to that, no. Page 632...
GOTTLIEB: ...Is even more boring. So you can see what our relationship was. It was really a wonderful, friendly, happy business from start to finish.
GROSS: You made a point of calling him Bill as opposed to Mr. President. He was no longer president. But it's kind of customary to say, Mr. President.
GOTTLIEB: Yeah, well, not if you're saying - you can't say, I'm sorry, but we need a comma here, Mr. President. I could not imagine my saying something like that.
GROSS: Why not?
GOTTLIEB: Well, it was just too - it was too formal. It's a very complicated personal relationship. And there was no way I could do it. And he didn't want it. He didn't need that kind of ego reinforcement.
DAVIES: Editor Robert Gottlieb, who died last week at the age of 92. Terry Gross spoke to him last December about his life and long collaboration with writer Robert Caro. We'll be back after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONNY ROLLINS' "SKYLARK")
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to our interview with Robert Gottlieb, the legendary editor who died last week at the age of 92. Terry Gross spoke to Gottlieb last December when the documentary "Turn Every Page" was released.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
GROSS: Your memoir is called "Avid Reader," and you became an avid reader as a child. When did you realize there was such a thing as an editor? I didn't think about editing at all when I was reading as a child.
GOTTLIEB: I didn't think about it, of course, when I was reading it as a child. But once I got a job - it was not easy for me to get a job because I was this scruffy guy, a quintessence of nerdiness before we knew that there was such things as nerds, who had been overeducated both at Columbia College - Columbia University and then at Cambridge in England. But I didn't seem very practical. I was very, very young-looking. I always said I was - you know, I was a father at 21, and I looked 17.
And I wandered around looking for a job. All I really wanted to do was read. And finally, through a chain of circumstances that could not have been predicted, I ended up at Simon and Schuster, which was then a rather small and very isolated publishing house that was seen as very crass and commercial by the snobbish world of publishing, although it had published already many very distinguished books. So I was there for 12 1/2 years. I like to say I went in as a cabin boy and at the end was sort of an admiral.
But it was very encouraging. People were thrilled to have inquisitive, nosy, brash people around. So I was welcomed rather than disdained.
GROSS: Since you looked so young, when you first started to edit authors, did they look at you like, who is this kid, and how is he going to help me?
GOTTLIEB: Well, I know Joseph Heller, when we first met, when I took an option on the book that became "Catch-22," which was originally called "Catch-18" - he told me later - he was in his mid-30s. He'd been in the Army in the war and the Air Force during the war. He was - he had taught, and he had a very responsible job in marketing in the magazine world. And up turned this kid, to his eyes. And he was not the only one. I know several other people when I came out to greet them at the desk when they first called on me at our offices thought I was an assistant. They didn't realize that I was who I was, whatever that was.
GROSS: So, you know, you mentioned "Catch-22," which is a kind of dark, humorous book about World War II, and it was originally called "Catch-18." But the war novel "Mila 18" you found out was going to be published, so you couldn't use 18 in the title. And you're the one who came up with 22. "Catch-22" entered the vocabulary. Describe what "Catch-22" means, and then tell me how it felt to have a title that you contributed to become an expression outside of the book.
GOTTLIEB: Well, it's gratifying, of course, but you know, I've stopped thinking about that years and years ago. It's so embedded in the language now that I don't feel any connection to it. When that happens, when a word comes into existence like that that becomes used and used and used, there's always a reason. And the reason is always that we need that word. Another word that comes out of literature that that happened to was Kafkaesque. You know, Kafkaesque expresses something for people that there was no word for before Kafka.
GROSS: As I remember from the book, which I read many years ago, Catch-22 was a kind of absurd catch where you couldn't win - like, there was no good option.
GOTTLIEB: Yeah. Well, you know, I was very nervous about it because it was such a huge success, and we had publicized it in so extraordinary a way that it was really what made me into a known quantity in the publishing world. And I stayed away from the book. I was always afraid that if I reread it, I wouldn't love it as much as I had loved it. And when its 50th anniversary came around and there were being various celebrations and acknowledgments and events surrounding that, I thought I better read it again because I want to see what I feel about it now, in case I'm asked.
So I did read it again for the first time in 50 years, and I was unbelievably relieved and excited by loving it all over again. And I was sort of amused when I came upon a passage that I didn't quite like and then remembered that I had really not liked it 50 years before. And by then the editing process was over, and it was too late to do anything about it. So, as I say, I may not be talented, but I am consistent.
GROSS: I don't know if you've worked with any writers who are not friendly or not pleasant or they're maybe not great people in general, but you love their writing and, you know, reconciling those two things, like, the person and their art.
GOTTLIEB: Well, I can't think of many cases of writers I've worked with whose work I really loved and whose person I didn't like at all. Just - there are people who are more difficult than other people and more needy. You know, it's a very emotional relationship. There's a transference that occurs as in psychoanalysis. The editor represents many things and different things to every writer. It's a financial relationship. It's an approval relationship. It's a technical relationship. It can be a close one or it cannot. Some writers don't want to be social with their editors. Others need to talk to them constantly and, if you would let them, would like to read to you what they've written that day over the telephone. Not for me. So your job being a service job is to supply the writer with whatever you intuit he or she requires and needs and can make the most of.
GROSS: Would you describe the publishing world when you started over 60 years ago compared to how it is now?
GOTTLIEB: Well, it seems to me that it's become much more corporate and more about product than about books. But I think probably everybody feels that who's been around for a long time. It was always better in the good old days. I know Mr. Knopf, who founded Alfred Knopf in, I believe, 1915, would say, when I got to know him somewhat - he would say, this is the age of the slobs. You should have been around 40 years ago.
GROSS: I think books used to mean more to American culture than they do now. So many people don't read books anymore. Are you feeling that as an editor and former publisher?
GOTTLIEB: I don't feel that at all. I think millions and millions of people are readers, and they need to read, and they want to read, and they do read. Of course, there are probably many more millions of people who don't, but that has always been true. I feel there's a tremendous interest in books these days. And they are celebrated, and they're thought about, and they're talked about, and they're read.
GROSS: You are so occupied with so many different projects and have been, you know, ever since you became an adult. And I'll mention again you work with, you know, the New York City Ballet and the Miami City Ballet. You're, you know, editing and publishing. You're collecting. You love dance and theater, jazz music and other music as well. How do you think obsession has worked for you and perhaps against you?
GOTTLIEB: I don't think it's worked against me at all unless it's just irritated some people. That I'm not aware of and do nothing about. You know, going all the way is something I like to do. I mean, I do it naturally. If I read one book by somebody and like it, I want to read all 18 of that person's books. I just am a completist, I guess.
DAVIES: Editor Robert Gottlieb, who died last week at the age of 92. Terry spoke to him last December when the documentary called "Turn Every Page," directed by his daughter, Lizzie Gottlieb, was released.
(SOUNDBITE OF ROSEMARY CLOONEY SONG, "EVERYTHING HAPPENS TO ME")
DAVIES: Coming up, we'll hear an earlier interview with Gottlieb about his love of music and the book he co-wrote, collecting a thousand great lyrics from shows, movies and popular song. Here's one of the songs highlighted in that book, sung by Rosemary Clooney. It's called "Everything Happens To Me." This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EVERYTHING HAPPENS TO ME")
ROSEMARY CLOONEY: (Singing) I make a date for golf, and you can bet your life it rains. I try to give a party and the guy upstairs complains. I guess I'll go through life just catching colds and missing trains. Everything happens to me. I never miss a thing. I've had the measles and the mumps. Every time I play an ace, my partner always trumps. I guess I'm just a fool who never looks before she jumps. Everything happens to me. At first, my heart thought you could break this jinx for me, that love would turn the trick to end despair. But now I just can't fool this head that thinks for me. I've mortgaged all my castles in the air. I've telegraphed and phoned. I sent an air mail special, too. Your answer was goodbye, and there was even postage due. I fell in love just once, and then it had to be with you. Everything happens to me.
(SOUNDBITE OF FLORATONE'S "FRONTIERS")
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies. We're listening to interviews with editor Robert Gottlieb, who died last week at the age of 92. Over a nearly 70-year career, he edited the work of many of the greatest writers of his generation. He was the editor-in-chief at Simon & Schuster and went on to play the same role at the literary publishing house Alfred A. Knopf and at The New Yorker. Gottlieb had wide interests, and among them was his love of jazz, lyrics and the American Songbook. In 2000, Terry Gross talked to him and musical theater expert, Robert Kimball, about their book, "Reading Lyrics." The book was a collection of lyrics by some of the most important lyricists of the last century, including George M. Cohan, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, Ira Gershwin, Lorenz Hart, Dorothy Field (ph), Frank Loesser, Johnny Mercer and others. Here's a song that Kimball and Gottlieb agree was one of the greatest lyrics. It was written in 1937 by lyricist Ira Gershwin with music by his brother George. Here's Tony Bennett with Diana Krall on piano.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LOVE IS HERE TO STAY")
TONY BENNETT: (Singing) It's very clear. Our love is here to stay. Not for a year, but ever and a day. The radio and the telephone and the movies that we know may just be passing fancies and in time, may go. But oh, my dear, our love is here to stay. Together, we're going a long, long way. In time, the Rockies may crumble, Gibraltar may tumble. They're only made of clay. But our love is here to stay.
DIANA KRALL: (Singing) It's very clear. Our love is here to stay.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
GROSS: Robert Kimble, Robert Gottlieb, welcome to FRESH AIR.
GOTTLIEB: Yep. Thank you.
ROBERT KIMBALL: Thank you, Terry.
GROSS: The song that we just heard, the Gershwin's, "Our Love Is Here To Stay," where does that fit in, Robert Kimball, in your world of lyrics?
KIMBALL: The last song George Gershwin wrote, and maybe one of the greatest last songs written by any composer. And Ira finished the song after George died. George had only written the refrain.
GROSS: And, Robert Gottlieb, in terms of the writing and the rhymes, what do you find really special about that song?
GOTTLIEB: Well, you know, one of the things that's said about Ira Gershwin is that his rhyming is very complicated and maybe overclever. And here in this song is the proof that that was not necessarily or often so. Just go right to the beginning of the refrain and that, it's very clear; our love is here to stay; the way that in the middle of the line, that catches. And again, and in time may go. But oh, my dear. And you hear that echo, but it's not a bang, rhyme at the end of a line. It's just in there. And then it's all so simple. And then you get that wonderful image at the end of the Rockies and Gibraltar, which is the only fancy moment, and then it's gone. I just think it's a perfect lyric.
GROSS: Now, I know that using pop songs is not an empirical process where you could actually measure what is the better song, so did you have criteria other than what really struck you for inclusion in the book?
KIMBALL: Well, one criteria, certainly, is that songs that have endured. I mean, songs have a way of living, and how they live is a fascinating process. Sometimes they burn brightly, in a way, and then they somehow pass from view for a time and come back. So there are many different avenues you have to explore to make this all come together. So I think that the fact that we were open and that we knew we were going to go through a very long process of learning, listening, thinking, reflecting, shaping was all part of it.
GOTTLIEB: But finally, I think we felt that those songs that we were going to include were songs that could be sung today by cabaret singers or whoever. In other words, that they had a viable life in the now. They weren't just historical curiosities. And that applies to some of the very earliest songs, which maybe at this moment, no one is singing, but they are songs we thought could be sung now.
GROSS: Robert Gottlieb, you've edited - published many books of...
GOTTLIEB: That's for sure.
GROSS: ...Poetry, and you're the former editor in chief at Knopf.
GROSS: ...And your publishing company put out many, many books of poetry.
GOTTLIEB: And still does.
GROSS: And still does. And I'm sure you've read much poetry over the years. How do you think of lyrics as - how do you judge lyrics differently than you judge poetry?
GOTTLIEB: Well, it's very, very complicated because a lyric is half of a work of art or half of a non-work of art, depending on what the song is. And you can read it and speak it separately. And yet, you know that something is not there that is intrinsic to it. Whereas a poem obviously stands by itself, and you're very affected when you read a lyric by whether you know the tune or not. It's a completely different reading experience. And that's why it's so hard to judge these things because there are certain songs we all know that we were born knowing them. And how do you forget the music to "Night And Day"? You can't. You can't read night and day, you are the one, without hearing Cole Porter.
DAVIES: Robert Gottlieb and Robert Kimble talking to Terry Gross in 2000 about their book "Reading Lyrics," a collection of a thousand great lyrics from shows, movies and popular song. More after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHARLIE HADEN'S "EL CIEGO (THE BLIND)")
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR. We're remembering Robert Gottlieb, the legendary editor who died last week at the age of 92. We're listening back to an interview from 2000 with Gottlieb and music theater expert Robert Kimball. Terry Gross spoke to them about their book called "Reading Lyrics," a collection of the lyrics from shows, movies and popular song from some of the most important lyricists of the last century.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
GROSS: I'm interested in the music that you grew up with. What was the music that you first became aware of and that first got you interested in music? Robert Gottlieb?
GOTTLIEB: The first song I remember focusing on, for what will be obvious reasons, is coming home from summer camp one year - I must have been 9 or 10 - and the kids in my class were singing something called "Mairzy Doats" - and dozy doats (ph) and liddle lamzy divey (ph). Not in our book, actually. And then I thought, what is this? And I felt very left out and behind because I'd been away, and I hadn't - I didn't know what this was. And so I started listening to the radio. And then this was the period of songs like "Blues In The Night" and "Chattanooga Choo Choo." Those were songs that were my first - poinciana, your branches speak to me of love. These are the songs that were real to me when I was 10, 11.
KIMBALL: I remember "Sentimental Journey."
GOTTLIEB: That's later.
KIMBALL: Yes. This is a few years later...
KIMBALL: ...And would have been the mid-'40s. That was pretty early for me. But my experience is because my mother both played and sang with the theater. And early show experience, of course, was "Annie Get Your Gun" and hearing Ethel Merman perform. That was very exciting for me. And I came to know her later in life and remained a big admirer of hers all the way to the end.
GROSS: Did either of you have - like, I grew up in the '50s and '60s. And there was this huge musical gap between what I was listening to as a child and what my parents were listening to. They wanted to listen to the station that played Perry Como. I wanted to listen to the station that played Elvis Presley. And there was a real musical war going on. Was there a musical conflict when you were coming of age with your parents?
GOTTLIEB: No. It was quite the opposite.
KIMBALL: Not at all. Not at all. There was the same music that I felt. Your experience, too?
GOTTLIEB: Yeah. For instance, my mother played the piano, and we - she loved to sing. And we used to sing a lot. We sang a lot of Gilbert and Sullivan. She'd play, and I'd sing. But when "Oklahoma!" opened in the early '40s, which was the first musical I really remember seeing, and we bought all the sheet music and we sang all those songs from "Oklahoma!" And that was the way people really were related to music then, as it's now become almost a cliche to say it. There was a piano in every middle-class home, and people played and sang together, and that's how we knew those songs. Yes, there was stuff on the air, but it was nothing like the way it is today.
GROSS: Instead of having a garage band, you sat around the piano in the living room.
GOTTLIEB: That's right. And even if you had a garage band, your mother wasn't going to be part of it, I believe, in your day.
GROSS: Absolutely. Unless you were the Partridge family.
GOTTLIEB: Unless your mother was a very special lady. Right.
GROSS: (Laughter) Yeah.
KIMBALL: Radio is important.
GOTTLIEB: Radio is important.
KIMBALL: "Your Hit Parade" and - it was a show we listened to.
GOTTLIEB: "Your Hit Parade" is very important. Yeah.
KIMBALL: And my parents always told me that they got married to "I'm In The Mood For Love," which was a 1935 song. And so I always became drawn to that material because it meant something to them. So we were still connected musically.
GROSS: Are any of the songs that you brought with you today songs that you remember from your childhood?
KIMBALL: "It's De-Lovely."
GOTTLIEB: Yes. I would say "It's De-Lovely."
KIMBALL: "Makin' Whoopee," certainly.
GOTTLIEB: "Makin' Whoopee" would be a song that I remember.
GROSS: You mention "Making Whoopee." Why don't we hear that? In fact, why don't we hear two versions of that? 'Cause you were talking about how these songs have such a remarkable life and how they're changed depending on what era it is and who's singing it. So why don't we play the Eddie Cantor version, which you brought with you, and then hear that back to back with the Ray Charles version. Did Eddie Cantor have the first hit of this?
GOTTLIEB: Yes. He was in the musical.
KIMBALL: He introduced the song. It was from a show called "Whoopee!" in 1928 by Walter Donaldson, the composer, and Gus Kahn, lyricist.
GOTTLIEB: It was a Ziegfeld show. There was a wonderful filmed version of it, also with Eddie Cantor. Really, the truest view we have of Ziegfeld shows comes from that movie of "Whoopee!" Yeah. And again, just - this is a song that was written for Eddie Cantor. This is one of those situations in which songwriters wrote for a particular star and his delivery. You can see what it's like when somebody from a completely different - not a vaudeville, Ziegfeld background, but a much more contemporary R&B background - how he deals with it.
GROSS: Let's hear it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAKIN' WHOOPEE")
EDDIE CANTOR: (Singing) Every time I hear that march from Lohengrin, I am always on the outside looking in. Maybe that is why I see the funny side when I see a fallen brother take a bride. Weddings make a lot of people sad. But if you're not the groom, it's not so bad. Another bride, another June, another sunny honeymoon, another season, another reason for making whoopee.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MAKIN' WHOOPEE")
RAY CHARLES: (Singing) A lot of shoes, a lot of rice. The groom is nervous. Oh, he answers twice. It's really killing, the boy's so willing to make whoopee, whoopee. Picture a little love nest, yeah, down where the roses cling. Picture that same sweet love nest. See what a year can bring. I tell you, the boy's washing dishes and baby clothes. He's so ambitious. Ooh, I tell you, he sews. It's really killing, the boy's so willing to make whoopee, whoopee.
GROSS: That's two versions of the Gus Kahn lyric, "Makin' Whoopee." We heard Eddie Cantor, for whom the song was written, and then we heard from Ray Charles. Well, that is one of the great don't mention sex, but it's about sex kind of lyrics.
GROSS: (Laughter) Find a nicer word to use than sex. Robert Kimball, Robert Gottlieb, thank you both so much for talking with us about lyrics. Thank you.
KIMBALL: Thanks, Terry.
GOTTLIEB: Thank you.
DAVIES: Terry Gross spoke with Robert Kimball and Robert Gottlieb in 2000. Let's return to our other interview with Robert Gottlieb, recorded last December.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)
GROSS: Did you ever want your name on the cover of a book as editor? Do you wish you had more visibility over the years as the editor?
GOTTLIEB: Not at all - I always wanted to be unseen and unheard, which is what editors should be. That didn't work all that well for me because for whatever reason, starting with the success of "Catch-22," but for whatever reasons, I became, in the business, well known. Outside the business, no, who cared, you know? No, I never wanted to be - and I would distress my publicity directors because people wanted interviews with me and I wouldn't do them because I thought editors should be unseen and unheard. You know, do the work. Shut up. Get on with it.
GROSS: Well, I'd like to end with a song. And I was hoping, since you're deep into, like, jazz and pop singers, I was wondering if you'd like to choose a song that you're especially fond of right now. Maybe something that's really endured in your mind on your, like, top 10 list or something that you're just deep into right now that's speaking to you at the moment that would be a good song to play.
GOTTLIEB: Well, the song that's in my mind now is the song that ends Lizzy's film, which is "Do It The Hard Way."
GROSS: Oh, Chet Baker. Yeah.
GOTTLIEB: Yeah, sung a million times by Chet Baker and by Rodgers and Hart. (Singing) So do it the hard way and it's easy sailing. My father believed that. And although I didn't accept everything my father believed, that stuck, or I learned it by example. So I do think that doing it the hard way, which is maybe the slower way, the more difficult way, is the way to do it.
GROSS: All right. A nice note to end on. Let's end with the song that you suggested. And this is Chet Baker. And this song also ends the movie "Turn Every Page," the documentary about you and Robert Caro. Thank you so much.
GOTTLIEB: Listen, thanks, Terry. This was fun.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DO IT THE HARD WAY")
CHET BAKER: (Singing) Do it the hard way and it's easy sailing. Do it the hard way and it's hard to lose. Only the soft way has a chance of failing. You have to choose. I tried the hard way when I tried to get you. You took the soft way when you said, we'll see. Darling, now I'll let you do it the hard way now that you want me. Do do do do do do do do do do do do.
DAVIES: That's Robert Gottlieb, legendary book editor who died last week at the age of 92. Coming up, Maureen Corrigan's review of two new novels by Brandon Taylor and Andre Dubus III. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE MODERN JAZZ QUARTET'S "TOPSY II") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.