A mas­ter of shmooze

The Jewish Chronicle - - NEWS - GER­ALD JACOBS

LIKE MANY Yid­dish words, shmooze has an elas­tic qual­ity that ren­ders pre­cise trans­la­tion dif­fi­cult. Its mean­ing ranges from “charm” or “flat­tery”, through “per­sua­sion” or “ca­jol­ing”, to “chat­ter­ing” or “net­work­ing”. And Ge­orge Wei­den­feld op­er­ated along the en­tire spec­trum.

This cer­tainly served him well in his pub­lish­ing ca­reer, en­abling him to en­list an en­cy­clopaedic range of au­thors from Is­raeli political lead­ers Golda Meir (his favourite), Shi­mon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, to the mildly no­to­ri­ous Keith Richards and the grossly no­to­ri­ous Ben­ito Mus­solini.

Wei­den­feld was a mem­ber of a golden gen­er­a­tion of Euro­pean Jewish im­mi­grants who trans­formed Bri­tish pub­lish­ing, among them An­dre Deutsch, Paul Ham­lyn and art-book pi­o­neers Bela Horowitz and Wal­ter Neu­rath.

In 1948, Ge­orge met the dis­tin­guished diplo­mat and politi­cian Harold Ni­col­son, who of­fered to set him up in book pub­lish­ing. Thus was Wei­den­feld’s great am­bi­tion ful­filled. It al­most fal­tered, how­ever, on ac­count of Ge­orge’s deep in­volve­ment in the early steps of the in­fant state of Is­rael. Torn be­tween the two, he later re­called that “I nearly had a ner­vous break­down.” But Harold Ni­col­son told him to go and carry out his im­por­tant work in Is­rael but just for a year “be­cause, if I didn’t re­turn, the com­pany would go mechul­lah”.

Ge­orge duly did his duty, came back on time and the fa­mous Wei­den­feld & Ni­col­son im­print was on its way.

W&N’s early staff in­cluded An­to­nia Pak­en­ham (later An­to­nia Fraser) whose bi­og­ra­phy of Mary, Queen of Scots, the com­pany would later pub­lish. An­other em­ployee, Harold Ni­col­son’s son Nigel, would also be­came a house au­thor. Names who wrote for Ge­orge over the years in­clude Isa­iah Ber­lin, Edna O’Brien, Saul Bel­low and Mary MCarthy. A more re­cent best­selling suc­cess is Gil­lian Flynn’s Gone Girl, pub­lished un­der the im­print, Orion, un­der whose um­brella W&N has been since the early 1990s.

Un­doubt­edly the most con­tro­ver­sial novel that Ge­orge pub­lished was Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, the tale of adult teacher Hum­bert Hum­bert’s sex­ual ob­ses­sion with a young “nymphet” in whose home he lodges, which, de­spite ini­tial out­rage, gained re­spectabil­ity from the en­dorse­ment of Gra­ham Greene and other mem­bers of the lit­er­ary es­tab­lish­ment. It was viewed by sev­eral as a se­ri­ous psy­cho­log­i­cal study

But, for all the fic­tional suc­cesses, non-fic­tion was the back­bone of the en­ter­prise and Ge­orge cap­tured for his list Charles de Gaulle, Henry Kissinger, Vic­tor Klemperer, Noel Coward, Ce­cil Beaton, among oth­ers, and more re­cently, Michael Palin.

Back in the 1980s, af­ter I had done a cou­ple of books for him, Ge­orge com­mis­sioned me to write Dudley Moore’s bi­og­ra­phy. This did not turn out suc­cess­fully. In fact, it did not turn out at all. When I phoned Dudley at his home in Cal­i­for­nia, he told me how glad he was that I was go­ing to write the book and we pro­ceeded to make ar­range­ments to meet. I had pro­vi­sion­ally booked a flight to Los

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.