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Gayle Feldman
Unaffiliated Independent Scholar (New York, NY 10021-3289)
Bennett Cerf: The Man Who Published America: A Biography

In 1927 Bennett Cerf and a colleague founded Random House, which published many of the most prominent American authors of the 20th century, from William Faulkner to Dr. Seuss. This biography will tell the story of Cerf's life, which straddled high culture and mass entertainment: not only did he profoundly shape the course of  American publishing, he was also a celebrity thanks to his slot on the popular television show "What's My Line?"

At a time when digital disruption and globalization are reshaping book culture, presenting new challenges and new opportunities, this biography-cum-history, an independent work of scholarship, focuses on the life of Bennett Cerf (1898-1971), asserting that he was the greatest American publisher of the 20th century. It examines how Cerf’s story and that of Random House, the company he co-founded, inform American culture today. How did he build the preeminent publishing house, a living force able to fight successfully to publish Ulysses, that went on to encompass Faulkner and Dr. Seuss, Capote and Ayn Rand, Portnoy’s Complaint and Rosemary’s Baby, Knopf and Pantheon and the Modern Library? There has never been a biography of Cerf, a man who straddled culture both high and mass, through books – those he published and those he wrote - magazines, TV, Hollywood and Broadway. Why is it that this most “public” of American publishers is so forgotten today? A reassessment is long overdue.

Project fields:
American Studies; Cultural History; Literature, General

Public Scholars

Research Programs

$50,400 (approved)
$50,400 (awarded)

Grant period:
9/1/2016 – 8/31/2017