Leamer, Laurence 1941–

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Leamer, Laurence 1941–

(Laurence Allen Leamer)

PERSONAL: Surname is pronounced "Lay-mer;" born October 30, 1941, in Chicago, IL; son of Laurence E. (a professor) and Helen (a librarian; maiden name, Burkey) Leamer; married Eliana Robitschek (an educator), September 12, 1968 (divorced, 1980); married Vesna Obradovic, December 16, 1984; children: (first marriage) Daniela. Education: University of Besancon, diploma, 1962; Antioch College, B.A., 1964; University of Oregon, M.A., 1968; Columbia University, M.A., 1969.

ADDRESSES: Agent—St. Martin's Press, Attn: Publicity Dept., 175 5th Ave., New York, NY 10010.

CAREER: Freelance writer. U.S. Peace Corps, volunteer worker in Nepal, 1964–66; Columbia University, New York, NY, international fellow, 1968–69; Newsweek, New York, NY, associate editor, 1969–70. Consultant to National Committee for an Effective Congress.

AWARDS, HONORS: Ford Foundation fellowship, 1966–68; Pulitzer travel fellow, 1969; citation, Overseas Press Club, 1973, for article "Bangladesh in Morning"; Playing for Keeps: In Washington was named a notable book by the New York Times Book Review, 1977.


The Paper Revolutionaries: The Rise of the Underground Press, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1972.

Playing for Keeps: In Washington (biography), photographs by Lynne Bundesen, Dial Press (New York, NY), 1977.

Assignment (novel), Dial Press (New York, NY), 1981.

Ascent: The Spiritual and Physical Quest of Willi Unsoeld (biography), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1982, reprinted, William Morrow (New York, NY), 1999.

Make-Believe: The Story of Nancy and Ronald Reagan (biography), Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1983.

As Time Goes By: The Life of Ingrid Bergman (biography), Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1986.

King of the Night: The Life of Johnny Carson (biography), William Morrow (New York, NY), 1989, reprinted, Avon Books 2005.

The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family (biography), Villard Books (New York, NY), 1994.

Three Chords and the Truth: Hope, Heartbreak, and Changing Fortunes in Nashville (history and criticism), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.

The Kennedy Men, 1901–1963: The Laws of the Father (biography), William Morrow (New York, NY), 2001.

Sons of Camelot: The Fate of an American Dynasty (biography), William Morrow (New York, NY), 2004.

Fantastic: The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger (biography), St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2005.

Contributor to periodicals, including Playboy, Harper's, New Times, New Republic, New York, New Leader, and the New York Times Magazine; contributing editor, Washingtonian.

ADAPTATIONS: Books adapted for audio include The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family (abridged; two cassettes), read by Sandra Burr, Nova, 1995; The Kennedy Men: 1901–1963: The Laws of the Father, 2001; and Fantastic: The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger (six cassettes), read by Mel Foster, Brilliance Audio, 2005.

SIDELIGHTS: Laurence Leamer's early life was influenced by the politics of his liberal father, a college professor and church deacon, and by President John F. Kennedy. After graduation from college, Leamer joined Kennedy's Peace Corps and served in Nepal, where he taught English, science, and health. He then worked as a Newsweek editor for a short time, but he has been a freelance writer for most of his career.

Leamer's Playing for Keeps: In Washington contains eight portrait essays about power in Washington and the people who wield it. His method couples "journalism with the short story," observed Eric Redman in the New York Times Book Review, "and, stylistically at least, the marriage works. Leamer's research is extensive, his characters real (they range from Henry Kissinger and Edward Kennedy to Ralph Nader and Nancy Hanks), but Leamer's literary techniques are lifted directly from the realm of fiction."

Leamer's Make-Believe: The Story of Nancy and Ronald Reagan, which traces the lives of the fortieth U.S. president and his wife, begins his venture into the arena of unauthorized biography. With the help of a researcher, Leamer "has done an admirable job in putting together an easy-to-follow chronology," commented Anne Wittels in the Los Angeles Times Book Review. "In addition, Leamer has done comparative research, pointing out discrepancies between facts in public records and those same 'facts' when told, or ignored, in his subjects' own autobiographies." Leamer notes, for instance, that in Ronald Reagan's official biography as governor of California, he fails to mention his marriage to Jane Wyman and the two children he fathered by her. Similarly, Nancy's one-page biography begins "Nancy Davis Reagan was born in Chicago, the only daughter of Dr. and Mrs. Loyal Davis," when actually, asserts Leamer, she was born Anne Francis Robbins in New York City, the only daughter of Edith and Kenneth Robbins.

The theme of Make-Believe, stated Elisabeth Bumiller in the Washington Post Book World, "is that the Reagans grew up in hard-knock worlds [Ronald's father was an alcoholic, Nancy's a cad who left her mother virtually at her birth] where they had to make-believe, married in Hollywood where the town made-believe for them, and now continue to create their own 'make-believe' world in Washington." In the New York Times Book Review, Nicholas Lehmann granted that there "is something to this notion [of make-believe]…. Both the Reagans had rough early childhoods … and both found safe harbor—he as a genial actor, she as the stepdaughter of a Chicago surgeon," yet he ultimately dismisses the concept, describing Leamer as "too much the prisoner of his odd scraps of information…. At other times, he's clearly reaching." Bumiller concluded that for critics of the Reagan administration, "the book will simply confirm all the things they suspect, particularly about Nancy's problems with her children, her love of the sparkly set, and her ambitions for herself and her husband—all here in the most comprehensive catalogue to date. For Reagan fans, it will be another blast of cheap shots by a journalist."

In the Toronto Globe & Mail, Joy Fielding described Leamer's next unauthorized biography, As Time Goes By: The Life of Ingrid Bergman, as a "fascinating story, full of big names and larger-than-life drama, and Laurence Leamer writes literally and well, keeping the reader glued to every page." Fielding noted a sexist slant to Leamer's writing, however, and commented that the author's "judgmental" writing may offend women readers. The reviewer conceded that Bergman had her faults, but added, "that she was as bad as Leamer's prose suggests is highly doubtful." Fielding concluded that "in trying to present an impartial and complete picture of the woman who was branded both saint and sinner, Leamer is ultimately tripped up by his own prejudices and the narrow perimeters of his own male perspective." Ann Edwards, writing in a Washington Post Book World review, also perceived a lack of compassion for Leamer' subject, claiming that "what he adds to the Bergman story is not insight or depth or, for that matter, anything of a revisionist nature, but a subtext that insinuates when it should illuminate." Edwards stated that "he presents her as wildly ambitious, egocentric, selfish and without very good motives or intelligence. Too often, her foibles are described in penny-dreadful prose." She further observed that "whenever the opportunity arises, Leamer has a way of placing Bergman in a bad light."

Leamer's spent two years researching his unauthorized biography King of the Night: The Life of Johnny Carson. He and his team located two hundred former neighbors, employees, and acquaintances from whom they gleaned information and anecdotes. Among the sources Leamer tapped were Carson's first wife, Jody, and two of his other three wives. Leamer managed to gain entrance to several events that Carson himself attended during the research period.

The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family is Leamer's biography of the women of a political family he has always found fascinating. Here he follows its history from 1849, with the meeting of Bridget Murphy and Patrick Kennedy on board the Washington Irving as it traveled from Liverpool to Boston, and their subsequent marriage. Bridget had twenty-five grandchildren, one of whom was Joseph P. Kennedy. His wife, Rose, was the first of the contemporary Kennedy women, the one who set the standard for those who followed, for both her own daughters and daughters-in-law, including Jacqueline, the wife of President John F. Kennedy. This generation of Kennedy women, like Rose, lived to please their men, overlooked their misdeeds and philanderings, and held the family together. Leamer also writes of Rose's daughters, including mentally retarded Rosemary, whose survived a failed lobotomy and spent the rest of her life cared for by nuns; Kathleen, who died in a plane crash in 1944; Eunice, Patricia, and Jean. Her other daughters-in-law included Ethel, who married Robert F. Kennedy, and Joan. Five generations passed before a younger generation of Kennedy women struck out on their own. Lisa Schwarzbaum wrote in Entertainment Weekly that Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, Maria Shriver Schwarzenegger, Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend emerge in The Kennedy Women as "strong, expressive individuals whose Kennedy mantles are no longer corsets."

Leamer next wrote Three Chords and the Truth: Hope, Heartbreak, and Changing Fortunes in Nashville, a history of country music, then two more volumes about the Kennedys. The Kennedy Men, 1901–1963: The Laws of the Father begins with patriarch Joseph "Joe" P. Kennedy as a young man hustling in the streets of Boston, and it ends with the death of President John F. "Jack" Kennedy. Leamer concentrates on the four sons of Joe Kennedy, including Joe Jr., who died serving in World War II; Jack; Robert F. "Bobby," the senator from New York and attorney general during his brother's administration and who, like his brother, Jack, was assassinated; and Edward M. "Ted," the long-time senator from Massachusetts. The author writes of the strength of the senior Kennedy, who encouraged his sons' political careers and was a loving father. Leamer deals with the allegations that the elder Kennedy was involved with mobsters and bootlegged liquor, which he probably was. The public and private lives of these men are studied by Leamer, as is the way in which history was changed because of them. Robert F. Nardini noted in the Library Journal that "scholars will take note of his considerable primary research, in printed and recorded material, and dozens of his own interviews."

In Sons of Camelot: The Fate of an American Dynasty Leamer continues the saga of the Kennedy men. Here he includes the large number of grandsons of Joe Kennedy and the addictions and self-destructive behavior of many of them. This volume also contains interviews of family members, including environmental activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and those who knew John F. Kennedy, Jr., who tragically died in an airplane crash in 1999. Library Journal contributor Jill Ortner wrote that "Leamer is balanced and fair, giving equal treatment to both success stories and failures."

Although the subject of Fantastic: The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger did grant Leamer an interview, this is not an authorized biography. Shwarzenegger is perhaps the most famous of the Kennedy in-laws, an Austrian bodybuilder who became an actor and celebrity, married Maria Shriver, and eventually became governor of California. Leamer writes of his well-publicized sexual exploits and his success at self-promotion, but also of his rise as a powerful politician. Gilbert Taylor commented in a Booklist review that Fantastic "sorts through the pulp and the fiction on a search for the real Arnold and largely finds him." Weekly Standard reviewer Jordan Fabian wrote that "Fantastic is a rare opportunity to read a fairly portrayed account of Arnold, replete with entertaining stories and characters. Overall, Fantastic is a satisfying read that allows the reader a unique look into the world of Arnold Schwarzenegger."



America's Intelligence Wire, March 26, 2004, Tony Snow, "Personal Story: Interview with Anita Talbert, Laurence Leamer;" July 17, 2004, Rita Cosby, "Interview with Laurence Leamer."

Antioch Review, spring, 2002, review of The Kennedy Men, 1901–1963: The Laws of the Father, p. 350.

Booklist, July, 1994, Ilene Cooper, review of The Kennedy Women: The Saga of an American Family, p. 1891; May 1, 1997, Mike Tribby, review of Three Chords and the Truth: Hope, Heartbreak, and Changing Fortunes in Nashville, p. 1458; August, 2001, Ilene Cooper, review of The Kennedy Men, p. 2048; February 15, 2004, Ilene Cooper, review of Sons of Camelot: The Fate of an American Dynasty, p. 1002; May 15, 2005, Gilbert Taylor, review of Fantastic: The Life of Arnold Schwarzenegger, p. 1612.

Entertainment Weekly, August 12, 1992, Lisa Schwarzbaum, review of The Kennedy Women, p. 48.

Globe & Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), July 5, 1986, Joy Fielding, review of As Time Goes By: The Life of Ingrid Bergman.

Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 2001, review of The Kennedy Men, p. 1193; February 15, 2004, review of Sons of Camelot, p. 167.

Library Journal, June 15, 1997, Kathleen Sparkman, review of Three Chords and the Truth, p. 70; September 15, 2001, Robert F. Nardini, review of The Kennedy Men, p. 88; April 15, 2004, Jill Ortner, review of Sons of Camelot, p. 96.

Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 5, 1983, Anne Wittels, review of Make-Believe: The Story of Nancy and Ronald Reagan.

Miami Herald, November 16, 2001, Anne Bartlett, review of The Kennedy Men.

New York Times, July 17, 2005, Lou Cannon, review of Fantastic.

New York Times Book Review, May 29, 1977, Eric Redman, review of Playing for Keeps: In Washington; June 26, 1983, Nicholas Lehmann, review of Make-Believe.

People, October 31, 1994, Jean Reynolds, review of The Kennedy Women, p. 32; July 7, 1997, Cynthia Sanz, review of Three Chords and the Truth, p. 30; April 5, 2004, Tom Conroy, review of Sons of Camelot, p. 47.

Perspectives on Political Science, winter, 2002, Ralph Nurnberger, review of The Kennedy Men, p. 62.

Publishers Weekly, April 14, 1997, review of Three Chords and the Truth, p. 61; February 23, 2004, review of Sons of Camelot, p. 66; May 23, 2005, review of Fantastic, p. 72.

Washington Post Book World, May 29, 1983, Elisabeth Bumiller, review of Make-Believe; March 8, 1986, Ann Edwards, review of As Time Goes By; June 7, 2005, Peter Schrag, review of Fantastic, p. C3.

Weekly Standard, August 1, 2005, Jordan Fabian, review of Fantastic, p. 39.


BookBrowse, http://www.brookbrowse.com/ (November 30, 2005), interview with Laurence Leamer.

Sons of Camelot Web site, http://www.kennedymen.com/ (November 30, 2005).

USA Today Online, http://www.usatoday.com/ (June 6, 2005), Deirdre Donahue, review of Fantastic.

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