A. Scott Berg - Biography
Andrew Scott Berg (born December 4, 1949) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American biographer. After graduating from Princeton University in 1971, Berg expanded his senior thesis, about editor Maxwell Perkins, into a full-length biography. Maxwell Perkins: Editor of Genius (1978) won a National Book Award, and his second book, Goldwyn: A Biography, was published in 1989. Berg's third book, a highly anticipated biography of aviator Charles Lindbergh, was published in 1998. Lindbergh became a New York Times Best Seller, and won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography. In 2003, Berg published Kate Remembered, a biography-cum-memoir about his friendship with actress Katharine Hepburn that received mixed reviews. He is currently researching a biography of Woodrow Wilson.
Berg also wrote the story for Making Love (1982), a controversial film that was the first major studio drama to address the subjects of gay love, closeted marriages, and coming out. He has contributed articles to magazines such as Architectural Digest and Vanity Fair.
Early life and work
Berg was born in Norwalk, Connecticut. The son of Barbara Berg and film producer Dick Berg, young Scott was raised Jewish. When Scott was eight, his family relocated to Los Angeles, California. While a sophomore at Palisades Charter High School, Scott researched the author F. Scott Fitzgerald (a favorite of Barbara's, who named her son in part after Fitzgerald) for a report and "developed a mania" for his writing. Berg read all of Fitzgerald's works and later recalled: "It was the first time I saw the fusion of an artist and his life, a tragic and romantic life." Scott applied to Princeton University, primarily because it was Fitzgerald's alma mater, and was accepted in 1967.
At Princeton, Berg performed in the Princeton Triangle Club theater troupe and considered dropping out to become an actor, though he was convinced by English professor Carlos Baker, a well-regarded biographer of Ernest Hemingway, to "graduate, so at least you'll be an actor with a college degree". Berg studied under Baker, who offered him "constant encouragement and counsel" on his senior thesis, which was a study of editor Maxwell Perkins's career between 1919 and 1929. After graduating from Princeton in 1971, Berg decided to expand the thesis into a full-length biography, thinking it would take around nine months. He also formulated a career plan at this time, and later recalled: "I did tell myself early on: I think it would be interesting, perhaps, to spend a career writing a half-dozen biographies of twentieth-century American cultural figures—each one, as I often use as my metaphor, a different wedge of the great apple pie." The Perkins biography, Max Perkins: Editor of Genius, took longer than Berg anticipated and was eventually published in 1978. It won the 1980 National Book Award for biography.
In 1982, Berg was approached by Samuel Goldwyn, Jr. to write a biography of his father, independent film producer Samuel Goldwyn. Berg initially turned the project down, telling Goldwyn that "he was interested in American culture, not Hollywood," but changed his mind after visiting Goldwyn's archives and discovering gin rummy I.O.U.'s, menus from Goldwyn's dinner parties, and "all the quotidian minutiae that are a biographer's dream". He won a 1982 Guggenheim Fellowship, which helped finance his work on the biography. The same year, Berg wrote the story for Making Love, a controversial film that was the first major studio drama to address the subjects of homosexual love, closeted marriages, and coming out. He also narrated Directed by William Wyler, a 1986 documentary film about filmmaker William Wyler for which Berg interviewed Wyler, Bette Davis, Audrey Hepburn, Laurence Olivier, and Barbra Streisand, among others. In 1989, Berg published Goldwyn: A Biography, his second biography.
After completing Goldwyn in 1989, Berg began the search for his next subject, who he wanted to be "another great American cultural figure but—because I had written about Perkins and Goldwyn—not somebody from the worlds of publishing or film". After briefly considering Tennessee Williams, Berg decided to research the aviator Charles Lindbergh, attracted by what he described as "the dramatic possibilities of the story of the great hero who became a great victim and a great villain". Berg convinced Lindbergh's widow, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, to grant him unprecedented access to the man's archives, which he was surprised to find totaled "1,300 boxes, or several million papers".
The biography, Lindbergh, was highly-anticipated; prior to its publication, the book's film rights were bought, sight unseen, by Steven Spielberg, who planned to direct a movie of it. Published in 1998, Lindbergh sold about 250,000 copies in hardcover, and won the Pulitzer Prize for Biography or Autobiography. Berg was noted for his exhaustive research, as well as his sympathetic, but by no means uncritical, approach to Lindbergh, whose alleged anti-Semitism he addressed in a straightforward, unblinking manner.
From 1998 to 2000, Berg wrote Kate Remembered, a biography-cum-memoir detailing his 20-year friendship with Hollywood actress Katharine Hepburn. The book was published in 2003, only 12 days after Hepburn's death. It spent 11 weeks on the New York Times Nonfiction Best Seller list, but received uneasy critical response. In The New York Times, Robert Gottlieb called it an "odd and unsettling book [that leaves] a sense of exploitation", and gossip columnist Liz Smith, a friend of Hepburn's, called Berg "vain and narcissistic", and declared the book "[s]elf-promoting fakery....Hepburn would have despised it and his betrayal of her friendship." Berg responded in a written statement, saying that he was "truly shocked at Liz Smith's professional behavior—or, more accurately, her lack thereof" in "her personal assault on my reputation, one that stops just short of character assassination".
Berg served on Princeton University's Board of Trustees from 1999 to 2003. Since 2000, he has been researching a biography of Woodrow Wilson, of whom Berg says, "I have an image of him in my mind that is unlike any picture I have seen anywhere else, based on material at Princeton and 35 years of researching and thinking about him". In February 2008, Berg said he was close to completing research on Wilson, and was beginning to write; he hopes to complete the biography in 2009.
Berg lives with his partner Kevin McCormick, a film producer, in Los Angeles. His brother is Jeff Berg, CEO of International Creative Management, a leading Hollywood talent and literary agency. Their brother is music producer and musician Tony Berg.
- Max Perkins: Editor of Genius (1978)
- Goldwyn: A Biography (1989)
- Lindbergh (1998)
- Kate Remembered (2003)
- 1998 Kentucky Author Forum interview with Berg, conducted by Jonathan Yardley (60 minutes, streaming video)
- 1998 Charlie Rose interview with Berg about Lindbergh (18 minutes, streaming video)
- 1999 NewsHour interview with Berg about Lindbergh (transcript)