The person who invited me, back in my Premiere days, to have lunch with Steve Jobs, was press agent Harry Clein, who was doing some PR work for Pixar. He recounts what it was like to work for the demanding executive.
Steve Jobs hired my firm to work with Pixar right after Toy Story became a big hit. Disney was taking all the credit for its success and he wanted people to know that Pixar had not just been the technical end of Toy Story but also the creative source.
One morning in my kitchen drinking my first cup of coffee I yelled into the phone at Jobs: “Steve, we have you on ‘Charlie Rose,’ we’ve set up a New York Times editorial lunch, we’ve got a Time Magazine meeting, we’ve have a Newsweek meeting. So I don’t care if you take the red eye to New York because you don’t want to spend the night away from home, but you’re getting on a plane and going through with these meetings. They won’t speak to John (Lasseter) without you. They want you. I’m not going to tell them a lie that you couldn’t make it to New York because you were too busy or you had a cold. If you pull out, I’ll tell them you pulled out because you didn’t want to spend the night in a hotel room in New York! I’ll tell them you didn’t think Charlie Rose or the New York Times were important enough to fly to New York.”
Jobs replied: “Who’s Charlie Rose? Okay. But I still want the Wall Street Journal.”
I said: “We’re working on it. Just trying to fit in a time. Your schedule is very tight.”
The Wall Street Journal didn’t happen because of scheduling conflicts, but Steve flew all night into NYC in the morning, did everything that had been set up for him and John, and then got on a plane back to San Francisco that night.
And the New York Times arranged a vegan spread as requested, although at that time it wasn’t as easy to get vegan – or as they said, “a weird California diet” – in Manhattan as it was to get a corn beef sandwich.
Of the many battles with Jobs, that was the only fight I ever won. My favorite Steve Jobs memory is a conversation when he told me something very personal.
Jobs’ sister Mona Simpson’s book “A Regular Guy” was coming out in 1996, and he called to tell me that the book was about a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and he felt everyone was going to think that Mona had written about him. He wanted to know my thoughts on how he — or we — would handle any inquiries regarding their relationship. And then he related the story about how he and Mona were siblings.
“Harry, do you have a moment? Are you alone?”
Of course, I answered. I asked my assistant to hold all my calls, closed the glass door to my office, and listened intently as Jobs began to tell me the story of his birth. (I am paraphrasing from memory.)
“I was adopted. I love my adoptive parents; they were great. But I wanted to find out who my real parents were. So I started searching. I looked for years and I never could discover who my biological parents were. Then I was given the name of a doctor in San Francisco who I was told might have some knowledge. I thought this would be my last chance. So I went to see him. He was retired and I talked to him at his home. He said he was very sorry but he couldn’t help me. He knew nothing about my birth or adoption. I left thinking he was my last hope, I might as well give up. Everything turned into dead ends. I’d done everything I could.
“A few weeks later I got a letter from the doctor telling me the story of how I was adopted. It turns out this doctor had delivered me, but he had promised my biological parents he’d never tell who they were. In those days that was how things were done. But after meeting me, he felt he had to tell me. However, the doctor had died just as he finished writing the letter to me. The letter was found on his desk.”
Jobs said that the executors of the doctor’s estate had sent the letter to him, and since he was well-known at that time they had no problem finding him. And then Jobs told me the tale of how his adoptive parents ended up finding him.
“My real parents were not married and they told the doctor they couldn’t get married at that time so they wanted to put me up for adoption. They told the doctor that they had one important condition that had to be met by anyone who would adopt me. The people had to promise to give me a college education no matter what. The first couple that wanted to adopt me was wealthy and said that was no problem. Just before everything was finalized a baby girl became available and they really wanted a girl. The next couple was working class and didn’t know how they would be able to afford to pay for a college education, but they promised. It was hard for them to send me to college, but they managed somehow.
“After I was adopted, my real parents finally married and they had Mona. So she is my sister, not my half sister.”
Needless to say, I loved the pure drama of that tale. Of course, Jobs famously dropped out of college, and the reason I have since discovered why his real parents could not marry before he was born was that his father was Syrian and in 1955 there was a major prejudice against Syrians in our society. Mona was born in 1957.
Jobs on Charlie Rose, 1996: