Every editor dreams of working on a book with the power to rewrite history. In my four decades in publishing, I’ve been lucky enough to have had that experience twice—with the same book.
One weekend in 1991, as the buzz heated up for Oliver Stone’s film JFK, I sat down to read a submission and realized I had a potential blockbuster. An agent friend named Tony Seidl had sent me the manuscript with the warning that once I started reading, I wouldn’t be able to stop. How right he was.
I devoured the manuscript, eager to return to the office the next Monday and tell my coworkers at NAL Signet, a division of Penguin Books, about my vision for publishing it. The support I received was outstanding. My colleagues saw an opportunity and quickly created a strategy to make the most of it. I remember the sparkle in the eyes of Laurie Parkin, one of our sales managers, as we discussed the details of packaging, distribution, and marketing.
Published as JFK: Conspiracy of Silence, the book became a #1 New York Times bestseller. It was a firsthand account by an eyewitness to history—Dr. Charles Crenshaw, one of the surgeons at Parkland Hospital in Dallas who had struggled in vain to save the life of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963. Days later, amazingly, he again was on duty in the emergency room when the gravely wounded Lee Harvey Oswald was wheeled in.
In his first-person account Dr. Crenshaw revealed the nature of Kennedy’s wounds and what they meant about where his assassin had stood when he fired at the president. He exposed the official autopsy and the Warren Commission Report as lies. He detailed the behavior of grief-stricken Jacqueline Kennedy at the hospital. He related the astonishing phone call he received from newly sworn-in President Lyndon Johnson. He described the strong-arm security forces that invaded the hospital, and the virtual kidnapping of Kennedy’s corpse. He exposed the errors in law enforcement that irrevocably compromised any hope the Texas authorities might have had to prosecute the president’s murderer. And he explained the threats that had prevented the medical personnel at Parkland from talking about what they had seen, heard, and done in those tragic days.
When Dr. Crenshaw came to New York on his national publicity tour, I was excited to meet him. In my mind he was a towering figure of strength. In person he was, in fact, tall and imposing—but I was surprised to find a true Texas gentleman, modest about his many achievements, and selfless in his desire to share his story with the world. The book stayed on the bestseller list for many weeks.
And then, as time passed, the book ran its course. As happens with many worthy and successful titles, its rate of sale diminished. As other books about the Kennedy assassination were published, it went out of stock. Flash forward 20 years. Now an editor at Kensington Publishing Corp., I was again following the buzz about a J.F.K.-related movie. This time it was Parkland, an account of what happened at Parkland Hospital at the time of President Kennedy’s assassination. Producers Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman have announced a stellar cast and a release date of September 20.
Again I felt the excitement of a publishing opportunity. Again I went into my office, eager to share my vision with my colleagues. And again I saw that same gleam in the eyes of Laurie Parkin, now the publisher of Kensington. I called Tony Seidl, who responded enthusiastically. Sadly, Dr. Crenshaw is deceased, but Tony was able to contact coauthors Jens Hansen and J. Gary Shaw, along with Dr. Crenshaw’s widow, Susan. A plan was formed, a deal was made. Parkin and I again won the support of our colleagues, this time at Kensington. A new edition of the book, retitled JFK Has Been Shot, will be released in October.
I realize that the new edition will be one of many worthwhile books that are sure to be reissued this fall, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination. To me, Dr. Crenshaw’s work holds a unique position as the direct account of a man who was not just an eyewitness to history, but a participant in it. I hope it will reach a new audience, especially among younger readers, who are not as steeped as I am in those historic days in Dallas in November 1963.
I won’t venture to predict if it will become a bestseller, I’m just enjoying the chance to throw my personal passion into a book that I believe in deeply—for the second time.