Shortly after sending shock waves through the music industry with his 1988 decision to sell Motown Records to MCA Inc., company founder Berry Gordy finally decided to turn the story of his life into a book. One by one, writers came with notebooks, tape recorders and hopes of becoming the "with"--as in "An Autobiography by Berry Gordy with (fill in hopeful writer's name here)."
Not quite like being Gladys Knight, maybe, but right up there with becoming a Pip.
Instead of creating a new writing star, however, Gordy had an assortment of would-be biographers tearing out their collective hair for two years.
"I had professionals come in who were telling me how to write the book," Gordy said in a recent interview at his lofty Bel-Air estate, his voice raspy as a result of a nine-city book tour ending that day with his return to Los Angeles.
The book is called "To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown" (Warner Books). By Berry Gordy--with nobody.
The writing took him three more years.
"I'd give them a tape, and they'd come back with it all nice and written up, and I would read it," Gordy said of the first frustrating years. "The facts were there, but it wasn't me --the feeling wasn't there. And I would change writers and bring in other people, and I'd say: 'OK, you've got to get inside my head. Talk to me. Ask me questions. Write the way I talk. Write the way I feel --and they gave me advice on how to make the book sell.
"They said: 'If you are paying us and you are not taking our advice, then you are wasting your money.' And I thought about it, and I said: 'You know, you are absolutely right!' " Gordy recalled with a grin.
"The whole purpose of writing a book is to be understood--if other people write about you, they try to guess why you did things, or they hear things from other people," he continued. "My own heroes, people that I have admired--Joe Louis or Jackie Robinson or J.F.K.--I would have loved to have seen what they felt about what they did, and why they did it. That's why I feel real fortunate to write my own book."
Gordy, 65, a former featherweight boxer who stands 5-feet-7, with a graying beard and a button nose, has an elfin quality that belies his apparent distaste for relinquishing control. But a visitor who plunks a tape recorder on a coffee table in front of Gordy cannot help but note that Gordy has a tape recorder too--and his is bigger.
Moreover, Gordy is also videotaping the interview. He is filming the entire tour for posterity. One gets the feeling that if there were no journalist present, Gordy would be more than prepared to interview himself.
And if he ever got that opportunity, Gordy might ask himself some tough questions. After years of silence, he said, he wrote his book to set the record straight with a vengeance.
Today he seems buoyed by the warm reception from friends and fans on his cross-country tour. Part of the reason he started filming the tour is that, to borrow from his book title, he loves to be loved.
"I've been thrilled with my success, and I was so excited when I finished the book," he said. "But I had to reap the real rewards, which I have just gotten in the last three weeks, meeting the people."
The former recluse has become something of a media darling recently, even singing the first song he ever wrote, "You Are You," during a cozy at-home chat with Barbara Walters on "20/20" (suffice it to say that Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder do not have to worry about competition). Gordy also wrote or co-wrote many of Motown's better-known hits, such as "Money (That's What I Want)" and "Shop Around" with Robinson and "Do You Love Me (Now That I Can Dance)" on his own.
He also talked about his former love affair with Diana Ross and the fact that he is the father of Ross' daughter, Rhonda. Currently single, Gordy has eight children by five women; he has been married three times.
Locally, in September, Gordy said he "tried to avoid" (but did attend) a ceremony that honored him for making a $500,000 gift to launch the Center for the Performing Arts in South-Central Los Angeles, to be part of the African American Unity Center, which was founded by Brotherhood Crusade President Danny J. Bakewell Sr. Gordy's gift, matched by a grant from the city of Los Angeles, will provide funds to restore an old church at 5300 S. Vermont Ave., which will become the arts center's headquarters.
Helping inner-city youth, he said, is a lot like grooming a Motown star.
"I got hooked on people, and it turned out they had the same yearnings I did--they wanted to be loved," Gordy said of his years of uncovering new talent. "Another thing I found out was that they all wanted to be somebody else. They all wanted to be like somebody. And I wanted them to be like themselves. I have this ability to find this hidden talent in people that sometimes even they didn't know they had.