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Wednesday, April 06, 2005

saul bellow

Saul Bellow RIP

The great Bellow dead. I bet the obituarists and feature writers are scrambling to deliver their homage.

Take your pic - BBC or Guardian

As publicist for Secker & Warburg, I also had the honour of assisting Barley Alison of the Alison Press in promoting her authors, of which Saul was a distinguished one. My clearest memory is of launching the UK edition of the brilliant Humboldt's Gift, which really just consisted of fending off the press and seeing that Saul met the heavy schedules of media interviews in the order I'd fixed them up and in good physical shape. He was of course a professional trouper, as was his wife at the time, the gorgeous Alexandra of the plus petite waist I think I've ever seen on a woman of 30ish, which I took her to be. I heard that she was a brilliant mathematician and easily Saul's equal but I eas reminded of nothing so much as the beauty and the beast Miller/Monroe setup, which I'm sure is being most unfair all round.

The tale I tell has nothing to do with books but amuses all literati who hear it.

The offices of Secker & Warburg occupied a charming cul-de-sac off Soho Square, favored for it quietness by movie makers. One of the evenings that Saul was with us, it was raining and we needed to go home so the TV crew filtered us out at timely intervals to play the parts of background passersby. "Don't look at the camera," they exhorted us, but we were so pathetically taken by the thought of being in a movie that we all and were thus editied out. All except Saul, it seemed.

The made-for-TV movie was called 'The Blond and the Bass Player" and made a point of watching its first airing: damn me if the offices didn't show up clearly, my window display of Saul's book - *and* the great man himself, that distinctive profile sharp in the lights.

Some years later, I was in some low dive in the bowels of the BBC and found myself drinking next to a director whose credits included the TBBP. I shared my tidbit of useless of information about Saul and commented frivolously that the credits should have included, "And introducing Saul Bellow as "The Pedestrian".

The man stood stockstill and glasseyed: "But I'm crazy about Saul Bellow, I've read everything he's written. He can't possibly be in the film; I'd have known." I assured him that not only was Saul very visible but so was the splendid product placement of the book. We exchanged cards and I thought no more until about 6 months later when he called up to remind me of our chat, say that the movie was being reshown and he was desperate to use my idea of tacking Bellow on in the cast list. Was it ok? I assured him it was, and there sure enough was the credit and - thanks to some diligent phoning by my staff to all the literary pages - so was a massive reader viewership for this harmless B-grade, alerted in advance by the books pages to the chance of glimpsing the maestro.

At 89, a good innings but still sad to see him go.


  • Chris Hitchens in Slate
  • Mr McEwan, no less

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