Robert Maxwell’s Life a Drama Straight From Headlines With AM-Maxwell, Bjt
LONDON (AP) _ Robert Maxwell’s life was a drama worthy of the sensational prose of his tabloid newspapers: Penniless immigrant to socialist lawmaker to publishing billionaire nicknamed ″Captain Bob.″
He bitterly fought Britain’s powerful press unions, pushed his politics through the papers he ran, boomed out orders in one of the eight languages he spoke and bragged that he bullied editors like a field marshal.
″Working for him was never easy,″ said George White, president of The Racing Times, a 7-month-old Maxwell publication. ″But everybody who has been close to him would feel a great loss.″
A investigative reporter recently accused him of ties to Israeli spies and Maxwell retaliated with a libel suit.
In a recent interview, Maxwell, who purchased New York’s Daily News in March, said he was ″as hard as nails″ when something needs to get done.
His adversaries had portrayed him as unsavory; his tactics too aggressive, his pay too low. ″My primary duty is to hire and fire editors,″ he said recently.
Officials said the body of Maxwell was found Tuesday after he apparently had fallen from his yacht off the Canary Islands. He was 68.
Maxwell was born Labji Hoch, the son of Czech Orthodox Jewish peasants killed by the Nazis during World War II.
He likened his early life to that of downtrodden characters in Charles Dickens novels. ″Until the age of 8 I had no shoes,″ he said once.
He immigrated to Britain as a teen-ager in 1940 and said he arrived penniless, clutching a rifle and speaking no English.
He joined the British army, became a captain and won the prestigious Military Cross for bravery on the plains of Normandy.
″I refused an order to retreat because my mates had been captured and I had to go to free them. But I was young and foolish then,″ Maxwell once said.
After the war, Maxwell spent six years in the House of Commons with the Labor Party.
Maxwell, estimated to be worth $1.9 billion by Forbes magazine, lived in a mansion near Oxford. He entertained lavishly and sometimes commuted to his office near Fleet Street in a helicopter.
Rotund with swept-back black hair and bushy eyebrows, Maxwell and his French-born wife, Elizabeth, were married for 46 years. They had three sons and four daughters. Five of his children work for him.
Maxwell’s career stumbled in the late 1960s when one of his first major acquisitions, Pergamon Press, was accused of irregularities in its accounts. Maxwell and other directors left the board.
″I’ll never give in,″ he pledged while embroiled in the Pergamon controversy. ″I survived because I have a very thick skin and God appears to have endowed me with a physique that stands up well to stress.″
But Maxwell bounced back and reacquired Pergamon - which he sold to the Dutch company Elsevier earlier this year.
His big business break came in 1981 when he bought the failing British Printing Corp. Maxwell fired nearly half the 13,000 union employees and modernized production. He had it turning a profit within two years and the company - renamed the British Printing and Communications Corp. - has become Britain’s largest printer.
He achieved a long-held ambition of owning a national newspaper in 1984 when he purchased The Daily Mirror for $202 million. He cut about a third of the staff at the Daily Mirror and five papers of the group, and disgruntled workers threatened to shut it down.
If they stopped work, Maxwell told them he’d never publish the paper again. The printing presses rolled and the Mirror is now the second-largest newspaper with a circulation of 2.9 million.
Maxwell purchased the Daily News in March from the Chicago-based Tribune Co., ending a bitter 5-month strike at the 72-year-old tabloid. The Tribune paid him $60 million to assume liabilities, estimated at $100 million.
The holdings of publicly held Maxwell Communication Corp. include book publishers Macmillan Inc., and P.F. Collier; Official Airline Guides; Prentice Hall Information Services; and Berlitz language schools.
The Mirror Group publishes the Daily Mirror, the Sunday Mirror; The People, a Sunday tabloid; and two big Scottish newspapers, the Daily Record and the Sunday Mail. Attempts to launch an afternoon tabloid in London three years ago flopped.
In 1990, he started the European, a weekly English-language newspaper distributed across Europe and in some U.S. cities. He also started the Racing Times, a horse racing digest, to compete with the Daily Racing Form owned by archrival Rupert Murdoch, who also publishes Britain’s largest-circulation newspaper, The Sun.
Freewheeling in style, Maxwell hopped from one foreign city to another. He was dubbed ″Captain Bob″ by the British press because his trademark cap and bow tie.
He also threw himself into a large number of philanthropic activities.
″I cannot say no,″ he said in a 1989 news release put out by Maxwell Communications. ″If I were a woman I would always be pregnant.″
Last month, the ″The Samson Option,″ a book by investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, claimed Maxwell had close links with Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. It also alleged that Nicholas Davies, foreign editor at the Daily Mirror, has ties with Israeli spies and arms dealers.
Davies was fired last month, despite his insistance the claims are false.
Maxwell, Davies and the Mirror Group Newspapers sued Hersh and his publisher, Faber and Faber, for libel.