2017-10-03 19:44:07 UTC
Digby Diehl, Collaborator on Memoirs of the Famous, Dies at 76
By NEIL GENZLINGER
OCT. 1, 2017
Digby Diehl, a journalist and author who collaborated on celebrity autobiographies with Esther Williams, Natalie Cole, Patti LuPone and more, died on Tuesday in Los Angeles. He was 76.
His wife, Kay Beyer Diehl, said he had Alzheimer’s disease.
Mr. Diehl was a prolific critic, feature writer and author in his own right, including stints as book columnist for Playboy and AARP magazines and on-air roles for “The CBS Morning News” and “Good Morning America.” But he was perhaps best known as the go-to collaborator for famous names who had a story to tell.
He collaborated with Cole on her autobiography, “Angel on My Shoulder” (2000), and with Williams on “The Million Dollar Mermaid” (1999). He was the co-author of “Patti LuPone: A Memoir” (2010), and of the game show host Bob Barker’s “Priceless Memories” (2009).
Show business wasn’t his only interest, however. Mr. Diehl also was the co-author of the 1997 book “A Spy for All Seasons: My Life in the C.I.A.,” by Duane R. Clarridge, a former deputy director of that agency; the 2013 memoir “Alone Together: My Life With J. Paul Getty,” by Teddy Getty Gaston, Mr. Getty’s fifth wife; and the 2013 book “Truth Be Told: A Memoir of Success, Suicide, and Survival,” by Lucinda Bassett, the self-help motivational speaker. In 2012 he was the interviewer whom a well-known interviewer, Dan Rather, turned to for assistance in writing “Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News.”
Digby Robert Diehl was born on Nov. 14, 1940, in Boonton, N.J. His father, Edwin, was a writer and advertising executive, and his mother, the former Mary Jane Shirley Ellsworth, was an educator.
He graduated from Rutgers University in 1962 with a degree in American studies, then received a master’s degree in theater arts in 1967 at the University of California, Los Angeles. He began writing criticism, features and celebrity profiles for various publications, including The New York Times, showing an early knack for drawing colorful details and quotes out of his subjects.
““Wooooowheeeee!” Glen Campbell told him for a 1968 feature in The Times. “Ah been busier than a three-headed woodpecker.”
That same year, Leonard Nimoy opened up about “Star Trek” and his character, the Vulcan with the unusual look.
“I tell you, frankly, I’ve never had more female attention on a set before,” the actor told him. “And get this: They all want to touch the ears.”
In 1974 Mr. Diehl published his first book, “Supertalk,” a collection of interviews he had done for West magazine.
The author Nino Lo Bello, reviewing it in The Times, wrote, “The supertalkers — be they Ray Bradbury, Ted ‘Dr. Seuss’ Geisel, Peter Bogdanovich, S. I. Hayakawa, Philip K. Wrigley or Henry Miller — keep their mouths open and show their minds at work under the calculated prodding of a super-listener of the mid-seventies.”
In 1975 Mr. Diehl was the founding editor of The Los Angeles Times’s Sunday Book Review (which ceased being a free-standing section a decade ago). He left that paper in 1978 to become editor in chief of the publisher Harry N. Abrams in New York, a job he held for a year and a half.
Mr. Diehl then returned to Los Angeles as book editor of The Los Angeles Herald Examiner. His next stop was as movie critic and entertainment editor for KCBS television in Los Angeles, his bow tie becoming his TV signature. He was Hollywood correspondent for “The CBS Morning News” in 1986 and ’87, then spent some time as literary correspondent for ABC’s “Good Morning America.”
In addition to his wife, whom he married in 1981, Mr. Diehl is survived by a daughter, Dylan Diehl.
Mr. Diehl’s interests were wide ranging. His other books included a history of the “Tales From the Crypt” franchise, and in 1990 he wrote several episodes of the NBC soap opera “Santa Barbara.”
For the collaborations, though, listening and observing were as important as the writing.
“When working on a memoir, Digby didn’t believe in interviews,” Kay Diehl said. “He believed in conversations — in person, if possible — so he could take not just verbal but visual cues from the author. There was always a give-and-take designed not just to put the author at ease, but to help him create the authentic representation of the author’s voice on the page. That was paramount.”