Howard Eisenberg is a writer who penned many articles with his wife Arlene Eisenberg, the co-author of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. He is the author of the Guess Who series for children and he also wrote the book and lyrics for the musical The Million Dollar Bet; here is a link to his website:
Q: When did your realize you were a writer?
A: World War II had just ended and I was an 18-year-old PFC in Company K of the 357th Infantry bivouacked in an SS barracks. “I see in your file,” Captain Ingraham said, “that you’ve had two years of college. The Krauts left a mimeograph machine here when they took off. Write us a newspaper.” A half-dozen interviews and days later, the first copies of “The Rifleman” came hot off the mimeograph and I thought, “I’m a writer. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”
Q: What kind of day jobs did you have in your life and how did they inspire your writing?
A: Writing copy about D-con rat poison for a small ad agency ended suddenly when a rat of a vice-president absconded with the company’s bank account. (Not at all inspirational.) A job writing “The Tattler” at the legendary Grossinger’s in the Catskills led to meeting 50s super-star Eddie Fisher, singing with the band while waiting to turn 18 so he could perform legally at the also legendary Copacabana. I became Eddie’s press agent, got him in “Time” magazine, later wrote for his TV and radio “Coke Time” shows, and ghosted dozens of fan magazine articles. When the show went Hollywood, I was able to write and sell free-lance pieces about, among others Steve McQueen, Shelley Winters, Deborah Kerr, Alan Ladd, and Rory Calhoun. That jump-started a free-lance writing career which, when Eddie joined the U.S. Army Band, led to collaborating with my magnificent late wife, Arlene, for the majors: Sports Illustrated, Cosmopolitan, McCall’s, Parade, Reader’s Digest, New York Times Magazine, and then for every free-lance writer’s dream: the Saturday Evening Post with a Halloween cover story: “Memoirs of a Monster,” as told to us by Boris Karloff.
Q: What inspired you to write, Adorable Scoundrels?
A: My muse, Arlene, who co-wrote the “What to Expect” series with our daughter, Heidi Murkoff. Traveling with Arlene on her book tours, I met armies of moms and dads. And toddlers. Time spent at 30,000 feet is a great time to write, and I used it. So when Arlene toured for “What to Expect in the Toddler Years” she always sintroduced me five minutes into her lectures to read my fresh-off-the-747 toddler poems. Later, parents would come up to me and ask, “Where can I get the book?” I didn’t have one then. I do now.
Q: You have written for some major publications! What advice would you give to all of those aspiring bloggers out there who fantasize about being real journalist?
A: There are a lot of bloggers out there doing darned good journalism without any help from me. Ordinarily I suggest things most already know — buying a good book or two on free-lance writing or taking a community college course. But I do have a timely late-breaking news suggestion. I’ve been a part of the 1,200 member American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA) for almost 60 years. Writers, both aspiring and already successful will be coming to its 45th Annual Writing Conference in NYC from all over the country May 20-21. It’s not too late to register at asja.com. It would take another 500 words to describe the 35 instructive sessions, the one-on-one meetings with editors, agents, and publishers, and individual mentoring sessions. Assignments sometimes happen on the spot, and it’s not too late to learn more and to register at asja.com. I’m still attending and learning.
Q: What is the overall theme of the, “Guess Who” series?
A: Kids read the giraffe’s, the bear’s, the alligator’s “autobiographies in rhyme,” with educational clues in every line and the last word (the animal’s name) left blank for them to guess. Rhyming books are fun for kids and encourage them to read instead of burying their heads in digital dumpsters. And the fact that they are riddles as well as rhymes increases the fun. There are three book so far: Guess Who Zoo, Farm, and Neighborhood. GWZoo and GWFarm include “If Animals Could Talk” sections where the animals reveal other things that make them interesting — like the camel’s, “Most horses stand when they’re sleeping. I’m smarter. I lie down.”
Q: What is the oddest thing you ever heard from an editor?
A: “I’m sorry, but we had to drop Arlene’s byline.” Those words came from an editor of “This Week” magazine, talking about the first piece Arlene and I ever collaborated on. She was 20 years old and a new mom who’d left college to marry lucky me. A mom was, at that point, all she wanted to be. (She’d practically memorized Dr. Spock to earn a Girl Scout merit badge). This was my first Big Time assignment and I’d been essentially rewriting the lead for two weeks. The morning before a Mothers’ Day deadline with panic and writer’s block setting in, Arlene calmly suggested that I move over. Two hours later we had an excellent piece that needed only a light coat of polish. The next day my editor informed me that the layout had already been finished and Arlene’s first byline would have to wait. It did, but not for long. Over the next 35 years “By Arlene and Howard Eisenberg” appeared in more than 100 major magazines and on the cover of five books.
Q: If you and Arlene disagreed about what to put in an article how did you resolve it?
A: The same way we resolved any and all disagreements in our 48-year marriage. The “winner” should always be the one to whom the issue was most important. And if that didn’t work, never go to bed mad. So as I slipped under the sheets I always apologized — even if I thought Arlene was wrong.
Q: What trends in children’s literature annoys you?
A: This may shock you. But to be honest (something I learned from my dad while I was in knickers), I don’t read a lot of children’s literature because I’d rather write it. I am happy that the days with sentences structured like, “Run, Jack, run,” are over. My six-year-old son struggled at reading until his teacher realized why: People don’t talk like that. She gave him a fourth grade book about submarines and he sailed through it. My books don’t shrink from using “hibernate” when writing about bears. Children can learn an unfamiliar word’s meaning by asking parents and teachers or, better yet, by figuring it out from the context.
Q: What is, The Million Dollar Bet about?
A: “The Million Dollar Bet” (for which I wrote book and lyrics) is as much about love as it is about a bet. The show’s key song captures this inspirational theme so important as people live longer: “Life Ain’t Over ‘Til It’s Over.” Leila, the leading lady expands on that when she cautions her husband, Jerry, “Never give up on your dreams. That’s how people get migraine headaches.” Jerry, an untutored closet baritone and occasional wedding singer, is the retired press agent who helped Eddie Hunter win fame and fortune. At Eddie’s fifth wedding, he is goaded into a a bet that Eddie is sure he can’t lose and Jerry is certain he can’t win: Eddie’s million against a year’s worth of Jerry and Leila’s social security pensions. Jerry has a year to become a singing star — with a booking in Vegas, a hit record, and a shot on the Tonight Show. Somehow (you knew this) in 100 minutes and 18 songs, that’s just what he does.
Q: When will we be able to see it?
A: I wish I knew. We’ve had two successful readings so far and the show is in submission to regional theatres. I believe in my show and I’m optimistic, but realistic. I live on 80th St. It can take ten years to get from there to Broadway. But…l’m on the way. ##
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects.