An exploration of the life and work of Mario Puzo (1920-1999).
In 1969, 14 years after his first novel appeared—and quietly disappeared—Puzo catapulted to fame with the publication of The Godfather. Drawing on Puzo’s autobiographical nonfiction, essays, published interviews, and memoirs by his friends and fellow writers, Moore (For Paris—With Love & Squalor, 2017) fashions an admiring portrait of the self-described “working-class novelist” whose spectacular success ended years of professional disappointment. Puzo grew up poor, amid “the grimy odors, the sooty filth, and the oily stenches” of Manhattan. Summers in New Hampshire, courtesy of the Fresh Air Fund, and sports and arts programs at the Hudson Guild Settlement House nourished his spirit. Sports, cards, and voracious reading became his choice activities. His future, though, seemed bleak to him, and he described the period between 18 and 21 as unremittingly miserable. In 1941, he was “delighted,” he admitted, to join the Army. When the war was over, he stayed on in the military in Germany and married a German woman. Postwar Europe, Moore observes, “was rife with intrigue, dangerous in ways that an ambitious writer would appreciate for sheer narrative intensity.” That atmosphere found its way into Puzo’s first novel, The Dark Arena, garnering critical praise but “general indifference” from readers. Moore chronicles Puzo’s money problems (with a wife and five children to support), affinity for gambling, and work frustrations. In 1962, he resigned from a government job to become a full-time staff writer at the Magazine Management Company, where he would turn out 30,000-40,000 words per month under various pen names before going home to write his own novels. Hard as he worked, though, he was always in debt—until he took an editor’s advice to write about “that Mafia stuff” that had appeared in some of his stories. It was advice well-taken: Readers made The Godfather a bestseller for 67 weeks, and it has lived on as a movie and sequels.
Noted jazz and pop record producer Thiele offers a chatty autobiography. Aided by record-business colleague Golden, Thiele traces his career from his start as a ``pubescent, novice jazz record producer'' in the 1940s through the '50s, when he headed Coral, Dot, and Roulette Records, and the '60s, when he worked for ABC and ran the famous Impulse! jazz label. At Coral, Thiele championed the work of ``hillbilly'' singer Buddy Holly, although the only sessions he produced with Holly were marred by saccharine strings. The producer specialized in more mainstream popsters like the irrepressibly perky Teresa Brewer (who later became his fourth wife) and the bubble-machine muzak-meister Lawrence Welk. At Dot, Thiele was instrumental in recording Jack Kerouac's famous beat- generation ramblings to jazz accompaniment (recordings that Dot's president found ``pornographic''), while also overseeing a steady stream of pop hits. He then moved to the Mafia-controlled Roulette label, where he observed the ``silk-suited, pinky-ringed'' entourage who frequented the label's offices. Incredibly, however, Thiele remembers the famously hard-nosed Morris Levy, who ran the label and was eventually convicted of extortion, as ``one of the kindest, most warm-hearted, and classiest music men I have ever known.'' At ABC/Impulse!, Thiele oversaw the classic recordings of John Coltrane, although he is the first to admit that Coltrane essentially produced his own sessions. Like many producers of the day, Thiele participated in the ownership of publishing rights to some of the songs he recorded; he makes no apology for this practice, which he calls ``entirely appropriate and without any ethical conflicts.'' A pleasant, if not exactly riveting, memoir that will be of most interest to those with a thirst for cocktail-hour stories of the record biz. (25 halftones, not seen)
This early reader is an excellent introduction to the March on Washington in 1963 and the important role in the march played by Martin Luther King Jr. Ruffin gives the book a good, dramatic start: “August 28, 1963. It is a hot summer day in Washington, D.C. More than 250,00 people are pouring into the city.” They have come to protest the treatment of African-Americans here in the US. With stirring original artwork mixed with photographs of the events (and the segregationist policies in the South, such as separate drinking fountains and entrances to public buildings), Ruffin writes of how an end to slavery didn’t mark true equality and that these rights had to be fought for—through marches and sit-ins and words, particularly those of Dr. King, and particularly on that fateful day in Washington. Within a year the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been passed: “It does not change everything. But it is a beginning.” Lots of visual cues will help new readers through the fairly simple text, but it is the power of the story that will keep them turning the pages. (Easy reader. 6-8)