Paperback Writer (Publish America) is the humorous and star-studded memoir of best-selling celebrity author Mark Bego. With 56 books in print, two New York Times best-sellers, a Los Angeles Times best-seller, and a Chicago Tribune best-seller, Bego has made a career out of interviewing media stars, and writing books about their lives. His most recent release was 2009’s internationally published Elton John: The Bitch is Back. In Paperback Writer his celebrity co-stars include Madonna, Cher, Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, Mary Wilson of The Supremes, Bill Wyman of The Rolling Stones, The Temptations, The Village People, Micky Dolenz of The Monkees, Martha Reeves, Billy Joel, Angela Bowie, Gene Simmons of KISS, Jimmy Greenspoon of Three Dog Night, Joni Mitchell, Hall & Oates, and even Katharine Hepburn.
Known for his biographical books about Leonardo DiCaprio, Whitney Houston, Tina Turner, and George Strait, finally the time came for Bego to tell some of his own colorful adventures in celebrity land. Bego recalls what it was like to move to New York City as a 21-year-old wannabe writer, and turn his love of show business into a lifelong career. Paperback Writer takes each of its chapters from Bego’s personal celebrity journals that finds him interviewing Aretha Franklin at her house, dancing next to Cher at Studio 54, having coffee with Barry Manilow in his apartment, traveling around the world with Mary Wilson of The Supremes, and moving into the homes of rock stars to put their life stories on paper.
According to Bego in Paperback Writer, “In the past 40 years, not only have I met hundreds of rock, pop, movie and TV stars, I have partied with them, gotten drunk with them, gotten into trouble with them, traveled around the world with them, lived with them, written their autobiographies with them, and I even wound up in bed with some of them!”
A Q&A Session with Mark Bego
About PAPERBACK WRITER
You have written and published 55 books on show business, and your memoir, Paperback Writer is Number 56. How have you managed to produce so many unique and different books?
“In 1984, my book on Michael Jackson—Michael!—came out the same week he caught his hair on fire doing the Pepsi commercial. It sold seven million copies worldwide, and I was on The New York Times best-seller list! Then I predicted that Madonna was going to be the next big superstar, I wrote the first book ever published about her, and it became a million-seller as well. After that, several publishers were looking to me to write books for them, and it blossomed from there.”
The first rock group you interviewed was Steely Dan. Is that the experience that put you on this path as a rock & roll biographer?
“In 1974, at Central Michigan University, Steely Dan came to my campus, and I received a phone call from their record company, asking if I wanted to interview the group. Naturally, the answer was ‘yes!’ In the middle of the Steely Dan interview a light went on in my head, and I knew what I wanted to do with my Journalism degree: interview rock stars for magazines and books!”
According to Paperback Writer, you were at the opening night at Studio 54, and danced next to Cher. What was that like?
“By the time Studio 54 opened, I was writing for several publications, so I was on the invitation list for that star-studded debut evening. My date that first night at Studio 54 was C.C.H. Pounder of The Shield and Avatar. We were absolutely knocked out when Cher came boogieing over to us on the dance floor, and suddenly C.C., Cher and I were surrounded by the paparazzi! That was the beginning of countless nights at Studio 54 for me. I used to hang out and talk to Andy Warhol, Michael Jackson, and of course The Village People!”
You were the first person to interview The Village People, and you predicted the initial career success of Madonna and Whitney Houston. How did that happen?
“I was writing for Disco World magazine at the time, and during our interview I could tell that they were going to be a huge hit, and I instantly became friends with the guys in the group. There is a whole chapter in Paperback Writer about that. Actually, the first time I wrote about the group was in my regular ‘Nightlife’ column in Cue magazine. When my paperback biographies started to become huge sellers, along came two more talents I recognized instantly: Madonna and Whitney Houston. In the ‘80s I wroteMadonna! and Whitney! I revamped both books to write the expanded volumes: Madonna: Blonde Ambition in the ‘90s and my 2009 German language-only book Whitney Houston: Die Biografie.”
Several of the chapters in the book are about the stars of Motown, and you have toured around the world with Mary Wilson of The Supremes, and Martha Reeves. How did that come about?
“When I grew up in suburban Detroit, I was absolutely mesmerized by Motown. When I started interviewing celebrities for magazines in New York City, I always gravitated to the stars of Motown. After I met Mary Wilson of The Supremes in 1975 for an article in Record World magazine, we became lifelong friends. Several of the chapters in Paperback Writer are about my exploits and adventures with Mary, in Japan, in Sweden, in France, and in Monaco. Working on Martha Reeves autobiography—Dancing in the Street: Confessions of a Motown Diva—was a Motown dream-come-true for me. It became a Top 10 best-seller for us, and we had a blast on our promotional tour which helped make it a hit!”
At seven million copies sold, your book on Michael Jackson—“Michael!—is the biggest selling book on The King of Pop. What was that experience like?
“I first met Michael Jackson at a party at Studio 54 that was given in his honor in the 1970s. He was in New York City filmingThe Wiz. Then, when my 1984 book about him became such a big hit, he surprised me by showing up in LaToya Jackson’s suite at The Helmsley Palace Hotel. I walked right over to Michael and re-introduced myself to him as the author of his biography. He looked me in the eyes—through his dark glasses—and said, ‘I know who you are.’ Although I always found him to be odd and distant, I was saddened when he suddenly died. In 2010 I was able to write and edit a tribute magazine in his honor called Remember the King, as a way to say ‘goodbye’ to him.”
You have had several successful books outside of the United States. How did that come about?
“In 1984, when my Michael Jackson biography became a huge hit in America, England, Spain, Japan and several other countries published foreign editions of it. That was the beginning of my books finding an international audience. When Michael Jackson died last year, my original Japanese publisher, Shinshokan, reprinted my book Michael! as a special 25th anniversary edition for Japan only. In 2009, when I wrote the American book, Elton John: The Bitch is Back, again several foreign publishers jumped at the opportunity to bring out their own international editions. So far my Elton book is has been published in England and Germany, and Russian and Danish versions of it are due out next.”
What rock star bio would you most like to write?
“I would love to update my Barry Manilow biography, with Barry. Also, I have always wanted to write a book with Ringo Starr. He is the only Beatle who has not done his own autobiography, and I want to do it with him. Yes, he did contribute to the Beatles book that Paul and George were involved in during the 1990s, but he has never done a solo autobiography. I have done all sorts of things to try to talk him into it. I keep bugging his manager to talk Ringo into it, but I have yet to snag him. I am not done pursuing this! One of these days I will talk Ringo into it!”
Paperback Writer spans a wide range of music, from your first books The Captain & Tennille and Barry Manilow, up to Lady Gaga. Has the music business changed a lot?
“I was very much involved in the record business in the 1970s and 1980s. When I worked at CBS Records I would watch all of the new music come across my desk as the latest vinyl albums. Nowadays I have to pay attention to the Internet, and be aware ofAmerican Idol and Glee. The music and the musicians I write about in Paperback Writer could be a soundtrack album as much as a memoir!”
What has been our favorite book so far?
“Well, Paperback Writer of course! However, I have a special fondness for my book Madonna: Blonde Ambition, in which I christened her the ultimate “bitch goddess.” I also loved my biography Aretha Franklin: Queen of Soul. I interviewed Aretha at her Detroit mansion, and in the middle of the interview she started cooking some chicken in her kitchen. When the chicken was fully cooked she suddenly announced, ‘Chicken’s done. Interview’s over!’ She had the maid show me to the door, and didn’t share so much as a single chicken wing! I had obviously been dismissed by The Queen of Soul! I also loved my books about Cher and Patsy Cline as well. In Paperback Writer I took the opportunity to write something about all of them. I have had a fun and exciting career, and I captured it in Paperback Writer!”