What do Conrad Black, Sam Goldwyn & a former slave have in common?

Whether you believe from reading his autobiography that Black is a wronged man or not, there is no doubting the unshakable love he and his wife Barbara Amiel have for each other

What they all have in common is that they all have biographies that are absolutely cracking yarns. I’ve read all three back-to-back in the last couple of months and want to highly recommend them to you.

A Matter of Principle is an autobiography by Conrad Black, published in 2011, in which the disgraced media tycoon describes his indictment, trial, subsequent conviction for corporate fraud, along with his imprisonment and appeal. Though the absolute accuracy of his account is disputed by some, Black had many of the charges against him curtailed on the appeal and comes across as a believably heroic (if not entirely clean-as-a-whistle) titan in the morally dubious world of billion dollar deals and boardroom coups.

Goldwyn and actress Anna Sten, the exotic and beautiful Russian, brought to Hollywood by Samuel Goldwyn as a second Garbo, but was eventually tagged "Goldwyn's folly"

 

Sam Goldwyn’s biography, written by A Scott Berg, called simply Goldwyn, is a Jeffrey Archer-style rags-to-riches tale of a determined penniless Orthodox Jewish boy living in the slums of Poland at the turn of the 19th century, who is determined to get away, cross the oceans and live the American Dream.  Goldwyn goes on to become one of Hollywood’s most famous and respected producers, but never quite manages to knock off his rough edges, a subscriber to the Groucho Marx philosophy about never joining any club that would have him as a member.  He fell out with as many people as he entranced – including the biggest Hollywood directors, writers and screen icons of the day.  Goldwyn is a simply fascinating character you just couldn’t make up, complete with thick Eastern European accent, malapropisms and a magic “Goldwyn touch” for producing hit films of notably high artistic  quality.

Frederick Douglass: "I have no accurate knowledge of my age... and it is the wish of most masters within my knowledge to keep their slaves ignorant."

The third book is an autobiography, penned by Frederick Douglass, called Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. It charts the story of an African American slave (whose father was probably his cruel white Master) in the 19th century, which became a bestseller on publication in 1845.

It is so powerful and gripping that I can only do it justice by simply repeating a passage from it:

Aunt Hester had not only disobeyed his orders in going out, but had been found in company with Lloyd’s Ned; which circumstance, I found, from what he said while whipping her, was the chief offence. Had he been a man of pure morals himself, he might have been thought interested in protecting the innocence of my aunt; but those who knew him will not suspect him of any such virtue. Before he commenced whipping Aunt Hester, he took her into the kitchen, and stripped her from neck to waist, leaving her neck, shoulders, and back, entirely naked. He then told her to cross her hands, calling her at the same time a d—-d b—h. After crossing her hands, he tied them with a strong rope, and led her to a stool under a large hook in the joist, put in for the purpose. He made her get upon the stool, and tied her hands to the hook. She now stood fair for his infernal purpose. Her arms were stretched up at their full length, so that she stood upon the ends of her toes. He then said to her, “Now, you d—-d b—h, I’ll learn you how to disobey my orders!” and after rolling up his sleeves, he commenced to lay on the heavy cowskin, and soon the warm, red blood (amid heart-rending shrieks from her, and horrid oaths from him) came dripping to the floor. I was so terrified and horror-stricken at the sight, that I hid myself in a closet, and dared not venture out till long after the bloody transaction was over. I expected it would be my turn next. It was all new to me. I had never seen any thing like it before. I had always lived with my grandmother on the outskirts of the plantation, where she was put to raise the children of the younger women. I had therefore been, until now, out of the way of the bloody scenes that often occurred on the plantation.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the three very sweet present givers, who opened my eyes to these three fascinating characters: Mrs Brown (an afficionado of 20s and 30s Hollywood) who presented me with her copy of Goldwyn as a Christmas gift; and to my lifelong friend, Tom Youldon, who gave me Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass; and my darling wife Catherine, who bought me  A Matter of Principle.

They are well worth the read, each unforgettable.

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