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The Grand Surprise: The Journals of Leo Lerman Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 10, 2007


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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 688 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First edition (April 10, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400044391
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400044399
  • Product Dimensions: 1.7 x 6.5 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (20 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #604,332 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Writing about the Ike and Tina Turner show at Carnegie Hall in 1971, Lerman notes, "Tina and Ike are primitive, outdoor water-closet...[she] turns them on with stupid smut. My father would have found them provocative." And while it is no surprise that Lerman, longtime features editor at Vogue, later editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair and all-round arts devotee, disliked them—his tastes ran more to Lotte Lenya singing Kurt Weill—it demonstrates that he was omnivorous in his desire to experience the full range of culture and entertainment. This broad, selection of Lerman's journals is filled with great gossip (on everything from Ruth Gordon's eating habits to architect Philip Johnson's sex life) and some astute remarks on art. Lerman (1914–1994) is a great diarist: the details are precise, the information careening from idiosyncratic to important, and his tone endlessly amused and amusing. While he can be peevish and even mean, he is also frequently funny and generous. The casual reader may be lost at times, but if you are moderately conversant with high art and high society—or just want to know what Princess Marina, duchess of Kent, wore to the Metropolitan Opera in September 1956, Lerman's journals are perfect. 24 pages of photos, 8 in color. (Apr. 6)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

Lerman, who died in 1994, was at the center of fashionable New York society for almost fifty years, thanks to his work at such magazines as Vogue and Mademoiselle. The son of a housepainter in East Harlem, Lerman was drawn to "the surface glitter" of the élite, and he helped launch the careers of countless singers, writers, actresses, and artists. He was known for frugal but grand soirées—Marlene Dietrich emptied the ashtrays at one; William Faulkner stood in line with Maria Callas for Chinese food at another—but he never entirely lost his sense of being an outsider, or his feeling that magazine work was a distraction from "a life of letters." Lerman’s diaries, interspersed with his correspondence and an unfinished memoir, form a rich, occasionally rueful mosaic of a man who collected friendships the way those around him collected wealth or accolades, and who, most of the time, seemed to find his life the better for it.
Copyright © 2007 Click here to subscribe to The New Yorker

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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This book will captivate and enthrall you.
Yesh Prabhu, author of The Beech Tree
If you love gossipy books about the NY arts scene (music, theater, publishing, fashion etc.), this is compulsively readable.
Mindy Butler
Lerman's journals give a great perspective on cultural New York (and elsewhere!), 1940s through 1990s.
RdeVDR

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This book is so magnificent and expansive, and filled to the brim with startling, captivating, and amusing anecdotes and candid observations about an assortment of celebrities, divas of operas, movie stars, writers, and people who were famous for giving grand parties and also for being only rich, and written with such humor, candor, sarcasm and wit that it reads as if it were written by Truman Capote while he was sober.

Leo Lerman dreamed of writing some day a grand novel. But he never finished it. Well, it's obvious that he wrote in his diaries and note books enough anecdotes, journals and juicy tidbits to fill this most captivating book. Stephen Pascal, who was Lerman's assistant for more than 12 years, has assembled these journals, memoirs and correspondence and bits and pieces, "stretching from the months before his first Vogue assignment (in 1941) to a year before his death," in 1994.

During his 80 years long life and 40 years long career in the publishing world, at Vogue, Mademoiselle, Harper's Bazaar, and as editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair, and also at the parties he gave and was invited to, Lerner met and befriended innumerable celebrities. Celebrities such as: Diana Vreeland, Leonard Bernstein, Lillian Gish, Marlene Dietrich, the Kennedys, Louise Hirschfeld, Helen Hayes, the Newhouses and Paleys, and writers such as Yukio Mishima, Isak Dinesen, Eudora Welty, Truman Capote, W.H. Auden, William Faulkner, Al Hirschfeld, Anaïs Nin, Gloria Steinem, Lionel Trilling, and movie stars such as John Gielgud, Cary Grant, Yul Brynner, Julie Andrews, and Louise Rainer, and divas such as Leontyne Price and Maria Callas. This long list is certainly not exhaustive.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Jeff Abell on August 11, 2007
Format: Hardcover
No doubt about it: Leo Lerman knew everybody who was anybody in New York's arts & literary scenes for almost 50 years. The cast of characters who stroll through his journals and letters (Marlene Dietrich, Maria Callas, Truman Capote, Leonard Bernstein, this list just goes on and on...) provides an amazing snapshot of life among the most notable figures of the 20th century. I wish this book was a more compelling read. When I recently read Chance and Circumstance: Twenty Years with Cage and Cunningham by Carolyn Brown, I came away dazzled at the opportunity to get close to key figures in music and dance, and felt tmy understanding of their work was enhanced. I felt no similar sense from Lerman's book, perhaps precisely because of the range of his acquaintances. For example, he meets Truman Capote when both are quite young, and Capote is writing his first book. The glimpse of the young author at that moment is priceless, but then the two lose touch, and Lerman moves on to other people. Moreover, Lerman's dizzying social life largely prevented him from completing any major work of his own, and his partner Gray Foy gave up a successful career as an artist. There are definitely some choice stories here, things that made me laugh out loud or gasp with a mixture of delight and dismay. But frankly, the best thing in the book is the introductory story about the butterfly called The Grand Surprise that gives the book its title. Almost nothing else has the texture and depth of that one vividly recounted anaecdote. As a result this memoir is a swirl of social activity without a center. If you don't mind frosting with no cake, you'll enjoy this.!
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Righter on April 23, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I started reading for the gossip - Toscanini, Callas, Dietrich, Capote; Kennedys, Rockefellers, Astors; sex (of every combination) , passion, true love; art, theatre, dance. And oh the parties.

But I continued reading for the sense of life over time, the philosophy, the understanding: "It is not years that age one, but recurrence--the same coming into `fashion' over and over again.". Jammed packed, seemingly "easy reading", with worlds to broaden my world.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Godwillen on April 22, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Oh, don't wait! Rush out and bring in this wonderfully elegant, gossipy book! It's about people those of us in the Little House on the Prairie do not know, and a man whose life was a far better one than we Bovary's in say, Beverly Hills, can hope to imagine. Lerman is wise and funny and generous: a social Lytton Strachey. The lists of his dinner party guests, alone, are more riveting, and tantalizing, than most full-scale biographies...
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Samuel Dachs on June 10, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fascinating gossip about EVERYBODY famous in the 50'60's and 70' in the New York creative arts scene.

Like watching insects crawling around
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Cobbett on May 19, 2007
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fascinating recounting of recent times past and a personality desperate to stay at the top of them, along with the glittery, famous people. But the book is more than a bit like a high school diary: a bit overwrought and totally self-absorbed. Emotional commentary is the rule; serious analysis of anybody or anything, including his beloved Proust's works, is the exception.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Avid Reader on January 15, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As a memoir it isn't the kind of book you read straight through, though that's what I'm trying to do.

I read a review of this book in the NYTimes when it first came out and it got good reviews, and mentioned a couple of anecdotes involving Marlene Dietrich, and I told myself: you have to get this! I waited WAY TOO LONG to purchase this! But what I'm getting out of it so much more than the funny, trivial, celebrity-driven gossip usually gets you in so many lesser writings.

Yes, the stories are entertaining and certainly unique, about Maria Callas and Dietrich and Garbo and Monroe and Grace and that awful Elizabeth Taylor (he wasn't impressed with her). But when everything is said and done, they were still just people, and THAT'S what excited him. I thought to myself, what did this guy ever do except have everybody over to his house for drinks every frigging night? Well, they talked.

When you read this book what you will come away with is a man who just loved people, loved art, and wanted everybody to be comfortable and relaxed and themselves. He spent a lifetime doing that. And wrote it all down.

I'm loving it!
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