Bennett Alfred Cerf, 1898 - 1971

portrait of Bennett Cerf
Image is labeled "Halsman, N.Y.", assumed to be promotional

Born: 25 May 1898, Manhattan, New York
Died: 27 August 1971, Mount Kisco, New York

Cerf attended Townsend Harris High School, then earned his B.A. from Columbia University in 1919, followed by a Litt. B. from Columbia's School of Journalism. He was briefly a reporter for the New York Herald Tribune and worked as a stockbroker before joining the publishers Boni & Liveright as vice president. In 1925 he partnered with Donald Klopfer to buy the "Modern Library" imprint from Boni & Liveright, two years later they decided to publish general interest titles "at random". The business was successful, they later renamed the company Random House. Cerf had great talent at building and maintaining relationships with authors, the Random House stable included such luminaries as William Faulkner, Eugene O'Neill, James Michener, Truman Copote, Ayn Rand (whose philosophy he disliked), and Theodore Seuss Geisel. In 1933 he imported a copy of James Joyce's Ulysses which was seized by U. S. Customs, then prevailed in United States v. One Book Called Ulysses, a landmark censorship case. In 1944 he published his first volume of jokes, Try and Stop Me, the first of half dozen such collections. Cerf was a regular panelist on What's My Line? from 1951 through the show's end in 1967.

Biography from Wikipedia and Columbia University

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