“Turn Every Page: The Adventures of Robert Caro and Robert Gottlieb” plays at the M.V. Film Center on Friday, Feb. 10. Any viewer at all interested in writing and editing shouldn’t miss this documentary about the legendary relationship between writer Caro and editor Gottlieb.
Caro’s first book, “The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York” (1974), was a study of the infamous city planner who changed the landscape of New York City. Caro won a Pulitzer Prize for the book, and was a finalist for the National Book Award. As if that wasn’t enough, Caro’s in-depth biography of Moses’ use and misuse of power is considered one of the greatest books of the 20th and 21st centuries. The nature of power is Caro’s subject.
This author went on to write four volumes of “The Years of Lyndon Johnson” (1982,1990, 2002, 2012), and he is still working on the fifth. Just as important to his influence as a biographer is the editor, Robert Gottlieb, who worked so closely with him.
Both men grew up with difficult fathers, and Caro lost his mother at the age of 12. Like Caro, Gottlieb was born into a Jewish family and grew up in New York. He became editor-in-chief at Simon & Schuster, and went on to hold the top positions at Alfred A. Knopf and the New Yorker. A writer as well as an editor, he has produced three biographies and three anthologies, as well as an autobiography, “Avid Reader: A Life” (2016). His essay collection, “Near-Death Experiences … and Others,” includes illustrations of his extensive collection of plastic handbags. He’s considered one of the greatest editors of the 20th century,
“Turn Every Page,” directed by Gottlieb’s daughter Lizzie, focuses on the exceptional collaboration between Caro and Gottlieb. They were notoriously quarrelsome, quibbling over punctuation, in particular the use of semicolons. As Gottlieb puts it in the film, “He does the work. I do the cleanup. Then we fight.”
When Caro was told, “Nobody will read about Robert Moses,” he took his manuscript to the publishing house of Alfred A. Knopf, where editor Gottlieb decided a great deal of editing was necessary on the humongous manuscript. So began the legendary partnership. An example of how the battles progressed happened when Caro moved to the Texas Hill Country for his first book on LBJ. Caro wrote a lengthy section on the grass in that region of the country. He lost that fight.
Filmmaker Lizzie Gottlieb didn’t meet Caro until her father’s 80th birthday, and she was fascinated by the relationship. A contentious Caro agreed to being filmed only if he didn’t appear in the same room as Gottlieb. Among those interviewed are Ethan Hawke, Conan O’Brien, and Bill Clinton, as well as both wives: Maria Tucci (Gottlieb) and Ina Caro.
Since their famous collaboration, the publishing industry has changed, and it is unlikely that there could be another relationship like it. Caro points out in the film a dazzling six feet of carbons on a shelf.
Now that Caro is 87 and Gottlieb 91, will they finish the fifth LBJ volume? For sure, they’re still working on it.
Information and tickets for “Turn Every Page” are available at mvfilmsociety.com.