Lifelong writerWarren Adler

Born in New York’s Brooklyn borough, Adler graduated from New York University with a degree in English literature. After a stint at New York newspapers, and as the Washington Correspondent for the Armed Forces Press Service during the Korean war, he owned four radio stations and a TV station, and then formed his own public relations and ad agency. One of his clients was a big Washington complex of offices and apartments, and he named it: Watergate. But what he really wanted to do was write. “I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was 16 years old and I never let that dream fade,” he said later, “no matter what I did for money.” No matter what he did for money, he got up at 4:00 a.m. and wrote for three hours. At age 47, that finally led to his first published novel; when his political thriller Undertow was published in 1974, he closed his ad agency to write full time.

Adler at work in the Roses era. (Photo: his Twitter feed.)

Adler wrote dozens of books, but his best known was turned into a blockbuster 1989 Hollywood movie: The War of the Roses. With the success of that film his next book, Private Lies, went to auction — even though it wasn’t finished. Tri-State Pictures outbid Warner Bros and Columbia, getting the rights for $1.2 million, setting a record for an unpublished manuscript. Yet the film was never made. In fact, he sold options for about a dozen of his books, but few were actually filmed. To be fair, they were hard to film: like Roses, many of Adler’s books focused on broken families — so much so he became known as the “Master of Dysfunction.” Concentrating on the business side of things, Adler saw something else on the horizon. At the turn of the century, he bought back the rights for his books because he saw something on the horizon: the decline of traditional book publishing. “Print publishing has had a great 500-year run,” he told the New York Times in 2005, “but the print book is morphing into the screen book” — e-readers like the Sony Reader, which caught his eye well before Amazon’s Kindle. He even hawked the device at the Consumer Electronic Show in 2007, but the “pitch was met with ho-hum reaction,” he said. Still, from then on his books were published by his own company — and he never stopped writing. “Retire from what?” he demanded. “For an artist/writer who must write, it is a false premise. My greatest pleasure is in creating and living in the parallel world of my imagination. There is nothing I would rather do.” Adler died at his Manhattan home on April 15, from liver cancer. He was 91.

From This is True for 21 April 2019