Morgan, Ted 1932–
Morgan, Ted 1932–
(Sanche de Gramont)
PERSONAL: Original name, Sanche de Gramont; named legally changed to Ted Morgan in 1977; born March 31, 1932, in Geneva, Switzerland; came to the United States in 1937, naturalized in February, 1977; son of Gabriel Armand (a diplomat) and Mariette (Negroponte) de Gramont; married second wife, Nancy Ryan (a poet), May 11, 1968 (divorced, 1980); children: (second marriage) Gabriel, Amber. Education: Yale University, B.A. (summa cum laude), 1954; Columbia University, M.S., 1955.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Smithsonian Institution Press, 750 9th St. NW, Ste. 4300, Washington, DC 20560-0950.
CAREER: Associated Press, New York City, reporter, 1958–59; New York Herald Tribune, New York City, reporter and correspondent, 1959–64; freelance journalist and writer, 1964–. Military service: French Army, 1956–57; became lieutenant.
MEMBER: PEN, Authors Guild.
AWARDS, HONORS: Pulitzer Prize, 1961, for local reporting written under pressure of a deadline.
UNDER NAME SANCHE DE GRAMONT
The Secret War: The Story of International Espionage since World War II, Putnam (New York, NY), 1962.
(Editor and translator) Louis de Rouvroy, The Age of Magnificence: Memoirs of the Duc de Saint-Simon, Putnam, 1963, Paragon House (New York, NY), 1990.
U.S.A., Editions Recontre Éditions Recontre (Lausanne), 1966.
Epitaph for Kings, Putnam (New York, NY), 1968.
The French: Portrait of a People, Putnam (New York, NY), 1969.
Lives to Give, Putnam (New York, NY), 1971.
The Way Up: The Memoirs of Count Gramont (novel), Putnam (New York, NY), 1972.
The Strong Brown God: The Story of the Niger River, Hart-Davis (London, England), 1975, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1976.
On Becoming American, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1978.
Maugham, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1980, published in England as Somerset Maugham, J. Cape (London, England), 1980.
Rowing toward Eden, Houghton (Boston, MA), 1981.
Churchill: Young Man in a Hurry, 1874–1915, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1982.
FDR: A Biography, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1985.
Literary Outlaw: The Life and Times of William S. Burroughs, Holt (New York, NY), 1988.
(Editor and translator) The Age of Magnificence, Paragon House (St. Paul, MN), 1990.
An Uncertain Hour: The French, the Germans, the Jews, the Barbie Trial, and the City of Lyon, 1940–1945, Arbor House/Morrow (New York, NY), 1990.
Wilderness at Dawn: The Settling of the North American Continent, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1993.
A Shovel of Stars: The Making of the American West, 1800 to the Present, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1995.
A Covert Life: Jay Lovestone, Communist, Anticommunist, and Spymaster, Random House (New York, NY), 1999.
Reds: McCarthyism in Twentieth-Century America, Random House (New York, NY), 2004.
My Battle of Algiers, Collins/Smithsonian (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to a variety of newspapers and periodicals.
SIDELIGHTS: Ted Morgan, born Sanche de Gramont, changed his name in the 1970s. A count and a member of one of France's oldest aristocratic families, in 1973 he began to take steps to resolve an identity crisis that had plagued him for many years. The son of a French diplomat stationed in Washington, DC, de Gramont had spent much of his youth in America and, after a brief stint at the Sorbonne, eventually graduated from Yale University. He then attended the Columbia University School of Journalism and, having obtained his master's degree, went to work for several different American news organizations, including the New York Herald Tribune. In 1962, while serving as a foreign correspondent for the Tribune, de Gramont was seriously wounded covering a war in Katanga. His employer and the American Embassy in Leopoldville quickly saw to it that he was taken to a London hospital for treatment; the French Embassy, on the other hand, completely ignored him.
While it took fifteen more years for him to make his choice official, de Gramont's experience in Katanga served to tilt the delicate balance between the French and American parts of his psyche squarely in favor of America. But though he subsequently married an American woman and came to feel, speak, and write "American," he remained, in essence, a man without a country, estranged from both his native France and from his family. De Gramont's growing need and desire to "belong" to America, in a physical as well as a spiritual sense, culminated in 1973 with a decision to move from his home in Morocco to New York City in order to establish residency and become a U.S. citizen. His break with the past included his name change as well, from the noble French surname to (as he himself describes it) a "forthright and practical, incisive and balanced" anagram of de Gramont, Ted Morgan. Why Morgan? As Time's John Skow explained, de Gramont felt that Ted Morgan was "someone you would lend your car to. Dogs and small children would like him."
Morgan's account of this entire process, On Becoming American, was fairly well-received by the critics, who praised its genial and entertaining style and tone. William Manchester, writing in the New York Times Book Review, observed: "Mr. Morgan—that is the name he prefers, and he has earned it—is a master of his trade. Interwoven with his personal history are skillful digressions: analyses of the successive waves of expatriates to these shores, of resentment of them by those already here, and of American traits, stereotypes and prospects. Although much of the material is familiar, the style is fresh, the narrative compelling." Manchester concluded: Morgan "believes that his $25 naturalization fee was 'the bargain of the century.' It should be added that the transaction was a steal for the United States, too."
Time contributor John Skow noted that "Ted Morgan is a man loopy with love for his new country, and the result is a book that is both refreshing and breathless. It has been a long time since anyone serenaded the present reality of the U.S. in such a hyperbolic manner…. But passion does not improve the reasoning process, and when the author supports his arguments with windy civics lectures and careless unravelings from U.S. history, he can be more provocative than illuminating…. Still, the book is so amiable and loose-jointed, perhaps like the U.S. itself, that the reader is happy to wade through balderdash to the next bit of good storytelling or good sense." New York Times critic Christopher Lehmann-Haupt called On Becoming American "a book so full of opinions, anecdotes, gossip, peeves, celebrations, free associations, epiphanies, asides, lists, definitions, prejudices, warnings, and reflections that when you hold it up to your ear and shake it, you can practically hear it rattle…. It is fun. It is flattering. It is crisply written—more concise and punchy, it seems to me, than any of the seven books Mr. Morgan wrote when he was Sanche de Gramont."
Finally, Jane Larkin Crain of the Saturday Review wrote: "With unabashed enthusiasm, Morgan celebrates his adopted country…. Altogether, Morgan's eagerness to defy current conventions of American anti-Americanism, to affirm social progress on numerous fronts, is refreshing, and many of his reflections and assessments are witty, cogent, and engrossing. But there is also about this book a regrettable tendency toward breezy and reductive formulations that undermine its ultimate seriousness…. In these instances and elsewhere—particularly in his recurring and routine denunciations of Richard Nixon, of the history of American anti-communism, of America's involvement in Vietnam, and of the chicanery of the business community—Morgan seems to have borrowed his attitudes and assumptions wholesale from shopworn conventional wisdom, making jejune and facile pronouncements on matters of weight and controversy. Perhaps because Morgan seems not really to have come to terms with his own occasionally contradictory readings of the American experience, his book lacks the consistent focus that would have given it thematic energy and coherence." Yet despite these objections, concluded Crain: "On Becoming American is so lively and textured a production that one winds up regretting rather than scorning its shortcomings."
While spending his mornings writing On Becoming American, Morgan devoted his afternoons to another major nonfiction project—a biography of W. Somerset Maugham, the popular English novelist who had specifically instructed in his will that no one ever was to have permission to publish his letters or write his biography. While this decree seemed to present a rather formidable obstacle to any potential biographer, Morgan, after discovering that a full-scale study of the author's life did not exist, overcame his initial hesitation and agreed to follow his publisher's suggestion and tackle the Maugham project. Explaining the reason for his acceptance to a Chicago Tribune Book World interviewer, Morgan remarked: "For once in my life, I wanted to do something that would be definitive."
Morgan, however, did not bargain on the resistance he would encounter in the person of Spencer Curtis Brown, Maugham's agent and literary executor. Though he was already well into the book when he first met Curtis Brown, Morgan was told not to expect any cooperation from the executor or from Maugham's family. Stubbornly committed to continuing the biography, Morgan persisted and eventually got Curtis Brown to at least agree to read the first half of the manuscript when it was ready. Meanwhile, the former newspaperman went ahead with his research, interviewing old associates of Maugham's and visiting twenty libraries from California to England in an attempt to gather information from 5,000 letters the novelist's friends had refused to destroy.
The first half of his manuscript complete, Morgan, as promised, sent a copy to Curtis Brown. In return, Curtis Brown sent a letter to Morgan pointing out errors and offering suggestions, concluding his critique with an expression of his desire to see the second half when it had been completed. Encouraged by this remark, Morgan continued his research with renewed energy, gradually gaining access to more and more material not under Curtis Brown's direct control.
Despite his hard work, however, large gaps remained in Morgan's study of Maugham, especially regarding the elderly novelist's bitter break with his daughter. Submitting a first draft of the biography to the executor, Morgan was pleased to learn that Curtis Brown considered the work to be a "nonjudgmental" and scrupulously researched account of Maugham's life. Finally, realizing that it would be impossible to prevent the eventual appearance of a major biography of the author, Brown decided that it was better to disregard his client's last wishes than to allow an incomplete and inaccurate portrayal to be published. As a result, Morgan was granted estate approval and even received an invitation from Maugham's family to come to England for an interview.
Washington Post contributor Michael Kernan called the resulting biography, Maugham, a "compulsively readable" book and "a masterful job of reportage" that "brings into full view a complicated man who went out of his way to distort, conceal, and deliberately lie about the facts of his life." A reviewer in Time described it as "by far the most detailed, balanced and tolerant portrait available [of Maugham]" in which Morgan "builds a sound psychological case for Maugham's character and behavior…. The book covers the minutiae of 91 years so thoroughly that a subsequent biography is unlikely."
Christopher Lehmann-Haupt commented in the New York Times that it is "an extraordinary job of research Mr. Morgan has done…. Such a wealth of psychological data is presented in this book that it would be reductive to impose one reader's explanation of Maugham. To do so would be to make of a life a diagram. And to Mr. Morgan's great credit, he has made of Maugham a life of stature. Quite an ugly life, but heroic nonetheless." New York Times Book Review contributor Margaret Drabble saw deficiencies in Morgan's biography. She called Maugham "a sad tale, a Maughamesque story in its own right, rising almost despite itself to a certain tragic dignity. [It] is an extremely interesting biography, but it shares many of the faults as well as the virtues of its subject. Like Maugham, Mr. Morgan is no stylist." Despite these objections, the critic further noted that "Mr. Morgan gives us an unexpurgated account of literary life from the turn of the century … to the 1960s, and he goes to some trouble to fill in background events, to give a sense of historical perspective…. [He] is not partisan. He is a good raconteur, a curious investigator, and rarely tries to be more." Daniel J. Cahill of the Chicago Tribune Books felt that Morgan "brings to the art of literary biography the reporter's eye for catastrophic event and bizarre details. In his hands, Maugham is an admirable subject, with the right degree of scandal and eclat for a far too journalistic rendition of a long and complex life. But Morgan does unfold in a clear, direct narrative the life story that Somerset Maugham desperately hoped would never be written…. Without a doubt, Morgan's study is a fascinating revelation and will be used for another—more judicious—evaluation of Maugham."
Morgan turned from detailed individual biography to a sweeping history of North America in Wilderness at Dawn: The Settling of the North American Continent. In the book, he "offers an involving, if a bit disjointed, popular history of North America to the end of the eighteenth century," noted a Publishers Weekly reviewer. He uses a variety of primary sources, including journals and memoirs, plus academic studies, to construct his "colloquial, panoramic narrative," the Publishers Weekly critic stated. Morgan avoids retelling stories of the prominent and well-known figures of the time, instead focusing on settlers, soldiers, slaves, Native Americans, and others whose everyday diligence and hard labor created a rich history. "Morgan writes engagingly, and well," commented Scott Riney in the Historian. "His talent is in the creation of vignettes, based on diaries, letters, and other manuscript sources, that bring to life the authors of the documents." He covers the development of English and Dutch colonies along the Atlantic coastline, the English advancement against the French in the New World, the early days of the American colonies, relations with Native Americans, and the rich natural resources and sometimes abrupt treachery of North American geography.
The focus of Morgan's historical lens narrows a bit with A Shovel of Stars: The Making of the American West, 1800 to the Present, a sequel to Wilderness at Dawn. Here, Morgan explores in depth the westward expansion of the United States. As in the previous volume, he uncovers the personal stories of numerous ordinary settlers who lived at the edges of the frontiers as they expanded outward across the vastness of western America. Many of the traditional scenes of the West appear here, including trading parties, frontier justice, medicine shows and gold miners. A Publishers Weekly writer called it "a good complement to conventional histories and a fine book for browsing." Gilbert Taylor, writing in Booklist, remarked: "Winding up with the admission to the Union of Alaska, this grandly inspired work—a completely satisfying read—embraces the texture and the drama of the West in all its heartbreak and heroism."
In more recent years, Morgan has centered his attention on prominent figures in the Cold War era of mid-twentieth-century America. A Covert Life: Jay Lovestone, Communist, Anti-communist, and Spymaster is a biography of Lovestone, born Jacob Liebstein, who was the son of a rabbi and former boxer. He was also perhaps the most prominent figure in American organized labor from the end of World War II until the mid-1970s. Lovestone's "influence reached well beyond the confines of the trade union movement; it may be an exaggeration to describe Lovestone as an architect of American Cold War policy, but it is beyond dispute that his views played a role in stiffening the backbone of wavering officials during the conflict's early years," commented reviewer Arch Puddington in the National Interest. But Lovestone's ways were secretive, and much speculation has arisen about his life and work. Morgan provides a thoroughly detailed biography that illuminates much of what Lovestone did, how he lived, his political power, his supporters and enemies, and his influence on American policy. Communism was Lovestone's prime enemy, and he battled it in America and abroad—ironic in that Lovestone has previously been the leader of the American Communist party but was removed by party leaders in Moscow. "A Covert Life is an impressive achievement that succeeds in enlightening us about labor's international operations while providing an engrossing portrait of one of the Cold War's most mysterious personalities," Puddington concluded.
Reds: McCarthyism in Twentieth-Century America is a work that attempts to reevaluate the troubled history of reviled anti-communist crusader Senator Joseph McCarthy. His name has become synonymous with baseless witch-hunts designed to find wrongdoing and villains even where none exist. He was responsible for ruining the lives and careers of dozens of Americans in politics, business, and entertainment in the mid-1950s. However, he was eventually silenced after making allegations about communist operatives in the U.S. Army. "The Army-McCarthy hearings, the first congressional proceedings to appear on television, exposed to the whole nation McCarthy's bullying and frequent resort to innuendo and exaggeration," Harvey Klehr observed in the New Republic. Three years after his censure by the U.S. Senate, McCarthy was dead, killed by heavy drinking. Morgan attempts to create a more sympathetic picture of the infamous senator. However, Morgan does not whitewash "McCarthy's willingness to exaggerate, lie, and bully in pursuit of his career," noted Klehr. Morgan also makes it plain that "McCarthy was congenitally incapable of distinguishing among Soviet spies, Communist Party members, communist sympathizers, and liberal dupes," Klehr stated. Morgan does, however, reexamine the nature of the actual Communist threat against America during McCarthy's time period, and concludes that a genuine threat did indeed exist, and that McCarthy's heavyhanded tactics were an exaggerated reaction that did expose some of those perils, and that "vile as his methods were, he was right about a significant threat to American life," Klehr noted.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Antioch Review, fall, 1978, Frederick E. Hoxie, review of On Becoming American.
Best Sellers, July, 1978, review of On Becoming American.
Booklist, March 1, 1995, Gilbert Taylor, review of A Shovel of Stars: The Making of the American West, 1800 to the Present, p. 1177.
Historian, winter, 1994, Scott Riney, review of Wilderness at Dawn: The Settling of the North American Continent, p. 435.
Library Journal, November 15, 2003, Ed Goedeken, review of Reds: McCarthyism in Twentieth-Century America, p. 80.
Nation, May 24, 1999, Paul Buhle, review of A Covert Life, p. 25.
National Interest, summer, 1999, Arch Puddington, review of A Covert Life, p. 132.
New Republic, February 16, 2004, Harvey Klehr, review of Reds: McCarthyism in Twentieth-Century America, p. 32.
Newsweek, December 1, 2003, David Gates, review of Reds: McCarthyism in Twentieth-Century America, p. 64.
New York Times, April 11, 1978, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of On Becoming American; March 9, 1980, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Maugham.
New York Times Book Review, April 2, 1978, William Manchester, review of On Becoming American; March 9, 1980, Margaret Drabble, review of Maugham.
Publishers Weekly, March 8, 1993, review of Wilderness at Dawn, p. 58; February 27, 1995, review of A Shovel of Stars, p. 94; November 14, 2005, review of My Battle of Algiers, p. 55.
Saturday Review, February 4, 1978, Jane Larkin Crain, review of On Becoming American.
Times (London, England), April 24, 1980, Michael Ratcliffe, review of Maugham.
Times Literary Supplement, April 25, 1980, Victoria Glendinning, review of Maugham.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), March 30, 1980, interview with Ted Morgan.
Washington Post, April 18, 1980, Michael Kernan, review of Maugham.
Washington Post Book World, March 26, 1978, Henry Fairlie, review of On Becoming American.