Recent emails to friends recycled and blogified.
Dear James: Thanks for your kind words about Hot From Harlem. It was a very painful process getting the thing into print. It was skedded to be published by Temple University Press in 1995, but was canceled at the last minute before it was to go to press. To reiterate what I told you, en bref, in our recent phone conversation, I learned soon afterward what had happened in a "Deep Throat" phone call from (the late) Dr. Beverly Robinson of UCLA who was one of the manuscript's academic readers. She told me that the press' overwhelmingly white editorial staff had assumed I was black; then, by accident, learned otherwise. I neither masqueraded as black, nor hid the fact that I was white in numerous phone conversations with them (employed my usual "U" mid-Atlantic quasi-Mayfair drawl).
Temple, in fact, reneged on publication out of fear of reprisal from the "Black Athena" set at the school. An aside: the head of the Black Studies Department at Temple, shortly after the time of my debacle, was temporarily suspended for alleged plagiarism.
To cut to the proverbial chase, I refused to give back the advance and used it to publish the book myself. The typos---I set it myself---and occasional grammatical infelicites bother me, still I feel it is a not-bad book. I think of the subject matter as being so rich that it is virtually writerproof. I tried to get first ammendment help from Nat Hentoff when Temple sprang open the trap door, but he never even answered my letters. F**k him and his wife, the lovely Margo, both of whom once waged a war against gays wearing djalabas on Fire Island. Truth to tell, N&M are not all that much different from Midge (Dector) 'n Poddy. Hope the Hentoffs are not very very dear, very very wonderful close friends of yours. Like I say. . ."painful." Grrrrr!
Thanks for the info. However---strange but true---the Lee Wiley in the Woody Herman short is not OUR Lee Wiley.
It is hard to know what singer Bill Black did to rub the "mob" the wrong way. Usually, if you refused their unrefusable offer of management by proxy, they just killed your career, but did not resort to physical violence. I am in touch with his two closest friends and they both say the same thing: he was beaten up, left by the roadside to die, was rescued and spent a year in Palm Springs recuperating. My guess is that he either did not repay a loan, or laughed (that was his snarky style) in the wrong person's face. At age 22, I was just too dumb to realize what an extraordinary "find" Bill Black was. He would go on and on about Judy and Mel and Lana and Lee (Liberace), and Jimmy (Dean) and Dennis (Hopper) et al, and the good old days in a kind of Norma Desmondish soliloquy and I would not even bother to ascertain whether it was false or true. It was all true, I have later come to believe.