When Dad started Catch-22 in 1953, it was called Catch-18. Later, he and his young editor, Robert Gottlieb, changed the title because Leon Uris’s novel had usurped the number with Mila 18. I can remember nights at the dinner table with my parents tossing out different numbers. “Catch-27?” Nah, my father shook his head. “Catch-539?” Too long, too lumbering. I had no idea what they were talking about. Thank goodness for Bob, Dad’s übereditor at Simon & Schuster; he was the one to come up with the unremarkably remarkable number 22. Along with Dad’s redoubtable agent, Candida Donadio, and Nina Bourne, who plotted the clever, quirky promotional campaign for Catch-22, these were the book’s earliest disciples. Without them, not only wouldn’t there have been a number, there wouldn’t have been a book.
To hear Bob talk about it, this modest, soft-spoken fellow who eventually ran Simon & Schuster and then Alfred A. Knopf, and succeeded William Shawn as editor of The New Yorker, one might think that Catch-22 had just tumbled from the skies one day fully formed, and that he had merely been there to catch it. In print he has said more than once that for an editor to call attention to himself and his contributions in an edited book is not only unseemly but irrelevant, but he’s not doing it here, I am. My father and Bob had real camaraderie and shared an almost mystical respect. No ego was involved, regardless of where Bob’s pencil flew or what he suggested deleting, moving, rewriting. To Dad, every word or stroke of this editor’s pencil was sacrosanct. Read More