The name Sam Vaughan probably does not ring any bells, but regular readers of the Strawfoot are undoubtedly aware of the man’s work. Vaughan, who passed away earlier this week, edited Bruce Catton’s Centennial History of the Civil War (The Coming Fury, 1961; Terrible Swift Sword, 1963; Never Call Retreat, 1965) for Doubleday & Company. Civil War scholarship moved on in the ensuing five decades, but the unititated could do worse than Catton’s trilogy for an overview of the conflict. (Doubleday also published Catton’s Army of the Potomac series in the 1950s, but Vaughan had no hand in that project.)
Vaughan was a good friend of conservative pundit William F. Buckley. It was he who convinced Buckley to write his Bradford Oakes Cold War espionage novels. He also collaborated with Democratic senators and erstwhile presidential candidates Hubert Humphrey and Ed Muskie. In a cruel twist of fate, Muskie’s autobiography was released the same day the Mainer bowed out of the 1972 presidential race. (For those unfamiliar with the story, Muskie was forced out of the campaign when he was photographed with what were apparently snowflakes on his cheeks. It was reported that they were tears, and Muskie was branded too unmanly to be president.) Needless to say, Muskie’s offering did not reach the upper echelons of any best seller lists.
Vaughan began at Doubleday in 1951, and in 1970 he was crowned president and publisher. He had a distinguished career, but there were some misses as well. In the early 1960s Vaughn went to Gettysburg to edit Eisenhower’s presidential memoirs. Eisenhower’s financial security had been secured when Doubleday published his World War 2 memoir Crusade in Europe in 1948. The now former president teamed with Vaughan on the two volume White House series, Mandate for Change, 1953-1956 (1963) and Waging Peace, 1956-1961 (1965). If you are looking for examples of dry, less-than-revelatory presidential memoirs, these are exhibits A and B. I wrote my masters thesis on Eisenhower’s foreign policy and, while I admire the general and president in many ways, I can’t say I learned anything of value from these doorstops. Crusade was never going to be mistaken for Grant’s Memoirs, but at least there he had an excuse; in the late 1940s Ike was considering a bid for higher office and did not want to antagonize such figures as Churchill, de Gaulle, and Konrad Adenauer, with whom he might have to deal on the world stage. Crusade was a lesson in tact and diplomacy. By the time he left office in 1961, however, Eisenhower no longer had these concerns. He could have offered readers more insight into himself and the world he did so much to change, but did not. Vaughan might have pushed Eisenhower harder but, still only in his late 20s, was probably too intimidated.
In the 1970s Vaughan edited Duke Ellington’s memoir Music is My Mistress with similarly disappointing results. The Duke was known for his impenetrable public persona but even by his standards Mistress is a letdown. Ellington was an intensely private man and no one was expecting him to kiss and tell after fifty some odd years in show business. And make no mistake, after half a century of living the musician’s night life Ellington had done his share of, uh, kissing. Still, one would have hoped for more candor from a man in his seventies looking back on life. Here again Vaughan might have done more to draw a sense of who Ellington was but, frustratingly, either couldn’t or wouldn’t. Doubleday published Ellington’s memoir in 1973 and the composer died the following year.
Despite these failures, Vaughan had a long, distinguished career and many more successes than failures. That so few people know who he was, oddly enough, is a testament to his achievement.