Thursday, July 18, 2013

Who is Bennet Snerf?

I had a vague idea who Bennett Cerf was before I read Atlas Shrugged, but I certainly couldn't have picked him out of a line-up. In the Heller biography Cerf comes off as cynical and a bit of a trickster. He was working at Random House at the time Rand was shopping around for a publisher for AS - she was dissatisfied with Bobbs-Merrill, the publishers of The Fountainhead:
She explained that Atlas represented a moral defense of capitalism and contained a complete, unique and radically anti-Left philosophy... Cerf surprised her by announcing, "I find your political philosophy abhorrent." But he added, "If we publish you Miss Rand, nobody is going to try to censor you. You write anything you darn please and we'll publish it."
The co-director of Random House, Donald Klopfer, thought Rand was "wacky as a fruitcake."

A couple of weeks ago I was commenting on the fact that after Hank Rearden's Big Speech somebody tells him they heard him on the radio, but then when Hank meets up with Francisco d'Anconia he somehow forgets this because when d'Anconia says he heard his speech, Rearden asks him how this is possible, he wasn't in the room in which he made the speech. And I wondered at the time if Rand had any editors.

And the answer is no, not really.

Not only would Random House not censor Atlas Shrugged, it barely edited Atlas Shrugged:
(Editor Hiram) Haydn was ambivalent, at best, about its ethics and politics... he had doubts about the the novel's "drab" prose style and core ideas... he suggested a number of cuts, including cuts in John Galt's speech. When Rand refused he appealed to Bennett Cerf... (Cerf went to Rand and said) "Nobody's going to read that speech. You've said it all three or four times before... you've got to cut it." Answering with a comment that became publishing legend, she said, "Would you cut the Bible?" With that, Cerf threw up his hands, but cagily asked her to forfeit seven cents in royalties per copy to pay for the additional paper it would take to print the uncut speech and other long passages... She agreed... Haydn resigned himself to being an "apprentice copy editor" who helped her search for and remove words within a paragraph that rhymed "an obsession with her."
So for the promise of fat profits Bennett Cerf enabled Rand's megalomania and allowed this hideous un-edited half-wit novel to proceed.

And now it's time for What's My Part with Bennet Snerf, Arlene Frantic and Cookie Monster.