Summers, Anthony 1942-
Summers, Anthony 1942-
(Anthony Bruce Summers)
PERSONAL: Born December 21, 1942, in Bournemouth, England; son of Frederick (a hotelier) and Enid (a hotelier) Summers; married fourth wife, Robbyn Swan, 1992; children: (previous marriages) one daughter, two sons; (fourth marriage) one daughter, two sons. Education: New College, Oxford, B.A. (with honors), 1964.
ADDRESSES: Home—Ireland. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Knopf Publicity, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.
CAREER: Writer, journalist, and television producer. Swiss Broadcasting Corp., Berne, Switzerland, newsreader and writer, 1964; British Broadcasting Corp., London, England, news writer for Television News, 1965, researcher, producer, and senior film producer of 24-Hours and Panorama, 1965–76.
MEMBER: Authors Guild, Society of Authors, Crime Writers' Association, PEN, National Union of Journalists, Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theater Union.
AWARDS, HONORS: Golden Dagger Award, Crime Writer's Association, 1980, for Conspiracy.
(With Tom Mangold) The File on the Tsar, Harper & Row (New York, NY), 1976.
Conspiracy, McGraw Hill (New York, NY), 1980, revised edition published as Not in Your Lifetime, Marlowe (New York, NY), 1998.
Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe, Macmillan (New York, NY), 1985, revised edition, New American Library (New York, NY), 1986.
(With Stephen Dorrill) Honeytrap: The Secret Worlds of Stephen Ward, Weidenfeld & Nicolson (London, England), 1987.
Official and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, Putnam (New York, NY), 1993.
(With wife, Robbyn Swan) The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon, Viking (New York, NY), 2000.
(With Robbyn Swan) Sinatra: The Life, Knopf (New York, NY), 2005.
Contributor to Vanity Fair magazine.
ADAPTATIONS: Several of Summers's books have been developed into television documentaries; Goddess was dramatized for television; Honeytrap was turned into the film Scandal; Sinatra has been made into an audio book, Books on Tape, 2005.
SIDELIGHTS: "Anthony Summers … has a habit of taking worn-out subjects and making them seem fresh and alive again," wrote Christopher Lehmann-Haupt in the New York Times. Using the investigative skills he learned as a reporter for the British Broadcasting Corporation, Summers has offered readers treatments of such controversial topics as the fate of the last Russian tsar, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and the lives of film star Marilyn Monroe, F.B.I. director J. Edgar Hoover, and former president Richard Nixon. Although some critics have questioned the conclusions Summers draws in his journalistic inquiries, it is generally acknowledged that his books give interested readers a comprehensive analysis of historical events and complex personalities.
In The File on the Tsar, Summers and coauthor Tom Mangold question the official version of the death of Nicholas II and his family. The tsar, his wife, and his five children supposedly were slain by the Bolsheviks in a Siberian cellar on July 16, 1918. Summers' reexamination of the evidence led him to suggest that, while Nicholas and his son may have been captured and executed somewhere in Siberia that night, Tsarina Alexandra and her four daughters were spared for some six months before being presumably put to death—and one of the daughters, Anastasia, may have survived and resided in the United States as "Anna Anderson" until her death in 1984.
Spectator contributor Ronald Hingley believed that Summers and Mangold "have demolished the old story and replaced it with a version far more tentative but far more credible." With their "brilliant detective work," the authors "have made their mark on history," claimed Hingley. "No one, surely, will be able to write of the Romanov deaths again without taking their findings into account." A New Yorker contributor also praised the book, stressing its value as entertainment: "The book sets forth the facts with great ingenuity: on each page the reader weighs some new bit of evidence, sizes up some new witness, makes some imaginative connection—it's better than a jigsaw puzzle."
Political assassination again concerned Summers in Conspiracy, an examination of the shooting of President John F. Kennedy. "There have been so many books written about the assassination of President Kennedy—and among them so many of dubious merit and provenance—that the mind tends to freeze over at the prospect of yet another," remarked Lehmann-Haupt in his New York Times review of Summers' offering. Yet Conspiracy was highly rated by Lehmann-Haupt and others. It is a "huge, exhaustive, deeply unsettling book," to quote Eliot Fremont-Smith in the Village Voice. Summers organizes the confusing jumble of theories and evidence surrounding the crime in a "readable, understandable style," wrote Bill Boyarsky in the Los Angeles Times. In so doing, he demonstrates the superficiality of the Warren Commission's report, which attributed Kennedy's death solely to Lee Harvey Oswald.
Conspiracy shows Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald's connections to elements of the C.I.A. and anti-Castro groups that may have worked with organized crime to arrange the assassination. It suggests that Oswald may not have been the only gunman to fire at the president and that Oswald's own shooting death by Jack Ruby may have been a part of the larger conspiracy. Summers does not claim to know exactly what happened in Dallas in November, 1963, but as Nicholas Walter stated in Spectator, his "aim is not so much to answer questions as to show what questions must be asked, and his achievement is not so much to establish certainty as to illuminate uncertainty." Andrew Hacker in the New York Review of Books stated that Conspiracy "is exceptionally well-written, with all the tone and tension of an Eric Ambler thriller."
John F. Kennedy also figured prominently in Summers' third book because of his alleged liaison with film star Marilyn Monroe. Monroe's life and death, like Kennedy's assassination, has been the subject of many volumes. In Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe, Summers again succeeded in turning up new material on a well-worn topic, according to many reviewers. His research included reading the thirty-eight books published about the actress before his own appeared, as well as over six hundred interviews with people associated with her. He focuses on Monroe's last years, including her relationships with President Kennedy and his brother Robert F. Kennedy and the suspicious circumstances surrounding her presumed suicide. Summers suggests that Robert Kennedy may have been with Monroe on the night she died.
The result of Summers' work, according to Michael Musto in the Saturday Review, is "a voraciously readable smarmfest done with journalistic integrity. Goddess puts a brick wall of substance behind the kind of salaciousness roman à clef authors can only dream of." The reviewer went on to note: "But the true litmus test of a biography is whether all of its diggings amount to any new revelations and not just rewordings of old ones, and Goddess passes the test with honors." In a New York Times review, Lehmann-Haupt again commended Summers' style, stating: "Whether [or not] the case that Mr. Summers makes proves ultimately valid, it makes for extraordinary reading. Instead of bludgeoning the reader with his theories, he lures one on, and the drama of his presentation is nearly as great as what it finally reveals."
Controversy has surrounded the publication of Sum-mers's other biographies, including Offycial and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover and The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon. Summers reviewed voluminous amounts of primary source material and interviewed numerous people who were on intimate terms with Hoover and Nixon, and again the conclusions Summers draws cast dark shadows on the reputations of both biography subjects.
In the case of J. Edgar Hoover, Summers discusses the former F.B.I. head's homosexual relationships, producing witnesses who claim to have seen Hoover dressed in women's clothing. Summers details Hoover's obsessive harassment of civil rights leaders, American communists and liberals, and journalists sympathetic to left-wing causes. The author also suggests that Hoover was never fired by the eight presidents under whom he served because Hoover had damaging information on the presidents themselves. USA Today Magazine correspondent Gerald F. Kreyche wrote of Official and Confidential: "The real Hoover appeared too good to be true and, sad to say, was. The book is a well-written exercise in deconstruction." Kreyche added: "It abounds in facts, rumors, and allegations about Hoover's private life." Some reviewers felt that Summers relied on hearsay evidence from unreliable inter-viewees—an Economist contributor, for instance, found the book "about as convincing as the scandal sheets at supermarket check-out counters." In the Humanist, Gerry O'Sullivan felt that Summers was "using Hoover's sexual preference and fondness for gender-bending to demonize a man rightly and already despised for genuine reasons." Nevertheless, many critics cited Official and Confidential for its exhaustive treatment of Hoover's dangerous shortcomings. Leo Muray noted in Contemporary Review: "Every single one of the thirty-five chapters of the book is a thriller on its own: sex, spying, influence peddling, you name it, involving top people."
The Arrogance of Power constructs a case against Richard Nixon, based not only on the former leader's political record, but also on the conduct of his personal life. Among the controversial assertions reported in Summers' book are allegations that Nixon beat his wife on at least one occasion and that he abused alcohol and a mind-altering medication. These allegations drew loud objections from Nixon's daughters and some of his advisors, but few readers argued with some of the more damaging passages which concern Nixon's manipulation of peace talks in Vietnam in 1968 and his role in the Watergate burglary and subsequent cover-up. New York Times Book Review critic Christopher Hitchens declared: "The great merit of 'The Arrogance of Power' is that it takes much of what we already knew, or thought we knew (or darkly suspected), and refines and confirms and extends it. The inescapable conclusion, well bodyguarded by meticulous research and footnotes, is that in the Nixon era the United States was, in essence, a 'rogue state.'" In the Washington Post, David Greenberg noted that Summers "does enhance our knowledge of Nixon in significant ways." A Publishers Weekly contributor concluded: "Summers' impressive research largely backs up his condemnatory attitude." The reviewer went on to write: "It's the most thorough case against Nixon yet."
Summers once again writes in collaboration with his wife Robbyn Swan for the biography Sinatra: The Life. The authors conducted numerous interviews and drew from a wide range of sources to create a profile that includes the well-publicized darker side of the singer's life, such as his marriages and love life and his connections with organized crime. Summers and Swan also examine the Rat Pack, a well-known group of entertainers who helped put Las Vegas on the map with Sinatra as their titular leader. The relationship with the Kennedy family is also examined. Writing in Spectator, Frederic Raphael notedthat the authors "add candour to the usual candy in the comfortable knowledge that, Sinatra gone, two guys from Sicily won't come calling." A Reference & Research Book News contributor predicted that "fans will relish" the biography.
Summers once told CA: "For me, 'journalism'—when I worked for the British Broadcasting Corporation—was a profession requiring much more than just processing the news. It meant exhausting all avenues of inquiry before turning in a story or film documentary, on the principle that no work was ever truly completed; it was merely delivered. The BBC of those days gave me great freedom to work this way, and today—watching other journalists working under more severe budget and time strictures—I think I was very lucky. Greedy for even more freedom, I turned to nonfiction book writing and, mercifully, have received generous publishers' advances that have made it possible to dig long and deep. My two most recent works consumed five years apiece, and the last resulted in more than a thousand interviews and cost the best part of a million dollars. Without time and substantial budgets 'my' sort of book cannot be written. Few enough are.
"Biography is nothing unless it aims to reveal not only what is unknown but above all at least aspires to impart that elusive item, 'The Truth.' Accuracy and reliability are all or the author does an injustice both to subject and reader. Nothing can be off limits if the author keeps the grail of truth in his sights. A biographer must also strive to be fair, compassionate rather than predatory, to weigh the evidence, and to find the right balance. 'The history of the world,' Thomas Carlyle said, 'is but the biography of great men.' To that we can add the old truism, that those who ignore mankind's follies in history are destined to repeat them. And without wishing to sound pious, I hope I may claim to do my work with such thoughts never far from my mind. Meanwhile, I want my books to reach a multitude of people. So I try as best I can to write not for university professors and the critics but to inform—and, yes, entertain—the ordinary reader."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Review, June, 1993, Leo Muray, review of Offycial and Confidential: The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, p. 333; January, 2001, James Mun-son, review of The Arrogance of Power: The Secret World of Richard Nixon, p. 62.
Economist, March 6, 1993, review of Offycial and Confidential, p. 93; July 16, 2005, review of Sinatra: The Life, p. 82.
Humanist, July-August, 1993, Gerry O'Sullivan, "G-Wo/Man," p. 34.
Los Angeles Times, July 17, 1980, Bill Boyarsky, review of Conspiracy.
Nation, November 6, 2000, Jon Wiener, "Another 'October Surprise,'" p. 25.
New Statesman & Society, March 12, 1993, Phil Edwards, review of Official and Confidential, p. 39.
New Yorker, January 31, 1977, review of The File on the Tsar, p. 82.
New York Review of Books, July 17, 1980, Andrew Hacker, review of Conspiracy, p. 12.
New York Times, July 22, 1980, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Conspiracy, p. C9; September 19, 1985, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Goddess: The Secret Lives of Marilyn Monroe, p. 23.
New York Times Book Review, October 8, 2000, Christopher Hitchens, "Let Me Say This about That," p. 14.
People, March 22, 1993, Pam Lambert, "Hoover Unveiled: A Controversial New Book Explores J. Edgar's Strange Other Life," p. 87.
Publishers Weekly, August 28, 2000, review of The Arrogance of Power, p. 72.
Reference & Research Book News, August, 2005, review of Sinatra, p. 217.
Saturday Review, November, 1985, Michael Musto, review of Goddess, p. 65.
Spectator, September 11, 1976, Ronald Hingley, review of The File on the Tsar; May 17, 1980, Nicholas Walter, review of Conspiracy; July 30, 2005, Frederic Raphael, review of Sinatra, p. 30.
USA Today Magazine, July, 1993, Gerald F. Kreyche, review of Official and Confidential, p. 96.
Village Voice, June 25, 1980, Eliot Fremont-Smith, review of Conspiracy, p. 37.
Washington Post, September 4, 1985, David Green-berg, review of The Arrogance of Power, p. B2.
Random House Web site, http://www.randomhouse.com/ (March 1, 2006), brief profile of author.