Farewell to Great Gossip and a Fondness for Cigars

| May 17, 2012 | 1 Comment

David Heymann, who was a very special friend to all of us at DAPTD, was a character out of one of his own books.

When he died last week, he left a storied past, to be told and re-told for years to come in conflicting versions by the many people who deeply loved him. His was a tale full of myth and legend, and David seemed to derive satisfaction from keeping everyone guessing.

Heymann was the prolific author of salacious bestsellers about people in the news, people who, like himself, were enveloped in controversial lives characterized by at least a modicum of mystery and complicated by a large measure of paradox.

His books were popular because they cut right through the extraneous details of his subjects’ lives and went right to the heart of the public’s interest in them. He explored their sordid affairs, extolled their smallest virtues, examined their tortured souls; and he wrote as though he knew them each personally, as though he were a confidant and trusted comrade. Which may or may not have been true. Poor Little Rich Girl: The Life and Legend of Barbara Hutton, his story about the famed Woolworth heiress, was actually recalled because Heymann’s material was deemed questionable. His pronouncement, in Bobby and Jackie, A Love Story, that Bobby and Jackie Kennedy fell into bed right after JFK’s funeral was met with a resounding mixture of “Aha!”s and disbelief, as were his revelations about JFK Jr in American Legacy: the Story of John and Caroline Kennedy.

But people didn’t read David’s books for the scholarship; they read them for the titillation. He knew that, and he loved it.

Heymann began his life as a scholar; his first book was a book about Ezra Pound, a subject that couldn’t be more academic. And even that set off a minefield of protests because David chose to approach his subject from a road far less traveled. The book, entitled Ezra Pound, The Last Rower: A Political Profile, was called “well documented and highly informative” by its devotees but made Pound scholars livid over some of its allegations. Still, it failed to sell well, leading David to make one of his best-known pronouncements: “Never write a book about a poet;” I can see him pausing for effect, squinting at his listener as though searching for just the right words. “If you want to sell books.”

That he chose Ezra Pound as his first subject was telling. Most people don’t realize that David was a poet, that he earned a degree in Creative Writing Poetry at The State University at Stony Book (NY) and that he published a well-received collection of his own poetry entitled The Quiet Hours. The obits in the NY Times, the LA Times and elsewhere allude to Heymann’s checkered background. Did he try to commit suicide and then run away to Israel? When he was conscripted into the Israeli army did he sidestep by working for Mosad? Did he write in the nude? Most of us who knew him will tell you that everything you’ve heard is true. And false. That was David Heymann. He was a complex man, whose captivating personality was layered in dichotomies.

But there are a few universal truths about C. David Heymann, irrefutable and immutable now that he is gone. He was a gentle, tortured soul. He worried furiously over whether he had hurt others, and when he knew he had, he worried even more furiously over how to make amends. He loved deeply and intensely, but he was a writer, and his need to be more expressive than by merely saying words could be misconstrued for an inability to feel emotions at all. He would rant and rave and carry on about things that seemed minute in relation to the cosmos, but when there was something really important, he was often frighteningly quiet. He was a true friend in more ways than one, and he fretted over the well-being of those he cared for; but if he felt betrayed, he could cut a person off without the slightest remorse.

The most salient feature of David’s undeniable kindness was his generosity. He was always willing — even eager — to share his expertise, his knowledge, his insight, even his publishers and agent (I’m sure to his agent’s chagrin) with those he felt needed a break. He needed a lot of love, craved nurturing, and as a result, he reached out and gave of himself in ways that few men who have achieved his level of success ever do.

A loneliness descends as we realize that from now on we will crave the gentleness of his ever-present concern, that we shall henceforward be deprived of the smell of his cigars, the rasp of his laughter, the hoarseness of his complaints, and the explosion of his ever-present anger over the oddly insignificant.

We shall miss C. David Heymann and can only hope that wherever he is he is still telling his stories. In all their myriad versions.

Internationally renowned, Pulitzer-nominated C. David Heymann has authored a book of poetry and a number of best-selling works about famous Americans, including Poor Little Rich Girl: The Life and Legend of Barbara Hutton, A Woman Named Jackie: an Intimate Biography of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, and Liz: An Intimate Biography of Elizabeth Taylor, each of which has been adapted into an award-winning miniseries.  RFK: A Candid Biography of Robert F. Kennedy, became a Golden Globe nominated television event, and The Georgetown Ladies’ Social Club will be the next of his books to be turned into a series for the small screen. Heymann lives with his wife on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.


Books by C. David Heymann

The Quiet Hours (poetry)

Exra Pound: The Last Rower

American Aristocracy: The Lives of James Russell, Amy and Robert Lowell

Poor Little Rich Girl: The Life and Legend of Barbara Hutton

A Woman Named Jackie: An Intimate Biography of Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis

Liz: An Intimate Biography of Elizabeth Taylor

RFK: A Candid Biography of Robert F. Kennedy

Bobby and Jackie, A Love Story

American Legacy: The Story of John and Caroline Kennedy

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Category: Features