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Horace Brisbin Liveright (10 December 1883[1] – 24 September 1933) was an American publisher and stage producer. He published books from numerous influential and famous authors, and was the producer of the 1927 Broadway stage production Dracula, which saw Béla Lugosi and Edward Van Sloan in the roles they would make famous. Liveright descended into alcoholism and died in 1933.

Contents

Life and career

Liveright was born in 1884 and initially followed the career of a bond salesman. He married Lucille, the daughter of the owner of International Paper, in April 1911, and used his father-in-law's financial backing to embark on a publishing career.[2]

The Liverights had two children, Herman and Lucy. Lucille divorced Liveright on grounds of misconduct in 1928, alleging "misconduct with an actress in an inn near Croton-on-Hudson."[3] He married the actress Elise Bartlett in December 1931; she filed for divorce four months later.[4]

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Publishing career

In 1917 Liveright founded the Modern Library and Boni & Liveright publishers in New York with business partner Albert Boni. Modern Library was formed as a reprinting line, publishing inexpensive books from European modernists, while Boni & Liveright published the work of contemporary Americans.[5][6] Liveright published work by T. S. Eliot (The Waste Land), Charles Fort (The Book of the Damned), Theodore Dreiser (An American Tragedy), and Bertrand Russell (Marriage and Morals). The company also published the first books by Ernest Hemingway, William Faulkner, Hart Crane, Dorothy Parker, and S. J. Perelman.[2]

Liveright believed that books could be marketed similarly to other media and was amongst the first to aggressively sell novels.[2] Liveright was also a vocal campaigner against the strict literary censorship of the period.[7]

Despite their successes, Liveright and Boni's relationship broke down and the pair chose to part ways. It is reported that they flipped a coin to decide who would buy the other out and Liveright gained control. In 1923, Liveright's alcoholism really started to take its toll. Throwing frequent, lavish parties, he would over-indulge many nights per week.[6]

Stage production

Liveright started his stage production career in 1924. His initial choices of plays were not successful and he had to use an increasing amount of money from his publishing company. His faltering financial status meant that he had to sell the Modern Library to then-vice-president Bennett Cerf in 1925.[5] Liveright started to put money from the publishing company into Broadway productions but soon found that the erratic success of the Boni & Liveright publishers was not a secure income, with the Modern Library having been the backbone of his finances. In 1928 he lost control of Boni & Liveright and was pushed out entirely by 1930.[6]

Liveright did achieve success in this field. His production of Dracula debuted on 5 October 1927, three years after the first authorised adaptation by Hamilton Deane. Liveright had employed John L. Balderston to revise the script for an American audience and brought in Béla Lugosi (his first major English-speaking role) and Edward Van Sloan to play the parts of Dracula and Van Helsing respectively.[2] The actors reprised these roles in Tod Browning's 1931 film. Despite an income of over $2 million from the play Liveright's failings as a businessman showed when he failed to pay $678.01 in royalties to Florence Balcombe, the widow of original author Bram Stoker.[7]

Death

Liveright died of pneumonia on September 24, 1933, aged forty-nine. Years of heavy alcoholism and his business failures likely contributed to his death. After a life of lavish, star-studded parties, only six people attended his funeral.[7]

Portrayal and biography

Inspired by Liveright and his friend Tommy Smith, the film The Scoundrel (1935) directed and written by Ben Hecht, and was an Academy Award success and marked the on-screen debut for Noël Coward, who played the central character.[6] A biography of Liveright, Firebrand: The Life of Horace Liveright (ISBN 0679406751), was written by Tom Dardis and published in 1995.

References

  1. ^ WWI Draft Registration Card
  2. ^ a b c d Teachout, Terry. New York Times. 16 July 1995. "Huckster and Publisher". Accessed 14 June 2007.
  3. ^ "To Open Liveright Suit." New York Times. May 11, 1928. p. 20
  4. ^ "Horace Liveright Dies of Pneumonia." New York Times. September 25, 1933. p. 15
  5. ^ a b Modern Library. "About Modern Library". Accessed 14 June 2007.
  6. ^ a b c d Columbia University Libraries. 2006. "Notable New Yorkers: Bennett Cerf" (interview transcript, session 2, page 98). Accessed 14 June 2007.
  7. ^ a b c Trivia-Library. "Biography of Famous Alcoholic and Producer Horace Liveright". Accessed 14 June 2007.

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