In 1977 I published By Persons Unknown: The Strange Death of Christine Demeter, written by George Jonas and Barbara Amiel. From the outset, the collaboration of the husband and wife team was, let’s say, interesting. Both of them were highly talented, highly opinionated, and determined to produce an excellent book, so their standards were very high. If collaborating on a book puts pressure on any pair of authors, the pressure increases immensely if the authors are a married couple. I was fascinated to watch their outspoken relationship play out, often in my office,with George drawling cynical conclusions that usually ended the debate.
The book developed a very exciting momentum, as the superb chapters came in. Finally, in my role as editor I felt able to begin my copy on the back of the published book with the words, “In future years this book will be seen as a classic.” This is what happened, as the book won an Edgar Award,and provoked comparisons with Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. It established both Barbara Amiel and George Jonas as major authors.
This joint success did not save their marriage. Courteously, they came to my office to tell me this news in person. I reacted, as most of us would, by flailing around, telling them how sorry I was to hear it, and offering to do anything I could to help them. George dryly suggested that it would be very nice if I could help with the laundry.
Later I saw George in action as a CBC Director. After the success of Alligator Pie, the children’s book by Dennis Lee illustrated by Frank Newfeld, a new book by the Lee-Newfeld team was obviously a big story. Big enough certainly, for me to arrange a launch party one afternoon at the old Boys and Girls House Library on St. George Street, with scores of excited nine-year-olds in attendance. And big enough for the CBC to send a camera crew to cover it, under George Jonas’s direction.
Since the new book was called Garbage Delight I had arranged for a City garbage truck (you would be amazed what a life in publishing involves) to deliver Dennis, hanging on to the back, in overalls, and the similarly-clad Frank in the truck beside the driver.
We had fifty kids on the sidewalk jumping up and down outside the Library, and George and I were set up with his cameras when I signalled that the truck should start, and come down busy St. George Street, to pull in at the cleared space beside the crowd of kids, and George’s cameras.
As the truck approached, the kids (and publishers) cheered loudly. Then the truck simply ….kept on going.
Something had gone wrong with Frank’s directions to the driver, who drove on a full fifty yards beyond the kids and the cameras. I tried to retrieve the situation by getting the kids to run to greet the now-bickering authors, but it was not a huge success.
George was philosophical. As the crowd disappeared into the library, he said.”Can we run that through again?”
A fine, witty man. I was glad to count him as a friend.
Great vignette, Doug.