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Uncle Max Goes to Hollywood​

My Uncle Max Perkins would have cringed at the thought of someone making a Hollywood movie about him. But he might have liked being played by Colin Firth. And he definitely would have liked Laura Linney being his wife.

Max Perkins came from a family of lawyers. In fact, he was named after his grandfather, Wiliam Maxwell Evarts, one of the great lawyers of the 19th century.

Like his brothers, Max was heading toward law school but, for one reason and another, he wound up as a book editor. 

At Charles Scribner's & Sons, he discovered, coached, counseled and cared for many of America's greatest writers of the 20the century - F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, James Jones and others.

Yet, like many in my family, he shunned the spotlight. "I'd like to have stood on Napoleon's shoulder and whispered directions," he would often say.

I have gotten to be the same way myself. Lately, I find myself more and more enjoying ghost-writing blockbuster briefs that go out under other lawyers' names, and enjoying the quiet appreciation that their success brings.

Last week, I was flying back from Mississippi and sat next to another trial lawyer who was also a writer.  We got to talking about books, and then about the books he had written.

"What I'd really like to find," he said, "is Max Perkins' nephew."

I grinned very broadly.

"Genius" is not meant to be a description of Max Perkins.  Rather, the editor's role, as he saw it, was to bring out the genius in the writer. "Genius," the movie coming out this week, is about Uncle Max's struggle to bring out the genius in Thomas Wolfe. 

Everyone should have a Max Perkins.

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