It’s been a frenetic 48 hours, dealing with the Times’ article, printed today, which suggests that Maynard Nottage is a hoax. Well, he’s not. Or, as I was quoted in the Times, “Did I consider I was being hoaxed? Of course I did. But I don’t think so.”
The reason for my belief is this: Nottage’s rough collection of papers, the majority of which were written in hindsight in the 1940s and 50s, were handed to me after lengthy negotiation with his cautious family, just prior to writing The Fame Formula, at the beginning of 2007.
Nottage’s family was deeply ashamed of the drunk and bitter old man who was left in the cold by Hollywood for 35 years and it took some persuading to get them to give up his secrets, and they only did so with certain caveats attached, such as the assurance that I would not reveal the true name of Nottage’s grand-daughter, who appears in the book under the pseudonym Lynda Fairweather, and that I would not glorify Maynard Nottage.
From reading his papers, it is clear that Nottage had ten or so good years in the movie publicity industry in the very early days, when the media was in its infancy, and became such a liability by the early 1920s that he was excised entirely. Publicists were not held in high esteem by the rest of Hollywood; they were routinely dismissed until people like Henry Rogers and Warren Cowan made them a little more respectable in the 1950s.
As I say in The Fame Formula: “The past meant little in Hollywood, but the people who mattered had long memories.” And long knives, too. It is not hard to imagine people like Howard Strickling, Eddie Mannix, William Randolph Hearst et al wanting to suppress the anarchic, drunken Nottage, if only to make their professions seem more respectable and less prone to embarrassment. Nottage was certainly a difficult and at times unpleasant man and I believe I have portrayed him warts and all, as the family wished.
As to the stories that Richard Evans believes are a little too far fetched to be true, that may well be the case. I quoted them nonetheless, because they were in Nottage’s archive. There is much of Harry Reichenbach’s life that I had to take on trust also, and he is fairly well documented, albeit mostly in his own autobiography. It is far from easy to verify many of the stories he tells about his early life now.
Reichenbach, too, had until a few years ago all but vanished from the annals of movie history, warranting only a couple of mentions here and there, and he was the most successful publicist of the early silent era, the man who encouraged Disney to believe in Mickey Mouse.
It is the cautionary side to Nottage’s nature, and my intent to express his life as such, that finally persuaded his family to let me have his papers. It is interesting, also, to note that although a member of Nottage’s family actually spoke to one of the reporters at the Times, no mention was made of this conversation in the article.
Much has happened since the Times story went online, a lot of which has been reassuring. I have been sent any number of interested and supportive emails and have even received offers for a movie based on elements of The Fame Formula – of which, more later. It’ll be interesting to see just where this all leads. And, if I am to take a positive view of all that has happened, then at least the Frankfurt book fair is in full swing and the article’s timing will improve the book’s talkability there no end.
But most importantly, whatever Richard Evans (the freelancer who took the “hoax” story to the Times and who smugly congratulated himself for being the first person to raise this issue, despite The Scotsman beating him to it two months ago) may think, I stand by Maynard Nottage, a man who throws the publicity industry into sharp relief because he became so sucked into the fame industry that it destroyed him.