By Jake Rossen
By Jesse Marx
By Michelle LeBow
By Alleen Brown
By Maggie LaMaack
By CP Staff
By Jesse Marx
...has authored 28 published books, and, if he lives long enough, may finish his 29th, a work tentatively titled My First 90 Years: an Unauthorized Autobiography. Kahm celebrated his 90th birthday in March with a few dozen friends at a Greek restaurant. "Twice that many people would have come," Kahm says, "if I'd only thought to invite them." Since the birthday, though, writing progress has been slow. "I have a right to take naps now," he says. "I only work when I feel like it. I'm sitting here and my typewriter is in the other room over there. I can't gather the will power. Or the muscle power. I'm developing powerful sitting muscles right here." Kahm points down to the low-slung brown chair where he spends most of his day reading, watching TV, or listening to music. Kahm spends many more hours in the chair daydreaming, thinking, and thinking about writing. "I learn something new every day," Kahm says, "and after 90 years, I'm getting sick of it."
As a travel writer, Kahm has circled the world on other people's money while living nearly 80 years on the same block in Minneapolis. He has been a guest of the Canadian government on a train that ventured north of the tree line along the edge of the Arctic Ocean, and he has seen that there is nothing there. Kahm likes the sea best of all. He has taken 45 ocean liners ("I've been on more sea ships than most captains!") including the sister ship of the Lusitania. "I visited Hawaii twice before it was a state," he says, "when Honolulu was no bigger than the city of Duluth. The last time I saw Honolulu, it was a roaring modern city. The McDonald's on Waikiki beach served sushi!" Kahm has long avoided the Third World, which he considers unfriendly and dangerous. He is partial to civilized accommodations and civilized conversation. He likes to quote Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, and he knows a full repertoire of off-color jokes and ribald limericks. Kahm has received personal correspondence from Henry Miller and Bette Davis, and has talked about writing with Ernest Hemingway at Hemingway's Key West mansion. He has met Samuel Goldwyn and lunched with William Mayo at the Mayo House in Rochester. Kahm is an honorary colonel in the state of Kentucky. Whether or not these stories are true--and I, for one, believe that they are--no one survives to dispute him, and there is something to be said for that.
Kahm once headed the board of advisers of a non-profit West Bank cafe called the Coffeehouse Extempore where he held court nightly for 20 years. He gives his full credentials there from memory: "Rap With Harold, Guru of the East Bank, the West Bank, and the First National Bank. Is your dog gay? Is the Bible a fraud? Would you want your sister to marry a Republican? All topics discussed." He has taught writing at the university level without ever having attended college himself, and he has also taught ballroom dancing. When he meets a young woman--and all his friends are young--he is likely to say this: "You know they say a woman is old when she looks old, and a man is old when he stops looking." He raises her hand for a quick kiss, "I'm looking at you, and you're a beautiful young lady."
Kahm lives alone and he has never been married. "My books are my children," he says gesturing at a bookcase across from his chair, the top two shelves of which are taken up by his oeuvre. "They made money for me. I didn't have to support them." Some of these titles include How to Break into Radio, How to Make the Most of Your Life, The Passion Expert, Shared Woman, and The Westbank Group. Starting with Shared Woman in 1934, Kahm's fiction, which is for the most part racy, has explored group marriage and the outer boundaries of monogamy. "The prose may have been purple," he says, "but the cash was green." Kahm has written two bestsellers. 101 Businesses You Can Start and Run with Less Than $1,000 was translated into Japanese (where he says it was titled 101 Businesses You Can Start and Run with Less Than 350,000 Yen), and it stayed in print for 17 years. "All my books are long out of print by now, though," he says. None is catalogued in the Minneapolis Public Library, and Kahm is loath to lend out his own copies. He claims never to have seen a review of any of his books.
The other bestseller is The Crowded Bed, written in 1967 when Kahm was 61, which sold a half million copies. It was published under the pen name Henry Sackerman. Sackerman was Kahm's maternal grandfather and an officer in the Confederate army. According to Kahm, it holds literary distinction as "the first American book about the menage a trois." Kahm believes this is his finest work and he will talk about it for a half hour without interruption. The Crowded Bed was optioned for film by producer Robert Aldrich, who also directed Whatever Happened to Baby Jane and The Dirty Dozen, and the deal headlined the front page of Variety on Tuesday, July 30, 1968. Kahm has several photocopies of that issue in a box of papers next to his television, and he passes them out freely. Aldrich's production company went bankrupt before the film could be made.