On this date in 1951, writer Claude M. Bristol died.
He is the author of a classic called The Magic of Believing.
Both Liberace and Phyllis Diller swore by this book. It was like their own Bible.
Her pal Liberace (whom she says “was not a good pianist but a wonderful entertainer”) had also read the book. They would talk about it endlessly.
The Magic of Believing was responsible for both of our successes. We followed it letter by letter.
From the biography, Liberace: An American Boy by Darden Asbury Pyron:
Liberace was not a reader. He left no evidence at all of devotion to the written word. In the numerous photographs of his homes, books appear nowhere. In his nearly seventy years, he mentioned only one book by name. This one, however, he considered a semi-sacred text, and Claude M. Bristol’s The Magic of Believing offers a nice guide to the entertainer’s values[.]
About the same time that Leach interviewed him, the showman made another television appearance for Merv Griffin to celebrate Phyllis Diller’s thirty years in show business. He loved and admired Diller the same way he respected Debbie Reynolds. Diller had the distinction, too, of being another devotee of Claude Bristol.
Now this has to make you wonder, especially if you grew up in the early 1960s and were exposed to Liberace and Phyllis Diller in their TV heyday.
I don’t think there were two more “out there” performers at the time than them. Liberace was flamboyantly effeminate during a time of widespread fear of homosexuality. Phyllis Diller never had a face for TV and had a voice that could scratch records.
Yet both of them got where they both wanted to be, and they credited Bristol’s book for that.
Years ago, before there was much on the Internet, I researched Claude M. Bristol via online databases. Aside from a few reviews, the only thing I came up with was his obituary:
New York Times
December 17, 1951
pg. 31, column 2
Claude M. Bristol
Portland, Ore. Dec. 16 (AP) —
Claude M. Bristol of Portland, author of 1948 best-seller “Magic of Believing,” died in a hospital here Friday night after a long illness. His age was 61.
“Magic of Believing” is a non-fiction book that says generally that a person can change the events of his everyday life by holding what Mr. Bristol termed the proper thoughts.
I still think it’s very, very strange there wasn’t one interview with him anywhere. And no photographs.
Wikipedia has deleted his entry, so all that really remains on the Net is this site, which has a small pop-up sales pitch that can be immediately closed for reading.
One final word: Do not mistake “believing” for not doing the work that’s needed to get ahead. Liberace and Diller didn’t sit around and wish. They worked damned hard to achieve their goals. The magic ingredient is that they believed they could.
Update, August 21, 2012:
The death of Phyllis Diller yesterday is bringing people to this post.
See also these posts: