The late literary agent Charles Pick’s memoirs revealed why Wallis Simpson hated Marilyn Monroe alongside other encounters with 20th century icons, including the Duke of Windsor and the Queen, that he racked up over the course of his career.
The memoirs, Charles Pick’s diaries, letters and photographs are available to view for the first time at the University of East Anglia, after the agent’s son Martin donated them.
Charles Pick, who died in 2000 aged 82, had a star-studded client list; John Steinbeck, JB Priestley, Roald Dahl, John Le Carré and Catherine Cookson were just a smattering of authors he represented.
He had been summoned to Paris by Wallis Simpson to discuss her 1956 autobiography The Heart Has Its Reasons.
Instead of greeting Charles Pick, Wallis Simpson’s first remark as she rose from her chaise longue, “a large, round box of Charbonnel et Walker chocolates” placed within arms reach, was about Marilyn Monroe.
“Can you please tell me who Marilyn Monroe’s publicity agent is?” Wallis Simpson asked.
Charles Pick said he had to confess he had no idea and asked why she wanted to know.
“Look, I have all the newspapers each day and I was generally on the front page. But now I see that Marilyn Monroe is on the front page. Well, somebody has pushed me off!” said Wallis Simpson.
“I could see I was in for a difficult time, but I explained that I wasn’t in any way able to help her in displacing Marilyn Monroe in her favor,” Charles Pick wrote.
The memoir offers a unique insight into a different age. Charles Pick mentions the time Out of Africa author Karen Blixen checked in for her Pan Am flight with a bottle of Moet et Chandon and a dozen oysters, so appalled was she by the airline’s “plastic” food.
Charles Pick also recalls accompanying The Grapes of Wrath author John Steinbeck, to his Nobel Prize dinner and noted he had “given up hard liquor and was just drinking beer” that evening.
He drank vermouths with Graham Greene in Antibes and was fed seconds of steak and kidney pie by author Catherine Cookson.
Charles Pick started his career as an office boy for Victor Gallancz in 1933 before moving into sales.
Two years later he went to a Hampstead bookshop and tried to sell copies of a “marvellous new book” called Burmese Days by a young lad named George Orwell.
An Eric Blair was behind the counter that day and said he knew George Orwell very well – of course, it was Orwell himself working as a part-time assistant using his real name.
After stints at Gallancz and Michael Joseph, Charles Pick moved to Heinemann where he eventually became chairman. After his retirement in 1984 he remained a literary consultant to Wilbur Smith, one of many authors he discovered.
Charles Pick had close friendships with his writers, but feared the loyalty he had enjoyed was becoming a thing of the past as authors would “go off to cheque book publishers and be snapped up if they were successful”.
He was proved right of course, but what he would make of today’s burgeoning self publishing industry we’ll never know.