BiographyNew York City, New York, USA
Peter Maas wrote about crooks and cops, about people's corruption and integrity. His subjects were often real people and his stories unrelentingly factual. He grew up in the Hamilton Heights area on the upper west side of New York City. His community largely comprised an ethnic melding of German, Jewish, and Irish families. Read more... and cultures -- a bit like himself. This affinity for the melding of types and portrayals of people permeates Maas' work. In the "Valachi Papers" and "Serpico," for instance, distinguishing between heroes and villains is at times a difficult task, at other times a dangerous gamble. He began his writing career while still a political science major at Duke University in the late '40s. It was in his capacity as a reporter for the College paper that he found his way into an exclusive interview with Walter Reuther, the then-president of the United Auto Workers union. It was a big scoop for a college student, and, for his efforts, he received $100 from the Associated Press. More importantly, it was the beginning of a career in journalistic writing that often found him brushing up against and portraying in his work elements of society that frequently played rough, certainly by different rules than the mainstream, and sometimes even deadly. After college and a brief stint in Paris, France, working for the New York Herald Tribune (a job he wrestled from the editor by promising that he could learn French -- not having learned it yet -- in time enough to post his first assignment), Maas found himself enlisting in the navy during the Korean War. It was after the navy in 1955 that he joined Collier's magazine. His time there, however, was brief; the magazine ceased publishing in January 1957, leaving Maas to find temporary work on a lobster boat. But before too long he was writing for Look magazine, where he found national prominence with a piece about a black death-row inmate in Angola, Louisiana, who had been on death row for 14 years, longer than any other inmate. Maas wrote convincingly about the man's innocence, eventually influencing a reconsideration of the case and the man's release. He eventually moved over to the Saturday Evening Post and hit upon one of his greatest scoops -- a slip of the tongue by then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy about the Mafia informant Joe Valachi. The government was, to say the least, reluctant to allow Maas to publish Valachi's story, claiming that public exposure would be "detrimental to law enforcement." Consequently, Maas had to take the government to court in order to gain the rights to publish his book (in the end, agreeing that he would write the book about Valachi and not write it with Valachi). And he had to go through nearly two dozen publishers before he got it published. The book, of course, became a best seller and the subsequent movie became a box office hit. Other non-fiction publishing and movie achievements for Peter Maas include the story of Frank Serpico's efforts against police corruption (i.e. "Serpico"), the chronicle of a power struggle among three generations of a Gypsy "royal family" (i.e. "The King of the Gypsies"), one woman's fight to end corruption involving the Tennessee state house (i.e. "Marie"), the heroic rescue of a pre-WWII sunken submarine (i.e. "The Terrible Hours" made for T.V. as "Submerged"), and the plight of a baby boy effectively orphaned by his father's murder of his mother and soon thereafter caught in a fight between his parents' families for his custody (i.e. "In a Child's Name"). Peter Maas has also published the fictional "Made in America." It recounts in pure Maas fashion the melding of right and wrong, villain and hero, up and down in telling the story of an average, law-abiding citizen given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for riches if only he can get a hold of the right amount of money -- something he does from a loan shark.