Fred Klein, who helped make Bantam Books a major force in mass market paperback publishing in the 1960s and 1970s, died on October 22. He was 97.
Klein is credited by many as being one of the pioneers of paperback promotions, orchestrating marketing campaigns for such bestsellers as Valley of the Dolls and Future Shock. Klein eventually became an executive editor at Bantam, where he specialized in thrillers and movie tie-ins and acquired paperback rights to titles by such authors as Robert Ludlum, Frederick Forsyth, and Thomas Harris. He retired from Bantam in 1990 and moved to Santa Barbara.
Richard Hunt, president of AdventureKEEN and a Klein protégé, remembered Klein as someone who “instilled a vigor to book promotion previously unseen. Be it by sending Jacqueline Susann out to meet those route drivers who distributed her Valley of the Dolls or by painting blood-red paw prints in New York City crosswalks for The Wolfen, Fred directed a promotion group that used moxie and merchandising to turn Bantam authors into celebrities and their books into bestsellers.”
Klein moved to Santa Barbara after his retirement and became involved with a number of publishing-related activities, serving with the Santa Barbara Writers Conference, the Los Angeles Book Festival, the Santa Barbara Book & Author Festival, and Reading for the Blind and Dyslexic. He also hosted Literary Gumbo, a local access TV program about books that ran for 7 years and spanned 227 interviews.
In addition to publishing, theater was Klein’s other great passion, which, Hunt told PW, “evolved into the traditional Bantam Revue. By cajoling and cudgeling colleagues into rewriting song lyrics about authors and editors, they performed this misanthropic medley to the sales reps at the December sales conference. One could probably safely say that his name is finally up in lights, somewhere, somehow, right now.” He added: “Fred Klein never met a stranger, never forgot a name or a book title, and loved one and all.”
A New York City memorial is being planned for May 27, 2021, which would have been Klein’s 98th birthday. “Somehow we hope to put on a show, a tribute, a big loud encore performance for the greatest ringmaster the publishing world has ever known,” Hunt said.