I played a minor role in the Edwards homecoming, being the publisher of his recently released biography, “Edwin Edwards-Governor of Louisiana.” Written by my colleague, Leo Honeycutt, it became an immediate best seller. On the day of Edwards’ release last week, ten Louisiana television stations came by my office for interviews. The entire state seemed to be consumed by the frenzy of the return of the most controversial public figure in the state’s history. Love him or hate him, only a few were not caught up in the fascination of the state’s longest serving governor.
I had been approached in 2008 by B.I. Moody, a friend and supporter of mine over many years, who built Moody Publications into the largest newspaper chain in the state. B. I. and Edwards had shared office space when they first started out in business back in the early 1950s, and they had remained the closest of friends over the years. B.I. felt that a balanced legacy of Edwards had not been fully presented.
“Anyone born after the late 1970s would only know of the controversy surrounding him. History so far has not highlighted his many accomplishments,” B.I. had told me. He had read my first book about my time in public life, and asked if I might find an author to take on the task of writing a more balanced and fairer presentation of the Edwards story. I had formed a publishing company called The Lisburn Press, using the name of my old plantation home in Ferriday, Louisiana.
I accepted the task, and interviewed a number of local and national authors. Leo Honeycutt lived in Baton Rouge, and had been a television personality locally and up in Monroe, La. for a number of years. As a newsman, he had covered and talked with Edwards extensively. I read his 15 year old novel, “Over the Edge,” and knew that Leo had a descriptive writing style full of expression and understanding of the nuances of Louisiana. After several interviews, from a field of other well qualified writers, I decided on Leo to collaborate with the former governor, who continued to captivate while sitting in a federal prison.
Leo spent weeks at a time in solitude immersed in the project in a cabin on Lake St. John up in Concordia Parish. His first draft was 1600 pages, with over 3000 footnotes. I sent him back to the drawing board for rewrite after rewrite. I also spent a great deal of time reviewing some of the legal ramifications of many of the charges made by both Leo and EWE. It took the better part of the year to get the book in final form. Designing a cover and selecting photos from the thousands available that reflected Edwards’ time in public life took more months. Our hopes for a one year project extended four fold.
So how many copies of the first edition should we print? After all, the guy had not been governor for 16 years and had been in prison going on eight years. Was there really all that much interest left in the “Silver Fox?” Or was he a has been, and would all this effort be just for the history books? Start with 5000 copies? Knowing that he would soon be out of prison and there would be some spike of interest, maybe a 10,000 copy run? OK, let’s go with 10,000 books, since we did have a warehouse large enough to store the entire inventory.
The truckload of the Edwards biography arrived in the bookstores less than two weeks before Christmas. The first printing of 5000 copies sold out in two days. A quick call was made to the printer in Canada requesting another 10,000 copies. We paid overtime for the printer to work the weekend around the clock, and another truckload arrived a few days before Christmas. That run sold out in a week.
With approximately 50,000 copies sold, the Edwards Biography is well on its way to being the largest selling Louisiana book in the state’s history. With the former governor back home, we are projecting sales of another 50,000 books before year’s end. And how about the new Edwin Edwards autobiography? He says that he has his own take on what transpired during his investigation and trial, and that he has many insights that so far have not been revealed. Edwards Redux? Stay tuned!
The colorful Cajun has been roundly roasted by some editorial writers for years, as the cause for Louisiana’s sad state of affairs. Louisiana is close to the bottom on many quality of life lists. He has not been in public office for sixteen years, and three other governors have followed in his path. Yet, according to some, it’s all his fault. Fifty years from now, there will be those who still point to Edwin Edwards’ influence as the state’s major problem.
But could it be that this charismatic character represents the pulse of Louisiana? Is it possible that most public officials in the Bayou State are no better and no worse than the voters who put them in office? That’s a subject for another book. And I could be just the guy to publish it!
“People say I’ve had brushes with the law. That’s not true. I’ve had brushes with overzealous prosecutors.”
Edwin W. Edwards
Peace and Justice
Jim Brown’s syndicated column appears each week in numerous newspapers and websites throughout the South. You can read all his past columns and see continuing updates at www.jimbrownusa.com.