Wright, William 1930–
Wright, William 1930–
PERSONAL: Born October 22, 1930, in Philadelphia, PA; son of William Connor and Josephine (Hartshorne) Wright. Education: Yale University, B.A., 1952.
CAREER: Writer. Holiday, New York, NY, associate editor, 1960–65; Venture, New York, NY, articles editor, 1968–70; Chicagoan, Chicago, IL, editor, 1969–71; Leisureguide, Chicago, editor, 1971–74; Chicago, Chicago, interim editor, 1974; full-time writer, 1974. Gian Carlo Menotti's Spoleto Festival, general manager, 1965. Military service: U.S. Army, Chinese translator, 1952–55.
Ball: A Year in the Life of the April in Paris Extravaganza, Saturday Review Press (New York, NY), 1972.
The Washington Game, Dutton (New York, NY), 1974.
Heiress: The Rich Life of Marjorie Merriweather Post, New Republic Books (Washington, DC), 1979.
(With Luciano Pavarotti) Pavarotti: My Own Story, Doubleday (Garden City, NY), 1981.
The Von Buelow Affair, Delacorte (New York, NY), 1983.
Lillian Hellman: The Image, the Woman, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1986.
(With Eileen Franklin) Sins of the Father: The Landmark Franklin Case: A Daughter, a Memory, and a Murder, Crown (New York, NY), 1991.
All the Pain that Money Can Buy: The Life of Christina Onassis, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1991.
(With Pavarotti) Pavarotti, My World, Crown (New York, NY), 1995.
Born that Way: Genes, Behavior, Personality, Knopf (New York, NY), 1998.
Harvard's Secret Court: The Savage 1920 Purge of Campus Homosexuals, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 2005.
Rich Relations (novel), Putnam (New York, NY), 1980.
Contributor to Oui, Travel, Leisure, Town & Country, and Vanity Fair.
WORK IN PROGRESS: A play.
SIDELIGHTS: As a biographer and writer of general nonfiction, William Wright has received wide critical attention for his books.
In The Von Buelow Affair, Wright offers an account of what led to the sensational 1982 conviction of Claus Von Buelow for the attempted murder of his wife, Martha "Sunny" Von Buelow, the heiress to a seventy-five million dollar natural gas fortune. In the opinion of Washington Post contributor Susan Jacoby: "Wright has written a fascinating social and legal history that not only clarifies many of the issues in the case but illustrates the deficiencies of daily journalism—in particular, television journalism—in dealing with a complicated running story. Wright also casts considerable light on the mystifying phenomenon of popular sympathy for Von Buelow." Dudley Clendinen, writing in the New York Times Book Review, found that Wright's account "dispels the aura in which the very rich are veiled … and gives back to Sunny … a measure of the dignity that was stolen from her."
Playwright Lillian Hellman penned in her later years three memoirs, An Unfinished Woman, Pentimento, and Scoundrel Time, which obscured rather than clari-fied her life story. As a means of bringing the edges into better focus, Wright approached Hellman for authorization to do her official biography. Hellman refused and did much to obstruct Wright's path. Even so, noted Paul Roazen in the Toronto Globe and Mail, "Wright succeeded in interviewing more than 150 people who had known her. Out of the welter of contradictory material, Wright has fashioned a remarkably fair-minded book." Wright's Lillian Hellman: The Image, the Woman is, according to Patricia Gold-stone in her Los Angeles Times Book Review article, a "meticulously researched, evenhanded and intuitive biography of America's arguably greatest female playwright." Goldstone believed that Wright "has written three books in one. Lillian Hellman is a book about theater, a book about women and success, and a book about the political forces shaping the American intellectual left since the 1930s." Goldstone also noted: "The most pruriently fascinating aspect of the book is of course Hellman the Woman, who appears, at least in some aspects, as monstrous as her most memorable dramatic creation, Regina in The Little Foxes."
According to the New York Times Book Review's Frank Rich: "Wright seems an unlikely candidate to sort out the Hellman story. As it happens, he possesses an essential attribute that more passionate writers who either loved or reviled his subject do not: he really is an objective observer." Rich continued: "His main concern is facts, which he has diligently collected, documented and analyzed." Rich also noted: "Wright's biography replaces the saintly, often fictive Lillian Hellman of her memoirs with a flawed, real-life Lillian Hellman." New Republic contributor Eric Breindel commented that Hellman had cause for concern when Wright approached her to chronicle her life: "She was right to be concerned. Wright's excellent book punctures many myths."
Wright is also the author of Harvard's Secret Court: The Savage 1920 Purge of Campus Homosexuals. In this book, Wright recounts how the suicide of Harvard student Cyril Wilcox, who was a homosexual, led to a secret investigation that was more like a "witch hunt" into the lives of students. The investigation ultimately resulted in the suicide of another student as well as the destruction of both the reputations and careers of numerous others. Wright bases much of his book on documents from the secret court, which were discovered in 2002. Writing in Publishers Weekly, a reviewer noted that the author "succeeds in compiling a drama that will satisfy readers thirsty for pop-historical scandals." A Kirkus Reviews contributor wrote: "Harvard betrays itself and Wright's restrained telling staples a condemnation square on the school's forehead."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 44, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1987.
Wright, William, Lillian Hellman: The Image, the Woman, Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1986.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), January 17, 1987, Paul Roazen, review of Lillian Hellman: The Image, the Woman.
Kirkus Reviews, July 1, 2005, review of Harvard's Secret Court: The Savage 1920 Purge of Campus Homosexuals, p. 728.
Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 4, 1987, Patricia Goldstone, review of Lillian Hellman.
New Republic, March 30, 1987, Eric Breindel, review of Lillian Hellman, p. 39.
Newsweek, November 24, 1986, Laura Shapiro, review of Lillian Hellman, p. 92.
New Yorker, January 26, 1987, review of Lillian Hell-man, p. 86.
New York Times, November 23, 1986, Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, review of Lillian Hellman, p. 17.
New York Times Book Review, July 3, 1983, Dudley Clendinen, review of The Von Buelow Affair, p. 10; November 23, 1986, Frank Rich, review of Lillian Hellman, p. 1.
Publishers Weekly, June 27, 2005, review of Harvard's Secret Court, p. 49.
Spectator, August 6, 1983, Taki, review of The Von Buelow Affair.
Time, July 4, 1983, review of The Von Buelow Affair, p. 71.
Times (London, England), May 21, 1987.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), November 9, 1986, review of Lillian Hellman, p. 3.
Washington Post, June 6, 1983, Susan Jacoby, review of The Von Buelow Affair, p. B4.