- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 12, 2003

In Rupert Murdoch: The Untold Story of the World's Greatest Media Wizard (Crown Business, $27.50, 398 pages), Neil Chenoweth tells the reader in great (at times excessive) detail about every major media deal Rupert Murdoch has ever made. According to the publisher, Mr. Chenoweth, a senior writer with the Australian Financial Review, "has been covering both the public and secret sides of the Murdoch story for 12 years."
Anyone interested in the power plays, Byzantine maneuverings, personal vendettas, macho posturings, and megamedia mergers of the "masters of the information revolution" will be impressed by the author's wide-ranging knowledge and deft handling of the mysteries of high finance. Anyone looking for a portrait of Rupert Murdoch will be thoroughly disappointed.
Mr. Chenoweth describes how Rupert Murdoch became one of the most powerful and wealthiest media moguls in the world, following Mr. Murdoch's career from his start as a newspaper publisher in his native Australia (his father, Sir Keith Murdoch, was the most successful and powerful journalist in that country), to his first purchases of English newspapers, and from his long, often brutal, confrontations with British newspaper unions to his gradual purchase and development of major American media outlets (e.g. the New York Post and Fox TV). The result of this long march from Down Under has been financially mind-boggling:
"In June 1982 Mr. Murdoch's entire stockholding in News Corp [Mr. Murdochs company] was worth $52 million," writes Mr. Chenoweth. "By March 1985 it had climbed to $300 million. Two and a half years later the Murdoch shareswere worth $3 billion."
As I suggested above, the book has one fatal flaw. At the beginning of Chapter Nine, the author writes: "Among the crop of wild rumors and far-fetched tales that swirled around Rupert Murdoch in the American summer of 1996, the wildest and most far-fetched was the story that Murdoch did not really exist." Anyone trying to prove the existence of Rupert Murdoch cannot use this book as evidence. Using the brash headline technique perfected by Mr. Murdoch's New York Post, I might put it this way:
Where's Murdoch? Maverick Media Mogul Missing! or perhaps Rupe Dupes Aussie Author!
For all of Mr. Chenoweth's grasp of his subject's business dealings, Rupert Murdoch himself has completely eluded him. After reading this book, I have no more idea about what kind of man Rupert Murdoch is or of what makes him tick than I did when I started reading. That Murdoch is acquisitive, a loner, and a compulsive risk-taker, is made clear by Mr. Chenoweth; but why Mr. Murdoch has these particular characteristics or what he thinks about them or anything else remains a mystery. In a postscript, Mr. Chenoweth makes an attempt to portray Mr. Murdoch, but the best he can come up with is that he "is a superb opportunist," "unprepossessing, drab to the point of colorlessness," and "is defined most clearly in contrast to the person he is standing next to." Oh.
Mr. Chenoweth, in a postscript, provides a useful summary of why the much-hyped information revolution of the 1990s never arrived in the shape, size and diversity that had been promised. Washington-area readers will particularly be interested in Chapter Thirteen which tells the story of the brief (and, it certainly appears, innocent) 1994 meeting between Mr. Murdoch and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich that in part contributed to Mr. Gingrich's ultimate downfall. If reading about the business dealings of people like Murdoch and his fellow tycoons makes your heart beat faster, this is the book for you. But if you are looking for Mr. Murdoch himself, you won't find him here.

If you have recently received an invitation to become a member of the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), you are all too aware of time's winged chariot speeding by. You will be happy to learn, therefore, that actor Robert Guillaume, best known for his Emmy award-winning role as Benson in two TV sitcoms, believes the most productive decade of his life occurred between the ages of 53 and 63. He achieved fame, high salaries and was award two Emmies during those years, but, to his credit, he does not spend much time discussing that time in his autobiography Guillaume: A Life, written with David Ritz (University of Missouri Press, $24.95, 220 pages, illus.).
Mr. Guillaume has attempted to write a book about his life, not simply about his career, and I believe he has succeeded in doing so. "Guillaume" is a candid, often scathing, self-portrait of a talented, attractive, ambitious and driven man who has spent most of his life fighting but more often surrendering to deep character flaws.
The first part of the book, describing his early life in St. Louis, is riveting. Poor, black, his mother a prostitute and his sister a drug addict, Robert Williams (he later changed his last name to Guillaume because it sounded "distinctive") was rescued from almost certain doom by his grandmother, Jeannette Williams, one of those archetypal proud, independent, indomitable, hard-working black grandmothers who fear God but not much else. She made certain young, headstrong Robert went to the local Catholic school because it was the only place he could get the education and discipline he needed.
He got the education, but, establishing a pattern that would dominate the rest of his life, rejected the discipline on the grounds that nobody was going to tell Robert Williams what he could and could not do.
Mr. Guillaume discovered at an early age that he had a good (if not great) singing voice, and dreamed of a career in opera. But after a brief time in the Army (barely avoiding a dishonorable discharge), he drifted from one job to another, including street-car driver. He fathered a daughter and quickly abandoned the baby and her mother. He attended Washington University and met a white girl named Karin Berg who became his lover and, eventually, longtime friend and supporter.
Then he got married and had two sons, but soon pursued a career in the theater which meant leaving behind his wife and sons in St. Louis as he worked in other cities. All his life he has had, as we say today, issues with women, perhaps attributable, he speculates, to having been abandoned by his mother. Perhaps.
He was a late-bloomer in show-biz, had his share of successes (e.g. playing Sportin' Life in "Porgy and Bess") and failures until, at age 50, he got the break of his career. His agent suggested he might try out for a relatively minor role in a new sitcom, "Soap." He went to the audition with "a mantra in mind: Do Nothing … Show up… . Concentrate on simply being there …"
For once in his life Robert Guillaume stopped attacking the universe and imposed upon himself a discipline of self-restraint. The nuns and priests he had given so much trouble as a boy had tried unavailingly to teach him that virtue. But, just in time, he learned, or remembered, that sometimes the only way you can find yourself is to lose your Self. He writes, " … I have not been blessed with great psychological insight," but to judge by this book, Mr. Guillaume, for the only time in his life, has underestimated himself.

William F. Gavin is a writer in McLean, Va.


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