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Vol. XVII, no. 2 TCU Library Newsletter, Web Edition March 2005


Photo of Ellis Amburn by Warren SaloweIn 1953-54 Ellis Amburn was working hard and recklessly as editor of The Skiff.

In 2004 his biography of Jack Nicholson was published.

During the 50 years in between he has been a reporter for Newsweek and an editor for such well-known publishers as Coward-McCann, Delacorte Press, William Morrow and G. P. Putnam’s Sons.

He also was an editor for authors John LeCarre, Jack Kerouac, Belva Plain, Joshua Logan, Muriel Spark and stars Shelley Winters, Priscilla Presley, Peggy Lee and Zsa Zsa Gabor and has written biographies of Roy Orbison, Janis Joplin, Buddy Holly, Kerouac, Elizabeth Taylor and Warren Beatty.

Ellis will talk about "Adventures in Editing and Writing" for the Friends of the TCU Library dinner at 6:30 p.m. April 13 in the Kelly Center.

Not surprisingly, he maintains close ties with his alma mater. After all, it was his student editorial column attacking Sen. Joe McCarthy that brought him to Newsweek’s attention. ("We Will Ride Our Skiff Over Troubled Waters," he recalls.} Newsweek editors paid his way to New York, then hired him as a reporter.

After three years there, he moved on to the publishing world, winding up as editorial director for Putnam’s.

Ellis left Putnam’s in late 1985 to start a new career, ghostwriting for Winters, Presley, Lee and Gabor. He did the work, meeting often and long with the stars, whose books bore their names as authors.

Dark Star, the 1990 biography of Roy Orbison, was the first book published under the name of author Ellis Amburn, followed by Pearl (Janis Joplin), Buddy Holly and Subterranean Kerouac.

As an editor, he had worked with Kerouac and describes his On the Road as the "great road book of the 20th Century." Ellis was grateful to have access to all of Kerouac’s letters and papers.

Ellis’s biography of Elizabeth Taylor, The Most Beautiful Woman in the World, was published in 2000 and was described by the London Daily Mail as "the most psychologically revealing portrait of Elizabeth Taylor yet . . . keeps you riveted." He interviewed more than 500 people who knew Miss Taylor, but she was not on the list. He had met her several times but did not talk to her while writing the book.

After publication, a man who knew both Ellis and the star asked her if she’d read the book and if she liked it. Her snappy response: "If I hadn’t, he’d have heard from me."

Next came the life story of Warren Beatty, The Sexiest Man Alive, then the Nicholson biography. He had the last one published under the pseudonym Edward Douglas. "I was tired of dodging the bullets," Ellis explained. "There’s generally quite a bit of controversy about biographies."

However, his two upcoming life stories of Sylvester Stallone and Eudora Welty will appear as works by Ellis Amburn. The Stallone book is not quite finished. The biography of Miss Welty is taking a long time because "to really understand her I have to read everything she wrote."

Ellis hasn’t just done all the reporting, publishing and writing. He has passed his knowledge on through lectures at TCU and other universities.

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