Author Cites Bullying by Board
for Museum's Loss
Despite a great many obstacles, Living in the Past, Looking to the Future:
The Biography of John Hays Hammond, Jr., written by author-screenwriter-
historian John Dandola, is finally set to debut. Originally planned exclusively
for the benefit of Gloucester's Hammond Castle, the book will now bypass
the museum altogether to receive a wider national release and foreign editions.
John Hays Hammond, Jr. was a preeminent inventor in the field of radio control. A protégé of Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, his 800 patents on more than 400 inventions, layed the groundwork for target-seeking torpedoes and guided missiles not to mention TV remote controls and cell phones. The profits from such inventions allowed Hammond to build a castle as his home, laboratory, and showplace for his medieval art collection. The castle was opened as a museum during his lifetime and it was where he lavishly entertained movie stars, royalty, and world leaders. Hammond died in 1965.
John Dandola had set two contemporary mystery novels at the museum and he went on to donate more than six years of time and talent at their beckon call. The Hammond biography had been undertaken at the museum director's request but an impasse with the museum's Board of Directors stalled it's publication last August . Had the board disliked something in the manuscript? No, in fact, they never bothered to even request a copy to read. The problem stemmed solely from the old proverbial gift horse syndrome.
"Here's an author who waived any advances and all royalties on six museum books; negotiated with us against his own future mystery novel earnings to publish those books for cost; and absorbed all production costs on not only books, but T-shirts, mugs and whatever else," said Alan Quincannon of the Quincannon Publishing Group. "John's personal outlay was quite a substantial amount. He has a tendency to be generous to a fault and, having become friends with the museum director, he asked for nothing in return. Hammond Castle happily reaped all of the profits but they never bothered to totally comprehend or appreciate how much was really being done for them. The Board of Directors also never bothered with an expression of thanks and, then, in the most insulting manner, questioned a deal for their own benefit, which was so fair it could have only been written by them, not for them. That's when the inevitable finally happened. It wasn't the wisest move on their part."
The deal for the biography was simple: With so much cable television air time to fill, no producer would be allowed access to the castle for a bio on Hammond without Dandola's involvement and the Museum's final script approval. After years of intensive research and detective work, it was obvious that Dandola's biography would be used as the uncredited source material. As a screenwriter, Dandola knew the terrain all too well. Someone would come in, promise the museum the moon, hire an outside writer, use Dandola's biography for uncredited research, and then proceed unchecked to distort and sensationalize many aspects of Hammond's freewheeling life.
"The man had skeletons—none any worse than most people's, but his were on a grander scale. A great many of the rumors floating around are wrong. The easy way out is to continue perpetrating them because it makes for good copy," Dandola explained. "Make no mistake about it; this is a warts-and-all biography. But when you become someone's biographer, you also become a guardian of that person's legacy. It has nothing to do with censorship; it has everything to do with making sure an accurate and well-balanced portrait is always given."
In the past, that has hardly been the case. In fact, at one point Dandola had to become involved when a cable TV producer defamed Hammond, due to inconsistencies in museum film production policy. "I was well under way with the bio, but that was when it became very apparent that I had to have a written agreement with the Board in order to protect everyone and everything."
When the Board not only balked but insulted, Dandola shelved the biography along with all of the museum books which are copyrighted under his Hammond Castle Productions banner. "The one thing that always catches everyone up short is who owns the copyrights," Quincannon explained. "It's a legality which keeps things honest. This isn't a talented amateur who could be pushed or shoved or bullied. This is a professional who happens to be more about principle and courtesy than he is about anything else. Ironically, Hammond would have done exactly what John did if confronted by any signs of behavior jeopardizing his work." What the museum also lost in the mix was the one-man show about Hammond, another request of the museum director's, which Dandola was writing at the time of the agreement dispute.
Everything seemed at an end, until the Frankfurt Book Fair rolled around in October in Germany. International Titles proclaimed the Hammond biography as, "One of the most revealing and entertaining biographies of any inventor you will ever read." The Europeans responded with strong interest not only in the biography but also in The Ghosts of Hammond Castle and Echoes from the Castle Walls: The Fiction Of John Hays Hammond, Jr., which Dandola edited extensively,
With foreign editions in the works, the biography will receive an American release later this year, but for all of the reasons previously stated, it will be very tightly controlled only through the individual web sites of the publisher and the author. Expanded second editions of Ghosts, Echoes, and Recipes from Hammond Castle, all of which complement the biography, will also be made available in wide release [online and] to independent bookstores.
"Keeping the cookbook in print, fulfills a promise John made to the late Nellie Connors about doing 'right by Mr. Hammond,' since it includes many biographical anecdotes," said Patricia M. Drury, the cookbook's co-author. Mrs. Connors had been Hammond's cook for the last twenty-five years of his life and became very close with Dandola.
The third in Dandola's series of 1940s mystery novels will even feature Hammond as a prominent character. So what brought about this author's extreme generosity and intense interest in John Hays Hammond, Jr.?
"The medieval aspect is a very strong part of it, but Hammond was a close friend of Thomas Edison's youngest son, Teddy. My grandfather had been a personal messenger boy to Edison and was also a friend of Teddy, who in turn taught me how to play chess—by that time, he was an old man and I was in grammar school. It all revolves around various levels of connections and remembrance and friendship and respect—in this case, I guess the respect was only on my part."
Copyright © 2003. All rights reserved.
Quincannon Publishing Acquires Hammond Biography
Issue 1 of 2 for February 2003