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An Interview with Donald Klopfer / Catherine Parke Donald Klopfer is Chairman Emeritus and Founder of Random House. Interviewer: Let's begin at the beginning with your and Bennett Cerfs 1925 purchase of The Modern Library. How did that come about? Klopfer: Bennett Cerf and I were friends. We'd worked together in the cage in the back alleys of the brokers house in 1921. Then I went to work in the diamond business, and Bennett went to work for Horace Liveright, of Boni and Liveright, a very good publisher. In 1925 Liveright needed money. So he had to sell something and he offered The Modern Library to Bennett. Bennett called me up and asked me whether I wanted to go in with him and I said yes right away. My stepfather had died, I was working in the diamond business, and I knew I didn't want to spend the rest of my life there. I knew nothing whatsoever about publishing. I knew quite a bit about books by that time, so first of all we bought The Modern Library—I think it was one hundred and twelve titles with ninety-five or so reprint series—and went to work. We had three other employees, a secretary, a bookkeeper. Our shipping was right in the same plant next to our offices. Interviewer: Your and Cerfs business relationship was an unusual one which has been commented on over the years. How would you characterize it? Klopfer: It was an unusual business relationship, but much more than that actually. For one thing, we each owned fifty percent of the stock. Everybody said that was crazy. One should own fifty-one percent, the other, forty-nine, because either one could stop the business at any time. Bennett and I decided that we really did trust each other. We wanted to do it fifty-fifty and we did. Bennett was a superb person to work with. He enjoyed life more than anyone else I know. He was a first-rate publisher, honest, a performer, and so good with advertising. Interviewer: How did you divide the work? Klopfer: We split the editorial work. Bennett took care of the advertisThe Missouri Review · 205 ing and publicity in which he was an absolute genius. He was a ham at heart and he loved it. I took care of the manufacturing of the books and the business end of it. It worked out very well because either of us could do the other's work. At first we were a very small organization, if you could even call it an organization. It was more like the corner grocery store. Today we're a three hundred million dollar business. That really has nothing whatsoever to do with the way we started. Interviewer: The Modern Library was the brainchild of Charles Boni, wasn't it? Klopfer: Charlie Boni, yes. Interviewer: What was Boni's principle of selection for titles in the series? And what changes did you make? Klopfer: I don't really know his principle, but I do know there were seven Anatole France titles out of one hundred and twelve and two or three Maeterlinck titles. It was the strangest, strangest group of people, very haphazard. But there were some very good titles, too. We had two dirty books, Madame de Maupin and Madame Bovary and they were good sellers. Five years earlier The New York Times had refused some advertising for Madame Bovary as not fit for a home audience. It's hard to believe that today. When we took over, we quickly started to change and substitute titles. We dropped some of the Anatole France titles and substituted what we considered more worthy books, not necessarily modern. We also tried to get good writers. Then there weren't too many of them around. Interviewer: Boni and Liveright warned you when you bought The Modern Library that you'd be in competition with the new Macmillan Everyman Library and might not come out ahead. How did you make your new series a bigger success than it had been before? Klopfer: It was the titles we chose. Remember there were no paperbacks at that time and we had...


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