Taylor, John 1955-
TAYLOR, John 1955-
PERSONAL: Born April 20, 1955, in Yokosuka, Japan; son of Jay (an American diplomat) and Elizabeth (Rose) Taylor; married Maureen Sherwood (a journalist), December 19, 1982 (divorced, 1994); children: Jessica. Education: University of Chicago, B.A., 1977.
ADDRESSES: Home—East Moriches, NY. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Random House, 1745 Broadway, New York, NY 10009.
CAREER: Journalist and author. Newsweek, New York, NY, editorial assistant, 1980-83; Business Week, New York, NY, staff editor, 1984; Manhattan, Inc., New York, NY, senior writer, 1984-87; New York, New York, NY, contributing editor, beginning in 1987.
AWARDS, HONORS: Storming the Magic Kingdom was named a Notable Book of the Year, New York Times, 1987; Edgar Allan Poe Award nomination for best fact crime, Mystery Writers of America, 2003, for The Count and the Confession.
Storming the Magic Kingdom: Wall Street, the Raiders, and the Battle for Disney, Knopf (New York, NY), 1987.
Circus of Ambition: The Culture of Wealth and Power in the Eighties, Warner Books (New York, NY), 1989.
Falling: The Story of One Marriage, Random House (New York, NY), 1999.
The Count and the Confession: A True Mystery, Random House (New York, NY), 2002.
Contributor to magazines and newspapers, including Architectural Digest.
SIDELIGHTS: In addition to writing for major magazines, journalist John Taylor has written a handful of nonfiction books. In them he has chronicled such events as changes in the Walt Disney company, changes in New York society during the 1980s, changes in his own marriage, and a major change in the life of Roger Burke—his murder—and the subsequent investigation and conviction of the supposed murderer, who was later acquitted.
Taylor's book Storming the Magic Kingdom details the changes that Walt Disney Productions underwent during the 1980s to become the more varied Walt Disney Company. As David McClintick reported in the New York Times Book Review, "Taylor portrays well the diverse cultures and styles of the people and institutions that govern contemporary show business and fight the eternal battle over who should run things." The book recounts how the unsuccessful takeover attempt by famed corporate raider Saul Steinberg weakened the company and allowed the subsequent takeover by Roy E. Disney (nephew of cartoonist and entrepreneur Walt Disney) and his corporate ally Sid Bass. According to Taylor, Roy Disney had reportedly become increasingly disturbed by the drop in Disney stock prices, which he blamed on mismanagement of the company's film studios by his uncle's hand-picked successors. Under the direction of Roy Disney's appointees, the new company has produced films, such as Down and Out in Beverly Hills and Ruthless People, of a type not associated with its previous orientation towards children. These diversification efforts have been largely successful, and Disney stock had risen to record prices by the book's publication.
Taylor "employs the fly-on-the-wall narrative that is now standard for such business tales," described Peter Behr in the Washington Post Book World, "recreating the flow of conversations, telephone calls, arguments, conferences and scheming by which the takeover fight progressed." McClintick lauded Storming the Magic Kingdom as having "told [its] story quite well overall, capturing the supreme importance of egos and personal relationships in the governance of business, particularly show business." "For those unfamiliar with the combination of ego and economics that drive takeovers," concluded Behr, "the Disney story is a good primer."
Taylor told CA: "Growing up abroad and moving every two years or so instilled a sort of restlessness in me that made me very suited for journalism. What interested me in business was the drama and the psychology of the deal. The business side of Hollywood is almost entirely deal-driven, and that is one of the reasons the entertainment industry is so intriguing to write about. The Walt Disney Company made a deal with the corporate raider Saul Steinberg to prevent him from acquiring the company in a hostile takeover and liquidating it. It was this deal that initially interested me. But as I pursued the story I became more interested in the corporate culture of Disney—the anthropological side of business. Disney is one of the strangest and most fascinating corporations in the country. To research the book, I interviewed virtually all of the participants and combed through the Disney archives."
In Circus of Ambition: The Culture of Wealth and Power in the Eighties, Taylor puts the era in historical perspective, "comparing it with the Gilded Age that followed the Civil War," to quote People's Elizabeth Wurtzel. The eighties were infamous for the prevailing attitude that more was more and having wealth did not obligate one to contribute to the broader community. Taylor presents New York men who are members of this nouveau (and irresponsible) riche. Among the portraits in this "amusing book," as Wall Street Journal reviewer Amy Gamerman dubbed it, are investor Charlie Atkins, artist Mark Kostabi, and financier John Gutfreund. According to Wurtzel, the book's flaw is in Taylor's "treatment of women"; that is, he ignores them, except as the wives of powerful men.
Taylor's Falling: The Story of a Marriage is really the story of a divorce, the eventual end of his twelve-year marriage to writer Maureen Sherwood. A year after the couple married, Maureen learned that she had Parkinson's disease. The couple decided to have a child and that Maureen would be an at-home mother with their daughter, Jessica. Then the Taylors' marriage began to disintegrate. John had a series of affairs but could not call it quits, and finally Maureen ended their relationship. A first version of this story, one that was made up of side-by-side articles by both people, appeared in Esquire, and then John produced the book Falling. The work caught the attention of critics, who commented on Taylor's prose style and compared the subject matter to that of Hanif Kureishi's novel Intimacy. While Taylor's writing is "lucid and lovely," noted Time's Elizabeth Gleick, "his best efforts to explain what brought him and his wife Maureen to the point of divorce . . . are not completely satisfactory." "Seemingly in an attempt to make sense of it all, Taylor continues to explore, with admirable seriousness, the concepts of love, duty, fidelity and commitment," wrote Joyce Maynard in the Los Angeles Times. She noted as well that his "story includes the element—rare in a memoir—of a certain scholarship and intellectual curiosity." While a Publishers Weekly contributor described the work as "eloquent and deeply felt," Library Journal reviewer Joyce Sparrow found this level of detail to be "excruciating." Looking from another perspective was Richard A. Shweder of the New York Times Book Review, who noted the work's satirical tone. In his opinion, Taylor "burlesques almost everything in sight: liberated women, marriage counselors, trial separations, mediated settlements, even the various women with whom he had extramarital affairs." This bitter tone wreaks havoc with the reader's perception of the author, as Shweder explained: "The more he intermingles mordacious taunts with apparently earnest reflections on the feelings and choices of a man suffocated by a less than satisfying matrimony, the harder it is to take him seriously or to distinguish what's satirical from what's sincere."
When Taylor read an article in the New York Times about Beverly Monroe appealing her conviction for the 1992 murder of Roger de la Burde, he became interested in the case. His interest led to the writing of The Count and the Confession: A True Mystery. In researching the trial, Taylor read the 300-page habeas corpus petition and 300 more pages of exhibits sent to him by Monroe's daughter. "By the time I finished reading all that, I realized that I'd stumbled on an incredibly fascinating story," Taylor later told Bella Stander at the Bella Stander Web site. Taylor felt compelled to write the book because he had come to believe that Beverly Monroe was innocent of the murder for which she was convicted through a series of personal and juridical mistakes. Ten days before the book was scheduled to debut, Taylor learned that Monroe had been acquitted on appeal and released. Taylor was happy to rewrite the ending of The Count and the Confession in a mere week and a half. Critical assessments of this true-crime story varied. "Taylor does a nuanced job on the elements of scandal and personal weakness, never allowing this true story to slip into titillating sensationalism," praised Kai Maristed in the Los Angeles Times. "But it is when he lays bare the legal, procedural and institutional scandal and weakness that his work really shines," Maristed added. James B. Stewart, writing in the New York Times Book Review, noted that the book "has all the elements of a compelling murder mystery," yet found it lacking in suspense. Nevertheless, Stewart commented that while "some readers may be left unsatisfied by so many unresolved mysteries, others will be fascinated by them." "In any event," he concluded, "The Count and the Confession is an important study in the legal principle of reasonable doubt, not to mention good reading."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, February 15, 1999, Danise Hoover, review of Falling: The Story of a Marriage, p. 1015; April 15, 2002, James Klise, review of The Count and the Confession: A True Mystery, pp. 1367-1368.
Detroit News, May 3, 1987, review of Storming theMagic Kingdom: Wall Street, the Raiders, and the Battle for Disney.
Guardian (Manchester, England), March 15, 1999, Markie Robson-Scott, "Women: Crying All the Way to the Bank," review of Falling, p. T.006.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2002, review of The Count and the Confession, p. 321.
Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, June 19, 2002, Doris Bloodsworth, review of The Count and the Confession.
Library Journal, February 15, 1999, Joyce Sparrow, review of Falling, p. 163; April 1, 2002, Deirdre Bray Root, review of The Count and the Confession, p. 126.
Los Angeles Times, June 28, 1987, review of Storming the Magic Kingdom; June 3, 1990, Charles Solomon, review of Circus of Ambition: The Cultureof Wealth and Power in the Eighties, p. 14; May 18, 1999, Joyce Maynard, "A Lopsided Account of One Couple's Split-Up," review of Falling, p. 1; May 31, 2002, Kai Maristed, "Case of the Cavalier 'Count' and the Scorned Woman," review of The Count and the Confession, p. E3.
New York Times, May 4, 1987, review of Storming theMagic Kingdom.
New York Times Book Review, May 10, 1987, David McClintick, review of Storming the Magic Kingdom; April 4, 1999, Richard A. Shweder, "Reader, I Divorced Her," review of Falling; May 26, 2002, James B. Stewart, review of The Count and the Confession.
People, March 5, 1990, Elizabeth Wurtzel, review of Circus of Ambition, pp. 30-31.
Publishers Weekly, January 18, 1999, review of Falling, p. 321; March 18, 2002, review of The Count and the Confession, pp. 85-86.
Time, February 19, 1990, John Greenwald, review of Circus of Ambition, p. 71; March 22, 1999, Elizabeth Gleick, "Bittersweet Sorrows," review of Falling, p. 102.
Toronto Star (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), July 28, 2002, "Dumb As a Post," review of The Count and the Confession.
Wall Street Journal, January 19, 1990, Amy Gamerman, "A Look Back at the Money-loving '80s," review of Circus of Ambition, p. A8; May 24, 2002, Melanie Thernstrom, "Fake Count, True Crime, Unlikely Suspect," review of The Count and the Confession, p. W.11.
Washington Post Book World, June 7, 1987, Peter Behr, review of Storming the Magic Kingdom.
Bella Stander Web site,http://www.bellastander.com/ (August-September, 2002), Bella Stander, "John Taylor."*