'I have no business praising myself to you. But who can I trust to do it for me?'
-- Marcel Proust
Like many writers — and many other people, I suspect — I focus intensely on what I’m doing today and don’t spend time looking back. But the days add up. And over the years — okay, the decades — it turns out that I’ve got a lot of lines in the yearbook of life.
The writing here collects journalism and books. The subjects vary. Wildly. “Life is much more successfully looked at from a single window,” F. Scott Fitzgerald writes in “The Great Gatsby.” But although I’ve read “Gatsby” a number of times, the line didn’t register — I never found a niche as a writer and stayed there. I’m a generalist. I bounce around, writing about whatever interests me. And I’ve generally worked on more than one project at once.
This site is a partial anthology of my work. There’s a lot that isn’t here, because I started writing for a New York newspaper when I was 16 and a national magazine when I was 19 and I wrote some pieces to support a book I published when I was 22 and then I became a free-lance journalist — and all of that was decades before there were computers or the Internet. No loss. This site is for the Greatest Hits: 11 books and a boatload of journalism.
The greatest hits… with an asterisk, because everything here is prose. Along the way, I wrote or co-wrote a dozen screenplays. Some were commissioned; I’ve written for Paul Newman, Robert De Niro, ABC, PBS, and Warner Bros. Several were documentaries. They didn’t require big budgets and big stars. They got made. One, filmed from 1989 to 1991, is still available and often watched. There’s a reason for its longevity. It’s Trump: What’s the Deal?
After stints at The New York Times Magazine, New York and Vanity Fair, I discovered the Internet. In 1997, a few months after I co-founded bookreporter.com, I was asked to become editorial director of America Online. It was the first time I ever worked in an office. I learned a lot, helped create a ton of great programming, and left in 2003, eager to return to books and scripts.
Well, not entirely. I launched Head Butler in 2004 as a cultural concierge “for people with more taste than time.” I thought I’d write a few hundred reviews and move on; 2,000 reviews later, I still enjoy sharing my favorite books, music and products four days a week. And I still dabble in journalism, for Salon.com, Buzzfeed, and Elle Decor.
But… most days you’ll find me collecting copyrights.
That means theater.
A few years ago, I read a story about the chapel in Vence, France that Henri Matisse described as “the masterpiece of my entire career.” I’d been there, but I didn’t know the chapel’s fascinating history — it was Matisse’s gift to a nun who had been his nurse. A love story, hidden in plain sight, about the second most famous artist of the 2th century? I hadn’t written drama since the 3rd grade play, but I read a stack of books about Matisse and plunged in. The Color of Light launched in San Diego, then had its Equity premiere at the Schoolhouse Theater in Westchester. Emboldened by these happy and successful productions, I optioned Bringing Home the Birkin: My Life in Hot Pursuit of the World’s Most Coveted Handbag, a memoir by Michael Tonello, who found a way to get Hermès Birkin bags when there was a two-year waiting list; in a few years, he spent about $5 million on these bags and sold them for $10 million. I’m hopeful my funny, surprising play will soon find a stage.
And that means fiction.
In 2015, I published Married Sex: A Love Story, which was quickly snapped up for a film. That didn’t happen; maybe a streaming series will.
Then I found another great story hidden in plain sight: the romance of John F. Kennedy and Mary Pinchot Meyer. In the second year of his Presidency, these old friends launched an affair that ignited into a deeper connection. A year after Kennedy was killed, as Mary took her daily noon walk along a canal in Georgetown, she was shot, execution-style, in the head and the heart. She’d kept a diary. Her family burned it. I read a hundred books, created a timeline of Kennedy’s Presidency, noted every White House event Mary attended, and considered what their romance might have been like. And then I reimagined Mary’s diary, writing a love story that is also a thriller.
Who killed JFK? Who might have wanted Mary dead? I have no answers, but there are plenty of tantalizing clues and challenging questions in “JFK and Mary Meyer: A Love Story.” To read more about the book, click here.
Next? Suggestions are always welcome. Write me at HeadButlerNYC@AOL.com.