Thursday, September 06, 2007

Tales from the REAL Writing Life: A Power-Crazed Telephone Screamer Attacks Me Over a Book

I've shared several strange experiences from my writing career here. Here's another--one that may be the strangest so far, involving as it does a power-mad telephone screamer with a penchant for sexual symbolism.

Imagine that you’re working on an important book. It’s a book that means so much to you that you’re writing it without having lined up a publisher. After a couple of years, someone you’ve never even heard of learns of the project and does the following:
  • Attempts to "take control" of the book
  • Threatens you by both telephone and E-mail
  • Literally screams at you on the telephone, pitching a childish fit as he tries to intimidate you with descriptions of the “power” of his money and attorneys
That's what happened to me as I was writing CROSLEY: Two Brothers and a Business Empire that Transformed the Nation. This is someone who was neither a writer nor a publisher. He wasn't even a descendent of my subject, Powel Crosley, Jr.

What could incite such extreme behavior? I’m still not sure. Let me tell you how it played out. As one of several lines of research for the book, I contacted the company that uses the Crosley trademark on major appliances, said company having licensed it from the AVCO Corporation, which bought the Crosley Corporation in 1945. (Note: The licensing took place in the mid-1970s. The AVCO Corporation of the 1970s no longer exists.)

A few days after E-mailing the company I received a message from its head, the late Buddy L. Dixson, advising me that he owned the Crosley trademark, and that “… if anyone writes a book about Powel Crosley, Jr., it will be me!” (Exclamation mark his.) I telephoned him at his office to find out what he was thinking, and on learning my business he began screaming about his lawyers in New York and Washington, and how he would sue me and do anything else necessary to prevent any publisher from bringing out a biography of Powel Crosley, Jr.

There really wasn’t anything I could say to that, and about the time he got into high gear, yelling about how much money he had, I hung up. A few days later I got a letter from him, written in garbled pseudo-legalese and referring to a “first notice of action.” Dixson sent an additional threat connected with “my lawyers in Washington,” after which I never heard from him again.

But that’s not the end of the story. A year or so later this clown actually published (or paid to have printed) a book that purported to be the story of Powel Crosley, Jr. Jam-packed with details of Dixon’s life (including his college athletic career, minutiae involving the appliance distribution business, and apparently whatever else happened to pass through his mind), there was far, far more about Dixson than Crosley. The book (and I use the term loosely) was composed largely of pasted-up photocopies of letters, press releases, articles, and snapshots. No ISBN, and no copyright--in fact, in the front matter Dixson declared that the book was not under copyright protection.

Only a small amount of commentary was written or dictated by Dixson himself. The most memorable of the original material was Dixon’s tale of how he bullied AVCO executives into letting him have the rights to the Crosley trademark while urinating. (Literally. It was that bad.)

After all the verbal abuse and insults from this guy, I was really looking forward to sending a copy of the Crosley book to him. But he died before CROSLEY was published. I believe he was 85--certainly old enough to know better. But perhaps his age provides an excuse for his actions.
Copyright © 2007, Michael A. Banks

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