Interview: Marlene Wagman-Geller, Author of ‘Behind Every Great Man’ and ‘Once Again to Zelda’

Image Provided by Marlene Wagman-Gellar

Image Provided by Marlene Wagman-Gellar

Marlene Wagman-Gellar is the arm-chair literary detective behind such books as Once Again to Zelda, which explores the dedications of famous books, And the Rest is History about the meetings of famous passionate couples, and her most recent, Behind Every Great Man: Forgotten Women Behind the World’s Famous and Infamous. Ms. Wagman-Gellar was kind enough to take time from her busy teaching and promotion schedule to discuss her writing career and her most recent book.

FGN: Your books mostly focus on the histories and lives of famous couples. What started your interest in this? What caused you to turn it from an interest into a writing career?

cover53935-mediumMarlene Wagman-Gellar: My interest in Behind Every Great Man: Forgotten Women Behind the World’s Famous and Infamous was piqued when it donned on me that I knew nothing about the significant others of the men who shaped history. I began my investigation in the hope of learning about these shadow women, and in the process learned unique autobiographical tidbits behind these great men. For example, my perception of Albert Einstein was of the original absent-minded professor, the beloved Princeton researcher. However, my opinion of the icon was altered when I discovered he abandoned his first wife and two sons in a Europe on the brink of a World War, and never visited his schizophrenic son who died in an institution. Equally startling was his wife, a brilliant physicist, might have contributed to his ground-breaking theories-though he garnered all the credit…

FGN: How did your research process differ from Once Again to Zelda to your  most recent book, Behind Every Great Man: Forgotten Women Behind the World’s Famous and Infamous? 

Marlene Wagman-Gellar: The difference in the research between Once Again to Zelda and Behind Every Great Man was in the former I was  a dedication detective-researched the back stories behind the dedication pages of the iconoclastic novels-and in the current one I researched the women obscured by history’s famous and infamous.
FGN: What was the most romantic couple interaction you’ve discovered in your research? What was the most heartbreaking?

Marlene Wagman-Gellar: The most heat-breaking and the most romantic was the story of Simon and Cyla Wiesenthal. Before my research I only

Cyla and Simon, Courtesy of the Simon Wiesenthal Archive

Cyla and Simon, Courtesy of the Simon Wiesenthal Archive

thought of him as the famous Nazi Hunter-the man behind the Los Angeles Museum of Tolerance. After research, I discovered that Simon and Cyla were separated by the Holocaust and each believed the other had died. Their miraculous and touching reunion was heart-breaking and showed that the power of love overcame the power of darkness.

FGN: Of all the books you’ve written, which was the most fun to write?  Which was the most difficult?

Marlene Wagman-Gellar: Alas, a good mother loves all her children. They were all equally wonderful to research and to write-all labors of love.

FGN: Has any particular famous figure completely surprised you and been far different than who you expected to uncover?

Marlene Wagman-Gellar: Yes-Mohandas Gandhi. I never considered the Mohandas as a family man. However, he was the wife of Katsurba and the  father of their four sons. Suffice it to say, it was never easy being Mrs. Mohandas.

FGN: Other than playing history detective, what other hobbies do you have?

Marlene Wagman-Gellar: I love reading, movies and travelling-although the latter is mainly of the armchair variety. However, what with a full-time teaching job and writing free time is a rare luxury.

FGN: Do you have any particular rituals for when you sit down to write (ie. coffee, certain types of music, yoga)?

Marlene Wagman-Gellar: In the winter I like to write with a soft afghan on my lap. It is wonderful when my cat keeps me company.

FGN: What advice can you offer to women about making themselves a part of History?

Marlene Wagman-Gellar: I  think the best way for women to be a part of history is to never let themselves be obscured by anyone else’s shadow; rather they should cast their own.

FGN: Do you have any other projects plan we should look for?

Marlene Wagman-Gellar: I pray my fourth book will not be my last. I am fortunate to have a wonderful literary agent so with his help-and the grace of the gods-there will be another. As I have learned, dreams do not just have to be for sleeping.

FGN: Where can our readers follow your most recent projects?

Marlene Wagman-Gellar: I have a webpage, an Amazon Author’s page and can be reached at [email protected]. I answer each email and would love if anyone posted a review on Amazon.

Behind Every Great Man: Forgotten Women Behind the World’s Famous and Infamous/a> is now available from Sourcebooks.

You may find our review of it here. 


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