Walter Zacharius, visionary founder and chairman emeritus of Kensington Publishing, a passionate philanthropist, author, book industry innovator and easily one of the smartest, most gracious and thoroughly likeable people in the book industry, died March 2, 2011 in New York City. He was 87.
Born in Borough Park, Brooklyn, Zacharius was a product of the New York City public School System. He served in the Army during WWII and took part in the D-Day invasion of Europe when he was 19 years old. He attended New York University on the GI Bill.
Zacharius’s impact on American book publishing is deep and broad and seems to touch on every aspect of the business; from cover design—he was the first to use glossy foil-stamp and other special effects on book jackets—to driving the growth of romance fiction and mass market paperback publishing to targeting the African American reader. A lifelong lover of writing and publishing, he began his career in magazine publishing before moving to the book industry. From the 1960s through the early 1970s he was the copublisher of Lancer Books, releasing a line of erotically driven crime and espionage works, romance novels and classic science fiction as well as reprinting classic public domain literary works by such authors as H.G. Wells and Mark Twain in larger typefaces in a series called Magnum Easy Eye Classics.
In 1974 he teamed with his business partner Roberta Grossman to found Kensington Publishing, one of the last independent large-scale New York City trade book houses, along Zebra Books and Pinnacle Books, Kensington imprints that continue to publish today. Indeed Kensington was to become a major publisher of the romance genre fueling the category's growth in the 1980s. He later launched Arabesque, an African American imprint at Kensington and a Spanish-language romance line. Late in his life he launched Kensington Media, LLC, a film production company based in L.A. as well as working to focus the house on the growth of digital publishing.
Over the course of his life he published such authors as Mario Puzo, Ken Follett, Julie Nixon Eisenhower, Jerzy Kosinski, Joyce Carol Oates, Michael Reagan, Lisa Jackson, Carl Weber, Tucker Max and many others.
His interests and talents were numerous; he was an art collector and a jazz musician; loved travel, tennis and golf and in 2004 at the age of 81, fulfilled a lifelong dream when he published, The Memories We Keep, a novel based on his wartime experiences that he had worked on for decades. A life long philanthropist, Zacharius was head of United Cerebral Palsy of Queens and a raised funds for Brandeis University. He established a publishing scholarship at NYU in the name of his late business partner Robert Grossman; founded college scholarships for minority children based in Harlem as well as working for Harlem RBI, a organization dedicated to building baseball fields in Harlem.
He is survived by his son, Steven Zacharius, the current president and CEO of Kensington Publishing, his second wife, Suzanne Zacharius and an extended family of children and grandchildren.