Encyclopedia.com: Christopher Mason
CAREER: Author and journalist, beginning mid-1990s; singer/songwriter/lyricist. Worked in public relations, 1983-87
The Art of the Steal: Inside the Sotheby's-Christie'sAuction House Scandal, G. P. Putnam's Sons (New York, NY), 2004.
Contributor to New York Times and New York Magazine. Recorded two musicals for the BBC c. 1980.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Another book on "corruption in high places."
SIDELIGHTS: Christopher Mason had been writing articles about the art world, architecture, fashion, and society for major publications in New York for about ten years, when he began work on his first book, a biography/exposé of the fashion designer and businessman Gianni Versace. The day Versace was murdered—July 14, 1997—Little, Brown & Co. reportedly offered Mason one million dollars for his book. According to a pre-publication review by Brad Hooper for Booklist, Mason spins "a gripping yarn" that chronicles, "in very unsensational detail," Versace's rise from humble beginnings to fame and success through talent, energy, and hard work. Hooper noted that Mason "does not gloss over Versace's less-admirable traits, particularly his propensity for using people, only to discard them later." Versace's surviving siblings threatened legal action if the book was published, according to a statement by Little, Brown as reported by New York Times contributor Cathy Horyn. As a result the book was cancelled. Jonathan Yardley wrote in a Washington Post article that the cancellation "sends yet another warning about publishing's future in an age of entertainment conglomerates."
Mason's next book, The Art of the Steal: Inside the Sotheby's-Christie's Auction House Scandal, did see the light of day. According to Detroit Free Press reviewer Tom Walsh, Mason "jammed his 400-page book with impressive research. . . . He also obtained personal access to the drama's four primary figures." However, Walsh wrote, by trying to be fair to all the participants in the high-profile case of art auction price-fixing, Mason "leaves the reader without clear answers" as to innocence or guilt. In fact, Mason himself, when asked by host David Haffenreffer on CNNfn's program The America's Intelligence Wire whether Sotheby's chairman Alfred Taubman was "the wrong guy" to be jailed, replied "I believe that to be the case." An Economist reviewer called the book "a gripping yarn of real-life collusion that is spiced up with Picassos, class warfare, art-market bitchiness and the rather unsettling conclusion that some well-heeled villains got away with it." A Spectator reviewer also praised the book, saying that Mason "writes fluently and portrays this milieu . . . engagingly. It is filled with classic Eighties types: men and women whose enthusiasms are chiefly vanity, ambition, and greed." But the Spectator reviewer criticized the author for using re-created dialogue based on trial testimony, interviews, and other sources. "Mason's narrative would be no less lively," the reviewer wrote, if he had avoided this controversial technique.
Mason's specialization in books about the rich and famous may in part derive from an earlier career as a singer/songwriter at elegant social affairs. Writing in the style "of his idols: Tom Lehrer, Cole Porter, and Noel Coward," according to a profile on the List Web site, Mason wrote and performed for such famous figures as Brooke Astor, Jackie Onassis, Ivana Trump, William Paley, David Rockefeller, and, in January 1988, President-elect George H. W. Bush.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, July, 1999, Brad Hooper, review of Undressed: The Life of Gianni Versace, p. 1916.
Detroit Free Press, July 9, 2004, Tom Walsh, review of The Art of the Steal: Inside the Sotheby's-Christie's Auction House Scandal.
Economist (US), August 7, 2004, review of The Art of the Steal, p. 68.
Entertainment Weekly, August 1, 1997, p. 67.
Fortune, May 31, 2004, Christine Y. Chen, review of The Art of the Steal, p. 48.
Kirkus Reviews, April 1, 2004, review of The Art of the Steal, p. 314.
New York Times, May 25, 1999, p. B11; May 4, 2004, Carol Vogel, review of The Art of the Steal, p. E5.
People, March 6, 1989, p. 249.
Publishers Weekly, April 19, 2004, review of The Art of the Steal, p. 54.
Spectator, June 5, 2004, Inigo Thomas, review of TheArt of the Steal, p. 41.
Texas Lawyer, July 26, 2004, review of The Art of theSteal.
Wall Street Journal, May 27, 2004, Alexandra Peers, review of The Art of the Steal, p. D6.
Washington Post, May 31, 1999, Jonathan Yardley, review of Undressed, p. C2.
Women's Wear Daily, May 20, 2004, p. 4.
NewYorkSocialDiary.com,http://www.newyorksocialdiary.com/ (November 25, 2004), "Christopher Mason."
America's Intelligence Wire (cable television show), June 30, 2004, David Haffenreffer, interview with Mason.*