Angus Cameron is new to this area, having moved into the Inn at
the Lathrop Community on Florence Road two years ago. At age 93
he does not get out much, but spend a hour or two with him and the
stories you will hear.
Appearing robust for someone of his years, Cameron can weave
a web of tales about writers, editors and publishers that if captured
on tape would constitute a rich oral history of twentieth century
You have to nudge him back to the story line from time to time
when he drifts off into biographical eddies ("Woodchuck is the
very best tasting game animal") and literary cul-de-sacs ( "Mary
Welch Hemingway, the best looking and most corrupt woman I ever
met"), but the trip is a rewarding one.
For someone whose life was lived in the literary fast lane in
Boston and New York, Cameron's roots are solidly Midwest and rural.
He grew up in Indianapolis at the turn of the last century and
spent most summers on his grandfather's farm in Rush County.
It was on the farm that he gained his passion for hunting and
fishing, an avocation he pursued relentlessly in the company of
his wife of 63 years, Sheila, who died in 1998.
Cameron speaks with enormous pride of his book the "L.L. Bean
Game and Fish Cookbook," which was the outgrowth of hundreds of
expeditions to hunt and fish, and cooking the bounty of those
Published in 1983, the book has sold more 170,000 copies in hard
cover, Cameron says, and remains in print, still in hard cover.
An earlier book, "The Nightwatchers," that drew on his interest
and fascination with owls, was published in 1972, but is no longer
in print because the publisher by mistake "pulped" the last 30,000
copies which it had intended to sell as remainders, thus the original
illustrations were forever lost.
Cameron got his start in book publishing at Bobbs-Merrill, a
Indianapolis house where he began as promotion manager. "It turned
out that I had larceny in my blood; I could sell,'' he recalled
during a recent lunch at the Harvest Valley restaurant, where
Cameron had praise for the icy Martini, straight-up, prepared
From a top editorial position at Bobbs-Merrill, he later became
editor-in-chief at Little Brown, the leading Boston publishing
house where he presided over a string of best sellers, especially
the historical novels of Samuel Shellenbarger, and developed,
with historian Dumas Malone, the first two volumes of what would
become a majestic six volume biography of Thomas Jefferson, for
which Malone won a Pulitzer Prize in 1975.
"I was one of those guys who's very good at picking commercial
winners," he said without apology. "There was a period when everything
we touched turned to gold, one best seller after another."
Even though he had great financial and publishing success at
Little Brown, Cameron eventually left the firm because of its
insistence that he provide his employer with advance notification
of all of his "outside" activities, meaning his political activities,
such as whether "I was going to speak against the Korean War.
I never considered that I was a radical."
For the next 10 years, he says he was blacklisted because of
his left-wing politics and was unable to find employment in mainstream
publishing. He and Sheila moved to a cabin in the Adirondacks
and started a publishing firm called Cameron Associates.
"We published revenge books," he said, in other words any book
against (Sen. Joseph) McCarthy." Cameron said: "I spent all kinds
of time in front of congressional committees," because of his
politics. "Oh God, yes. I made it difficult for the government
because I didn't give a ....."
After nearly a decade in literary exile, Cameron was hired by
Alfred Knopf, founder of the legendary New York publishing house,
for which he worked until his retirement. Cameron recalls both
Alfred Knopf, and his wife Blanche as larger than life personalities
and publishing giants.
At the time he was hired, Cameron recalls: "Alfred said to me,
'I don't want to know anything about your past." Meanwhile, during
two luncheons with Blanche, she said: "I want to know everything
Blanche Knopf's impact on the publishing firm is best illustrated,
said Cameron, by the comment of an editor who remembered her from
the 1940s: "I knew the war was over when Blanche turned up in
Paris" and signed up three French writers whose work Knopf would
publish in translation. The trio of authors: Jean Paul Sartre,
Albert Camus and Simone deBeauvoir.
"Knopf was a rare bird," Cameron said, especially in his understanding
that "to make a book that was beautiful is as meaningful" as the
content of the volume.
"Publishing today," Cameron said. "I don't recognize it any
more. They don't believe that anything any good can be a book
club choice. It's not true."
What about Oprah's Book Club selections? "She's nothing, but
she's something. Of course, she's very attractive," Cameron says
with a devilish grin.