Naifeh, Steven Woodward 1952-
NAIFEH, Steven Woodward 1952-
PERSONAL: Surname is pronounced "Nay-fee"; born June 19, 1952, in Tehran, Iran; U.S. citizen; son of George Amel (a consultant) and Marion (a professor; maiden name, Lanphear) Naifeh; life partner of Gregory White Smith (a writer). Education: Princeton University, A.B. (summa cum laude), 1974; Harvard University, J.D., 1977, M.A., 1978.
ADDRESSES: Office—Woodward/White, Inc., Suite F2, 1359 Silver Bluff Rd., Aiken, SC 29803. Agent—Connie Clausen, Connie Clausen Associates, 250 East 87th St., New York, NY 10028.
CAREER: National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, staff lecturer, summer, 1976; Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy (law firm), New York, NY, associate, summer, 1976; Sabbagh, Naifeh & Associates, Inc. (consulting and public relations firm), Washington, DC, vice-president, beginning 1980; founder and president, with Gregory White Smith, of Woodward/White, Inc., Aiken, SC, 1981—; chair, Best Doctors, Inc., 1988—. Art exhibited in solo shows in the United States, United Arab Emirates, Nigeria, and Pakistan; lecturer in art.
MEMBER: Phi Beta Kappa.
AWARDS, HONORS: (With Gregory White Smith) National Book Award nomination for nonfiction, 1990, and Pulitzer Prize, 1991, both for Jackson Pollock: An American Saga.
Culture Making: Money, Success, and the New York Art World, Princeton University Press (Princeton, NJ), 1976.
WITH GREGORY WHITE SMITH
Moving Up in Style, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1980.
Gene Davis, Arts Publisher, 1981.
(With Michael Morgenstern) How to Make Love to a Woman, C. N. Potter (New York, NY), 1982.
What Every Client Needs to Know about Using a Lawyer, Putnam (New York, NY), 1982.
The Bargain Hunter's Guide to Art Collecting, Morrow (New York, NY), 1982.
The Best Lawyers in America, Woodward/White (New York, NY), 1983, 8th edition, 2001.
Why Can't Men Open Up?: Overcoming Men's Fear of Intimacy, C. N. Potter (New York, NY), 1984.
The Human Animal, 1985.
The Mormon Murders: A True Story of Greed, Forgery, Deceit, and Death, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (New York, NY), 1988.
Jackson Pollock: An American Saga, C. N. Potter (New York, NY), 1989.
The Best Lawyers in America: Directory of Expert Witnesses, Woodward/White (New York, NY), 1990, revised edition, Woodward/White (Aiken, SC), 2002.
Final Justice: The True Story of the Richest Man Ever Tried for Murder, Dutton (New York, NY), 1993.
A Stranger in the Family: A True Story of Murder, Madness, and Unconditional Love, Dutton, (New York, NY), 1995.
On a Street Called Easy, in a Cottage Called Joye, Broadway Books (New York, NY), 1996.
Making Miracles Happen, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1997.
Also author, with Smith, of The Best Doctors in America, published by Best Doctors, Inc. (Arlington, VA). Contributor to Arts, Art International, and African Arts.
ADAPTATIONS: Jackson Pollock: An American Saga was adapted to film as Pollock, produced by Sony Pictures, 2000; film rights to The Mormon Murders: A True Story of Greed, Forgery, Deceit, and Death were sold.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Two "true crime" books for New American Library.
SIDELIGHTS: Exhaustive research and a highly readable style are the hallmarks of the most well-known and widely reviewed books by Steven Woodward Naifeh and his collaborator and domestic partner, Gregory White Smith. The two men met as students at Harvard University, where both were enrolled in the School of Law. Each of them graduated, but neither pursued a career as a lawyer. Naifeh's avocation, painting, led him to write his first book, Culture Making: Money, Success, and the New York Art World, a scholarly examination of the complex relationship between artists, the general public, and dealers in fine art. The art world also provided the basis for one of Naifeh and Smith's first collaborations, a short biography of the painter Gene Davis.
Finding that they worked well together, the two settled on a more ambitious subject: a definitive biography of the man some consider the greatest American artist of this century, Jackson Pollock. Pollock was a leader of the Abstract Expressionism movement of the 1940s and 1950s, and through his painting he sought to depict the inner landscape of the mind. He became known as an "action painter" due to his revolutionary technique of placing his canvases on the floor and splattering paint on them from above. Naifeh and Smith began researching Pollock's life in 1982, never dreaming that they would publish six other books before completing the biography.
The authors studied every Pollock canvas to which they could gain access, read everything previously written about him, and interviewed 2,500 people connected with the artist, including his widow, the painter Lee Krasner; his brothers; and many of his close friends. Their research yielded 40,000 single-spaced half-pages of notes. Interpreting and organizing such a mass of information was a formidable and lengthy task, and Naifeh and Smith supported themselves while working on it by publishing moneymaking titles such as How to Make Love to a Woman and consumer guides based on their backgrounds in law.
Their best-known collaboration published before the Pollock biography was The Mormon Murders: A True Story of Greed, Forgery, Deceit, and Death. This true-crime book details the strange case of Mark Hofmann, a master forger who, in October, 1985, was arrested for murder. Hofmann, raised in the Church of the Latter-day Saints (Mormon), had privately renounced his religion and then gone on to create false documents discrediting the church's founder, Joseph Smith. Mormon leaders found the forgeries so threatening that they were willing to pay huge sums in order to possess them, intending to hide them away in secret archives. When Hofmann's elaborate schemes began to crumble and it looked as though his forgeries might be exposed, he bombed the homes of two prominent Mormons in order to divert attention from himself, then seriously wounded himself with a third bomb.
Naifeh and Smith drew on court records, police investigations, and personal interviews to produce a book that was laden with forensic, financial, and legal details. Some reviewers faulted the authors for a somewhat sensationalistic style, but John Katzenbach, writing in the New York Times Book Review, praised Naifeh and Smith for their perceptive examination of Hofmann's youth and the bearing it had on his later actions; for their characterizations of the police officers who built the case against Hofmann; and for their delineation of the tangle of deception that surrounded the investigation.
Even when engaged in work on The Mormon Murders and other titles, the authors continued to research and speculate on the life of Jackson Pollock. "Pollock was our life," Smith told Judith Weintraub of the Washington Post. "We had no social life. We had to be obsessed with the material." Finally, after spending some $100,000 on research and travel and devoting ten hours a day, five days a week, for three full years to writing, the book was finished: 934 pages covering even the most minor details of Pollock's life and the authors' theories on the psychological underpinnings of his work. The result was as controversial as it was long. Washington Post Book World contributor William Drozdiak called Jackson Pollock: An American Saga "monumental and impressive," and he praised the authors for their efforts to "achieve nothing less than a full understanding of the complex social and psychological forces that lay behind the work of an artist considered by many to be America's greatest abstract painter." He further credited Naifeh and Smith with having "marshalled an exhaustive array of material to buttress their interpretation of Pollock's life."
On the other end of the critical spectrum, however, were reviewers such as Elizabeth Frank, who stated in the New York Times Book Review that the authors' collaborative style was "based on the kind of glib, reckless, off-the-rack psychobiography that is dazzling in its lack of speculative humility and intellectual caution. There are no questions in this book, only answers." Frank went on to add that Naifeh and Smith "proceed as if diving into the unconscious of a great artist were as easy as diving into a swimming pool. They are too literal, too positive, too contemptuous of Pollock and too ignorant of the ways in which the unconscious remains just that to explain his life or work in terms satisfactory from either an art-historical or a psychological perspective."
Speaking with Los Angeles Times writer Suzanne Muchnic, Naifeh and Smith explained that "an antibiographical bias in the art field" was the source of much of the negative reaction to their book. By delving into questions of Pollock's sexual orientation and exposing some of the less-attractive aspects of his life—such as his violent streak, his heavy drinking and his obsession with urinating in public—the authors broke many taboos of the art history world. "There's very little written about incredibly important artists," Naifeh told Muchnic. "And because it's never done, it seems unethical. Fifty percent of the people we talked to spent all of their spare time gossiping about everybody else's sex life, but the idea that you would actually talk about sex in a book, no matter how relevant that might be to the works of art, is somehow unseemly. . . . We knew we would get flak from certain quarters for writing a book that was readable. There's no jargon in it. . . . Someone writing about a literary figure would be excused the effort to make the product a literary experience in its own right, whereas the art world will not make such allowances."
Naifeh rejected the notion, advanced by some reviewers, that because he and Smith showed Pollock as somewhat uncontrolled and inarticulate, they did not respect the artist. "Some educated people have a hard time seeing that people can be intelligent without being verbal, without being articulate, without being logical, that there is an intelligence that is intuitive and emotional and visual without being translated into words," Naifeh told Muchnic. "What's wonderful about Jackson is the triumph over vulgarity of human life and his own desires and the coarseness and brutishness of his own life to create these incredible, lyrical, magical images. Jackson took the most tormented aspects of his daily life and worked them into his masterpieces."
Returning to the "true crime" genre characterized by The Mormon Murders, Naifeh and Smith followed Pollock with Final Justice: The True Story of the Richest Man Ever Tried for Murder. The book draws on the case of Cullen Davis, scion of a Texas millionaire who had amassed his fortune by "questionable means," as a Publishers Weekly contributor put it. A withdrawn adolescent who was abused by his father, Davis grew into what the reviewer called a "monstrous adult" who in 1976 was accused of the murder of the acquaintance and daughter of a friend of his estranged wife. Though Davis was also in court on subsequent murder-for-hire charges, he was never indicted, "thanks to a legal staff that eventually numbered thirty and the expenditure of perhaps $20 million," according to the reviewer.
The Publishers Weekly critic praised the authors' efforts in Final Justice, and similar notices accompanied the 1995 release of A Stranger in the Family: A True Story of Murder, Madness, and Unconditional Love. The titular stranger is Danny Starrett, who outwardly led a normal, middle-class life as a husband and father. But while his wife was away visiting her parents, Starrett engaged in violent sprees against young women in South Carolina and Georgia. After overwhelming evidence was brought against Starrett, he confessed to five rapes and one murder, the murder victim being a fifteen-year-old girl to whose body Starrett led the police. Stranger covers the events surrounding the crimes and the trials, particularly the efforts of Starrett's mother, Gerry, to spare her son from Georgia's electric chair. It was Gerry who "gave [Naifeh and Smith] unlimited cooperation and access to her son and his prison journals," Pam Lambert pointed out in a People article.
Stranger in the Family uses prison interviews and diary excerpts to delve into the troubled past of the convicted murderer, plus the reactions of Starrett's relatives, who at first refused to believe that their loved one had committed such heinous crimes. In a review for Entertainment Weekly, Gene Lyons thought that by telling the story from the Starretts' point of view, the authors "paint themselves into a corner." But Lambert had another view, saying the case of a family manturned-murderer is a "bizarre odyssey that makes for compelling reading." Booklist's Sue-Ellen Beauregard thought that this account "lacks the punch" of Final Justice, but conceded that the excerpts from Starrett's diary "lend some insight into his disturbed mind." A Publishers Weekly contributor deemed the work "a powerful and perceptive study."
All the while Naifeh and Smith were producing Pollock, Final Justice, and other popular books, the authors were confronting a personal drama of their own. In 1986, Smith was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor; doctors gave him no more than six months to live. That prognosis didn't sit well with Smith, who embarked on a mission to find the doctor who would give him a better chance at survival. He searched worldwide until he found a neuroaudiologist in New York "whose experimental procedure shrank my [tumor] by half," as Smith related on the Best Doctors Web site. "That bought me the time I needed to search for still other specialists to provide me with the rest of the options and treatment I needed." Eleven years after being handed that initial death sentence, Smith and Naifeh published Making Miracles Happen, an account of Smith's medical journey. "With clarity, insight and no trace of self-pity," wrote a Publishers Weekly critic, the authors chronicle Smith's treatment and illustrate the stories of "other patients and physicians who struggle to obtain and provide innovative approaches to catastrophic illness or injury."
Their work in locating treatment for Smith's condition led the authors to found Best Doctors, Inc., a physician referral service dedicated to matching seriously ill patients with information on specialists who may be able to provide the best possible care; the organization also publishes a Best Doctors directory. In 1998, Best Doctors was the subject of an approving profile on the newsmagazine 60 Minutes. In a similar vein, Naifeh and Smith publish the annual guide to The Best Lawyers in America.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, September 1, 1993, review of Final Justice: The True Story of the Richest Man Ever Tried for Murder, p. 15; May 15 1995, Sue-Ellen Beauregard, review of A Stranger in the Family: a True Story of Murder, Madness, and Unconditional Love, p. 1618; May 15, 1996, Margaret Flanagan, review of On a Street Called Easy, in a Cottage Called Joye, p. 1567; August, 1997, William Beatty, review of Making Miracles Happen, p. 1857.
Chicago Tribune, March 24, 1985.
Colonial Homes, June, 1996, Liesl Copland, review of On a Street Called Easy, in a Cottage Called Joye, p. 23.
Daily Business Review, February 16, 2001, "Making the List," p. B3.
Entertainment Weekly, June 9, 1995, Gene Lyons, review of A Stranger in the Family, p. 51; June 28, 1996, Nikki Amdur, review of On a Street Called Easy, in a Cottage Called Joye, p. 100.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 1993, review of Final Justice, p. 844; April 1, 1995, review of A Stranger in the Family, p. 449.
Library Journal, April 15, 1995, review of A Stranger in the Family, p. 99; July, 1997, Kay Hogan, review of Making Miracles Happen, p. 116.
Los Angeles Times, February 1, 1990.
New York Times, November 12, 1988; January 25, 1990.
New York Times Book Review, October 9, 1988; January 28, 1990.
People, November 20, 1995, Pam Lambert, review of A Stranger in the Family, p. 32.
Publishers Weekly, July 26, 1993, review of Final Justice, p. 54; May 1, 1995, review of A Stranger in the Family, p. 50; March 11, 1996, 50; June 2, 1997, review of Making Miracles Happen, p. 58.
Times (London, England), March 24, 1990.
Times Literary Supplement, November 25, 1977; June 9, 1989; March 16, 1990.
Washington Post, January 30, 1990.
Washington Post Book World, October 9, 1988; January 21, 1990; August 6, 1995, review of A Stranger in the Family, p. 13; August 13, 1995, review of A Stranger in the Family, p. 13.
Best Doctors,http://www.bestdoctors.com/ (October 9, 2002).*