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Mort Janklow, Pioneering Literary Agent, Dies at 91


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Mort Janklow, who revolutionized the role of the agent in book publishing while representing the likes of Jackie Collins, Sidney Poitier, Pope John Paul II, Sidney Sheldon, Danielle Steel, Ted Turner and Nancy Reagan, has died. He was 91.

Janklow died Wednesday morning of heart failure at his home in Water Mill, New York, publicist Paul Bogaards announced.

The powerful, always curious Janklow began his career as a literary agent in 1972 when friend, client, columnist and Richard Nixon speechwriter William Safire asked him to handle a book he was writing about the 37th president. Janklow, who knew little about the publishing industry at the time, agreed to represent Safire and secured a book contract for him almost immediately.

When the Watergate scandal broke and the book’s publisher, William Morrow and Co., tried to back out of the $250,000 contract, Janklow sued, ushering in a new era of authors’ rights. He then sold the book, 1975’s Before the Fall: An Inside View of the Pre-Watergate White House, to Doubleday.

“We took the publisher out of the captain’s seat and put the author in it,” Janklow once said. “The publisher is replaceable; the author is not.” Janklow later became known in publishing circles as “the writer’s advocate.”

Janklow established his own literary agency in 1977 and would work with best-selling authors, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winners, Nobel Laureates, celebrities, scientists, journalists, presidents, pundits and poets. His roster of clients also included John Glenn, Al Gore, Thomas Harris (Silence of the Lambs), Judith Krantz, John Erhlichman, David McCullough, Michael Moore, Ronald Reagan, Pat Riley, Carl Sagan, Robert Wagner, Barbara Walters and Steven Weinberg.

In 1989, he co-founded New York-based Janklow & Nesbit Associates with fellow literary agent Lynn Nesbit and served as the firm’s chairman.

“Mort was a beacon of positivity and hope in an uncertain world,” Nesbit said in a statement. “He radiated optimism and his clients, family and friends were always leaning on and learning from him as a result. He was a bright light in the publishing world, devoted to his writers and passionate about our business. We will all miss him.”

Born in New York on May 30, 1930, Morton Lloyd Janklow was raised in Queens as the son of a lawyer. He graduated from Syracuse University in 1950 and Columbia Law School in 1953, joined the law firm Spear and Hill in 1960 and launched has own firm, Janklow & Traum, in 1967.

At Columbia Law School, he founded the Morton L. Janklow Program for Advocacy in the Arts and endowed the Morton L. Janklow Chair in Literary and Artistic Property Law, now held by Prof. Jane Ginsburg.

At Syracuse, he served on the College of Arts and Sciences Board of Visitors and founded the Janklow Arts Leadership Program. He was a distinguished member of the Council on Foreign Relations for more than four decades.

He also served on numerous advisory boards for philanthropic institutions including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the New York Public Library and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation.

Clients and colleagues remember Janklow as being a man of warm spirit and generous heart, a fierce advocate and a steely negotiator, and a person of insatiable curiosity.

Plans for a memorial will be announced.

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